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Last updated: January 10, 2014 9:13 pm
As if he did not have enough troubles battling a weak economy and record low approval ratings, French president François Hollande was forced to react publicly on Friday to allegations that he was having an affair with an actress.
Mr Hollande said he “deeply deplored” what he called an attack on his privacy, adding that he was considering legal action against a magazine that published a series of photographs purporting to show him arriving and departing on the back of a scooter for an assignation with the supposed lover.
Mr Hollande shares the Elysée Palace with his partner Valérie Trierweiler, a journalist on Paris Match magazine, who acts as France’s first lady although the two are not married.
On a day of some embarrassment for his socialist government, ministers were forced to answer questions on the issue whenever they appeared in public. Neither they nor Mr Hollande denied the affair.
Mr Hollande, the most unpopular postwar president, is weighed down with problems, from rising unemployment to the deployment of French troops in the murderous Central African Republic. The alleged affair will make an unwelcome distraction when he faces the media at a press conference on Tuesday meant to persuade the public he is turning around the economy.
But there is no certainty that the news will further damage his image. French presidents have long been known for their eventful love lives, at no cost to their popularity.
Jacques Chirac’s amorous propensities earned him a colourful reputation:“five minutes, including shower”. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing once crashed his car into a milk lorry at dawn on a visit to a lover. François Mitterrand had a daughter by a longstanding mistress, although his shadow family was only publicly revealed after his death.
Mr Hollande issued his statement after a gossip magazine called Closer published a seven-page report alleging that the president was having an affair with Julie Gayet, a film actress.
Photographs published by Closer claimed to show Mr Hollande and Ms Gayet both paying overnight visits to an apartment near the Elysée Palace at the end of last year.
The magazine said a male figure pictured arriving and leaving the apartment as a scooter passenger was Mr Hollande, although his head was covered by a black helmet. Closer showed pictures of a man it identified as a presidential bodyguard also visiting the apartment, including arriving with a bag of croissants in the morning.
Mr Hollande billed himself as “President Normal” when he defeated his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, whose very public romance and subsequent marriage while in office to former supermodel Carla Bruni partly earned him his “bling-bling” image.
But Mr Hollande’s own colourful personal life has been the focus of public attention previously. Ms Trierweiler has had a strained relationship with Ségolène Royal, Mr Hollande’s former partner of 30 years and herself a former presidential candidate in 2007 and mother of Mr Hollande’s four children.
Shortly after Mr Hollande was elected in May 2012, Ms Trierweiler posted a tweet in support of a dissident Socialist candidate who went on to defeat Ms Royal in parliamentary elections the following month.
Ms Gayet appeared alongside Mr Hollande in a presidential campaign video in 2012, calling him “humble” and “fantastic”.
Closer magazine said on Friday evening it would remove its feature about the alleged affair from its website following a demand from Ms Gayet’s lawyers. But it stood by the veracity of the story and said no demand had been made to stop print sales.
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