Pressure is mounting on Dominique Strauss-Kahn to resign after being remanded in custody for alleged sexual assault of a New York hotel maid, with some European finance ministers distancing themselves from the head of the International Monetary Fund.
Maria Fekter, Austria's finance minister suggested on Tuesday that Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who was a leading contender to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency next year, consider stepping down to avoid damaging the IMF.
The fund provides emergency loans to countries in severe distress and tries to maintain global financial stability.
"Considering the situation, that bail was denied, he has to figure out for himself that he is hurting the institution," Ms. Fekter said as she arrived at a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels.
Elena Salgado, Ms. Fekter's Spanish counterpart, was less-than-fulsome in her backing for Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Ms. Salgado said the IMF managing director had to decide for himself whether he wanted to step down, considering the "extraordinarily serious" nature of the charges.
"If I had to show my solidarity and support for someone, it would be toward the woman who has been assaulted, if that is really the case that she has been," she said.
At the European finance ministers meeting the corridors were buzzing with speculation about Mr. Strauss-Kahn's replacement, with diplomats and officials talking as if the IMF head had already tendered his resignation.
The IMF has appointed Mr. Strauss-Kahn's deputy, John Lipsky, acting managing director but has said nothing on the case other than that the board "will continue to monitor developments".
"It is a premature question, but if and when we have to take such a decision our most important task will be to identify the best man or woman for the job, and it is no surprise that our strong preference is for a European to lead the IMF," said Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch finance minister.
Without commenting on Mr. Strauss-Kahn's case, a senior Brazilian official told Reuters that "India and Brazil would be good options" for the nationality of the next IMF chief.
"But we also believe that Europe is likely to keep its deep stranglehold on the position, and so we're not planning to push very hard on this issue for now," the official said, on condition of anonymity.
One notable exception to those discussing Mr Strauss-Kahn's replacement was Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister and president of the eurozone finance ministers. He called Mr. Strauss-Kahn a good friend, and said it was "indecent" for European governments to talk about his replacement.
"He has not resigned and I do not know if he is guilty, so why have European governments asked who is going to replace him?" Mr. Juncker said this morning.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn is being detained in the New York state Rikers Island prison. He is facing seven charges, including attempting to rape and sexually assault the hotel maid, which carry a maximum 25-year prison sentence.
Meanwhile French lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn are weighing whether to sue French media over images showing the IMF boss being led away in handcuffs. Dominique de Leusse de Syon said a decision would be taken in the next day or two over whether to launch legal action after several newspapers, magazines and television stations used photos and clips of Mr. Strauss-Kahn being taken by police to court, and sitting with his laywers at the hearing in a New Youk courtroom.
Such images are illegal in France, where they are considered to be harmful to the presumption of innocence.
Mr. de Leusse told the Financial Times that several websites had withdrawn the offending photos after news first emerged of the possible legal action. However those that continued to publish or broadcast such images risked facing a legal challenge. "They were not justifiable on the first day," Mr de Leusse said. "but the more time passes there is even less justification."
Martine Aubry, Socialist party leader and a close political ally of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, said after a midday gathering of senior party members to discuss the crisis: "American justice has its own rules. We have only heard the accusation, we are waiting for the other voice, that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his lawyers."
Francois Fillon, France's prime minister, warned members of the ruling UMP party in a private meeting against seeking political advantage from the affair. However he insisted that "if the accusations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn are proven, we will be facing a very serious act that can rely on no excuse.
"(Mr Strauss-Kahn) has the right to presumption of innocence and the alleged victim has the right to respect and compassion."
Ms. Aubry also sought to reassure members that recent events would not distract the Socialist party from its goal of winning power in next year's presidential election. "Of course there is emotion, the upset that everyone feels, but there is also a responsibility: to be up to the challenge," she said after a one-hour meeting of senior members to discuss the consequences of the crisis.
The party would not change its planned calendar for primaries this summer to choose its candidate for the presidential election she said. Candidates would have to declare their bid by July 13, with the first round of voting due in October.
Ms. Aubry said the left had to remain united during "a painful moment". She called on members to respect the principle of presumption of innocence.
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