LONDON (Reuters) - Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was bundled into the back of a police car to escape protesters after a speaking engagement at Britain’s Cambridge University on Friday that angered women’s rights activists.
About 150 demonstrators, waving banners and chanting “2, 4, 6, 8, no more violence, no more rape” had circled the Cambridge Union Society where Strauss-Kahn delivered a speech on globalization and the Eurozone to a select group of students.
As the French economist left, the angry crowd, shouting references to the New York hotel maid who accused him of sexual assault, tried to scale 20-metre barricades guarded by police and security officers set up to protect him.
Placards were thrown at the car and protesters scuffled with officers as he was whisked away.
“I don’t think he should have been invited here to speak to students,” student Morgan Wild, 23, told Reuters. “I think it’s part of a crass PR campaign to rehabilitate his reputation and we shouldn’t be taken for fools.”
Cambridgeshire Police said a 19-year-old man was arrested for assaulting a police officer and a woman, 22, was detained for a breach of the peace. Two others were arrested on Friday morning after banners were plastered all over the Union Society building.
There was tight security inside the venue with the grey-haired Strauss-Kahn flanked by four burly men during his speech and 25 guards brought in for the occasion.
But even within the historic 19th century building, where politicians such as British wartime leader Winston Churchill have addressed students, he was unable to escape controversy.
One student asked him to explain vaginal bruising suffered by Nafissatou Diallo, the maid behind the sexual assault allegations who is now pursuing civil claims against Strauss-Kahn in New York.
“The reality is that I spent a week in prison. There hasn’t been a prosecution,” he replied to a rapt audience listening over the faint shouts and sirens heard from outside.
Strauss-Kahn has mostly kept a low profile since New York prosecutors dismissed charges of attempted rape and sexual assault against him in August, based on concerns about Diallo’s credibility. But in recent months he has rejoined the international speech circuit.
However, the decision to host him provoked a sharp rebuke from the Cambridge University Students’ Union Women’s Campaign who invited the lawyer for Diallo to address students earlier in the day.
“For some strange reason Strauss-Khan believes he can go around the world and talk about the foreign debt crisis and the state of the European economy without being questioned about what he did to an innocent woman,” lawyer Douglas Wigdor told an auditorium packed with students and a large number of the French media.
Though the criminal case is over, the first civil court hearing over Diallo’s claims is scheduled for March 28.
Strauss-Kahn was also held for two days in January in a police station in the northern French city of Lille, where investigators questioned him about allegations that a prostitution ring organized by his business acquaintances provided women for clients of Lille’s Carlton Hotel.
Police want to establish whether Strauss-Kahn knew that women at parties he attended in Lille, Paris and Washington were prostitutes. His lawyer has said Strauss-Kahn had no reason to think so.
Writing by Michael Holden