Britain endorses Lagarde as new IMF chief
Britain endorsed French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde as an "outstanding candidate" for IMF chief on Saturday, the first G7 country to officially back her as Dominique Strauss-Kahn's successor.
Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund after being charged with trying to rape a hotel housekeeper on May 14, is under house arrest and armed guard in an apartment in New York's financial district.
Lagarde has been touted by many European governments, but developing countries, with growing clout in the world economy, are keeping pressure on Europe and the United States to avoid a backroom deal over the appointment.
"We support her because she's the best person for the job, but I also personally think it would be a very good thing to see the first female managing director of the IMF in its 60-year history," British finance minister George Osborne said in a statement.
"She's shown real international leadership as chair of the G20 finance ministers this year. She has also been a strong advocate for countries tackling high budget deficits and living within their means."
The IMF has been run by a European since it was created at the end of World War Two.
Osborne's statement of support for a fellow European came just weeks after British Prime Minister David Cameron said the rise of nations like India and China meant "it may well be time actually to have a candidate from another part of the world."
Strauss-Kahn, a leading contender for the French presidency until his arrest, left jail on Friday and was expected to stay in the apartment in Manhattan for a few days until permanent housing can be found as he prepares his defense.
He denies the sexual assault accusations made by the housekeeper, a 32-year-old widow from Guinea. He is due to reappear in court on June 6 to formally answer the charges.
A trial may be six months or more away. If convicted, Strauss-Kahn could face 25 years in prison.
Strauss-Kahn's temporary housing was arranged by a private security company that is guarding him at an estimated cost of $200,000 a month, which he is responsible for paying.
Satellite trucks lined the block outside the apartment building and scores of reporters and photographers waited for a glimpse of the man who until a week ago was one of the most powerful financial figures in the world.
Word of the new tenant at 71 Broadway quickly spread. Curious pedestrians questioned police officers stationed at the entrance and took pictures of the media.
A guide on a tour bus heading down the street could be heard pointing out the building as the one where Strauss-Kahn was staying.
Some neighbors seemed less than thrilled, complaining about the added security and throngs of media.
"I don't like all of this," said Ian Horowitz, 29, a resident who works in finance. "I don't like all the attention and all the people outside."
A deal to have Strauss-Kahn stay in an apartment on the city's Upper East Side fell through after the media besieged the building.
He is allowed to leave his apartment only to travel within Manhattan for court appearances, meetings with his lawyers, medical appointments and a weekly religious observance.
His legal team has informally sought public relations advice from a Washington consulting firm, TD International, run by former CIA officers and U.S. diplomats. A source said if the firm signs on, its role will be helping in crisis management.
In France, Le Monde reported Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have employed Guidepost Solutions, a global investigations firm headed by Bart Schwartz, former criminal division chief in the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Other company officers include the former global head of security for IBM and a former federal prosecutor and U.S. Secret Service special agent.
Also in France, feminist organizations published a petition saying they were "stunned by the daily flood of misogynist comments by public figures" since Strauss-Kahn was detained.
They said his friends and allies have downplayed the plight of the alleged victim. Former French culture minister Jack Lang said Strauss-Kahn should have been released earlier, considering "nobody has died."
"We are witnessing a sudden rise of sexist and reactionary reflexes, so quick to surface among part of the French elite," the groups said in a statement on the newspaper's website.
Campaign for IMF Top Job
With the sudden vacancy at the top, the IMF board has said the process to find a new chief would be completed by June 30. With the euro zone debt crisis still far from controlled, European and U.S. officials want to move quickly.
The chair of the IMF's main advisory panel, the International Monetary and Financial Committee, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, said on Saturday it was imperative the process be open and transparent.
"The challenges we face are pressing and an early conclusion to the selection process will be advantageous," said Shanmugaratnam, who is also Singapore's finance minister.
Lagarde has been praised for her role in tackling the European debt crisis and the handling of demands of advanced and developing economies through France's presidency of the Group of 20 this year.
She headed U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie in Chicago before joining the French government in 2005.
Kemal Dervis, a former Turkish economy minister, was seen as another frontrunner but ruled himself out on Friday, putting pressure on emerging nations to find a consensus candidate.
[Source: By Michelle Nichols and Ellen Wulfhorst, Reuters, New York, 22May11]
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