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Allegations Of Love Affair Threaten To Overshadow French President's New Year's Address

posted 13 Jan 2014, 12:53 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 13 Jan 2014, 12:54 ]

French President Francois Hollande's New Year's address to the media risks being overshadowed by allegations of a love affair, although the French public appears indifferent to the scandal.

PARIS, FRANCE (JANUARY 13, 2014) (REUTERS) -The new year could hardly have started worse for French President Francois Hollande, who failed to keep a promise to the nation to halt the rise in unemployment by the end of 2013 and is now dealing with media allegations of a secret love affair.

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Photos in a celebrity magazine published on Friday purporting to show a nocturnal visit by Hollande to a mistress risk stealing the show on Tuesday (January 14) when he faces media for up to two hours in the traditional start-of-year news conference.

Hollande's office has complained of breach of privacy but issued no denial. The saga took a new turn on Sunday when it emerged his official partner, 48-year-old ex-journalist Valerie Trierweiler, had been hospitalised hours after the magazine hit news-stands. Her spokesman said she needed "rest".

Hollande and Trierweiler, a journalist for celebrity magazine Paris Match, are not married but have been in a long-term relationship for several years.

While Hollande is sure to face scrutiny about the affair, polls have shown that most French are blasé about his private life and people on the streets of Paris shrugged off the controversy.

"His private life has not changed my opinion of him politically in any case. You need know how to disassociate the man in public from the human being," said one passer-by Driss.

"My opinion is very negative on who he is and what he does, but that for me is his personal business and what matters to me is what he does to France. After that his private life... what does it matter?" said another, Nadege.

One passer-by said the allegations had failed to surprise him.

"No, it doesn't surprise me coming from politicians... it's always been like that," he said.

Hollande, 59, came to power in 2012 and according to polls is the most unpopular president inFrance's modern history for his failure to tackle unemployment stuck at around 11 percent and a widespread sense that he lacks authority.

The coming weeks will tell whether he can pick up the pieces of his accident-prone presidency and start to pull the euro zone's second-largest economy out of decline.

An analyst and political science professor Christian Delporte, said in an interview with Reuters that it would be in Hollande's interest to

come up with a "clear, neat, and precise response" to the reports of his affair to put an end to the story which could otherwise turn harmful for his public and political reputation.

"It's the attitude, I would say, of tolerance on the part of the French which clearly separates private life from public life. But that could evolve, I mean that, from the moment when private life enters into public space, opinion might change. So it's important for Francois Hollande that this affair does not drag on, that it doesn't take up the headlines for a long time and that's why it's important for him to close the episode with a clear, neat, and precise response but which does not in its turn feed the controversy and the press articles," Delporte said.

The French President is expected to announce new measures to boost the French economy, including lower charges for companies, cuts in public spending and a simplification of business regulation in his speech on Tuesday.