IMF chief's arrest rocks French presidential race

Some rivals and political observers said it could bury any presidential bid by Strauss-Kahn, considered the strongest potential challenger to unseat the unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s election.

Others urged caution pending further investigation into the alleged assault by Strauss-Kahn, an accomplished politician and economist who has been in the French public eye for decades. A few even suggested that Strauss-Kahn may have been set up.

The arrest also shook up talks that Strauss-Kahn was having in Europe this week about the euro currency crisis and more aid to debt-laden Greece. Strauss-Kahn is facing arraignment on charges of attempted rape and a criminal sex act involving a maid in a New York hotel. He was whisked off an Air France plane amid the police investigation.

Strauss-Kahn has not announced his candidacy for France’s presidency, but was widely expected to seek the Socialist Party nomination to run against the conservative Sarkozy.

The IMF chief has for months led polls of presidential contenders. A poll by the IFOP agency published this weekend showed Strauss-Kahn with the highest support among possible presidential candidates, trailed closest by Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Discredited

Le Pen, who heads the National Front party, said Sunday that Strauss-Kahn has been “discredited as a candidate.”

Sarkozy himself did not comment publicly on Sunday, nor did his aides. The president’s popularity has been in the doldrums for months. Voters are frustrated by Sarkozy’s hardline stance on immigrants and his failure to fulfil promises.

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