French Fillon stays in presidential race

French Fillon stays in presidential raceFrench conservative candidate Francois Fillon is refusing to quit the presidential race despite receiving a summons Wednesday to face charges of faking parliamentary jobs for his family, Associated Press reported.

Calling the investigation a "political assassination," Fillon called on his supporters to "resist" and said he would leave it up to voters to decide his fate. Once a front-runner in the race for the April-May two-round election, Fillon since the probe was opened in January.

Fillon's statement at his campaign headquarters came after a morning of speculation that he was about to withdraw following his decision to postpone a campaign visit to the Paris farm show.

"I will not surrender. I will not withdraw," he told reporters at his headquarters.

Fillon denied all allegations and said legal procedure was not properly followed in the probe, which he called unprecedented and unacceptable during a presidential election campaign. He said he was summoned for questioning March 15 "with the goal of being given preliminary charges."

The court summons was widely expected after the financial prosecutor's office pushed the case to a higher level Friday, opening a formal judicial inquiry that allows investigating judges to file preliminary charges.

Financial Prosecutor Eliane Houlette denied reports that Fillon's wife Penelope was taken in for questioning Wednesday.

Fillon, who won the conservative primary on a platform of tighter security and public spending cuts, initially said he would withdraw from the race if he was charged — but later said he was determined to let the voters judge him instead of investigators.

"France is greater than my errors," he said Wednesday.

After a preliminary investigation opened January 25, the financial prosecutor's office decided Friday to launch a formal judicial inquiry, turning it over to investigating judges who can bring charges or throw the case out. The list of potential charges include misappropriation of public funds, abuse of public funds and influence trafficking.

Fillon's Republicans party has no clear Plan B for an eventual withdrawal by Fillon. The runner-up in the party's first-ever primary, the more center-leaning Alain Juppe, has said he would not want to run in Fillon's place.
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