Hollande dumps first lady

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AP

In this 2012 file photo then Socialist Party candidate for the presidential election Francois Hollande and his companion Valerie Trierweiler leave after voting in the second round of the presidential election in Tulle, central France. Picture: Lionel Cironneau, File

French President Francois Hollande on Saturday told AFP he has split with his longstanding partner Valerie Trierweiler after his affair with an actress nearly 20 years his junior.

The announcement came after a day of rumours in the French media that Hollande would formally announce the rupture on Saturday, on the eve of a visit by Trierweiler to India for charity work.

Saying he was speaking as a private individual and not as head of state as the matter concerned his private life, Hollande told AFP over the phone: “I wish to make it known that I have ended my partnership with Valerie Trierweiler.”

Trierweiler, 48, had been convalescing at a presidential residence in Versailles outside Paris after leaving hospital last Saturday, where she was treated for what was described as fatigue brought on by press revelations of Hollande's affair with 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet.

Trierweiler is due to fly to Mumbai on Sunday for a charity trip organised by French relief organisation Action Against Hunger (ACF), in her first public appearance since the scandal broke two weeks ago.

An ACF spokeswoman told AFP the trip “was confirmed this morning by Ms. Trierweiler's office.”

Hollande, 59, announced his separation from Segolene Royal, a senior member of his Socialist party and a presidential candidate in 2007, just after she lost the election to Nicolas Sarkozy.

He then started living openly with Trierweiler. Though she is not married to Hollande, she assumed the role of First Lady at official functions after Hollande's election in 2012.

There was no immediate comment from Trierweiler after the announcement of the split.

On Saturday, the popular Le Parisien daily carried a story on its website declaring “C'est Fini” (It's Over), adding that the Elysee Palace would release a statement shortly.

“Hollande, who took the initiative for the separation, wanted to make it official before Valerie Trierweiler's departure for India,” the Journal du Dimanche weekly said on its website.

After Hollande's confirmation of the split, Le Parisien said on its website that Trierweiler had left the presidential retreat near the chateau of Versailles on Saturday for their apartment in Paris's middle-class 15th arrondissement.

The Journal du Dimanche said the couple had worked out the modalities of the split at a lunch on Thursday.

Hollande had promised at a mid-January news conference that he would publicly define what relationship, if any, he and Trierweiler had before a February 11 state visit to the United States.

US President Barack Obama “looks forward to seeing President Hollande as planned,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told AFP on Saturday, without further comment.

Hollande's announcement comes after a spat between Trierweiler and her lawyer Frederique Giffard, who said Thursday that her client was aware that a “clarification” on her tangled situation was due.

But Trierweiler reacted furiously to the lawyer's remarks and chastened Giffard for speaking without her permission.

Trierweiler is a glamorous, twice-divorced career journalist who has three children of her own and has been Hollande's partner for the best part of a decade.

She emerged into the spotlight before he was elected president, and warned that she would not be a wallflower, saying in April 2012: “I have character, they cannot muzzle me.”

That was quickly proven when Trierweiler tweeted her support in legislative elections for an independent rival of Royal, someone with whom the first lady did not have warm relations.

The tweet went down badly in France, and Trierweiler's reputation suffered, with many deeming her somewhat arrogant. A recent poll said she was the least-liked French First Lady in modern history.

After Hollande's election, Trierweiler cut down on her work at the French magazine Paris-Match and engaged in charitable activities.

Trierweiler has not commented on the latest scandal since French glossy Closer broke news of Hollande's affair with Gayet on January 10, splashing photos of a man resembling Hollande arriving for alleged trysts at a flat near the Elysee Palace on a scooter.

She only tweeted after being released from hospital on January 19 to thank her supporters.

Hollande is the second French president to split from his partner while in office. In 2007, his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy divorced his wife Cecilia and married former supermodel and singer Carla Bruni the following year.

Hollande, who is France's least popular president according to opinion polls, has never denied an affair with Gayet but has so far steadfastly refused to answer questions about his love life, simply saying that he and Trierweiler were going through a “difficult time.”

Sapa-AFP


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