French presidential hopeful François Fillon has vowed not pull out of the country’s election race describing himself as the victim of an attempted “political assassination”.

“I do not despair”, said the former prime minister who will be officially summoned to appear in front of judges on March 15 when he will be put under formal investigation over the use of public payments made to his family.

“I will not give in. I will not give up. I am not prepared to withdraw, I will go to the very end”, he said.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris, a combative Mr Fillon urged his supporters to rally around his cause, calling the charges politically motivated and designed to thwart voters of the centre and right in the country.

“Justice will be done. I will tell the judges my truth, which is the truth. Today it is up to you my dear countrymen…It is up to the French people to whom I will appeal”.

“I have not been treated like an ordinary citizen. The rule of law has been systemically violated.”

“Only the people”, not the judicial establishment, can decide who should go on to lead the country, he added.

First round polls indicate Mr Fillon is tied closely with rival Macron in second place behind the far-right Marine Le Pen. The former conservative PM had been a favourite for the job before the scandal alleging he paid his wife and children €880,000 for work they did not do.

The market reaction to the news was muted, with French government bond yields falling 1 basis point on the news to gain 2bps on the day at 0.9 per cent.

Mr Fillon insisted the French public must be given an alternative choice to the “foolish adventure” of Ms Le Pen or the “continuation of elitism” represented by the centrist independent Mr Macron, a former Socialist economy minister.

Last week, magistrates in charge of prosecuting financial crime opened a formal investigation in the affair, appointing three judges to look into possible embezzlement, influence-peddling and abuse of public funds.

Image via Reuters

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