France's President Francois Hollande has continued to side-step questions over an alleged affair. He refused to be drawn on his private life at a televised press conference and focused on economic and social issues.
Around 600 journalists attended the annual press conference, with Hollande using his address to concentrating on matters of state. Absent was any reference to the claims by the French magazine Closer that he had been unfaithful to long-time partner Valerie Trierweiler through encounters with actress Julie Gayet.
But he was forced to respond to the accusations when journalists were given the chance to pose the questions. The first concerned the status of Trierweiler as France's first lady and whether she would accompany Hollande on visit to the United States in February.
"I understand your question and I'm sure you will understand my answer," Hollande said, later adding he would shed some light on the allegations before the visit to the US.
"All people go through painful moments in their private lives... That's the case with us.
"(But) private business has to be handled privately. We must must respect individuals' privacy. This is the not right place or the right time to (address that)," he said.
Trierweiler remains in hospital undergoing treatment, She had been due to return home on Monday, but an aide said "doctors believe she needs more rest."
Hollande had raised the prospect of legal action against the magazine. He said at the press conference he was asking for no change in privacy laws for politicians, but expressed his dismay that any citizen could be subject to such questions into his or her private lives.
"I don’t want there to be double standards but I'm totally outraged … It’s a violation that affects fundamental freedom and that can affect you all," he said.
"We have to have that principle of respect … for the privacy of individuals."
Matters of state
In his initial speech, Hollande promised to French cut payroll taxes to stimulate growth, and pointed to "fragile" results of his 18-month presidency, such as a drop in youth unemployment and a "stabilisation" of overall jobless figures. He also announced a cut in public spending of 50 billion euros ($68.3 billion)
"France must get moving again in order to set off again," he said.
Hollande added that France and Germany should align on corporate taxes, proposing a joint renewable energy company: "The idea is to make a big French-German company for the energy transition."
Hollande also said he wanted a closer partnership with Germany on defence issues and closely efforts to ensure "peace and stability in the world."
Last week, Germany's former defence minister, Thomas de Maiziere, took a swipe at France and Britain, accusing them of not pulling their weight in international military interventions.
"We have several times been more involved than France," de Maiziere said in an apparent reference to the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan, where Germany contributes the third most troops behind the United States and Britain.
ph/ij (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)
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