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April 25, 2017

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France's former first lady focuses on hunger in India

MUMBAI, India--In her first public appearance since the French president broke up with her, Valerie Trierweiler turned her attention to the less fortunate on Monday, cuddling and kissing children in a pediatric ward in India.

Trierweiler did not address the scandal at a news conference to help launch the new Fight Hunger Foundation in India, and got visibly annoyed at personal questions from reporters. She acknowledged, however, that her days as first lady were over.

"I don't know if it's for me to judge, or for you. I was there for 19 months," she said in some of the first public comments she has made since the scandal erupted earlier this month.

"I was able to discover people who I hadn't known," she said, speaking in French. "I understood that you can be useful, and in being useful to others you can be useful to yourself."

Trierweiler, a 48-year-old career journalist who has three children from a previous marriage, arrived in Mumbai overnight on a long-planned trip. It provided her with an escape from intense media interest after she was hospitalized earlier this month with what aides described as shock and the blues following a tabloid's publication of photos it said proved President Francois Hollande was having an affair with an actress.

On Saturday, Hollande announced their seven-year relationship was over. They were not married.

At the news conference, Trierweiler said the trip to India was going well. "I have the impression to be useful at something, and that's what makes you feel the best," she said.

Earlier Monday, she visited children in the pediatric ward of a public hospital in Mumbai and spoke with mothers about nutrition.

She canceled a planned visit to a Mumbai slum, though she retained plans for a gala dinner Monday night in conjunction with the charity group Action Against Hunger.

After the hospital visit, Trierweiler posted a photograph of a mother and child in a message on her Twitter account that read: "Alongside ACF (Action Against Hunger) in India to fight malnutrition. A child dies of hunger every 30 seconds."

She also posted a message thanking the staff of the French presidential palace for their "devotion."

Trierweiler's chief of staff, Patrice Biancone, told The Associated Press that her office as first lady would be formally eliminated Wednesday.

"These last few days have been difficult. But today, she is serene," he said.

Hollande Faces Discontent

Meanwhile in France, Hollande is facing a wave of discontent over his economic policies.

On Sunday, some 17,000 people marched through central Paris to denounce the country's high taxes, high unemployment and economic stagnation. His public approval rating stands at about 30 percent. Some 250 people were arrested and 19 police officers injured after the protest degenerated into violence.

In an interview published Sunday and conducted before he split with Trierweiler, Hollande renewed his plea for privacy. He told Time magazine that "private life is always, at certain times, a challenge. And it has to be respected."

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