* Fillon says moves afoot to destroy him, "steal election"
* Police search Senate. Polls show image suffering
* Fillon under fire from his own political camp
(Updates information on police searches)
By Brian Love
PARIS, Feb 3 Francois Fillon fought to keep his
place as French conservative presidential candidate on Friday
amid sliding opinion poll ratings and speculation about his
ability to carry on after accusations his wife got public money
for work she did not do.
Police carried out searches at the Senate in connection with
the fake job allegations on Friday, searching in particular for
information concerning payments there to Charles and Marie, two
of Fillon's children, the public prosecutor said.
Senate President Gerard Larcher, one of Fillon's most loyal
allies, took to Twitter to deny a report in news publication
L'Obs that he was about to withdraw support for the presidential
A second opinion poll in two days showed a large majority of
voters believed the former prime minister should pull out of the
election, a two-round contests that opens on April 23.
The 62-year-old vowed at an overnight rally in northeastern
France to fight what he called a "demolition exercise", telling
a crowd of around 1,000: "People are not seeking justice. They
are seeking to destroy me, and beyond me to destroy the Right
and steal an election."
Until the scandal over payments to his wife and family
surfaced last week, Fillon was enjoying what looked like a near
unassailable lead over other presidential contenders, ahead of
far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and independent
centrist Emmanuel Macron.
An Odoxa poll for franceinfo radio showed 61 percent believe
Fillon was wrong to persevere in his presidential bid.
Sniping from his own right-wing political camp continued,
primarily from politicians connected to party grandees he beat
to win the presidential ticket of The Republicans party.
"A million euros is no small sum," said Rachida Dati,
justice minister during the mandate of Nicolas Sarkozy,
president from 2007 to 2012 but loser to Fillon in the ballot
that picked the candidate for the 2017 election.
"He (Fillon) does not command unanimous backing," she told
Fillon has denied any wrongdoing since Le Canard Enchaine
newspaper last week accused him of paying British wife Penelope
hundreds of thousands of euros for work as an assistant that she
appeared not to have done.
That scandal, subject of an official inquiry, has broadened
since then with further reports by the newspaper of payments 10
years ago to children Marie and Charles, who are now lawyers in
their 30s. On Thursday, a prime-time TV programme broadcast an
old interview in which Fillon's wife appeared to say she had no
role as an employed assistant.
"I have never been actually his assistant or anything like
that. I don't deal with his communication," she said in that
2007 interview with Britain's The Telegraph newspaper.
Fillon had presented himself as a clean-cut, clean-living
Opinion polls have shown Fillon sliding hard to equal with
rival Macron. Whichever of the two makes it to the May 7 runoff
round is expected to face Le Pen, and beat her convincingly.
(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon and John Irish;
Editing by Janet Lawrence)