The allegations seriously jeopardise Strauss-Kahn's political future in France [AFP]

A New York court appearance by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund [IMF] chief, to face charges he sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid has been postponed so he can undergo an examination, his lawyers have said.

"Our client willingly consented to a scientific and forensic examination tonight [Sunday] ... at the request of the government and in light of the hour we have agreed to postpone the arraignment until tomorrow morning," William Taylor, his lawyer, told reporters outside Manhattan Criminal Court.

"He's tired but he's fine," Taylor said when asked about Strauss-Kahn, who was led away from a police station in handcuffs and is currently placed behind bars.

Earlier, Strauss-Kahn's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told the Associated Press news agency that his client would plead not guilty.

"He denies all the charges against him," Brafman said.

Strauss-Kahn's deputy, John Lipsky, has stepped in as acting managing director, the IMF said.

"The IMF remains fully functioning and operational," a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the maid at the New York hotel, who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, identified him in a police lineup, police said on Sunday.

Asked if police could confirm that Strauss-Kahn was identified by the alleged victim, a New York Police Department spokesman answered: "That is correct."

Ryan Sesa, a police deputy spokesman, told reporters on Sunday that the charges against Strauss-Kahn included a "criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape".

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 earlier 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.

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.

John Sheehan, a spokesperson for Sofitel Hotel, said its staff were co-operating with the authorities in the investigation.

Shockwaves across France

Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from the French capital, Paris, said the incident had sent shockwaves across France and the international community.

"We're hearing rumours that Mr Strauss-Kahn is considering stepping down from the IMF, notwithstanding any court appearance or whether or not the charges stick," our correspondent said.

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 Socialist Party, for whom Dominique Strauss-Kahn was considered a 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, expressed support for Strauss-Kahn. Le Guen recently suggested the IMF chief had been the subject of a smear campaign.

Strauss-Kahn had been due to hold talks with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in Berlin on Sunday.

"The talks are cancelled," a senior German government representative told Reuters news agency.

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.

Previous scandal

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 judgment" 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies