French President Francois Hollande conceded Tuesday that he is going through "painful moments'' with his companion, after a sexual liaison story with a movie actress Julie Gayet, was splashed across 'Closer' magazine.
But the Socialist François Hollande, who has some of the lowest approval ratings of a French leader, sidestepped specifics about his personal life and tried to devote his annual presidential news conference to his plan for reviving France's struggling economy.
Hollande's partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, has been hospitalized since Friday, when the tabloid-style magazine Closer published photos it said proved François Hollande's liaison with actress Julie Gayet around the corner from the presidential Elysee Palace.
François Hollande said Trierweiler "is resting'' but insisted that the packed news conference was not the place to discuss the issue.
He did not deny or confirm the Closer report, but his announcement Tuesday of economic measures meant to encourage hiring was overshadowed by the scandal.
The first reporter to speak asked François Hollande who is France's first lady.
The president brushed aside the question in a country where the private lives of leaders have long been considered private.But he suggested that his relationship with Trierweiler was in a crisis stage.
"Everyone in his or her personal life can go through ordeals - that's the case with us,'' he said. "They are painful moments. But I have a principle. It's that private affairs should be handled privately, respecting the intimacy of all. This is neither the place nor the moment to do so.''
François Hollande said he would respond to the question before his Feb. 11 state visit to Washington, a trip that would normally include Trierweiler.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney hedged awkwardly when asked if there were any changes to plans for the visit by François Hollande and his partner.
"The president looks forward to seeing President François Hollande. ... On issues of the delegation that the French come with, I would refer you to the French government,'' Carney said.
The Closer report showed photos of a man it identified as Hollande. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet and being ferried on the back of a small scooter to an alleged tryst with Gayet.
Asked whether his security was compromised, François Hollande said, "My security is assured everywhere, and at any moment. When I travel officially ... and when I travel on a private basis, I have protection that is less suffocating. But I am protected everywhere.''