Strauss-Kahn comeback seen difficult, French divided

Paris: France`s Socialist Party said on Monday it was unlikely its erstwhile star Dominique Strauss-Kahn would enter the 2012 presidential race, despite the weakening of the sex assault case against him in New York.

Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said the idea that Srauss-Kahn could now run for the presidency was "the weakest" of all possible scenarios for the former IMF chief`s political future.

He said, however, that if he opted to make a late entry for the Socialists` October primary, beyond the July 13 deadline for candidates to register, the party leadership would not block it.

"Let`s leave Dominique Strauss-Kahn some breathing space and let him speak once he is ready," Hamon told a news conference.

In another twist that could hurt his future, a lawyer for French writer Tristane Banon told Reuters she would file a complaint against Strauss-Kahn on Tuesday for allegedly trying to rape her in early 2003, when she was 22.

"For me, it`s become unbearable," Banon later told French weekly L`Express. "I have borne this on my own for eight years.

"To see Strauss-Kahn freed, then eating dinner in a luxury restaurant with friends, made me sick," she added, referring to reports Strauss-Kahn dined on pasta with truffles to celebrate his release from house arrest in the United States.

A lawyer for Strauss-Kahn, Henri Leclerc, told Reuters he would bring a counter-claim against Banon, calling her version of events "imaginary".

Despite his image as a "caviar Socialist", Strauss-Kahn had been tipped as the left`s best chance of defeating conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, but his shock arrest in May in New York on attempted rape charges has forced the Socialists to press on without him.

The left`s election plans have been thrown back into turmoil, and public opinion divided, by news late last week that the case against him could unravel because of doubts about his accuser`s credibility -- raising the prospect of a political comeback.

The left`s lead over Sarkozy in opinion polls has narrowed sharply since Strauss-Kahn`s exit as a possible contender.

In a BVA poll published on Monday, 63 percent of respondents said they did not think Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister, would run for election.

Socialists called on Monday for an inquiry into the rush to judgment against Strauss-Kahn, accused of trying to rape a hotel maid, while Interior Minister Claude Gueant dismissed mutterings of a political plot as "scandalous".

Strauss-Kahn`s abrupt reversals of fortune have angered French opinion, which broadly saw the New York police decision to parade him after his arrest, dishevelled and in handcuffs, as trial by media and a gross violations of his rights.

Analysts say the influential centre-leftist could choose to try to strengthen the Socialists` election campaign through a backstage role, but note the picture painted of him as a sexual predator could damage the party.

A judge released Strauss-Kahn from house arrest on Friday after prosecutors uncovered what they called a pattern of lying by his accuser that they said undermined her credibility. The sex assault charges remain in place.

While five contenders are jostling in France for the Socialist nomination, Strauss-Kahn is confined to the United States ahead of his next court hearing on July 18.

Public split

Opinion polls show voters are deeply divided over whether he could return to politics after the muck-raking that has followed one of the most dramatic political downfalls in history.

Strauss-Kahn`s allies are rallying round him.

Celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy said Strauss-Kahn was the sole victim in the affair and should return to politics.

"There is only one victim, in terms of someone whose life has been shattered. It`s DSK," Levy told Europe 1 radio, using a popular nickname for Srauss-Kahn. "He`s a man whose life has been trampled on, broken, discredited, degraded."

Francois Hollande, the left`s new frontrunner for 2012, told RTL radio there should be an inquiry into possible foul play.

"There could have been a trap. In life, there can always be somebody who tries to manipulate you, to trap you," he said.

Socialist deputy Pierre Moscovici also called for an inquiry to establish whether there had been judicial errors.

An Ipsos survey conducted on July 1 and 2 found 51 percent of those questioned think Strauss-Kahn`s political career is over and only 42 percent think he can return. Among Socialist Party supporters, 57 percent said he could make a comeback.

A Harris Interactive poll also carried out on July 1 and 2 found 42 percent of French thought Strauss-Kahn would make a good president. He scored 77 percent on "competence" versus 57 percent for both Hollande and rival Martine Aubry.

Last week`s news that the hotel chambermaid had lied to a grand jury and made other false statements has rekindled mutterings in France of a plot to bring down Strauss-Kahn.

Bureau report