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Strauss-Kahn returns to public stage in China

PARIS (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn returned to public life on Monday as guest speaker at a Beijing conference, seven months after his arrest on now-dropped attempted rape charges ended his hopes of becoming France’s next president.

No longer bound by the constraints of financial diplomacy and economic rescue negotiations, Strauss-Kahn faulted Europe’s leaders for being in denial for too long over the region’s debt crisis. “The problem is they are still in denial,” he said.

The former IMF chief, who steered the multilateral lender into a leading role in tackling the euro zone crisis, said he was not sure that the bloc’s two key leaders, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, fully understood each other.

In his native France, the Socialist Party that once had pinned its hopes of defeating Sarkozy on Strauss-Kahn was quick to distance itself from his comments. It said the comeback had nothing to do with the party or with the man who has filled Strauss-Kahn’s shoes as its candidate in April’s presidential contest, Francois Hollande.

At one stage several months ago, Hollande had suggested that Strauss-Kahn might find a political or advisory role in France but he has since distanced himself from the former finance minister.

“No, he is not an envoy for Francois Hollande,” Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon reporters, as the Chinese appearance rekindled talk about Strauss-Kahn’s plans. “If Francois Hollande wants to open talks with the Chinese authorities he will do so himself.”

Strauss-Kahn’s return to the public stage generated intense coverage in France, where his image continues to suffer despite the fact that criminal charges against him were dropped in New York.

U.S. prosecutors cited doubts about the credibility of his accuser, hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, as they dropped the charges.

French prosecutors shelved a separate sex assault complaint against him when he returned home but his name keeps cropping up in relation to an inquiry into a prostitution ring in northern France. He has asked to be allowed explain himself but has yet to secure an appointment with the investigation team to do so.

His wife Anne Sinclair, a former star TV interviewer who has stuck beside him, was rated France’s most popular woman in a poll published on Monday, way ahead of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife, singer and ex-supermodel Carla Bruni.

Reporting By Brian Love and Elizabeth Pineau