French press sounds death knell on Strauss-Kahn hopes

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Leading French newspapers delivered a unanimous verdict Monday that the political career of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was over following his shock arrest on sex charges.

Strauss-Khan had been seen as the leading challenger to President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 French election and, as the Socialist heavyweight was led handcuffed from a Harlem police station, his fall dominated the front pages.

"Unbelievable, incredible, inconceivable," the right-leaning Le Figaro wrote in an editorial.

"As we wait for truth to be sorted from falsehood, one thing is already certain: Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be the next president of the French Republic," it said.

Strauss-Kahn, who has been widely praised for his stewardship of the International Monetary Fund, had polled as the brightest hope for France's opposition Socialists of taking power from Sarkozy in 2012.

He had not yet officially declared his candidacy but was widely expected to throw his hat into the ring for the upcoming primary to choose the Socialist candidate.

News of his arrest threw the Socialist party into disarray, and could prove a boost to Sarkozy and his right-wing UMP, which is also facing a challenge from the far-right National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen.

"The Socialists have lost the only candidate who was, in all possible configurations, leading in the polls. And who was capable of beating Nicolas Sarkozy," the left-leaning Liberation wrote in its editorial.

"This promising political dynamic has collapsed before the campaign has even begun," it said.

Strauss-Kahn has been charged with a "criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment, and attempted rape" of a 32-year-old chambermaid in a luxury New York hotel. His lawyer said he denies the charges and vowed to fight them.

"Certainly there is the presumption of innocence," business newspaper La Tribune wrote in its editorial.

"But, unless he can very quickly extricate himself from the sexual assault accusations he is facing, all Dominique Strauss-Kahn's hopes of competing in the Socialist primary and thus the 2012 presidential election will evaporate this afternoon in a grand New York hotel," it wrote.

Another business newspaper, Les Echos, wrote in its editorial that the scandal had turned Strauss-Kahn's career upside-down in an instant.

"The investigation is just beginning into the reality of the accusations against the IMF director general, but the damage to his image and reputation has without a doubt already reached the point of no return," Les Echos wrote.

Newspapers said the scandal had left the Socialists floundering with less than a year to go before the vote.

"For the Socialist Party, the arrest in New York is obviously a staggering blow 11 months from the first round," Le Figaro wrote. "The impression that dominates this morning is that the Socialist Party has to start over from scratch."

For some, the scandal was a sign that the longstanding French tradition of ignoring the private lives of its politicians may finally be coming to end, especially considering previous allegations concerning Strauss-Kahn.

"France is experiencing its first Anglo Saxon-style sex scandal and is suddenly entering an area of public debate that until now -- because of cultural exception, the 'Latin' identity or democratic weakness -- was previously confined to rumours and gossip within a small circle of initiates," Liberation wrote.

© 2011 AFP

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