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October 10, 2009

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Minister's sex scandal affects Sarkozy

THE sex scandal surrounding France's culture minister has come at a bad time for President Nicolas Sarkozy whose popularity among voters took another dip, according to a poll published yesterday.

The survey was conducted this week, when Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand had to defend his honor over a book he wrote describing paying young men for sex.

Mitterrand has kept his job so far, but the controversy has posed yet another challenge for Sarkozy, who is struggling with France's worst economic slump since World War II.

Sarkozy hasn't spoken publicly about Mitterrand's book, though Mitterrand said the two met privately on Thursday and Sarkozy "confirmed his confidence" in the culture minister.

The poll by the CSA agency shows 41 percent of respondents trust the president to confront the country's problems, down 6 percent from a month earlier.

The polling agency noted a particular drop in support among Sarkozy's core voters, who oppose his reaching out to those outside his right-wing circle -- such as Mitterrand, nephew of the late former French president, Socialist Francois Mitterrand.

Politicians and voters remained divided over the culture minister, after he went on national television on Thursday night to tamp down calls for his resignation and explain his complicated personal past.

Mitterrand is an easy target for traditionalists: Openly gay, he wrote a book in 2005 called "La mauvaise vie," or "The Bad Life," in which he details encounters with male prostitutes in Thailand. He uses the ambiguous term "boys," common language in French to refer to gay men.

Calls from the extreme right and the left mounted this week for Mitterrand's resignation.

Speaking on TF1 television Thursday, he insisted he had not hired minors and that the book was not a straight autobiography. He said he had no intention of quitting his job.


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