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Europe

French president to face press amid affair scandal

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-14

President Francois Hollande will aim to set out his plans to revive the weak French economy at a press conference on Tuesday, and deflect questions about his private life after allegations surfaced of a secret love affair with an actress.

Today’s press conference will be the president’s first public appearance since a celebrity magazine on Friday accused Hollande of having an affair, and published photos it said showed him making a nocturnal visit to Julie Gayet.

David Assouline, a spokesman for Hollande's Socialist party, stressed Monday the right of any public official to a private life and defended the reform to be announced in Tuesday's keynote news conference.

"This major political event must remain a major political event," Assouline said.

However, the leader of the opposition, right-wing UMP party chief Jean-François Copé, has already pounced on the scandal as "having deeply undermined the president's authority".

The annual set piece, in front of 500 journalists, starts at 4:30pm Paris time (1530 GMT) and could run for as long as two hours. Hollande plans to use the event to detail a proposed "responsibility pact" with business in which firms will be offered tax cuts and less red tape in return for hiring commitments aimed at reducing 12 percent unemployment.

Shadow of Trierweiler looms

A similar event staged by predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy after his 2007 divorce was dominated by curiosity over his ties to singer Carla Bruni, whom he subsequently wed.

Hollande, 59, had initially been hoping to ride out the storm created by last week's revelation of an affair with Gayet, a blonde actress 18 years his junior.

But those hopes were shattered with the hospitalisation on Friday of Valérie Trierweiler, Hollande's companion of several years and de facto First Lady.

She had been expected to check out on Monday, but "doctors believe she needs more rest", an aide to Trierweiler said.

Symptoms variously described in the media as low blood pressure, exhaustion and a "severe case of the blues" developed within hours of glossy French magazine Closer publishing details of Hollande's alleged secret trysts with Gayet in a borrowed apartment close to his residence.

Since then Hollande has faced mounting pressure, including from his own camp, to clarify the position of Trierweiler, who lives with him at the Elysée Palace.

"He has to clarify the situation," said Thierry Mandon, the spokesman for the Socialist Party's parliamentary group.

"He has to do it once, firmly and decisively, and then we don't talk about it any more."

'Ready to forgive'

The traditional reticence in France's media and political class over what is seen as prying into the private lives of public figures ensured that reaction was at first subdued.

Despite concerns that Hollande had apparently been taking risks with his own security with clandestine visits to the flat on a chauffeur-driven scooter, it appears he will be allowed to resolve his personal dilemma behind closed doors.

But the fact that Trierweiler is effectively a public figure with an entourage funded by the taxpayer has made her future a legitimate news story. Although France does not have an official First Lady, Trierweiler has her own office in the Elysée, a chauffeur and adviser. Having put her career as a journalist for Paris Match on hold after Hollande's 2012 election, Trierweiler has accompanied the president on visits to China, Japan and India, and is due to travel with him to Washington next month. Many pundits say it is legitimate now to question what her actual status is.

Rumours had swirled since Gayet appeared in a 2012 Hollande campaign video in which she gushed about him being "fantastic, humble and really ready to listen".

Nonetheless, friends of Trierweiler quoted by Le Parisien newspaper have insisted she was devastated when the report of the affair emerged.

"She is ready to forgive him, she doesn't want to slam the door but she has to know quickly what his intentions are," the local paper quoted a friend as saying.

Opinion polls suggest French voters are also willing to forgive Hollande his alleged infidelity. A weekend survey found that more than three quarters (77 percent) think his love life is his own business -- though that was before Trierweiler's hospitalisation.

Twice-divorced Trierweiler has officially been Hollande's partner since 2007, when he left Ségolène Royal, a fellow heavyweight in the Socialist Party and the mother of his four children.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-14

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