COMPIEGNE, France (AP) — Conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon wants to prosecute 16 and 17 year olds as adults, arguing it would prevent the kind of unrest that has rocked the low-income suburbs of Paris following an alleged police rape.
With his campaign struggling under corruption allegations, Fillon sought to burnish his tough-on-security image Wednesday with proposals likely to please far-right voters. He complained that many minors were involved in the recent unrest, but said they are "virtually untouchable because the law protects them more than their victims."
He made the comments during a meeting with police and security officials in the town of Compiegne in northern France.
After officers were arrested for the alleged rape of a young black man in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, protesters torched cars and broke windows during several nights of demonstrations.
Fillon did not mention in detail the incident that prompted the disturbances in several suburbs around Paris.
Later, during a speech at a political rally, he said, "Everything started because of this young man whose arrest is being questioned ... Justice must sanction the police officers if they were at fault. But there is no justification for these riots".
Fillon's campaign has been flailing since weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaine revealed that his wife and children were paid public funds for allegedly fake jobs as his parliamentary aides. Fillon denies any wrongdoing.
The conservative candidate, once favored to win the presidential election, is now struggling to continue his campaign as normal.
Polls show he has lost ground to centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Crowds gathered in Paris on Wednesday to call for justice for the young man allegedly brutalized by police.
A few dozen protesters also shouted "Fillon in prison!" near the entrance of the conference hall near Compiegne, where thousands gathered to listen to the conservative candidate's speech.