(Vatican Radio) French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has urged supporters not to "give up the fight" for his presidency despite corruption allegations against him, but apologized for asking his wife to work for him. Fillon spoke to a crowd of thousands in Paris ahead of a widely anticipated television appearance later Sunday.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
The crowd chanting "Fillon, President!" gathered across from the famed Eiffel Tower in a show of defiance against those who want Francois Fillon to give up his candidacy for France's top job.
Fillon's wife Penelope arrived with her husband at the rally after keeping a low profile since financial investigators began examining allegations that she and two of their children had taxpayer-funded jobs they never performed. She was paid around 850,000 euros of public money for work she allegedly never did.
Fillon had been a front-runner for France's two-round April-May presidential election until the investigation began and several allies abandoned him.
Speaking at the rally, Fillon said that although the charges were in his words "unjust" he wanted to apologize. He said it was a mistake to ask his wife to work for him and secondly that he had been hesitating on how to tell his supporters about it.
ATTACKING FORMER ALLIES
Yet he also assailed the conservative allies who have abandoned his campaign, and pledged to create jobs and slash public
spending to put France back on its feet. "My dear countrymen, They think that I am standing alone. They want that I stand alone. But are we alone?", he said, sparking thousands to answer "Np!"
He thanked who he called "friends" for supporting him "in the middle of a storm" marked by "criticism and caricatures and offensive remarks" and "to gather at a symbolic location."
Counter protests were also underway in France.
Fillon's wife urged her husband however to stay in the race, in her first interview since the scandal broke in January.
"Unlike the others, I will not abandon him," Penelope Fillon was quoted as saying in the Journal du dimanche newspaper. "I told him to continue to the end. Every day I told him that," she said, but added, "He is the one who will decide."
FRANCE FACING UNCERTAINTY
If Fillon quits, that would throw France's already exceptional, unpredictable campaign into disarray anew.
Many conservatives want Alain Juppé to run in his place for the two-round April-May vote.However their Republicans party has no official Plan B.
Juppé, who campaigned on a more moderate platform than the tough-on-security, pro-free market Fillon, was runner-up in the conservative primary.