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Pro- and anti-Fillon rallies held in Paris amid ‘fake jobs’ scandal

THOMAS SAMSON, AFP | People wave French national flags during a rally to support French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party Francois Fillon on March 5, 2017 at Trocadero, opposite the Eiffel Tower in Paris

France's presidential campaign could be at a potential turning point as opponents and supporters of conservative candidate François Fillon, who faces corruption charges over a "fake jobs" scandal, stage separate Sunday rallies in Paris.

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Sunday's pro-Fillon rally at Trocadéro, across from the Eiffel Tower, is meant to gauge the level of support for Fillon after numerous defections by allies. Defectors expressed disillusionment witih how the candidate has handled the investigation into allegations that he arranged parliamentary jobs for his wife and children for which they were paid, but never performed.

Fillon’s campaign staffers are hoping for a massive turnout, helped by the organising prowess of groups such as La Manif Pour Tous, which regularly stages massive protests against gay marriage.

An anti-Fillon rally is also taking place at the Place de la République in eastern Paris, which has been the scene of some of France’s most historic protests. Although the rally was initially planned as a more general protest against corruption under the banner “Stop corruption among lawmakers”, it morphed into a counter-rally after Fillon called on his supporters to take to the streets to back him up.

In a newspaper interview published in the weeky Le Journal du dimanche on Sunday, Fillon's wife, Penelope, broke her silence on the so-called “fake jobs” scandal for the first time since news of it emerged, insisting she had carried out real work for her husband. Both she and her husband deny any wrongdoing.

If Fillon steps down, many conservatives want former prime minister and current Mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppé, who came in second behind Fillon in Les Républicains' presidential primary, to run in his place for the two-round April-May vote. Fillon was once the frontrunner but polls now favour centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Please check back for regular updates on this developing story.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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