France election: Fillon loses support of allied party in fresh blow

Image copyright AP Image caption Francois Fillon refuses to stand down despite increasing pressure

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has suffered another blow to his campaign as an allied political party withdrew its support.

The Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) called on Mr Fillon's Republican Party to choose another candidate in the wake of a scandal over payments.

It is alleged his wife and children were paid for parliamentary work they never carried out.

However, Mr Fillon is refusing to stand down despite the increasing pressure.

Separately, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen has refused to attend a summons over misuse of EU funds.

Her legal advisers said she would not attend before the election. "Of course she won't go," her lawyer told reporters.

The BBC's Paris correspondent, Hugh Schofield, said that while the UDI is a small party with 28 MPs, its alliance with the Republicans is important.

As a centrist party, it broadens the Republicans' base, he said.

UDI leader Jean-Christophe Lagarde said Mr Fillon had become a liability, and that as long as he was a candidate, the centre-right was heading for certain failure.

Mr Fillon, 62, denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a "political assassination".

He has already lost several key members of his campaign team, and several MPs from his own party are campaigning to replace him with Alain Juppe.

Mr Juppe lost the November primary election to Mr Fillon.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Ms Le Pen maintains the allegations against her are politically motivated

Ms Le Pen's party is accused of misusing more than €300,000 (£257,000; $321,000) of European Parliament funding.

As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Ms Le Pen is immune to prosecution during sessions of the parliament - a measure designed to ensure the independence of members and protect them from pressure in form of legal threats.

The European Parliament can vote to lift Ms Le Pen's immunity - as they did on Thursday regarding her use of images of violence carried out by so-called Islamic State.

However, the parliament would have to carry out the same procedure again to lift her immunity on the EU funds investigation.

She has also refused a police interview on the topic on the same grounds.

The legal issues surrounding both candidates have lifted the prospects of a third contender - centrist Emmanuel Macron.

On Friday, a poll showed Mr Macron finishing ahead of Marine Le Pen in the first round for the first time - though the pair remain close in popularity.

The election takes place in two rounds in April and May. If no candidate achieves a majority in April, a run-off election will take place between the top two the following month.


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