Fillon faces fresh calls to quit from own party
Scandal-hit French presidential candidate François Fillon came under renewed attack from within his own conservative camp yesterday as he sought to hold his campaign together through talks with ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Rebel conservative lawmaker Georges Fenech said voters were deserting their party, Les Republicains, and it faced defeat in the April-May election unless it ditched Mr Fillon.
Mr Fenech has been one of the strongest anti-Fillon voices since the former prime minister's campaign was knocked off track by a scandal over his use of public funds to employ his wife as a parliamentary assistant.
With 10 weeks to go until the election, his place as favourite has been taken by centrist Emmanuel Macron, while far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen has also gained ground.
"I'd love to be wrong but I can't believe any more because I can see on the ground the reaction of the voters. They don't want to vote for us any more," Mr Fenech told Radio Classique.
He was speaking a day after leading a failed bid to force a meeting of the party's executive that could have challenged Mr Fillon's decision to continue his presidential bid.
Mr Fenech referred to a meeting this week between Mr Fillon and his camp as one of "mutual congratulation" in which "nobody wants to tell him the truth - or very few people".
"With that as a starting point, we are going to the wall," he said. "There are other people in our party who are respectable, young and have the capacity to run the country."
Mr Fillon had been favourite to win the presidency until allegations in a newspaper three weeks ago that his wife did very little work for the hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers' money that she received as his aide. He said it was a real job, and denied having done anything wrong. An official inquiry has been launched.
Mr Fillon yesterday held a lunch meeting with Mr Sarkozy, a key figure in the party who commands the loyalty of a faction on its right, and whom he beat to the presidential ticket in a primary election in November. Mr Fillon was due back on the campaign trail yesterday evening with a rally planned north of Paris.
Daily opinion polls show Ms Le Pen winning the April 23 first round vote and Mr Macron just ahead of Mr Fillon for the second-place prize of facing her in a May 7 run-off.