Hollande meets Pope Francis as Trierweiler plans India trip

It is Mr Hollande's first meeting with the Pope since the French president was elected in 2012

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French President Francois Hollande has met Pope Francis at the Vatican as uncertainty continues over the French leader's private life.

A Vatican statement said their talks covered the family, bioethics and respect for religious communities.

France is planning to amend its laws on abortion and assisted suicide.

Mr Hollande's partner, Valerie Trierweiler, spent a week in hospital amid claims he had been having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

Valerie Trierweiler (file photo - 28 August 2013) Ms Trierweiler and Mr Hollande have never married

Ms Gayet has announced she is suing Closer magazine, which published the original reports, for breach of privacy.

Ms Trierweiler, meanwhile, is travelling to India on Sunday in support of the work of the French charity Action Against Hunger.

On Thursday she sacked her lawyer for saying she was seeking to end her relationship with Mr Hollande "with the greatest possible dignity".

Ms Trierweiler told the Europe 1 radio network she "felt betrayed".

Strained relations

Analysis

The awkwardness of the timing of this encounter was captured in a cartoon in the French newspaper, Le Monde. It had Mr Hollande arriving at the Vatican on a scooter with two flimsily-clad women on the back.

And perhaps a little of the embarrassment surrounding the presidential scandal fed into the atmosphere at the start of the meeting. As the two men met, the Pope certainly looked very sombre and slightly uncomfortable.

But that may well have had much more to do with the fact that he knew he had some serious talking to do. Francis will have been dismayed by some of Mr Hollande's social policies - among them his backing for moves to bring in assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

Speaking after their meeting, Mr Hollande said he had asked the Pope if the Vatican would receive a delegation from one of Syria's main opposition groups, the National Council.

Talks aimed at ending the three-year-old Syrian conflict are under way in Switzerland.

"We need to do everything to stop the fighting and dispatch humanitarian aid," Mr Hollande said.

Hours before he arrived in Rome, a small bomb exploded outside the offices of a French foundation near the Vatican. No-one was injured, police said, but three parked cars were damaged.

In addition to his alleged affair with Ms Gayet, Mr Hollande and Ms Trierweiler have never married - a further irritant to Catholic traditionalists.

Mr Hollande has refused to state whether she remains his official partner and the first lady of France. He has promised to clarify the situation before he makes a state visit to Washington next month.

The president also has four children with his previous partner, Segolene Royal.

Relations between the Catholic Church and Mr Hollande's Socialist Party have also been strained at a policy level.

The French National Assembly on Tuesday voted to strengthen the right to abortion and is considering a bill on assisted suicide.

When France legalised same-sex marriage in May 2013, tens of thousands of people joined a rally in Paris to express their opposition.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition drawn up by a Catholic group asking Pope Francis to express to Mr Hollande "the profound malaise and growing concern of many French Catholics".

Ahead of his departure, Mr Hollande said he wanted to discuss Syria and the Middle East peace process with Pope Francis.

Vatican-watchers say the French president wants to reach out to disaffected Catholic voters.

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