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France’s ‘bachelor’ president begins new chapter after split

By AFP - Jan 26,2014 - Last updated at Jan 26,2014

PARIS — French leader Francois Hollande on Sunday began a new chapter in his presidency as a bachelor after splitting from his partner of eight years following an affair with a younger actress.

Under intense media scrutiny since the revelation of the affair two weeks ago, Hollande — who had pledged a “normal” presidency after the domestically turbulent stint of his “bling bling” predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy — on Saturday formally announced his split from Valerie Trierweiler.

“A Bachelor at the Elysee”, said the Journal du Dimanche weekly, adding that Trierweiler’s departure as first lady was “the end of an epoch”.

Saying he was speaking as a private individual, Hollande, in a terse statement to AFP over the phone, said he was ending his “shared life” with Trierweiler.

And in an interview to Time magazine just hours before announcing the rupture, Hollande reiterated his desire to keep silent about his private life.

“Private life is always, at certain times, a challenge. And it has to be respected,” he said.

“I believe that everybody now understands that president or not president, one is entitled to have a private life.”

The split has fuelled debate in France about whether an official role is necessary for a president’s partner or spouse. A recent poll by Le Parisien daily showed that 54 per cent of French people felt it was not.

Trierweiler, 48, left for Mumbai on Sunday for charity work, her first public appearance since the scandal erupted.

She had been convalescing at a presidential residence in Versailles outside Paris after leaving hospital last Saturday, where she was treated for what was described as fatigue brought on by press revelations of Hollande’s affair with 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet.

Her entourage said she was accompanied on her India trip by a presidential bodyguard. A source close to her said: “She is on good terms with the president and she is better.”

But 59-year-old Hollande came under fire from opponents for cheating in his personal life and procrastinating on announcing the split.

Thousands of people marched in Paris Sunday in a “Day of Anger” over Hollande’s policies, some of them alluding to the scandal.

An organiser said, without naming Hollande, that some leaders “were more busy with their affairs... than with unemployment and the freedom of the French people”.

Rightwing politicians also piled on their criticism.

“Valerie, the new Diana”, tweeted Roselyne Bachelot, a former minister in Sarkozy’s government.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right National Front Party, added: “’Perfect’ president? Not in private life: four children outside marriage and a mistress who is not divorced and to whom he could not remain faithful!”

The Journal du Dimanche quoted Hollande as telling people close to him that “women have cost me dearly”, referring to his splits with Trierweiler and her predecessor Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and a senior member of his Socialist Party, from whom he separated in 2007.

Citing sources, the weekly said Trierweiler would keep an apartment the couple shared in Paris’s middle-class 15th district and also receive “financial compensation”.

After Hollande’s announcement of their separation, Trierweiler tweeted: “I extend all my gratitude to the fantastic Elysee staff. I will never forget their dedication nor the emotional farewell.”

Labour minister Michel Sapin, who is close to Hollande, said the “decision was necessary for the sake of clarity. Now it’s done”.

Gayet meanwhile has kept a low profile since the scandal broke on January 10, when French glossy Closer splashed photos of Hollande arriving on a motor scooter for alleged secret trysts with her at a flat near the Elysee Palace.

Hollande had promised at a news conference earlier this month that he would publicly define what relationship, if any, he and Trierweiler had before a February 11 state visit to Washington.

Trierweiler is a glamorous, twice-married career journalist who has three children of her own.

But many French see her as arrogant, and a recent poll found she was the country’s least-liked first lady in modern history. Hollande has also scored the lowest approval ratings of any French president in modern times.

He is the second French president to split from his partner while in office. In 2007, Sarkozy divorced his wife Cecilia, marrying former supermodel and singer Carla Bruni the following year. 

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