PARIS (AFP) - Roman Polanski will not preside over the "French Oscars" - the Cesars - next month, his lawyer said Tuesday after women threatened to protest about the director's rape of a 13-year-old girl almost four decades ago.
Feminist groups called for a boycott of the Feb 24 awards in Paris after the maker of Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby was chosen to head the ceremony.
The "controversy... deeply saddened Roman Polanski and affected his family," his lawyer Herve Temime said in a statement.
"However, in order not to disturb the Cesars ceremonies, which should focus on the cinema and not on the appointment of the (event's) president, Roman Polanski has decided not accept the invitation... and will not preside over the next Cesars ceremonies," he said.
The furore was "stoked by completely false information," Temime said.
Samantha Geimer, the victim of the 1977 statutory rape in Los Angeles, had herself previously appealed to the US authorities for the case to be dropped, he noted.
Temime added that Polanski himself had attended many festivals and ceremonies in the course of his life, and had received top awards, and there had been no criticism of his attendance.
Polanski, 83, last month defeated a bid by the US to extradite him from his native Poland, telling reporters, "I'll finally be able to feel safe in my own country." But the decision by the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques to honour him at the Cesars infuriated women's groups.
The leading group Osez le feminisme (Dare feminism) called the decision "shameful", and urged people to protest outside.
A petition calling for him to be removed as president had garnered over 42,000 signatures by Friday.
France's minister for women's rights, Laurence Rossignol, joined the debate, saying she found it "surprising and shocking that a rape case counts for so little in the life of a man." The choice of Polanski showed "an indifference with regard to the acts of which he is accused" and "a sort of banalisation of rape," she said.
In contrast, the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques praised Polanski as an "insatiable aesthete" and former French culture minister Aurelie Filippetti defended him as a "great director... who should be allowed to preside over the ceremony." Polanski, who was 43 at the time of the incident, was accused of drugging Geimer before having sex with her.
He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, or statutory rape, as part of a plea bargain under which he served 42 days in detention while undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
But in 1978, convinced that a judge was going to scrap the deal and hand him a hefty prison sentence, Polanski fled to France.