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Fillon says his future is in the hands of supporters at huge Paris rally

Thomas SAMSON / AFP | French presidential candidate for the right-wing Les Républicains party François Fillon (C), flanked by his wife Penelope Fillon (3rd L) and French lawmaker Luc Chatel (2nd R), gestures on stage at a rally at Trocadéro.

France’s right-wing presidential candidate François Fillon struck a servile but defiant chord before a crowd of thousands of his supporters on Sunday, portraying himself as little more than an instrument of the people.


Braving rain, wind and even a bout of hail, tens of thousands of pro-Fillon activists came from all over the country and descended on central Paris to demonstrate their unwavering support for his troubled candidacy. Fillon won the primary of the right-wing Les Républicains party in November but has been under the shadow of a ‘fake jobs’ scandal since January.

“I came to protest for the first time in my life,” said Patrick Raux.

And though there was nary a placard in sight--the crowd had been warned against criticising the judiciary or the press and instead carried the tricolor flags they were handed as they went through the security cordon--protesters were more than forthcoming in sharing what seemed to be the prevailing opinion: that Fillon was the victim of a politically motivated campaign to destroy his candidacy.

“The judges, the press, the government want to prevent us from voting for [who] we want to vote for,” said Dominique de Beaucoudrey.

De Beaucoudrey spoke for many there when he said he wasn’t troubled by the allegations that Fillon had paid his wife and children nearly 900,000 euros of public funds for doing little to no work. Protesters had different reasons for dismissing the allegations. Some didn’t believe them, while others said Fillon was being scapegoated for something that is common practice among lawmakers.

For De Beaucoudrey, it was the timing of the charges that was troubling. “The facts...have been known for four or five years,” he said. “They could have easily decided to make an investigation long before.”

But Fillon’s guilt or innocence wasn’t the essential issue in De Beaucoudrey’s estimation. “It’s not so much Fillon that’s at stake. It’s democracy,” he said. “Actually, this is a coup. It’s an organised [push] from the other side.”

Fillon’s discourse ran along similarly lofty lines. He didn’t wake up every day thinking about his personal ambition, he told the crowd, but rather about how he could serve his country and fulfill the desires of the French people.

“I will continue to tell my political friends that the choice is down to them, and also not down to them,” he said during his half-hour speech. “Because the choice is yours, those of your votes and through those votes your hopes. I am sure that it will be all of France’s choice if we are able to gather ourselves in an ultimate push.”

Fillon’s message was not a far cry from ‘make France great again.’ He appealed to "the France of the farmers, the France of cathedrals, chateaus ... the France whose moral and military force stands up to terrorists and tyrants."

Indeed, Fillon’s supporters cast him in an almost messianic light.

A 23-year-old named Sixtine, who declined to give her last name, said she believed Fillon would return France to its essential values. “Not move backwards,” she specified, “but re-centre. It’s that above all that I’m defending.”

“He is the best candidate to represent the Right of France not the Centre Right,” echoed her friend Gaëlle, 24, who also declined to give her surname. She said that Fillon had the best “economic, moral and ethical values.”

As for his legal woes: “They want to steal the election,” she said, referring to the forces on the Left. “They want to destroy the Right. I want him to resist.”

On Sunday, Fillon showed no signs that he intended to back down, and the sizeable crowd likely emboldened him. But the final chapter of his story has not yet been written. He is expected to appear on television tonight, and the political committee of Les Républicains has called an extraordinary meeting for Monday evening.

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