Fillon says won't quit presidential race

Allegations surrounding embattled French right-wing presidential candidate, Francois Fillon continue to roll in.

"I am not the candidate of a party - no organization has the legitimacy to put the primary vote into question", he said.

Opinion polls show Mr Fillon, 62, has lost his status as favourite to win the presidency to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, and that far-right leader Marine Le Pen has also gained ground.

The stakes are high for France's Right which had looked likely to return to power after five years of Socialist rule under President Francois Hollande. Fillon is trying to save his presidential bid as prosecutors investigate the political jobs he gave to his wife, son and daughter.

The former prime minister called a news conference to address the scandal that broke two weeks ago. She occupied this position for 15 years altogether and she was paid, on average on a monthly basis, 3,677 euros net per month.

The conservative former prime minister has come under pressure to quit the race since the newspaper Le Canard Enchaine published a report on Jan 25 alleging that his wife Penelope had been paid hundreds of thousands of euros in state money for work she may never have done. A key campaign promise this year is to slash half a million public-sector jobs.

Mr Fillon said he would step down if placed under formal investigation.

Fillon did not say who would be behind such a plot.

"It was a mistake, which I deeply regret, and I apologise to the French people", he said.

The politician said that his wife often worked from home to do her jobs.

Dr Joseph Downing, French politics expert and fellow at France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), believes the damage to Mr Fillon's reputation represents a serious obstacle for the conservatives to overcome ahead of the 23 April first round.

"Her salary was perfectly justified because her work was indispensable to my work as an MP (member of parliament)", he said.

"Today we know who will be candidate to the end", Fenech told BFM-TV.

A champion of free-market policies to reinvigorate a heavily regulated economy, Fillon said the violence of the campaign against him had been the work of those who wanted to undermine his "programme of breaking with the past".

The two most successful candidates in the first election in April will face each other in a runoff in May (unless one candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote in the first round - which is seen as highly unlikely).

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