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French president splits from first lady

Separation from Valerie Trierweiler announced two weeks after magazine exposed Hollande's affair with film actress.

Last updated: 26 Jan 2014 04:04
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Trierweiler, right, was not married to Hollande but they had been together since 2006 [EPA]

Francois Hollande, the French president, has announced his separation Valerie Trierweiler, France's first lady, following a media storm over allegations he is having an affair with an actress.

Hollande, 59, sought to put an end to turbulence that began two weeks ago when Closer, a celebrity magazine, published a report that he was having an affair with Julie Gayet, a film actress and a Socialist Party supporter.

"I wish to make it known that I have ended my partnership with Valerie Trierweiler," Hollande said on Saturday.

Announcing the separation, Hollande said he was speaking as an individual and not as head of state since it concerned his private life.

In her first public statement, Trierweiler, 48, thanked the staff of the Elysee presidential palace in a statement on Twitter.

"I will never forget their devotion, nor the emotion at the time of my departure," she said.

Trierweiler was expected to travel to India on Sunday in honour of an anti-hunger charity, and French media reports said she may speak at a news conference there.

Following Hollande's announcement, the White House said on Saturday that President Barack Obama still "looks forward" to meeting Hollande next month.

Obama "looks forward to seeing President Hollande as planned" during his February 11 state visit, Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman, said.

Questions over Hollande's personal life - and whether Trierweiler was still first lady - had diverted public attention from a shift he made this month towards more business-friendly policies aimed at reviving France's economy in the face of high unemployment.

A news conference to unveil the economic plans was overshadowed by questions over Hollande's private life, as was a trip to Rome to meet the pope on Friday.

Public attention

Trierweiler, an arts columnist for the weekly magazine Paris Match, was not married to Hollande but they had been together since 2006.

She assumed the role of first lady at official functions following his election in May 2012, and like her predecessors, maintained an office with a budget of roughly 20,000 euros per month.

The separation announcement comes after a spat between Trierweiler and her lawyer Frederique Giffard, who said on Thursday that her client was aware that a "clarification" on her tangled situation was due.

Giffard remained evasive on the question of whether they would split, saying: "The president and my client are thinking. The decision is theirs alone. It is very difficult for Valerie Trierweiler to remain calm in the face of this media and political pressure. But she is aware that a clarification is necessary."

But Trierweiler reacted furiously to the lawyer's remarks and chastened Giffard for speaking without her permission.

Trierweiler was hospitalised for eight days for fatigue after news of the affair broke, and had since been staying in a secluded secondary residence belonging to Hollande near Versailles.

She left the house, known as la Lanterne, on Saturday afternoon and would not return, according to a person close to the French presidency.

Trierweiler has been a particularly unpopular first lady, according to a BVA opinion poll.

About eight percent of respondents had a favourable view of her, compared to 28 percent for Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the ex-model and pop star wife of Sarkozy, and 46 percent for Bernadette Chirac, wife of Jacques Chirac.

Hollande has four children from a previous relationship with Segolene Royal, a senior member of his Socialist Party and a 2007 presidential candidate. Royal announced their separation just after she lost the 2007 election to Nicolas Sarkozy.

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