PARIS French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand on Thursday rejected calls for his resignation for having written about paying boys for sex in Thailand, saying his partners had been consenting adults.
The revelations were made in a 2005 book by Mitterrand, "The Bad Life." They re-surfaced after Mitterrand strongly defended film-maker Roman Polanski, who was arrested in Switzerland last month and faces extradition to the United States for having had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Mitterrand described the book as "not totally autobiographical" in a television interview on Thursday and was evasive about the precise nature of his experiences in Thailand.
"A mistake, certainly, a crime, no ... because each time I was with people of my own age and who consented," Mitterrand said, adding that he had no intention to resign.
"In no way is it an apology of sex tourism ... even if one of the chapters is a journey through that hell, with the fascination that hell can provoke," said Mitterrand. Throughout the TF1 interview, he referred to his partners as "boys."
Politicians from all parties have criticized Mitterrand for his attack on the United States, which he said had shown a "frightening" face by pursuing Polanski after so long. The far-right National Front party has called for him to step down.
But in the interview, Mitterrand said French President Nicolas Sarkozy had expressed his support for him.
The affair appeared to have provoked a split in the government, with Labor Minister Xavier Darcos saying Mitterrand needed to explain his behavior, and Sarkozy adviser Henri Guaino defending the minister.
Guaino called the debate excessive and undignified. Asked whether Mitterrand should resign, Guaino said on France 2 television: "When there is a controversy as pathetic as this, with so much delay, I don't think there should be such drastic consequences."
Guaino said there were no facts to back up the accusations and Mitterrand had not been subject to any legal complaints.
But Darcos asked for an explanation.
"There is no judge after him, nobody is pressing charges, he is being criticized for his personal behavior, moral behavior," Darcos said on France Inter radio.
"STATE OF DESIRE"
The experiences in the book are presented as a mixture of straight autobiography and more dreamlike reflection.
"I got into the habit of paying for boys," Mitterrand wrote, adding that his attraction to young male prostitutes continued even though he knew "the sordid details of this traffic."
"All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excited me enormously ... the abundance of very attractive and immediately available young boys put me in a state of desire."
Mitterrand is the nephew of former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and was drafted into Sarkozy's center-right cabinet in June.
Although he was not a Socialist, his surname still reverberates in France and carries a lot of clout. Sarkozy was delighted to have brought him on board, but now faces unease within his own UMP party over his choice of minister.
France considers itself to be at the forefront of the fight against sex tourism but Guaino said Mitterrand would not compromise this position.
"I have not heard Frederic Mitterrand say anything against France's position of fighting sex tourism," Guaino said.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Mitterrand was respected for his competence in the role of culture minister.
Although still openly siding with Polanski, Mitterrand has toned down his language, saying his emotions overtook him the day he heard that Switzerland had arrested the film director.
(Reporting by Anna Willard and Thierry Leveque; Editing by Jon Hemming)