Official: French president splits with first lady

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By GREG KELLER and SYLVIE CORBET, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande has split with the country's first lady two weeks after a tabloid reported that the leader was having an affair with an actress, an official said Saturday.

A presidential aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the matter, confirmed that Hollande ended his seven-year relationship with Valerie Trierweiler.

The breakup was first reported by French news agency Agence France Presse, which said Hollande told it in a telephone conversation Saturday evening that "I make it known that I have put an end" to the relationship with Trierweiler.

Hollande, who has four children with former presidential candidate Segolene Royal, told the news agency that he was speaking in a personal capacity and not as head of state.

He and Trierweiler have lived together since 2007, and while they're unmarried, Trierweiler occupied the so-called madame wing of the presidential palace, traveled abroad with Hollande and functioned as the first lady.

Hollande had dodged questions about Trierweiler's status since a Jan. 14 news conference at which he refused to say whether the 48-year-old journalist was still the first lady.

Those questions surged to the front pages of the world's newspapers after Closer magazine reported that 59-year-old Hollande was having an affair with Julie Gayet, a 41-year-old actress. The magazine published photos showing a man it said was the president, wearing a helmet and seated on the back of a scooter, allegedly being taken to a rendezvous with Gayet.

Trierweiler checked into a hospital for a weeklong stay after the tabloid's report about the affair, during which suspense continued to build over the next twist in the love triangle.

Hollande promised at his news conference to clear up confusion over the identity of his first lady before a scheduled Feb. 11 state visit to the U.S.

A Hollande biographer said the public disintegration of his relationship with Trierweiler had to be very difficult on him.

Hollande is "someone who is totally modest and reserved, so to go through this in public must be terrible for him," said Serge Raffy, whose 2012 biography "The President" was published shortly after Hollande was elected.

After Trierweiler's hospital stay, she spent several days to rest at a presidential residence in the formal royal haunt of Versailles.

The president and Trierweiler are both scheduled to spend several days abroad. She is headed on a humanitarian trip to India on Sunday and Hollande is traveling to Turkey on an official visit Monday.

Hollande remains one of the most unpopular president's in French history, but his approval ratings were nearly unchanged after news his relationship was on the rocks began to spread.

It wasn't clear what security detail Trierweiler might have in India. Her spokesman, Patrice Biancone, didn't respond to repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The affair has led to much hand-wringing in the French media about whether the country's famous laissez-faire attitude about presidential infidelities was breaking down, as well as a debate over the border between a president's public and private life.

A spokesman for parliamentary Socialists, Thierry Mandon, said on BFM TV that France doesn't need a first lady.

"We're not in a traditionally Anglo-Saxon country where the private life is dramatized, like in England or even more so in the United States," Mandon said. "We're in a republic, and in a republic those with legitimacy are those who've been elected."

On the streets of Paris, opinions were divided over how to view Hollande's breakup.

"He hid that from us. What else is he hiding?" restaurant cook Herve Charriere said.

Clara Rosenbois, a 23-year-old law student, was more forgiving of the president.

"I find it honest to clarify and at last make a decision like a man," Rosenbois said. "He should act the same way in politics, in an upright manner."

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Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley contributed to this report.

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