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French president indignant over tabloid report

  • French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver his speech at his  annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The French president's complex personal life ó and what it means to be the first lady in modern society ó may get a full airing as Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver his speech at his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The French president's complex personal life ó and what it means to be the first lady in modern society ó may get a full airing as Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • Members of the government, with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, right, listen to French President Francois Hollande delivering his speech at his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    Members of the government, with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, right, listen to French President Francois Hollande delivering his speech at his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • French President Francois Hollande delivers his speech at his  annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013.AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    French President Francois Hollande delivers his speech at his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013.AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver his speech at his  annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The French president's complex personal life — and what it means to be the first lady in modern society — may get a full airing as Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver his speech at his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The French president's complex personal life — and what it means to be the first lady in modern society — may get a full airing as Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

  • French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver his speech at his  annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The French president's complex personal life ó and what it means to be the first lady in modern society ó may get a full airing as Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
  • French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
  • Members of the government, with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, right, listen to French President Francois Hollande delivering his speech at his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
  • French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
  • French President Francois Hollande delivers his speech at his  annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013.AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
  • French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver his speech at his  annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The French president's complex personal life — and what it means to be the first lady in modern society — may get a full airing as Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
  • French President Francois Hollande addresses a reporter during his annual news conference, Tuesday, Jan.14, 2014 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande is promising to cut 50 billion euros in public spending over 2015-2017 to try to improve the indebted economy. Hollande, a Socialist, came to office in 2012 on pledges to avoid the painful austerity measures carried out by neighboring Spain and Italy. But France’s economy has suffered two recessions in recent years and growth is forecast at an anemic 0.2 percent in 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Under pressure over a magazine report that he is having a secret affair with an actress, French President Francois Hollande conceded yesterday he is going through “painful moments” with his companion but otherwise sidestepped specifics on his personal life.

Hollande’s partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, has been hospitalized since Friday, when Closer published photos it said proved Hollande’s liaison. Speaking at a major news conference, Hollande said Trierweiler “is resting” but insisted that the venue in front of hundreds of reporters was “neither the place nor the moment” to discuss the issue.

The report has heaped new problems on the already unpopular Hollande, whose announcement yesterday of economic measures meant to encourage hiring was nearly overshadowed by the scandal.

The report Closer showed photos of a man the magazine identified as Hollande wearing a motorcycle helmet and being ferried on the back of a small scooter to an alleged tryst with film actress Julie Gayet.

The latest revelations call into question whether a complex personal life can be private for someone with round-the-clock bodyguards, and about the role of “first lady” in France. Trierweiler is the first person to hold the post who was not married to the president. The first lady doesn’t have formal status in France, but in practice she has an office in the presidential palace and small staff.

Asked whether Trierweiler was still the first lady, Hollande responded: “Everyone in his or her personal life can go through ordeals – that’s the case with us. But I have a principle. It’s that private affairs should be handled privately, respecting the intimacy of all. This is neither the place nor the moment to do so.”

He said he would have a response to the question before his Feb. 11 state visit to Washington, D.C., a trip that would normally include Trierweiler.

The once-sacred tradition in France of keeping private lives private has been chipped away as bloggers, tweeters and others have tapped into public curiosity. Hollande said of the Closer report that his “indignation is total” and called it a “violation that touches a personal liberty.” He did not say whether the report is true.

Hollande did not mention the report at all during his prepared speech, in which he announced measures meant to loosen up France’s labor market and cut into the 11 percent unemployment rate. He promised to cut $68 billion in public spending over the years 2015-2017 and laid out a broad economic strategy that largely involved going “faster, farther” with modest reforms his government has already taken.

The issue of whether the president was having an affair has consumed French media. It even reached the floor of parliament yesterday. A leading legislator from the opposition conservative UMP party accused the president of taking unreasonable risks with his security.

“The president is not a normal citizen during his term. He is the chief of our armies. He is the keystone of our institutions. His protection should not suffer from any amateurism,” Christian Jacob said in the National Assembly. “The president should be aware of the level of responsibility that he exercises, be aware that his role is greater than his person, and be aware that he incarnates the image of France in the eyes of the world.”

Asked whether his security was compromised, Hollande said, “My security is assured everywhere, and at any moment. When I travel officially . . . and when I travel on a private basis, I have protection that is less suffocating. But I am protected everywhere.”

He left open the possibility of suing Closer for the publication.

The photos were taken by Sebastien Valiela, who rocked France’s political establishment 20 years ago with images that revealed the secret family of then-President Francois Mitterrand, showing the Socialist leader emerging from a restaurant with the daughter he had never acknowledged.

Francois Rebsamen, a Socialist lawmaker who counts himself among Hollande’s friends, said the revelations showed the entire idea of a first lady was obsolete.

“Francois Hollande himself said it at one point: You elect a person. And then this person can live alone, can be single, can live with another man or a woman. It’s no one’s business and it doesn’t come into play,” he told RTL radio yesterday.

Hollande, who has four children from a previous relationship with a leading politician, was elected as a “Monsieur Normal” in a backlash against his flamboyant predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

Dominique Moisi, a French political analyst, said Hollande – who was already the most unpopular president in modern French history before the recent revelations – had brought the scrutiny on himself.

“He wanted to impress the French with the fact that he was a normal man, that he was a man of dignity, simplicity, moral rigor,” he said. “Suddenly the French are discovering that he is like others, but in a less glorious manner, even a ridiculous manner.”

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