IMF chief, denied bail, prompts shock in France

As Dominique Strauss-Kahn spent a third night in a New York jail, many in France voiced shock that the IMF chief was denied bail after an attempted rape charge that seems to have wrecked his presidential aspirations.

His allies in the French Socialist party, some jockeying for position ahead of a primary contest which had been tipped to hand the candidacy to Strauss-Kahn, prepared for an emergency meeting but said they would not change the selection timetable.

French politicians and commentators reacted with surprise and anger at the New York judge's decision to remand Strauss-Kahn, once the biggest threat to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in an election due next April. His parading in handcuffs before the world's media appeared particularly stark.

"He is a brave man on whom a contemptuous fate has been inflicted," former Socialist culture minister Jack Lang told Europe 1 radio, complaining of a "lynching."

"It is not unthinkable that certain judicial officials, the prosecutor in particular or the judge, is driven by a desire to take down a Frenchman, a Frenchman who is moreover well known."

Strauss-Kahn's arrest has blown open the race for the Elysee Palace, enhancing Sarkozy's chances of re-election, and thrown the Fund into turmoil even as it plays a key role in helping euro zone states like Greece and Portugal tackle their debt woes.

Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry, under increasing pressure to contest the primary herself following Strauss-Kahn's arrest, said the party would not be rushed into changing its plans. Primary candidates are due to declare by July.

"We have a timetable and today is not the moment" to declare a candidacy, she told France Info radio on Tuesday. "We are not changing anything in our timetable" for the primary.

Her reluctance to throw her hat into the ring has led some commentators to question her appetite for the presidential race that many see offers the Left its best chance of winning in a quarter of a century.

Tense Court Appearance

Strauss-Kahn's spectacular fall from grace could benefit Sarkozy. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen could also pick up support if voters grow disabused with mainstream politics.

"K.O." headlined the left-leaning Liberation newspaper, reflecting the almost universal view in France that his political career had suffered a 'knock-out'.

A French writer is also considering filing attempted rape charges against Strauss-Kahn that date back almost a decade.

French newspapers on Tuesday were awash with pictures of an unshaven and haggard Strauss-Kahn looked drained and tense during his first court appearance on Monday as prosecutors detailed his alleged attack against a maid at a luxury hotel.

"He sexually assaulted her and attempted to forcibly rape her. When he was unsuccessful, he forced her to perform oral sex on him," Assistant District Attorney John McConnell told the court.

Strauss-Kahn faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Judge Melissa Jackson was persuaded by prosecutors that Strauss-Kahn, might try to flee to France, so she ordered him put behind bars and set a new hearing for Friday. Police had pulled Strauss-Kahn off an Air France jet on Saturday just minutes before it was to leave for Paris.

His lawyers are expected to appeal the judge's bail decision and it could be a key issue in the case. Bail would give Strauss-Kahn much better access to his attorneys and allow him to live in New York with his wife, prominent French television personality Anne Sinclair, while awaiting trial.

The IMF board has so far held off on deciding whether or not to remove him from his job. If he is forced out, there could be a fierce battle over who would succeed him, weakening the IMF's efforts to deal with the euro zone crisis.

The board also faces questions about why it let Strauss-Kahn off with just a reprimand in 2008 after he was found to be having an extra-marital affair with a subordinate. Persistent rumors inside the IMF that he often made unwanted sexual advances to women have long dogged his tenure there.

[Source: By Basil Katz and Jon Boyle, Reuters, New York and Paris, 17May11]

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