France's Hollande 'hurt' at ex's claim he hates the poor
French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday launched a fresh salvo against a scathing memoir written by his former partner, saying he had been particularly "hurt" by claims he secretly despises the poor.
Valerie Trierweiler claimed in the book that the Socialist leader jokingly referred to the destitute as "toothless" in private.
She was the president's partner for nine years until he brusquely ended their relationship following revelations he had an affair with an actress.
In the memoir, entitled "Thank You for the Moment", Trierweiler writes that Hollande "portrayed himself as the man who doesn't like the rich. In reality, the president doesn't like the poor."
In an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, the Socialist president defended his commitment to the needy as he struggles to stop his popularity ratings from sinking to new depths.
"I don't want people to be able to say or write that I don't care about suffering in society, because that's a lie that hurts me," Hollande said.
"This attack on the poor, the most disadvantaged, I took it as an attack on my entire life."
The president said in every political post he had held "I have thought only of helping and representing those who are suffering".
- 'I defended the poor' -
"I have never been on the side of the powerful, even if I am not their enemy, but I know where I come from," he said.
Trierweiler's memoir has already become a bestseller in France since it was published last week.
Its publisher said 145,000 copies were sold in the first four days and it has ordered a further print run of 270,000 copies.
Hollande angrily rebuffed the former first lady's accusations on Friday at a press conference after a NATO summit in Britain, and did so once again in the interview.
"Yes, I met people suffering the worst kinds of hardships, worn down by life. They had trouble caring for their teeth. That's the sign of the worst kind of misery. I rubbed shoulders with these people, helped them, supported them," he said.
Two opinion polls showed that most French people disapprove of Trierweiler's book.
Fifty-six percent believe she was "wrong" to write the book, according to a poll by Harris Interactive for VSD magazine, while 67 percent were opposed to the memoir in a CSA survey.
The interview came as Hollande was dealt yet another blow when his finance minister said France was again delaying its target to hit EU deficit rules and revising down its growth forecast.
In an admission made the day his predecessor Pierre Moscovici was named EU commissioner for economic affairs, Michel Sapin said Paris would not get its ballooning budget deficit down to the EU limit of three percent of output until 2017.
The economy will grow by a sluggish 0.4 percent this year, down from an initial estimate of one percent, he added.
Hollande is already the most unpopular French president in modern history as the eurozone's second-largest economy continues to be hampered by record unemployment and stagnant growth.
© 2014 AFP