French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party Francois Fillon (C) gestures as he delivers a speech on stage during a rally at the place du Trocadero, in Paris, on March 5, 2017. -AFP

PARIS -Embattled French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon vowed that “no one” could force him to quit as he dug in despite calls to withdraw over an expenses scandal, with party leaders heading for a crisis meeting Monday over his candidacy.

The conservative was in a defiant mood after holding a rally in Paris attended by tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters.

“No one today can prevent me being a candidate,” Fillon said in a TV interview late Sunday in which he again said an investigation into allegations he gave his wife a highly paid fake parliamentary job was politically motivated.

“Of course it is aimed at stopping me being a candidate,” said Fillon, who is to be charged on March 15.

Former prime minister Alain Juppe has been tipped as a likely replacement, with leaders of their Republicans party meeting Monday evening and Juppe also to make an announcement.

Fillon however dismissed suggestions the party could remove him.

“If the voters of the right and the centre wanted Alain Juppe, they would have voted for Alain Juppe,” he said.

He was criticised on social media after saying he was “not autistic” and saw the problems in his campaign.

Fillon, a devout Catholic, beat Juppe in the Republicans’ primary in November, pulling off a surprise victory by campaigning as a “clean” candidate. -AFP

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