French minister Lagarde applies for top IMF job

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France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said on Wednesday she is running as a candidate to head the International Monetary Fund, after she received wide European backing for the post.

"I have decided to present my candidacy" for the job, she told reporters, adding that she had made the decision "after mature reflection."

If appointed, she would be the first woman to head the global emergency lender which is currently deeply involved in the eurozone debt crisis.

An EU source said on Friday that Lagarde, 55, was practically certain to become Europe's candidate, although she has been dogged by a French judicial probe into allegations of abuse of power.

"I have a perfectly clear conscience" about that affair, she told reporters on Wednesday after her announcement.

Lagarde gained fresh endorsements on Wednesday, with the head of the European Commission Jose Manual Barroso saying he fully supported her decision.

EU Cconomic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said that "Christine Lagarde is without doubt a figure who carries weight on the international stage," in remarks to French business daily Les Echos.

"Her reputation has grown further in recent months through her skill in managing the debt crisis in Europe and her good management of the French presidency of the G20" grouping of big economies, he added.

A French prosecutor called this month for a probe targeting Lagarde in connection with her handling of a high-profile scandal involving tycoon Bernard Tapie, amid allegations that she exceeded her authority in the case.

Lagarde has cut an impressive figure as the first female finance minister of a G7 power, earning a reputation for grace under fire during the global economic crisis.

The IMF's former chief economist Kenneth Rogoff told the New York Times Lagarde was so popular at finance meetings that she was "treated practically like a rock star."

Lagarde has received the backing of Germany, Britain and other European countries to take over as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, a global lender with a key role in calming the effects of the financial crisis on public finances in Europe.

The IMF's former head, Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, resigned last week after his arrest in New York on sexual assault charges.

The post is traditionally held by a European, but emerging economies complain that the post should be opened up to their candidates.

IMF directors from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- the so-called BRICS economies -- said Europe's longstanding exclusive deal to lead the IMF "undermines the legitimacy of the Fund."

"We are concerned with public statements made recently by high-level European officials to the effect that the position of managing director should continue to be occupied by a European," they said in a declaration.

The 2008-2009 financial crisis in the United States and Europe showed the need to reform institutions like the IMF "to reflect the growing role of developing countries in the world economy," they added.

© 2011 AFP

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