PARIS The woman who spent some 25 years with French President Francois Hollande has hit back at Hollande's current partner for snubbing her in a Twitter message many consider the first major faux-pas of his debut in office.
Segolene Royal, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2007 just before she and Hollande split, riposted after first lady Valerie Trierweiler tweeted in support of Royal's opponent in Sunday's parliamentary election runoff.
The incident comes at a critical moment for Hollande and his Socialist Party and prompted Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to call for greater discretion from Trierweiler.
Royal was initially reduced to silence by what media dubbed the "bombshell" of Trierweiler's public declaration of support for a left-wing rival, who has locked horns with Hollande's ex in the western seaside town of La Rochelle.
The riposte came on Wednesday night when an emotional Royal acknowledged that she had been deeply offended and deserved greater respect.
"I don't have the right to let myself be shot down," she told supporters in La Rochelle. "That does not mean I am not mortified, that I am not hurt - I am not a robot."
She added: "I make a simple request - respect for political combat and respect for the mother of a family whose children also hear what is being said."
RIVALRY MADE PUBLIC
Trierweiler's tweet, apparently prompted by Hollande having expressed support for Royal's candidacy, exposed the rivalry between the two women, countering his promise of a more sober presidency after the soap opera love life of his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
Hollande and Royal, who got together at the end of the 1970s, had four children over a quarter of a century where they combined dual political careers and family life.
The tweet by Trierweiler, a political journalist for more than two decades at glossy current affairs magazine Paris Match, has additionally caused consternation and embarrassment in Socialist circles at a critical moment before Sunday's ballot.
Some journalists have suggested the affair could be as damaging as Sarkozy's "Fouquet's moment" -- a 2007 post-election party with the rich elite at a swanky nightspot for which he was criticized until the very end of his term.
Hollande, who hopes to cap his May 6 election by winning a Socialist majority in the National Assembly lower house of parliament, has not commented on the tweet episode.
Government spokesman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has said Trierweiler was expressing a personal opinion.
An Ifop poll released on Wednesday showed Royal losing badly to Olivier Falorni, a dissident left-winger who was expelled from the Socialist Party earlier this year for refusing to step aside for Royal as the left's candidate in La Rochelle.
Ayrault urged Falorni again this week to pull out of the race, but the candidate retorted: "Democracy will have the final say."
(Editing by Catherine Bremer and Jon Boyle)