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Strauss-Kahn arrest upends French politics ahead of presidential race

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrested in New York on sexual-assault charges, was considered a strong contender to become France's next president. Now his candidacy for the Socialist party is in serious doubt.

By Correspondent / May 16, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, is led from a police station Sunday, May 15, in New York, where he was being held. The arraignment for Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who is accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid, is scheduled to be held Monday.

Craig Ruttle/AP

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Berlin

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, director of the International Monetary Fund, is missing a lot of important events these days. He missed a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, and he won’t attend the get-together of EU finance ministers in Brussels today. But much more important, in all likelihood, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has missed the chance to become France’s next president.

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Before the NYPD arrested him on Saturday at JFK airport on sexual assault charges brought by a Manhattan hotel maid, French Socialist Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to soon declare his intention to run for president in the 2012 elections. Now France’s political class, most of all the Socialist Party (PS), is trying to gauge the consequences of his arrest.

Strauss-Kahn is to appear in court today in New York, where he is expected to plead not guilty.

"The news from New York sounds like a thunderbolt,“ said Socialist leader Martine Aubry. “I myself, like everyone, am totally astounded. I ask the Socialists to remain united and responsible."

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Unity has not been the French Socialists’ foremost feature. The infighting between leading party figures played a big part in their defeat in the 2007 presidential elections. Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as the former finance minister is known in France, had a good chance to change this; latest opinion polls had given him a clear lead on the incumbent, President Nicolas Sarkozy. Now the turbulent times could be back, with both Martine Aubry and former party leader François Hollande as likely Socialist contenders for the presidency.

Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party has been keen not to be too gleeful about the news from New York. Trade minister Pierre Lellouche stressed that Strauss-Kahn should be granted the benefit of the doubt.

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