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Strauss-Kahn release stuns France

Paris — Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s release from house arrest has stunned French politicians, the public and press, who wonder whether he can emerge clean from a sex crime case and return to the presidential race.
Fresh doubts over the credibility of his accuser reignited the story of the decade in France, beating the Monaco royal wedding and the start of the Tour de France as the top topic of dinner-table chatter this weekend.
"The incredible come-back of Dominique Strauss-Kahn," read the headline in Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche, which insisted that now "he will never be tried."
Claims that the Guinean hotel maid who accuses him of trying to rape her lied to police, and was recorded discussing with a drug-dealer the possibility of getting money out of Strauss-Kahn, opened a new act in the drama.
"I’m going from one astonishment to another," said Francois Bayrou, leader of a centre-right minority party. "Only a Hollywood scriptwriter could have imagined such a story."
Strauss-Kahn, a powerful French politician who was head of the IMF global lender until the scandal hit, walked free and untagged from house arrest on Friday pending his next court appearance after a judge heard the latest claims.
Television pictures of him emerging smart and smiling from a New York courthouse contrasted with the walk of shame by an unshaven and handcuffed suspect that had shocked France in the days after his arrest on May 14.
"This is a complete reversal. The idea that the case may be dismissed is incredible," Sabine de Marigny, 44, a fashion designer, told AFP on a Paris street.
The violent nature of the accusations — that he chased the maid around his hotel suite, grabbed her vagina and forced her to give him oral sex — had prompted mourning for France’s image in the world.
Despite all this, a poll published by Harris Interactive on Sunday showed a majority of 49 percent of French people now approved of Strauss-Kahn returning to politics, with 45 percent opposed.
Previous polls had showed that 60 percent of French people believe the sex assault claims were a set-up to bring down Strauss-Kahn, who had been the favourite to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s election.
Strauss-Kahn’s political career was widely declared over after the scandal, which shook up his opposition Socialist Party and prompted its leader Martine Aubry to declare that she would run for president.
Friday’s court hearing left the Socialist campaign wide open, and many in France no longer knowing what to think, after weeks of soul-searching about sex and sexism in French public life.
"The DSK affair allowed us to shed light on and ask questions about our morals — perhaps even to change them," wrote senior editor Olivier Jay in Le Journal du Dimanche.
The doubts cast on the maid’s case prompted calls by some Socialists for the party’s candidate-selection process to be extended to allow Strauss-Kahn time to enter.
Aubry said on Sunday "no one would dare" oppose a return of Strauss-Kahn to the race while adding that she would stay in the contest.
Francois Hollande, the Socialists’ former leader currently polling as favourite to beat Sarkozy, said he was open to a election calendar change, as did Segolene Royal, a former presidential challenger also running in 2012.
There were fresh mutterings of a conspiracy on Sunday.
"It was a political assassination," said a close ally of Strauss-Kahn, greater Paris regional councillor Michele Sebban, on RCJ radio.
She dropped vague hints calling into question the role of the management of the Sofitel hotel, part of the French Accor group, in which the alleged assault took place, and that of the New York police in the unfolding of the scandal.
"There are many questions that remain unanswered," Sebban said.
The nature of the alleged action by the hotel management, also referred to by another Strauss-Kahn ally, was not specified. Accor responded in a statement that the claims could be "defamatory".
Deborah Pasmantier / AFP / Expatica