Scandal-hit Hollande heads for political stronghold

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Francois Hollande1 Reuters. French President Francois Hollande.

Tulle - French President Francois Hollande was to meet supporters in his political stronghold in central France Saturday as he faces pressure to clear up his personal life after revelations of an affair.

Hollande was to give a speech to longtime allies in the region of Correze, as concern mounts over his longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler's extended stay in hospital.

Trierweiler's employer, Paris Match magazine, said Friday that the 48-year-old's family were “worried” for her after a week in hospital following the reports of Hollande's affair with actress Julie Gayet, 41.

Hollande, 59, has said he will clarify the position of France's de facto First Lady before a trip to Washington next month but has refused any further comment on a scandal that has generated global headlines.

Hollande travelled to Correze Saturday morning, in his first trip outside Paris since the revelations.

After inaugurating police and fire stations, Hollande was to meet local officials before giving a speech at 16:30 SA time expected to focus on rural issues.

There was rare press interest for a trip to regional France, with French and foreign media descending on the small community of Tulle for Hollande's speech.

Closer magazine, which is being sued by Gayet for alleged breach of privacy, reported last week that she had been having secret trysts with the president and published photographs of the pair arriving separately at a borrowed flat near his official residence, the Elysee Palace.

The scandal overshadowed a major policy speech by Hollande vowing new economic reforms and raised questions about whether he had misled the public or put his personal security at risk.

Trierweiler, who had been described as suffering from nervous exhaustion and low blood pressure, had been planning to discharge herself from the hospital on Friday and had intended to go to a presidential residence in Versailles to continue her recuperation, Paris Match said.

“The family of our colleague are worried,” it added.

“On Friday afternoon, for the first time since she was hospitalised, her youngest son, who is 16, was not able to visit his mother at the Pitie-Salpetriere (hospital).”

There was no news of her release by mid-day Saturday.

Le Point, a high-brow news magazine, reported Friday that Trierweiler admitted herself to hospital after “taking one pill too many” in despair but ruled out a serious suicide attempt.

Hollande meanwhile was reported by Closer to have possibly started his affair with Gayet “two years ago” although it was vague about the exact timing.

Closer said Hollande had been introduced to the actress and Socialist activist during campaigning for the 2012 vote.

Reports have also emerged that the president entertained Gayet in Tulle during his last visit to the region in July.

Hollande's failure to visit Trierweiler until Thursday evening had fuelled speculation that he has decided to end the relationship with Trierweiler, for whom he left Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, in 2005.

In its follow-up story, Closer depicted Hollande's romance with Gayet as much more than a brief fling, although it offered little in the way of concrete evidence and, unlike last week's scoop, no pictures to back up its account.

The magazine said the couple had also regularly met at another Paris apartment and at Gayet's loft in eastern Paris.

Closer said on Thursday that Gayet was seeking damages of 50,000 euros ($67,000) on the grounds that the magazine's first report on the affair represented an illegal breach of her privacy. A trial date has been set for March 6.

Hollande has not denied the magazine's report and has ruled out any legal action on his own behalf.

Public reaction to the scandal has been more muted than would be expected in countries like the United States or Britain.

A poll by BVA for i-Tele released Saturday showed 75 percent of respondents agreed that Hollande was right not to answer questions on his personal life, and 62 percent believed the affair was a private matter of no public concern. - Sapa-AFP



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