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Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrives back on French soil

Former IMF chief faces uncertain political future after New York prosecutors drop charges of sexually assaultinghotel maid

Dominique Strauss-Kahn has returned to France for the first time since attempted rape accusations by a New York hotel maid dashed the former International Monetary Fund chief’s chances for the French presidency.

New York prosecutors dropped their case against Strauss-Kahn because of questions about the maid’s credibility, but the affair cost him his IMF job and exposed his personal life to worldwide scrutiny.

On Sunday, smiling and waving silently, Strauss-Kahn stepped off an Air France flight at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to face an uncertain political future. Four months ago, he was the favourite to beat Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections, but few now expect Strauss-Kahn to make a swift return to French politics

His wife, respected former TV personality Anne Sinclair, was at his side, beaming widely. Riot police protected him and the area. The two then drove to one of their homes, on Paris’ Place des Vosges. The crush of reporters was so thick that they had trouble reaching and opening the front door.

Strauss-Kahn’s supporters have eagerly awaited his return after three months of legal drama in the US that they saw as unfairly hostile to him. “I’m moved, I always believed in his innocence. I wanted very much for this to be over,” Michelle Sabban, a fellow Socialist party member, told i-Tele television.

The last time he tried to take an Air France flight out of JFK, Strauss-Kahn was pulled out of first class by police investigating claims that hours earlier, Strauss-Kahn had forced the maid to perform oral sex and tried to rape her.

He quit his job, spent almost a week in jail, then under six weeks of house arrest and nearly two more months barred from leaving the country before prosecutors dropped the case last month, saying they no longer trusted the maid, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo. Diallo is continuing to press her claims in a civil case. Strauss-Kahn denies the allegations.

Strauss-Kahn faces another attempted rape investigation in France due to accusations by French novelist Tristane Banon. He calls the claim “imaginary.”

Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, told the Associated Press that Strauss-Kahn’s return “is a good thing for my daughter’s complaint because he will have to answer to police.”

Banon says she didn’t file a complaint after the 2003 incident because her mother, a regional Socialist official, urged her not to. Mansouret, who has said she regrets that decision, called it “profoundly indecent” that Strauss-Kahn’s homecoming was like that of a “star.”

The Socialists are now embroiled in a fierce campaign to choose their candidate for the April and May presidential elections. The frontrunners, while relieved that the New York case was dropped, are not keen for Strauss-Kahn to play a role in the campaign.

The eloquent economist and former French finance minister has retained hi popularity in France. One belted out an ode to Strauss-Kahn in a performance at the Paris airport Sunday morning, accompanied by a Verdi opera played on a portable stereo, before police officers asked him to stop.

“Dominique! Dominique!,” shouted Gregoire Vandevelde, who said he was a former student of Strauss-Kahn’s at a prestigious economic institute. “I support him completely,” Vandevelde said. “He is extremely brilliant, full of humor and very competent, warm with his students.”

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