The former French presidential front-runner this morning abruptly cancelled a planned visit to the Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris – where there were already fears that he would face jeers – and held a press conference to reveal that he was continuing.
He said he had faced “a political assassination” and that the “rule of law had been violated” over the claims that his wife, Penelope, his son and daughter had been paid money for work as his parliamentary aides that they had never done.
But he added that it was “not just me that is being assassinated, it’s the presidential election. The voices of millions of voters have been muzzled.”
Mr Fillon said that from the beginning, he had never been treated as an ordinary plaintiff and those involved had “ignored” the presumption of innocence in his case.
He said France was bigger than his mistakes, “larger than the positions taken by a large part of the press” and, speaking to his voters, added: “Do not let yourselves be abused, do not let others decide your choice.”
Mr Fillon revealed that his lawyers had told him he had been summoned to a meeting with a judge on March 15 when he would be formally charged but, despite saying earlier in the campaign he would pull out if charged, declared defiantly “I will not give up, I will not pull out.”
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He has been surrounded by controversy since the revelations in Le Canard Enchainé over payments made for years to his wife, Welsh-born Penelope, and to his children who were paid as lawyers while still only being students.
His campaign visits have been met with jeers and he has denounced the government for allowing a “civil war climate” in the country
Formerly the front-runner in the polls, he now trails the far-right Front National’s Marine le Pen and former socialist minister and centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Reactions to his press conference were swift, with some mocking him for claiming “It’s an injustice” like cartoon character Calimero, while socialist challenger Benoït Hamon lashed him for making the campaign seem “second rate” while making “incredibly violent attacks against judges”.
Right-winger Philippe Gosselin of Les Républicains said Fillon had grabbed back control: “Let’s go, we’re set. The former rally driver is still at the wheel!”