Strauss-Kahn Returns To France

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Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrived in Paris Sunday for the first time since his arrest in New York in May on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid — a case that subsequently fell apart. His return is likely to spark some excitement in France, though the country is split on its attitude to him.

AUDIE CORNISH, host: Dominique Strauss-Kahn returned to France today, for the first time since he was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid in May. Those charges have been dropped but Strauss-Kahn isn't out of hot water yet.

Eleanor Beardsley reports that the former head of the International Monetary Fund returns home to a country divided in its feelings over the former political star.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: The media coverage Strauss-Kahn got in New York seemed like nothing compared with what awaited him in Paris.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: French television showed him arriving with his wife, Anne Sinclair, at Charles De Gaulle Airport surrounded by a throng of frenzied journalists. Another tangle of cameras and microphones awaited the couple at their chic Paris apartment.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Many of Strauss-Kahn's friends spoke in support of him today on television and radio. They said he was blanchi, or cleared in New York and should now be allowed to get on with his life. Strauss-Kahn was not cleared in New York, the charges were simply dropped. But this interpretation of events is adhered to by many of Strauss-Kahn's male friends - mostly from his generation, who never really understood what all the fuss was about in the first place.

But plenty of French people are angry. They say powerful men get away with too much and the media has been complicit. Women here were emboldened by the New York housekeepers' courage. Her example inspired many French women to come forward with their tales of harassment. A young writer, Tristane Banon, finally brought attempted rape charges against Strauss-Kahn, who she says attacked her eight years ago.

Banon's mother, Anne Mansouret spoke on television.

ANNE MANSOURET: (Through Translator) I'm her mother, but I'm also a Socialist Party member, and I'm shocked by the media hype around his return. It's indecent. Strauss-Kahn was never judged, so he is certainly not innocent.

BEARDSLEY: The Socialist Party has been damaged by Strauss-Kahn, it has moved on and is holding primaries for next May's presidential election without him.


BEARDSLEY: Far from Paris and its political storm, a Sunday boules tournament is in full swing in the Burgundy town of Semur en Auxois. People here say they are completely tired of Strauss-Kahn and his problems. He got off because he's rich, they say.

Nicolas Thomas is a fireman.

NICOLAS THOMAS: (Through Translator) He's finished. He just needs to keep his mouth shut now. We have women running for president now and nobody can support this kind of behavior.

BEARDSLEY: Recent polls show that 53 percent of French people don't want to see Strauss-Kahn return to politics in any capacity, ever. Perhaps his wife should think about running. Seventy percent of the French consider Anne Sinclair noble and courageous for standing by her man.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Semur en Auxois, France.

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