Past Strauss-Kahn sex claims haunt French left
Claims over Dominique Strauss-Kahn's past sexual conduct haunted France's opposition Socialists on Friday as they struggled to regroup for next year's election after his indictment on sex assault charges.
After a New York grand jury indicted the ex-IMF head, the new frontrunner to become the Socialists' presdential candidate, Francois Hollande, was forced to deny that he knew of similar claims made against Strauss-Kahn in 2002.
In the wake of Strauss-Kahn's arrest, a lawyer for French writer Tristane Banon, 31, said she may bring charges alleging he tried to sexually assault her in 2002. She described the encounter in a television broadcast in 2007.
"I never heard of deeds of such seriousness as those that have recently been mentioned," said Hollande, who was the party's leader at the time.
"I do not mean that no deeds were committed," he told reporters. "Rumours exist, but I never saw it as my role to police the Socialist Party."
Banon's mother Anne Mansouret, a Socialist regional councillor, said on Thursday that people "at the highest level" in the party knew of the claims.
Rumours had long circulated in French media and political circles but little attention was paid to them until Strauss-Kahn's arrest last weekend on charges of sexually assaulting and trying to rape a Manhattan hotel maid.
Strauss-Kahn had been the Socialists' best hope of beating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential vote in April and May 2012. The party is due to shortlist its hopefuls in June and choose a candidate at a primary in October.
As the French political world caught its breath after a US court bailed Strauss-Kahn on Thursday, his opposition allies remained split on how to fight the upcoming election.
"I think now we really have to move on," said Segolene Royal, the party's previous presidential candidate, who lost the 2007 election to Sarkozy and will be a candidate at the primaries to stand again.
"We are not going to overshadow all of French political life ... by living through this soap opera of American justice day after day," she said.
Royal currently polls as the third-place candidate, behind the party's leader Martine Aubry and her predecessor, Hollande.
Royal said the Socialists must "avoid taking any decisions in the heat of emotion" over Strauss-Kahn's arrest, which caused shock and dismay last weekend, and "keep moving forward."
Some in the party were still reeling, however, and said it was too soon to go all-out lining up a candidate to replace Strauss-Kahn.
"If we want the primaries to deliver, we must agree for them to take a back seat for the moment," a leading Socialist lawmaker and ally of Strauss-Kahn, Manuel Valls, was quoted as saying by Le Parisien newspaper Friday.
Aubry has called for "unity" in the party, implying they must all rally behind one contender.
But Hollande has been campaigning vigorously over recent months and is not expected to bow to Aubry, with whom he has had sometimes testy relations.
Meanwhile several key party members, including close allies of Strauss-Kahn, have broken the silence and urged Aubry to stand. She is seen as a traditional left-winger, in contrast to Hollande, who is considered more moderate.
A survey by pollster Sofres published on Friday showed Hollande as the Socialist most likely to beat Sarkozy, however, with 38 percent support against 18 for Aubry. Royal had eight percent support.
For Valls, any choice of candidate now risks being a mere "default".
Strauss-Kahn "was seen as the mechanic of globalisation and the one who could get France out of the economic crisis," he told Le Parisien.
"It is no discredit to anyone to say that, clearly, none of us has a magic formula for 2012."
© 2011 AFP