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Scandal 'really hurt me,' says Welsh wife of Elysee hopeful Francois Fillon

Francois Fillon's fight to stay in the race for France's presidency continues on Monday with a meeting of his party's political committee while the man he defeated in the run-off to win his party's primary contest was due to speak to the media.

Alain Juppe had been the favourite to win the keys to the Elysee until Mr Fillon's surprise victory in the primary contest for the Gaullist party now known as Les Republicains.

However, the scandal surrounding alleged "fake job" payments to Mr Fillon's Welsh wife Penelope and two of his children has prompted some allies to urge Mr Fillon to step down.

On Sunday Mrs Fillon spoke for the first time about the crisis, vowing to stay with her husband "until the end" before she attended a rally of his supporters in central Paris.

Mr Juppe, the likely beneficiary of any withdrawal by Mr Fillon, was due to speak to the media in Monday from Bordeaux, where he is mayor.

Mrs Fillon, originally from Abergavenny, told Le Journal du Dimanche: "I have told Francois to go on until the end."

She reiterated her support for him saying: "I have been with Francois for 36 years and will be as long as we are alive."

She admitted she was dismayed the scandal had become known as Penelopegate, telling the paper: "When I first read that, I was without words.

"It really hurt me, the association of my name with this immense scandal.

"...I felt like I had been struck by lightning. It's the worst thing I have experienced in my life."

Mr Fillon, who revealed last week he has an appointment with magistrates on March 15 when charges are expected to be laid, had started 2017 as favourite to win the presidency but the 63-year-old father-of-five has seen his poll ratings plunge since the scandal first revealed by newspaper Le Canard Enchaine emerged.

On Sunday a large gathering of supporters braved the weather to show their support for Mr Fillon.

Current polling suggests the far-right's Marine Le Pen and Socialist-turned centrist Emmanuel Macron are now the two likely candidates to contest the presidency in the second round of voting on May 7 after the first round on April 23 whittles the field down to two.

President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, is not seeking a second term after a spell blighted by terror attacks.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who came third in the primary contest, issued a statement on Monday calling for talks to resolve the crisis.

The statement read: "Faced with the gravity of the situation faced by the right and centre, everyone has a duty to preserve the unity which is the condition of alternance (an alternative government).

"Our disunity is making the extreme-right's bed.

"It is in this spirit I propose to Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe to meet to find a worthy and credible exit from a situation that cannot last longer and which is creating deep unease with the French people."

Mr Juppe, a prime minister during the presidency of Jacques Chirac, wasted little time in telling the media he would not seek to run for president.

He said: "I confirm once and for all that I will not be a candidate to be president of the Republic."

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