- POSTED: 19 Jan 2014 01:57
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President Francois Hollande faced calls to clear up questions about his personal life Saturday as he met supporters in his political stronghold in central France.
TULLE, France: President Francois Hollande faced calls to clear up questions about his personal life Saturday as he met supporters in his political stronghold in central France.
Hollande did not comment on revelations last week of an affair with actress Julie Gayet, focusing instead on local issues in a speech to supporters in the town of Tulle in the Correze region.
But with concern mounting over de facto First Lady Valerie Trierweiler's extended stay in hospital, even some of Hollande's long-time allies were saying the president needs to deal with the scandal.
"France's political situation requires all of the president's attention and all of his time, so obviously it would be best for everyone if he can resolve the problems in his personal life under good conditions," said Tulle Mayor Bernard Combes, a member of Hollande's Socialist party.
At restaurant La Taverne du Sommelier, where Hollande has a permanent table, owner Cecile At said the president needed to put the scandal behind him.
"Francois Hollande is a very friendly man but Madame (Trierweiler) kept her distance, she did not seek people out," At said.
"The time has come for our president to make decisions on his personal life and for the debate to be closed -- that there be no more rumours or photos."
Trierweiler's employer, Paris Match magazine, said Friday that the 48-year-old's family was "worried" for her after a week in hospital following the reports of Hollande's affair with Gayet, 41.
Hollande, 59, has said he will clarify his relationship with Trierweiler before a trip to Washington next month but has refused any further comment on a scandal that has generated global headlines.
In his first trip outside Paris since the scandal broke, Hollande focused mainly on rural issues, saying he opposed calls to do away with some local administrations.
There was rare media interest for the trip to regional France, with dozens of French and foreign reporters descending on the small community for Hollande's speech.
On previous trips to the region Hollande had regularly visited the Tulle market -- often accompanied by Trierweiler -- but he skipped it this time.
"First Lady" still in hospital
Reports have emerged that Hollande took Gayet to the Tulle market during his last visit to the region in July and that celebrity magazines are hunting for a photograph of the two allegedly taken at the time.
Closer magazine reported last week that Hollande had been having secret trysts with Gayet and published photographs of the pair arriving separately at a borrowed flat near his official residence, the Elysee Palace.
The scandal overshadowed a major policy speech by Hollande vowing new economic reforms and raised questions about whether he had misled the public or put his personal security at risk.
Trierweiler, who had been described as suffering from nervous exhaustion and low blood pressure, had been planning to discharge herself from the hospital on Friday and had intended to go to a presidential residence in Versailles to continue her recuperation.
But there was no news of her release on Saturday.
Hollande's failure to visit her until Thursday evening fuelled speculation that he has decided to end the relationship with Trierweiler, for whom he left Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, in 2005.
In a follow-up story, Closer depicted Hollande's romance with Gayet as more than a brief fling, saying it had possibly started "two years ago".
But it offered little in the way of concrete evidence and no pictures to back up its account.
Gayet is seeking damages of 50,000 euros ($67,000) from the magazine on the grounds that its first report was an illegal breach of her privacy. A trial date has been set for March 6.
Hollande has not denied the magazine's report and has ruled out any legal action on his own behalf.
Public reaction to the scandal has been more muted than would be expected in countries like the United States or Britain.
A poll by BVA for i-Tele released Saturday showed 75 per cent of respondents agreed that Hollande was right not to answer questions on his personal life, and 62 per cent believed the affair was a private matter of no public concern.