Socialist boss calls Strauss-Kahn arrest "thunderbolt"

PARIS Sun May 15, 2011 6:31am EDT

PARIS (Reuters) - The leader of France's main opposition Socialist Party, Martine Aubry, called for party unity on Sunday in the face of what she called the "thunderbolt" arrest of the party's possible presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The International Monetary Fund boss who opinion polls had pegged as the strongest likely challenger on the left to unseat conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, was charged on Sunday with sexual assault on a New York hotel maid.

"The news we received from New York last night struck like a thunderbolt," Aubry said in a statement. "I call on the Socialists to stay united and reasonable," she said, noting it was vital to respect the presumption of innocence.

Aubry is widely expected to run in the Socialist Party selection contest to pick a presidential candidate, along with veteran leftists Francois Hollande and Segolene Royal who have already declared their candidacies.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Louise Ireland)