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French minister clings to job after 'sex with boys' row

world Updated: Oct 09, 2009 16:03 IST
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France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand appeared to have saved his job on Friday after an emotional television appearance in which he admitted paying for sex with men but angrily rejected paedophilia charges.

Mitterrand faced calls for his resignation this week over his autobiographical novel "The Bad Life" which describes paying for "boys" in brothels in Thailand and Indonesia.

He appeared on French television on Thursday, and denied the book was a defence of paedophilia, insisting the men he met in Asia were consenting adults.

Mitterrand said President Nicolas Sarkozy had given him full support, and the two men were due to make a public appearance together on Friday, suggesting that his job is safe for now.

Justice Minister French Michele Alliot-Marie said she found her colleague's appearance "moving" and called him "a very good minister."

Sarkozy hired Mitterrand in June, delighted to bring the nephew of late Socialist president Francois Mitterrand into his right-wing government. The minister is also a friend of Sarkozy's supermodel wife, Carla Bruni.

The controversy over his 2005 book erupted this week after Mitterrand's staunch defence of fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski, who is being held in Switzerland on a US warrant for an outstanding conviction for sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Mitterrand was forced to make the television appearance after left and right wing politicians demanded he respond to the allegations that his own memoir endorses sex tourism.

"I absolutely condemn sexual tourism. I condemn paedophilia, in which I have never in any way participated, and all the people who accuse me of that type of thing should be ashamed," the 62-year-old told TF1 television.

Mitterrand has previously explained that in his book, which was marketed as a memoir but which he now says its not "entirely autobiographical", he had used the term "boys" to describe all males.

Asked if he regretted paying for sex with "boys" in Thailand, and if he had made a mistake by so doing, he replied that he had committed "a mistake, without doubt, a crime, no.

"Because I was each time with people who were my age and who were consenting," he said.

Mitterrand acknowledged that had "committed an offence against the idea of dignity, human dignity."

But the minister, who previously had a successful career as a writer, documentary-maker and television presenter, said that the "offences" he had committed were commonplace.

"Among all the people who are watching tonight, where is the one who has not at least once in his life made this sort of mistake?" said the visibly angry minister.

He also warned that "one must not confuse homosexuality with paedophilia."

Mitterrand's defence of his book back in 2005 was broadly accepted and the book was praised for its shocking honesty and literary quality.

But now, as a minister in a government that has prosecuted sex tourists, his position is more difficult.

The passages in "The Bad Life" that have sparked controversy deal with the hero's visits to brothels and boy bars in Thailand and Indonesia.

The hero describes the mixture of feverish excitement and guilt he feels as he hands over money for sex with "boys" whose age he does not state.

"All the rituals of this market of youths, this slave market, excite me enormously," the book says.

"The profusion of attractive and immediately available boys puts me into a state of desire that I no longer need to hide or check. Money and sex, I am at the heart of my system," he wrote.

When Polanski, who lives in Paris, was detained in Switzerland last month, Mitterrand called the arrest "absolutely horrifying".

But he has since toned down his support, repeating on Thursday that he had reacted "emotionally" to the detention of an Oscar-winning director that he considers a great artist.

Polanski, 76, fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.

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