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IMF, French Socialists In Disarray As Strauss-Kahn Sent To New York Prison


Dominique Strauss-Kahn (right), director-general of the International Monetary Fund, is seen with his laywer, Benjamin Brafman, at his arraignment in New York on May 16.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn (right), director-general of the International Monetary Fund, is seen with his laywer, Benjamin Brafman, at his arraignment in New York on May 16.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being held in a tiny cell at New York's notorious Rikers Island prison after being charged with trying to rape a hotel maid.

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was sent to the sprawling jail complex after a New York judge on May 16 denied him bail on the grounds that he might try to flee the United States.

Strauss-Kahn's arrest May 14 marks a humiliating fall from grace for a man widely praised for his leadership of the IMF during the global financial crisis.

It has also shocked France and thrown its presidential election race into disarray. Although he had not yet officially announced his candidacy, the charismatic 62-year-old -- despite his taste for the good life and admitted extramarital affair -- was seen as a clear favorite and had been topping opinion polls.

The Socialist Party's leadership met today to draft a new strategy following the sidelining of its most prominent presidential contender.

Restrained Response

While a handful of rivals have been quick to condemn Strauss-Kahn, most French politicians have cited the presumption of innocence and called for a restrained response.

Former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, who is now viewed as a potential Socialist candidate, spoke to reporters today.

"The situation is obviously a terrible situation, terrible at a human level and very difficult at a political level," he said. "In this situation, we have to show a lot of restraint regarding the facts because we don't know them as yet. And at a political level, what is expected of us is obviously unity."

Many in France, including Socialist leader Martine Aubry, have condemned television footage showing a haggard Strauss-Kahn being escorted from a police station in handcuffs.

"I would like this young woman to be respected, and I would like the presumption of innocence to be respected. I was very shocked by these images," she said. "Luckily, we're in a country in France where, since the Guigou law of 2000, one cannot show someone in handcuffs. One cannot humiliate them, degrade someone who is not yet convicted."

Aubry today urged her party to remain "united and combative" ahead of next year's presidential vote. The long-divided Socialist Party, which launches its primaries in July, has not won a presidential victory in 24 years.

Before the scandal, polls had put unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy in third place behind Strauss-Kahn and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Second Complaint

The IMF chief's troubles deepened on May 16 after a French writer, Tristane Banon, indicated through her lawyer that she may file a legal complaint against him over an alleged sexual assault that she says took place in 2002 when she went to interview him in an empty apartment.

Banon's mother, Anna Mansouret -- a local Socialist Party councilor and a personal friend of Strauss-Kahn -- described her daughter's alleged ordeal in an interview with French television ITV on May 15.

"She told me what had happened. She said he had jumped on her -- that's the word she used," she said. "I found her wearing blue jeans with a torn zipper; one of the heels of her boots was gone. She was really very scared, stunned, very shocked."

Mansouret said she had persuaded her daughter against bringing proceedings at the time of the alleged assault, a decision Banon says she now regrets.

Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking a maid in his suite at the elegant Sofitel hotel in central New York, chasing her naked down a hall before sexually assaulting her.

He faces charges that include a criminal sexual act, unlawful sequestration, and attempted rape that could land him behind bars for up to 25 years. His denies the charges.

The scandal has dealt a severe blow to the IMF, which already raised eyebrows in 2008 for letting Strauss-Kahn get away with a simple reprimand over his affair with a female subordinate at the fund three years ago.

The IMF board has not indicated so far whether or not Strauss-Kahn will be removed from his job, saying only that it was monitoring developments.

His next court date has been set for May 20.

compiled from agency reports

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