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France's Hollande in damage control mode over tell-all book

Frederick Florin, AFP

French President François Hollande on Friday scrambled to contain the damage from a series of embarrassing remarks he made in a tell-all book, a day after the lengthy tome was published.


The Socialist president said he "deeply regretted" criticism that upset senior lawyers and judges in a book written by Le Monde journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, who were granted a staggering 61 private interviews with him over the course of four years.

Meanwhile, Hollande’s political allies openly questioned the necessity and purpose of the book, with the French president even waving any rights to review or edit the book.

In the 672-page book, which has all of France talking, he describes the justice system as "a cowardly institution" and accused senior judges of simply "keeping their heads down".

However, the president has vehemently insisted his comments have been misinterpreted.

"I deeply regret what has been taken as an insult by judges, whose courage and devotion to their difficult work I admire every day," Hollande said in a letter to the country's top magistrate on Friday.

In the book he also levels censure at his “obsessively jealousy” former partner Valérie Trierweiler, calling her “an unhappy woman”, and France’s national football team, who he skewers as wealthy, “ill-mannered kids”.

‘Not good for politics’

The behind-the-scenes book titled “A President Should Not Say That” (in French, "Un président ne devrait pas dire ça"), instantly handed ammunition to his opponents.

Right-wing presidential candidates referred to the Socialist leader’s shocking remarks during a debate on prime time TV on Thursday, saying they were proof that Hollande is unfit to be president.

Even Hollande’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, admitted he had “taken stock of the consequences” of the remarks about judges.

“All these discussions, they’re not good for politics and for democracy,” Valls, who was forced to comment on the fallout during a trip to Canada, said.

Needs to explain

The book has severely damaged Hollande’s credibility just seven months before the French presidential elections in which he is widely expected to seek a second term.

The speaker of the National Assembly, Socialist lawmaker Claude Bartolone, questioned the president’s desire and ability to run for re-election.

“A president should not confess so many things,” Bartolone said, adding the he thinks Hollande owes his supporters an explanation, so they can “see if he really wants to be a [presidential] candidate.”

Socialist Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said he was convinced Hollande wanted to stand for re-election but acknowledged that he was "not making things easy for himself."

A junior minister openly suggested that leftist former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg, who quit the government over a disagreement with the president, would beat Hollande for the Socialist presidential nomination.

Montebourg is widely viewed as a maverick, but higher education minister Thierry Mandon said Wednesday: "He can beat (Hollande) because with the way French political life is breaking up... anything is possible."

The Socialist has suffered some of the lowest approval ratings of a post-war president after four years clouded by stubbornly high unemployment and a series of devastating terror attacks.


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