PARIS (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande admitted on Tuesday he was going through a painful time in his private life but refused to say whether his relationship with his long-term girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler is over after the revelation of an affair.
Trierweiler, France's de facto First Lady, has been in hospital since Friday with stress linked to last week's revelation that he has been having a liason with Julie Gayet, a blonde actress 18 years his junior.
Hollande said that the issue of whether Trierweiler accompanies him on an official trip to Washington next month would be resolved before then. The couple are due to spend a night at the White House as guests of Barack and Michelle Obama.
At an eagerly anticipated press conference at his official residence, the Elysee Palace, Hollande, 59, insisted on his right to address his personal problems in private.
Asked directly if Trierweiler was still France's First Lady, he replied: "I understand your question and I'm sure you will understand my response.
"Everyone in their personal lives can go through tough times. That is the case (for me). These are painful moments.
"But I have one principle: these private affairs are dealt with in private.
This is neither the time nor the place to do it so I will not be responding to any questions about my private life."
Trierweiler, 48, was admitted to hospital hours after glossy magazine Closer published a series of photos showing Hollande and Gayet, 41, arriving separately for trysts at a flat close to the presidential Elysee Palace.
Media reports claimed the former journalist was suffering from low blood pressure, exhaustion and a "severe case of the blues."
She had initially been expected to be discharged after three nights but aides announced on Monday that she had been advised to extend her stay, saying "doctors believe she needs more rest."
Friends and political allies of Hollande had urged him to move quickly to clarify the situation by stating clearly whether he is still in a relationship with the woman who has been his girlfriend since 2007.
But with Trierweiler still in hospital, the notoriously undecisive leader opted to put off a public announcement of any decision the couple have made about their future together.
Friends of Trierweiler have been quoted in French media as saying she is willing to forgive her errant partner and try to patch up the relationship if he calls a halt to the fling with Gayet.
The traditional reticence in France's media and political class over what is seen as prying into the private lives of public figures had ensured that initial reactions to the revelation of the affair were subdued.
But once it became clear that his relationship with Trierweiler, who has five staff funded by the taxpayers, could be over, it became a legitimate news story for the country's media.