* Affair has little impact on Hollande's deep unpopularity
* Trierweiler played role of first lady, with big budget
(Adds Trierweiler comment)
By Emmanuel Jarry and Leila Abboud
PARIS, Jan 25 French President Francois Hollande
announced his separation from first lady Valerie Trierweiler on
Saturday following a media storm over allegations he is having
an affair with an actress.
"I wish to make it known that I have ended my partnership
with Valerie Trierweiler," he told Agence France Presse news
Hollande sought to put an end to turbulence that began two
weeks ago when celebrity magazine Closer published a report that
he was having an affair with film actress and Socialist Party
supporter Julie Gayet.
Questions over Hollande's personal life - and whether
Trierweiler was still first lady - have diverted public
attention from a shift the president made this month towards
more business-friendly policies aimed at reviving the euro
zone's second-biggest economy in the face of high unemployment.
A news conference to unveil the economic plans was
overshadowed by questions over Hollande's private life, as was a
trip to Rome to meet the pope on Friday.
Announcing the separation, Hollande said he was speaking as
an individual and not as head of state since it concerned his
Trierweiler, a 48-year-old arts columnist for weekly
magazine Paris Match, was not married to Hollande but they had
been together since 2006. She assumed the role of first lady at
official functions following his election in May 2012, and like
her predecessors, maintained an office with a budget of roughly
20,000 euros per month.
TRIP TO INDIA
Trierweiler was hospitalised for eight days for fatigue
after news of the affair broke, and had since been staying in a
secluded secondary residence belonging to the president near
Versailles. She left the house, known as la Lanterne, on
Saturday afternoon, said a person close to the presidency, and
would not return.
In her first public statement, Trierweiler thanked the staff
of the Elysee presidential palace in a tweet. "I will never
forget their devotion, nor the emotion at the time of my
departure," she wrote.
Trierweiler was expected to travel to India on Sunday in
honour of an anti-hunger charity, and French media reports said
she may speak at a news conference there.
Hollande, 59, is the most unpopular president in modern
France, according to polls. He has struggled to live up to a
promise to get unemployment, currently stuck near 11 percent,
firmly on a downward trend.
He has four children from a previous relationship with
Segolene Royal, a senior member of his Socialist Party and a
2007 presidential candidate. Royal announced their separation
just after she lost the 2007 election to Nicolas Sarkozy.
The reports of Hollande's affair have had little effect on
his image and French media largely focused on Closer's
unprecedented breach of presidential privacy rather than on the
relationship with Gayet.
A poll by Ifop shortly after the magazine report showed that
84 percent of those surveyed had not changed their opinion about
Hollande and that 77 percent considered it a private matter.
Trierweiler has been a particularly unpopular first lady,
according to a BVA poll. Some 8 percent of respondents had a
favourable view of her, compared to 28 percent for Carla
Bruni-Sarkozy, the ex-model and pop star wife of Nicolas
Sarkozy, and 46 percent for Bernadette Chirac, wife of Jacques
(Editing by Andrew Roche and James Dalgleish)