|Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a possible Socialist candidate in next April's French presidential election [AFP]
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been charged with sexual assault and attempted rape in New York, following a complaint by a hotel maid.
A police deputy spokesman, Ryan Sesa, told reporters on Sunday that the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn included a "criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment, attempted rape" and "assaulting a 32-year-old girl in a hotel room".
A lawyer representing Strauss-Kahn, 62, told the Reuters news agency he would plead not guilty.
Strauss-Kahn, widely tipped as a contender to run for the French presidency in 2012, was taken off an Air France flight at John F Kennedy International Airport by police officers on Saturday after the maid reported the case.
The maid told authorities that she entered Strauss-Kahn's room at the Sofitel near Manhattan's Times Square at about 1pm local time (1600 GMT) on Saturday.
According to her account, the IMF chief emerged from the bedroom naked, threw her down and tried to sexually assault her, Paul J Browne, a New York Police Department (NYPD) spokesman, said.
'Left in a hurry'
Police said Strauss-Kahn, who is married, apparently left the hotel in a hurry. They then discovered he was at the airport, and contacted the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which pulled him off the Paris-bound flight.
The maid was taken by police to an area hospital.
Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from the French capital, Paris, said the incident has sent shockwaves across France and the international community.
"We're hearing rumours that Mr Strauss-Kahn is considering stepping down from the IMF, not withstanding any court appearance or whether or not the charges stick," our correspondent said.
"He of course is denying the charges which have been laid against him and will appear in court in New York later on Sunday."
The news also quickly drew reaction from political rivals in France, with some expressing shock after Strauss-Kahn's arrest.
Martine Aubry, leader of the French Socialists of whom Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the top presidential hopeful, said on Sunday his arrest was a "thunderbolt" which left her "astounded".
Right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said his presidential bid was doomed while Segolene Royal, his Socialist adversary, urged prudence pending further investigation.
But Jean-Marie Le Guen, an ally of the IMF chief, said the sexual assault claim sounded nothing like Strauss-Kahn.
Le Guen recently suggested the IMF chief was the subject of a smear campaign.
A spokesperson for Sofitel Hotel, John Sheehan, said its staff were co-operating with the authorities in the investigation.
And William Murray, the IMF spokesman in Washington, said the organisation had no immediate comment on the reports of the chief's arrest.
Strauss-Kahn had been due to hold talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Sunday.
"The talks are cancelled," a senior German government representative told Reuters.
Before taking the top post at the IMF, Strauss-Kahn was a member of the French National Assembly and a professor of economics at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris.
He had also served as France's minister of economy, finance and industry, from 1997 to 1999.
Strauss-Kahn, popularly known as "DSK" in France, was seen as the strongest possible Socialist Party challenger to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, though he had yet to declare his candidacy, remaining vague in interviews while feeding speculation that he wanted France's top job.
He took over as head of the IMF in November 2007. The 187-nation lending agency, headquartered in Washington, provides help in the form of emergency loans for countries facing severe financial problems.
Strauss-Kahn won praise for his leadership at the IMF during the financial crisis of 2008 and the severe global recession that followed.
More recently, he has steered IMF participation in bailout efforts to prevent a European debt crisis which began in Greece from destabilising the global economy.
But his tenure at the IMF has also brought controversy. In October 2008, he apologised for "an error of judgement" over an affair with a junior colleague. Although cleared by an inquiry of harassment and abuse of power, he was warned by the fund's board of member countries against further improper conduct.