France's centrist party reserves judgment on backing Fillon

Francois Fillon, former French Prime Minister, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right delivers his speech at a campaign rally in Orleans, France, March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s centrist UDI party hinted on Tuesday it could back Francois Fillon’s presidential bid, but said it first wanted to see him take concrete steps to unite his much-divided camp.

Earlier on Tuesday, a top UDI lawmaker said the party - which last week suspended its participation in Fillon’s campaign over a financial scandal and called for a change of candidate - would rally behind Fillon.

But the final statement from the UDI was much more guarded.

“We take note of Francois Fillon’s ... decision to continue his campaign and his pledge to take initiatives to bridge divisions with the UDI.... We are waiting to see those initiatives,” the UDI’s executive committee said.

The statement also said the UDI, a much smaller party than The Republicans, would stick by an electoral deal of alliance with them for the parliamentary elections in June that follow the April-May presidential vote.

Fillon on Monday successfully fought off a rebellion within The Republicans that had threatened to end his candidacy for the presidency, as party leaders swung behind him.

Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Robin Pomeroy