Pressure on Strauss-Kahn to quit IMF post

Austria's finance minister says head of financial body should consider stepping down after sexual assault allegations.

    French Socialist politicians have voiced outrage at the parading of Strauss-Kahn handcuffed and unshaven [Reuters]

    Maria Fekter, Austria's finance minister, has suggested that the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should consider stepping down to avoid damaging the institution in the wake of his arrest for alleged sexual assault.

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York on Saturday for allegedly attempting to rape a maid in his hotel room.

    A New York judge refused to release him on bail on Monday and he spent the night in the city's Rikers Island jail.

    "Considering the situation, that bail was denied, he has to figure out for himself, that he is hurting the institution,'' Fekter told journalists as she arrived at a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday.

    Elena Salgado, Spain's finance chief, said Strauss-Kahn had to decide for himself whether he wanted to step down, considering the offenses he is accused of are "extraordinarily serious".

    "If I had to show my solidarity and support for someone it would be toward the woman who has been assaulted, if that is really the case that she has been," she said.

    'Good friend'

    Other European officials were more supportive of the IMF's managing director.

    "I'm very sad and upset. And he's a good friend of mine," said Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister.

    "I didn't like the pictures I've seen on television," Juncker added, referring to footage that showed Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs being escorted by police outside a New York precinct house.

    Strauss-Kahn has not yet officially stepped down, but few analysts expect him to remain.

    His arrest is not expected to impede the IMF's day-to-day functioning, with the executive board still able to approve loan packages.

    The board is expected to authorise rescue loans to Portugal as part of a larger package that European finance ministers negotiated on Monday.

    "An element of uncertainty has been injected at a time when the situation is extremely fragile," said James Rickards, senior managing director at Tangent Capital Partners.

    Before his arrest, Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to step down within months and run for president of France, so the IMF's executive board is likely to have already been considering replacements.

    A new managing director could be selected as early as June or July, Rickards said.

    China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday that the selection for leadership of the IMF should be based on "fairness, transparency and merit", but declined comment on the charges against Strauss-Kahn.

    French anger

    French Socialist politicians voiced outrage on Tuesday at the parading of Strauss-Kahn before he has a chance to defend himself on charges of attempted rape.

    Strauss-Kahn was made by police to walk manacled in front of cameras on his way to a courthouse, and his appearance before a judge was televised.

    Jack Lang, the former culture minister, described the treatment of the IMF chief as a "lynching" that had "provoked horror and aroused disgust".

    The US justice system, he said, was "politicised" and the judge appeared to have been determined to "make a Frenchman pay" by denying him bail, though his lawyer had offered to post a $1m bond.

    To many Americans, the handling of Strauss-Kahn reflected an egalitarian tradition that all crime suspects get the same treatment, regardless of their wealth or power.

    Aubry described the images of Strauss-Khan in the US as 'degrading' [EPA]

    Martine Aubry, the French Socialist Party leader, denounced "degrading images" and said France was lucky to have a law on the presumption of innocence that bars media from showing defendants in handcuffs before they are convicted.

    Elisabeth Guigou, former justice minister, who drafted that law, called the pre-trial publicity "absolutely sickening".

    Another respected former justice minister, Robert Badinter, who pushed through the abolition of the death penalty in France, said the IMF chief had been subjected to "death by media".

    "Never forget it's not just judges that are elected [in New York], but prosecutors. And the chief of police is elected.

    "And clearly, in public opinion, to exhibit a powerful rich man in the presence of a victim from a very poor background, electorally, it pays off."

    Socialist turmoil

    French Socialists have been thrown into turmoil by the sex assault case against their preferred presidential contender and will meet for crisis talks on Tuesday to think about a new plan of attack for the 2012 election.

    With a July deadline fast approaching, Aubry is under pressure to throw her hat into the ring alongside former party leader Francois Hollande.

    With Strauss-Kahn apparently out of the picture, the left's chances of re-election rest on the pair, both veteran left-wing figures with a strong support base, but who may lack the sparkle and sophistication to rally the vote they need.

    Aubry's reluctance to throw her hat in the ring has led some to question her appetite for the presidential battle.

    "We have a timetable and today is not the moment" to declare a candidacy, she told France Info radio on Tuesday.

    "We are not changing anything in our timetable [for the primary]".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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