A leading Socialist lawmaker has asked the French president to fire Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand as a scandal grows over his admission in a 2005 book that he had paid for sex with boys.
Both far-right and leftist politicians have joined in a campaign criticizing Mitterrand that started earlier this week and now risks throwing the government into crisis mode.
The far-right National Front party has conceded that it went looking for dirt about Mitterrand after his impassioned defense last week of film director Roman Polanski. The director was arrested in Switzerland on U.S. charges connected with his having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 in Los Angeles.
Mitterrand's 2005 book, "La mauvaise vie" or "The Bad Life," describes painful periods in his childhood as well as his homosexuality. One passage describes his "bad habit of paying for boys" in Thailand. The minister said Wednesday on France-3 television that he is not a pedophile and uses the term "boys" loosely.
Mitterrand, whose book raised no more than literary eyebrows when published four years ago, is to go on national television Thursday evening to explain himself.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party is squirming but so far holding firm in defense of Mitterrand, a nephew of former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand who is widely known to the French for his eloquent TV profiles of the famous. He entered the government in June as part of Sarkozy's policy of reaching out to the left.
Socialist Arnaud Montebourg claimed Thursday that Mitterrand "deliberately acted in violation of national and international laws" and appealed to Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon to fire him.
"It is impossible that a minister representing France can encourage violation of his own international commitments to fight sexual tourism," Montebourg's statement said.
Excerpts read on TV
The scandal was seeded when National Front leader Marine Le Pen read excerpts of Mitterrand's book on French television and demanded his resignation. The Socialists then jumped on the bandwagon.
"To be dragged through the mud by the (National Front) is an honor," Mitterrand said Wednesday.
No one has come forth with an outright defense of the minister. However, the government stood firm in a bid to hold off the attack.
A top aide to Sarkozy, Henri Guaino, stressed that the book was written four years ago with no complaint from politicians on left or right.
"He wrote a book .... Was he taken before a court? Was he the object of a lawsuit?" Guaino said on France-2 television Wednesday. Calling it a "pathetic controversy," he asked why "such radical consequences" should be in the offing.
The Green Party was among leftist forces that distanced itself from the controversy, with national secretary Cecile Duflot warning against "an amalgam between pedophilia and homosexuality."
"The very idea that anyone wants to dig into the private past of public officials for political ends is profoundly shocking," said the government spokesman, Luc Chatel.
Indeed, France has a long-standing tradition of privacy surrounding the sexual lives of its politicians.
The culture minister's uncle, President Mitterrand, was a perfect example of the hands-off policy accorded him by the French media and other politicians, many aware for years of his daughter born out of wedlock — and whom he introduced to the nation before dying of cancer.