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Hollande bids to deflect scandal with policy plan

14 January 2014, 14:40

Paris - Francois Hollande faced the impossible task of rousing media interest for his 2014 policy plans on Tuesday as his partner remained in hospital following news of his alleged affair with a glamorous actress.

The French president is to hold a high-profile press conference which was initially expected to culminate with a key announcement on reforms to spur economic growth and create jobs.

But the conference, scheduled for 1530 GMT, is more likely to produce headlines on Hollande's private life, which was thrust into the spotlight last week by media allegations he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

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

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

In front of around 500 journalists, Hollande will float his "responsibility pact", in which he offers companies lower labour taxes in exchange for hiring more workers.

The Socialist leader, aged 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 Valerie 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 Elysee Palace.

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

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

'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 looked like he would 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.

Having put her career as a journalist for Paris Match on hold after Hollande's 2012 election, Trierweiler has accompanied the president on overseas visits to China, Japan and India, and is due to travel with him to Washington next month.

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%) 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 Segolene Royal, a fellow heavyweight in the Socialist Party and the mother of his four children.



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