By Richard Balmforth
PARIS French presidential candidate Francois Fillon pressed on with his scandal-hit campaign on Thursday, seeking to rally his team, reverse opinion polls that show him trailing badly, and put a two week-old 'fake jobs' affair behind him.As he prepared to meet a senior member of his party later on Thursday though, two of his adult children were due to be questioned by fraud police over work they undertook for him when he was a senator - keeping alive a debacle that has heaped uncertainty into a now tightly-contested election.Though the presidency seems to be slipping from his grasp, Fillon, a 62-year-old former prime minister, has managed to stem a rebellion in his Republicans party.Just over two weeks ago he seemed assured of moving into the Elysee presidential palace after five years of Socialist rule.The uphill task now facing Fillon and the centre-right was reinforced by polls which showed him certain to crash out of the election in the first round on April 23.These polls see the far-right's Marine Le Pen meeting centrist independent Emmanuel Macron in the May 7 runoff with Macron, a former investment banker who has never held elected office, easily beating the National Front leader.
Fillon, who says he wants to change France's "software" and is pushing free-market policies which include big cuts in public spending and civil service numbers, took his programme to the town of Poitiers on Thursday.Apart from holding a public meeting, he was to see local Republicans members close to Alain Juppe, another former prime minister and rival for the candidacy, in further efforts to rally centre-right forces behind him.Fillon has apologised publicly for his past conduct relating to large salaries paid to his wife Penelope and two of his children for work which press reports say they might not have carried out. He is hoping he has now weathered the storm.
Le Monde newspaper quoted Fillon as saying that he saw the next two weeks as crucial for his campaign and he told voters to disabuse themselves if they thought Macron would easily beat Le Pen in a runoff."My voters will go straight to Le Pen," he told a group of journalists according to le Monde. "People of the right who saw themselves deprived of their candidate (Fillon) would be extremely angry," he said.
A source close to the financial probe into the scandal said his children, Marie and Charles, who are both in their 30s, would see financial police in Nanterre, near Paris, on Thursday over work they did for their father from 2005 to 2007.A small group of protesters noisily banged on pots and pans - a symbol of corruption in France - when he was out on the stump on Wednesday south of Paris and he was heckled during another visit the day before. Fillon has now begun to attack the legitimacy of the financial prosecutor's office which is investigating the fake jobs allegations - a tactic apparently aimed at pre-empting a move to place him under formal investigation.The unpredictability of the French election campaign has rattled regional bond markets in recent weeks, pushing up the premium that investors demand for holding French over German government debt to multi-year highs earlier this week. (Additional reporting by Chine Labbe, Yves Clarisse and Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Richard Lough)
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Updated Date: Feb 09, 2017 22:16:37 IST