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'I have nothing to hide': Defiant Fillon vows he will not quit French presidential race

MARTIN BUREAU | AFP | Getty Images

French center-right presidential candidate Francois Fillon has pledged to continue his election campaign and told supporters at a news conference in Paris Monday he would fight allegations he improperly employed family members.

"I understand the need for me to clarify things and I will do so because I have nothing to hide," Fillon told supporters at his campaign headquarters on Monday.

Fillon has been under increasing pressure to withdraw from the race after accusations emerged that he had paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros in state funds for work she may not have done.

'Perfectly justified'

The Les Republicains (LR) candidate declared he was in the middle of an "extremely violent campaign" and dismissed accusations his wife, Penelope, wrongly benefitted financially as his assistant.

"Her salary was perfectly justified because her work was indispensable to my work as an MP (member of parliament)," he said.

Fillon claimed he saw no reason to reimburse the money paid to his wife from her time as his parliamentary assistant and also moved to respond to a preliminary probe from prosecutors who are investigating whether his children profited financially from parliamentary roles.

He argued all financial matters were declared throughout his time as an MP and all were legal. However, he conceded, "To collaborate with family members in politics was an accepted thing, it is not accepted today. I am sorry and apologize".

The LR party distributed around 3 million leaflets on Saturday titled "Stop the Manhunt" in an effort to reject allegations pointed towards him as conspiracy.

However, some senior members of Fillon's own party have urged him to stand down to allow someone else attempt to build a campaign with just 11 weeks until the first round of votes are due to be cast.

"I want to tell millions of French people who chose me, no one will steal your choice," Fillon declared as he underlined his intention to pursue the French presidency. "Tonight a new campaign starts," he added.

Campaign contenders

Meanwhile, two other major contenders in the race to become president of France launched their respective campaigns in the city of Lyon on Sunday.

The favorites to reach the second and final round of voting in May are the former economy minister and independent candidate, Emmanuel Macron, and leader of the anti-immigration and populist National Front party, Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen continues to be the political frontrunner with 25 percent of the vote with Macron slightly behind on 20.5 percent, according to the latest poll conducted by polling firm Ifop.

Until the political scandal began to unfold on January 25, Fillon had been projected to be the most likely challenger to Le Pen.

Opinion polls suggest both Fillon and Macron would defeat Le Pen in the final round of voting by a wide margin.