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François and Valérie go their separate ways

AFP/The Local · 27 Jan 2014, 09:02

Published: 27 Jan 2014 09:02 GMT+01:00

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A smiling Valerie Trierweiler braved a media scrum Monday as she toured a hospital in India in her first public appearance since separating from French President Francois Hollande.

The President also jetted off on Monday to Turkey for what is the first visit is the first by a French head of state in 22 years and reflects a thaw in once-frosty ties, although it comes as Turkey is battling its worst political crisis in over a decade.

As Trierweiler braved the public glare once again she appeared relaxed but declined to talk to a crowd of journalists about her private life as she began a two-day charity trip by visiting the facility in Mumbai for premature babies.

Wearing a dark blue dress and heels, the glamorous 48-year-old insisted she would only talk about her work promoting French charity Action Against Hunger (Action Contre la Faim).

She flew in from Paris late on Sunday and will give a press conference in the afternoon at the five-star Taj hotel after visiting another hospital and attending a fund-raising lunch.

"It's very impressive to see these babies of less than one kilogram (two pounds) with very limited chances of survival," she told a scrum of about 50 reporters, cameramen and photographers.

"It's an injustice because even if everything is done for the best, they don't have the same resources as in our hospitals," she added at the end of the one-hour visit to Lokmanya Tilak Hospital.

Up to 20 policemen stood guard around the hospital to keep order and Trierweiler was also accompanied by a presidential bodyguard, a source in her entourage said.

Hollande announced to AFP on Saturday that he was splitting from his partner of eight years following intense media scrutiny over his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet, 41.

Trierweiler, 48, had been convalescing at a presidential residence outside Paris after leaving hospital on January 18, where she was treated for what was described as fatigue brought on by media reports of the affair two weeks ago.

The twice-married mother of three visited India in February last year with Hollande. She visited a shelter for street children in New Delhi and spoke of her desire as First Lady to become a champion of children's rights.

A 'necessary' split

The split has fuelled debate in France about whether an official role is necessary for a president's partner or spouse. A recent poll by Le Parisien daily showed that 54 percent of French people felt it was not.

Labour Minister Michel Sapin, who is close to Hollande, said Sunday that the separation "was necessary for the sake of clarity."

The source in Trierweiler's entourage told AFP that she was "on good terms with the president," adding that the former couple had lunched together on Thursday to finalise the end of their relationship.

The rupture came after revelations two weeks ago in the celebrity-focused Closer magazine that Hollande had been having an affair with Gayet, whom he allegedly visited late at night on a motor scooter.

Hollande has reiterated that he has no intention of speaking about his private life despite attacks from opponents in France who have slammed his alleged infidelity.

The 59-year-old has four children from former partner Segolene Royal, a Socialist party presidential candidate in 2007 from whom he split shortly after her defeat by Nicolas Sarkozy.

He then started living openly with Trierweiler, who assumed the role of first lady at official functions after Hollande's election in 2012.

"I believe that everybody now understands that president or not president, one is entitled to have a private life," Hollande told Time magazine on Saturday.

He headed to Turkey on Monday on his first trip abroad since the split.  Hollande, the first president to visit Turkey since Francois Mitterrand in 1992, is on a mission "to put things right", according to his entourage.

The trip comes at a particularly difficult time for Turkey however, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan embroiled in a widening corruption scandal that has implicated members of his inner circle, including ministers and reportedly his own son.

Story continues below…

Intense interest

Trierweiler's decision to reappear publicly in India was a surprise and the trip has required some careful planning by local organisers because of the intense media interest.

It is being financed mostly by private Indian partners, the charity said.

"Because of the large number of media people, it was more difficult to organise which forced us to review the organisation," a spokeswoman for Action Against Hunger told AFP.

Monday's dinner has been organised to promote the charity's local partner Fight Hunger Foundation, with Trierweiler the guest of honour and sponsors including Moet & Chandon.

She will be shown around the city by French actress Charlotte Valandrey, who is involved in the cause of promoting organ donations and transplants.

On Sunday several thousand people marched through Paris to rally against a series of policies under Hollande - the most unpopular French president of modern times - in a "Day of Anger" which ended with clashes between police and protesters.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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