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France in shock after Strauss-Kahn arrest

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Paris (UPI) May 16, 2011
France is in shock after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, one of the world's most important bankers and the favorite to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency, was arrested amid allegations of sexual assault of a maid in a New York hotel.

Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, this week wanted to meet with European leaders to discuss the bailout for Portugal. For now, however, he's stuck in a U.S. jail. A New York judge Monday denied bail to Strauss-Kahn saying that he's at risk of fleeing.

The Frenchman was arrested Saturday on charges that he tried to rape a maid at the Times Square Hotel Sofitel in New York. Strauss-Kahn, 62, denies the allegations.

New York police cited the maid as saying that Strauss-Kahn chased and tried to force himself upon her when she entered his suite Saturday afternoon. The woman was able to fight him off, police said, and alert authorities.

Police a few hours later took Strauss-Kahn from an Air France plane bound for Paris minutes before takeoff.

Strauss-Kahn's lawyer proposed to place a $1 million bail, an offer New York Criminal Court Judge Melissa Jackson denied, the BBC reports.

The arrest has shocked France, where Strauss-Kahn, a member of the French Socialist Party, has been very popular. Recent polls suggested that he could defeat Sarkozy in the 2012 elections, especially given the president's abysmal popularity ratings.

Until Saturday, "Strauss-Kahn was Sarkozy's most dangerous opponent," Pascal Thibaut, a journalist with Radio France International, on Monday told German radio station Funkhaus Europa.

The remaining Socialist hopeful, Francois Hollande, is less popular and experienced, so the arrest of Strauss-Kahn should give Sarkozy some breathing room, Thibaut said.

"Even as the president normally doesn't drink alcohol, it's very possible that yesterday, he made an exception and emptied a bottle of champagne," he said.

The IMF, which is central in organizing bailouts for plagued European eurozone members, and the Socialists, have vowed that the arrest won't affect them. The IMF has put First Deputy Managing Director John Lipsky in charge on an interim basis and the Socialists have said Strauss-Kahn should be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

The problem is that in France, Strauss-Kahn is known as a ladies' man.

"It's well-known that he's very testosterone-driven," said Thibaut, citing an affair Strauss-Kahn had in 2008 with a married colleague working for him at the IMF.

Strauss-Kahn issued an apology to his wife and the institution, admitting he used "poor judgment" in the affair but vowed that he hadn't abused his position of power. His career wasn't affected and that says something about the laissez-faire mentality with which the French treat their leaders' private life.

Sarkozy has been married three times, ex-President Francois Mitterand for many years had an affair that resulted in a daughter out of wedlock, and Felix Faure, French head of state from 1895-99, reputedly died in the Elysee Palace while his mistress performed oral sex on him.

"The French tend to turn a blind eye to these things," Thibaut said.

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