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France's Hollande visits first lady as more claims about affair emerge

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 9:03 AM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Francois Hollande has visited Valerie Trierweiler at a hospital, his office says
  • Closer magazine publishes new claims about an affair involving the president
  • It says Hollande and actress Julie Gayet have been involved for two years
  • Gayet is suing Closer for invasion of privacy over its report last week

(CNN) -- French President Francois Hollande has paid his first visit to partner Valerie Trierweiler since she was admitted to a hospital amid reports that he is having an affair, his office said Friday.

New claims emerged Friday about the reported liaison between the President and French actress Julie Gayet, including allegations that it has been going on for two years.

In its online edition, the French magazine Closer, which first published reports of an affair a week ago, says the "couple" also made use of a second apartment near the Elysee Palace for romantic trysts and went on weekend breaks in the south of France.

The tabloid's latest allegations come a day after it said that Gayet is suing the magazine over its earlier report. Her lawyers want 50,000 euros for invasion of privacy plus 4,000 euros in legal fees, according to the magazine.

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In a news conference Tuesday at the Elysee Palace, Hollande did not confirm or deny the reports of an affair.

The claims have sparked a media firestorm unusual for France, where privacy is closely guarded.

Hollande paid his first visit to Trierweiler's bedside Thursday evening, CNN affiliate BFM-TV said.

Trierweiler, a journalist and Hollande's partner of several years, was hospitalized after the report emerged a week ago.

She told French radio station RTL in a story published Thursday that the President had not visited her in the hospital, because her doctors barred him from doing so, but that he had sent flowers and chocolate.

The first lady is being kept distant from her entourage while she clears her head and recovers, the radio station said.

'Painful moments'

Hollande delivered New Year's wishes to the French diplomatic corps Friday and was expected to talk about France's foreign policy priorities.

France is involved in international discussions aimed at resolving the crisis in Syria and limiting Iran's nuclear ambitions. It has also recently sent peacekeeping forces to the strife-torn Central African Republic and has about 2,500 troops engaged in security operations in Mali.

The international media has been gripped by the growing furor over his personal life, but Hollande tried to keep the focus on his economic plans at his annual news conference Tuesday.

Asked then whether Trierweiler was still the first lady of France, Hollande said personal affairs should be dealt with in private.

"Everybody in their personal lives can go through hardships. This is the case for us," he said.

"These are painful moments, but I have one principle: Private affairs are dealt with in private. This is not the place nor the time to do this."

In his remarks, Hollande indicated that he would not sue Closer for breach of privacy. He has immunity as President, so it would not be fair for him to pursue legal action when others cannot take action against him, he suggested.

But his indignation over the invasion of privacy is "total," he said, adding, "It's a violation that affects a fundamental freedom."

Asked about Trierweiler's health, Hollande said that she was "resting" and that he had nothing more to add.

Hollande and Trierweiler are expected to visit the United States at the invitation of President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. Their itinerary next month includes a February 11 state dinner at the White House.

Hollande said he would clarify the situation before the February trip.

Public opinion

The media uproar comes as Hollande is battling to turn around a struggling economy and low personal approval ratings.

However, it's not clear how much impact the claims will have on his political fortunes.

A survey by French pollster Ifop with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche found that more than three-quarters of respondents saw the alleged affair as "a private matter that only concerns Francois Hollande."

Only 23% of those questioned for the survey, conducted January 10 and 11, considered it a public matter, Ifop said.

More than eight in 10 of those surveyed said the revelations had not changed their opinion of the French President. Only 13% said they thought worse of Hollande in light of the claims.

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Opinion: Personal or political, it's time Hollande got his affairs in order

Report: French President mulls legal action over claim of affair with actress

CNN's Sandrine Amiel and Jim Bittermann contributed to this report.

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