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French president admits personal problems

PARIS--French President Francois Hollande conceded Tuesday that he is going through “painful moments” with his companion, who was hospitalized after a magazine reported that he is secretly having an affair with a movie actress.

But the Socialist Hollande , who has some of the lowest approval ratings of a French leader, sidestepped specifics about his personal life and tried to devote his annual presidential news conference to his plan for reviving France's struggling economy.

Hollande's partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, has been hospitalized since Friday, when the tabloid-style magazine Closer published photos it said proved Hollande's liaison with actress Julie Gayet around the corner from the presidential Elysee Palace.

Hollande said Trierweiler “is resting” but insisted that the packed news conference was not the place to discuss the issue.

He did not deny or confirm the Closer report, but his announcement Tuesday of economic measures meant to encourage hiring was overshadowed by the scandal.

The first reporter to speak asked Hollande who is France's first lady.

The president brushed aside the question in a country where the private lives of leaders have long been considered private. But he suggested that his relationship with Trierweiler was in a crisis stage.

“Everyone in his or her personal life can go through ordeals — that's the case with us,” he said. “They are painful moments. 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.”

Hollande said he would respond to the question before his Feb. 11 state visit to Washington, a trip that would normally include Trierweiler.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney hedged awkwardly when asked if there were any changes to plans for the visit by Hollande and his partner.

“The president looks forward to seeing President Hollande. ... On issues of the delegation that the French come with, I would refer you to the French government,” Carney said.

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

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.”

After the news conference, Hollande visited with several journalists in a private Elysee office, appearing relaxed and saying he was satisfied with the news conference. He said he was not surprised about the questions about his private life, but refused further comment on it.

Trierweiler is the first person not married to the president to hold the post of first lady, which is not a formal function in France.

Hollande has four children with another leading Socialist politician, Segolene Royal. He left Royal for Trierweiler, whom he has lived with since 2007.

France has a rich tradition of dalliances among leaders, be they kings — whose courtesans made infidelity a royal ritual — or presidents.

But the concept of privacy, considered sacred, was chipped away under Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande's swaggering, brash predecessor and political rival. Sarkozy divorced while in office, then married model and songstress Carla Bruni.

The French media pounced on the report of Hollande's infidelity to Trierweiler. The cover of the weekly newsmagazine L'Express, bearing a picture of Hollande, read, “The Discredit.”

Of course, in France, leaders “have the right to fall in love,” the magazine's executive editor, Christophe Barbier, said on iTele TV station. But “he should have clarified his personal situation” rather than leaving it in the hands of Closer.

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