The Latest: Fillon gets unanimous support from his party

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Posted: Mar 06, 2017 3:47 PM
The Latest: Fillon gets unanimous support from his party

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on France's presidential campaign (all times local):

9:45 p.m.

After days of uncertainty and divisions, leaders of the French conservative party have tightened ranks behind their struggling presidential candidate, Francois Fillon, and given up on pushing him to the exit and finding an alternative hopeful.

Speaking after an urgent meeting of The Republicans party's leaders Monday night, Senate Speaker Gerard Larcher said the party's political committee "unanimously renewed its support for Francois Fillon."

"The Republicans are therefore gathered and determined around Francois Fillon," Larcher told reporters.

After the same meeting, Bernard Accoyer, the party's secretary general, said The Republicans are behind their candidate "with a new impulse" and that they "are ready again to go into battle and have relaunched the campaign."

Fillon, a former prime minister and once the front-runner in France's two-round April-May presidential election, has lost the support of a part of the voters, with recent polls repeatedly suggesting that he would be eliminated from the race in the first round.

Fillon has been summoned to appear before judges next week for allegedly using taxpayers' money to pay family members for jobs that they may not have performed. He may be given preliminary charges in the case.

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7:10 p.m.

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon is calling on his party's leaders to unite behind his presidential bid despite impending corruption charges.

Fillon, speaking at the political committee of the Republicans, says "there is no plan B" to replace him and his candidacy is "the only legitimate one."

The urgent meeting has been called to discuss the deep divisions in the conservative party.

Fillon, a former prime minister and once the front-runner in France's two-round April-May presidential election, said last week he was summoned to appear before judges on March 15 for allegedly using taxpayers' money to pay family members for jobs that may not have existed.

With polls repeatedly suggesting that Fillon would be eliminated from the race in the first round, many conservative lawmakers have called on ex-Prime minister Alain Juppe to run in Fillon's place.

Juppe on Monday ruled himself out as a candidate.

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1 p.m.

Embattled French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has created a new uproar after he repeatedly said "I'm not autistic" during a TV interview.

Fillon was trying to make the point that he is listening to critics and not living in a bubble.

Defending his decision to maintain his presidential bid despite impending corruption charges, Fillon received extra criticism for his remarks, which have been perceived as discriminatory by people with autism, their families and a support group.

Although the expression in commonly used in France, SOS Autisme France asked Fillon to apologize. Secretary of State for Disabled People Segolene Neuville accused the conservative candidate of showing "deep contempt" for people living with autism.

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11:15 a.m.

French ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppe says that conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon's campaign has reached a "dead end."

Juppe has confirmed that he won't be a replacement for the embattled Fillon if he decides to withdraw his bid. Juppe also has rued a big "waste" and says he isn't in a position to rally supporters behind him.

Juppe said that "last week I received many calls asking me to take the helm. They made me hesitate, I thought about it. Today uniting everyone has become even more difficult."

Fillon, also a former prime minister, was once the front-runner ahead of France's two-round April-May presidential election. But now Fillon has been summoned to appear before judges on March 15 for allegedly using taxpayers' money to pay family members for jobs that may not have existed. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be the victim of a political plot.

Juppe said that "I don't intent to engage in partisan bargaining for positions. I'm not in a position today to achieve the required unity behind a unifying project. I confirm, once and for all, that I will not bid for French president."

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10:45 a.m.

Former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe says he won't be a replacement for Francois Fillon if the embattled conservative candidate decides to withdraw from the presidential race.

Despite voices in his Republicans party calling him to step in, Juppe said in Bordeaux that "it's too late" for him.

Fillon, a former prime minister and once the front-runner in France's two-round April-May presidential election, said last week he was summoned to appear before judges on March 15 for allegedly using taxpayers' money to pay family members for jobs that may not have existed.

Fillon's image has been dented since the scandal broke and polls are now suggesting that far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron will come out on top in the first-round vote on April 23. The top two vote-getters go on to compete in the May 7 presidential runoff.

Juppe was the runner-up behind Fillon in the party's primary. A poll released Sunday suggested Juppe would have a better chance at reaching the runoff than Fillon.

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9:55 a.m.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is calling for a meeting with embattled conservative candidate Francois Fillon and his possible replacement to find a solution to the crisis that threatens to shatter the French right.

Sarkozy says the current divisions, which are linked to Fillon's decision to maintain his presidential bid despite impending corruption charges, are playing into the hands of the far-right. Sarkozy said this situation "can't last and is creating deep unease among French people."

Despite a plethora of defections by conservative allies in recent days, Fillon has pledged to remain in the race.

Fillon's Republicans party remains dangerously divided over his candidacy, though, and its political committee is holding an urgent meeting Monday.

Many conservatives want Alain Juppe, a former prime minister, to run in Fillon's place.