French Socialist heavyweights shun Strauss-Kahn

PARIS, April 29 Sun Apr 29, 2012 3:59pm EDT

PARIS, April 29 (Reuters) - The heavyweights of France's Socialist party shunned disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Sunday after he made an uncomfortable return to the political scene in the delicate final days of a presidential campaign.

The party's presidential candidate told him bluntly to stay out of the campaign after London's The Guardian newspaper published an interview with him, and leading Socialists said they walked out of a weekend drinks party in Paris when they heard Strauss-Kahn was due to attend.

In the interview, published on Friday, Strauss-Kahn suggested his political foes had torpedoed his presidential bid by making sure his now infamous sexual encounter with a New York hotel maid last May was made public.

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn is not involved in the presidential campaign ... and so he should not reappear in any form until this campaign concludes and I hope concludes successfully," Socialist candidate Francois Hollande told Canal+ television.

Hollande leads conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy by around 10 percentage points in opinion polls, after beating him into first place in an April 22 first round, but his campaign team is keen to avoid any upsets ahead of next Sunday's runoff.

The interview was an unwelcome reminder for Socialists of the dramatic downfall of the man who was initially the runaway favourite to win their presidential nomination.

It prompted Sarkozy to challenge Strauss-Kahn to take his allegations to a law court or remain silent.

New York prosecutors eventually dropped criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn, who insisted the incident was consensual, but the scandal forced his resignation from the IMF and brought his political career to a halt, heralding a series of revelations about the former finance minister's private life.

He has since been placed under formal investigation for possible involvement with an alleged prostitution ring based in the northern French city of Lille.

Socialist member of parliament Julien Dray shocked party heavyweights by inviting Strauss-Kahn to his birthday drinks in a Paris bar on Saturday without informing them, prompting several of them to walk out when they learnt of his arrival.

"Luckily, I did not find myself face to face with him. I left because it is out of the question that I should meet that gentleman, simply out of respect for women's rights," said Segolene Royale, the unsuccessful Socialist candidate for the 2007 presidential election and Hollande's former partner.

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn is totally undesirable in this campaign," she said.

Hollande's campaign manager Pierre Moscovici, a former ally of Strauss-Kahn's, also said he left the drinks party as the one-time Socialist finance minister arrived.

A spokesperson for Strauss-Kahn said he had not given an interview to The Guardian.

A spokesperson for the daily said it stood by its story and the comments were made during a two-hour interview with investigative journalist Edward Epstein, who it said had told Strauss-Kahn his remarks would be published in the newspaper.

Manuel Valls, a spokesperson for Hollande who was formerly close to Strauss-Kahn's moderate Socialist grouping, said at the end of an Hollande rally in Paris that the party needed to turn the page on the incident. "Dominique Strauss-Kahn is out of the campaign and has no reason to come back." (Reporting By Daniel Flynn; editing by Philippa Fletcher)