France's Hollande attacks report of affair with actress

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris, says there have been rumours about the pair for some time

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French President Francois Hollande says he is considering suing a magazine which claimed he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet, 41.

Mr Hollande described the report as an "attack on the right to privacy", but did not deny the allegation.

Friday's print edition of the weekly tabloid Closer features seven pages about the alleged affair.

Closer later said it would remove its website version of the story at Ms Gayet's request.

Analysis

The political class will rally around President Hollande of course, saying this is a grotesque invasion of his private life and has nothing to do with his role as president.

But many ordinary people are bound to take a different view. This is an insight into the life of their president and if, as the magazine is claiming, he is unhappy in his life, quite morose, living separately from his official partner and sneaking out on these rendezvous on a regular basis, then many people will say they do deserve to know that.

This is a moment in his presidency when he's got to re-launch himself. He needs to refashion an image of himself as a more decisive decision-maker who's prepared to take risks.

This period, January, is traditionally the time when presidents do that. President Hollande has a round of press conferences next week that were to be the moment, his entourage was saying, when he would re-forge a more dynamic image.

Of course that's all been blown out of the water now.

"Julie Gayet's lawyer contacted us to request we remove from the website all mention of this relationship," Laurence Pieau, editor of Closer, told Agence France-Presse news agency, adding that the removal would probably take place by Friday evening.

No action was announced about the print version however.

Ms Pieau said there had been no contact with the presidential palace.

'Surprising images'

Ms Gayet has appeared in more than 50 films, and once appeared in one of Mr Hollande's election campaign television adverts.

Rumours of their alleged relationship have been circulating on the internet for many months.

Last March, she filed a complaint with prosecutors in Paris against various bloggers and websites that were reporting on the rumours.

Her lawyer at the time said there was no basis to the claims. She has not yet commented on the latest developments.

Mr Hollande's official partner is Valerie Trierweiler, a journalist for whom he left fellow Socialist politician Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children.

Mr Hollande told AFP that he "like every other citizen has a right" to privacy.

In a statement issued personally rather than by his office, he said he was "looking into possible action, including legal action" against Closer.

 Valerie Trierweiler The president's official partner is the journalist Valerie Trierweiler who lives with him at the Elysee palace

But he does not deny the allegation of an affair, the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris points out.

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The French have a history of presidents with complicated private lives”

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Closer's story shows pictures it claims support rumours that the 59-year-old president routinely spends the night with Ms Gayet at a flat not far from the Elysee Palace.

The pictures purportedly show the pair arriving separately. Mr Hollande, wearing a helmet, is on a motorbike driven by a chauffeur.

The magazine claims the president's bodyguard arrives the following morning to deliver croissants.

Closer defended its publication of the photos, saying the "surprising images" raise a question about the security of the president.

Julie Gayet in 2009 in Cannes Julie Gayet has appeared in more than 50 films

Laurence Pieau said the images should not be "over-dramatised" and described Mr Hollande as a "normal president" - a phrase he himself has used to define his style of leadership.

"He's a president who has a crush," she told Europe 1 Radio.

Traditional tolerance

Closer magazine has run up against France's strict privacy laws - which make it a criminal offence to publish information about a person's private life without their express permission - in the past.

French privacy laws

  • Among strictest in world - constitution says "everyone has the right to privacy"
  • Publication of private details of someone's life without their consent is punishable offence
  • French media often more cautious than in US or UK about private lives of politicians or celebrities
  • Privacy laws helped late President Francois Mitterrand conceal existence of daughter Mazarine, whose mother was his mistress
  • Main defences - right to freedom of expression and public interest (ie, how an official's behaviour may affect his/her work)
  • Privacy debate was reignited by sex allegations about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former IMF chief and a top Socialist politician

The British royal family took legal action against the magazine in September 2012 after it published photos of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless on a private holiday in France.

Ms Pieau - along with two photographers and the magazine's publishing director Ernesto Mauri - has since been charged with breaching privacy laws.

French political commentator Anne Elisabeth Moutet told the BBC the magazine was unlikely to have gone with the story about Mr Hollande's alleged affair "without being quite sure that they had something on it".

"And what's very interesting is that this was immediately picked up by one of the very respectable news magazines, Le Point," she said.

It was unlikely legal action could now suppress the story, Ms Moutet added.

President Hollande, who took office in May 2012, has seen public support slipping recently. One poll in November gave him just 15% support, the lowest for any president in the past 50 years.

French people have historically been tolerant of their leaders' infidelities - with revelations making little impact on poll ratings.

Former President Jacques Chirac was a known ladies' man, once confessing: "There have been women I have loved a lot, as discreetly as possible."

His predecessor Francois Mitterand kept secret a mistress and daughter for much of his presidency, only acknowledging them shortly before his death in 1996.

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