Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 12:02 UK

French 'boy sex' minister defiant

France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand
Frederic Mitterrand said all those he paid for sex were close to his own age

A French politician has refused to resign over comments that he enjoyed paying for "boys" in Thailand.

Frederic Mitterrand, 62, the culture minister, denied that passages of his book, The Bad Life, described sexual encounters with underage boys.

Interviewed on French TV, he condemned sex tourism and paedophilia, saying he had only paid for sex with men his age.

Mr Mitterrand, nephew of late President Francois Mitterrand, faced criticism from left and right in recent weeks.

Hugh Schofield
Hugh Schofield, BBC News, Paris
Frederic Mitterrand got his key messages over loud and clear: one, he was ineradicably opposed to sex tourism; two, he had never himself paid for sex with underage boys.

He also turned the tables on his attackers - accusing them of conflating homosexuality with paedophilia. From now on, anyone who reopens the attack on Mr Mitterrand risks the stigma of intolerance. Questions are bound to remain about how truthful he was being.

But culture ministers in France always have a certain licence. Most French people will take him at his word.

His book was little-noticed when it was first published in 2005.

However it returned to the headlines after Mr Mitterrand made an impassioned defence of film director Roman Polanski, who was recently arrested in Switzerland on child sex charges.

Mr Mitterrand said the behaviour of the United States, in seeking his extradition, was callous and "horrifying".

His comments in support of Polanski led the right-wing National Front to lead the criticism of Mr Mitterrand over events in his past.

France's Socialist opposition has also been sharply critical of Mr Mitterrand.

'Not a crime'

Mr Mitterrand appeared on a French TV news programme on Thursday evening visibly angry and far from apologetic.

"I absolutely condemn sexual tourism [and] I condemn paedophilia in which I have never in any way participated," Mr Mitterrand said.

Born in Paris, 21 August 1947
Nephew of former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand
Former TV presenter, documentary maker and writer
Appointed head of the French Academy in Rome in 2008
Named by Nicolas Sarkozy as culture minister in June 2009

"All the people who accuse me of that type of thing should be ashamed."

People "should not confuse paedophilia and homosexuality", the culture minister insisted, describing his actions in Thailand as an error - "without a doubt" - but not a crime.

"Each time I was with people who were my age, or who were five years younger - there wasn't the slightest ambiguity - and who were consenting," he said.

Mr Mitterrand said he retained the confidence of current President Nicolas Sarkozy and that he had not offered to resign over the controversy.

He had committed what he thought was an "offence against... human dignity", but strongly denied any accusations of illegal sexual activities.

'Kind of a diva'

French political analyst Michel Gurfinkiel said Mr Mitterrand's description of sexual encounters in the book was clearly referring to young adults, rather than minors.


"He very clearly talks about young adults and not minors," Mr Gurfinkiel told the BBC's The World Today programme.

He added that should the "media storm" surrounding the story continue into the weekend Mr Mitterrand may well have to resign, but that his position may well be safe should coverage fade away.

"[Mitterrand] is seen as a kind of a diva, and a lot of people love to hate him for that," said Mr Gurfinkiel.

When Mr Mitterrand's book, described by his publishers as a novel based on autobiography, was written, it received literary praise and did not generate controversy.

When he was appointed to the French government in June 2009 Mr Sarkozy described his new minister as "talented and courageous".

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