Regional party chief urges Fillon to drop French presidential bid

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon faced mounting pressure from his own conservative camp to withdraw from the race on Saturday

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French presidential candidate Francois Fillon faced mounting pressure from his own conservative camp to withdraw from the race on Saturday, as a senator from The Republicans party warned it could split if he refused to bow out.

Senator Bruno Gilles, head of the party’s influential Bouches-du-Rhone region, said in a radio interview that party faithful had “turned the page” and overwhelmingly wanted a change of candidate.

Fillon, 62, has been embroiled in a deepening scandal since satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported he had paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for work she may not have done.

He denies the allegations, but they have rocked his campaign. An opinion poll published overnight showed the former front-runner is now set to trail in third behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the election on April 23.

“This scandal is doing us more damage every day, and we can’t wait another two weeks,” Gilles told France Bleu Provence radio. “There are presidential and legislative elections at stake and, beyond that, the survival of our political party.”

He added: “This could go as far as a party split.”

Fillon, a former prime minister, vowed on Friday to fight on despite public calls from a growing number of Republican lawmakers and officials for him to step aside.

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