Hollande refuses to answer 'affair' question

LONDON (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande on Friday refused to answer a British journalist's question about whether his private life had made "an international joke" out of France.

Hollande announced last week he was splitting from his partner Valerie Trierweiler following media reports that he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet.

At a press conference following a summit between Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron at an airbase in southern England, Christopher Hope, a journalist from The Daily Telegraph newspaper, was handed the microphone.

After first asking a question about the economy, Mr Hope added: "Do you think your private life has made France an international joke, are you still having an affair with Julie Gayet and do you wish she was here?" Mr Hollande replied: "As for the other question you asked, I will not answer you."

The nature of the question drew an angry response on Twitter from Axelle Lemaire, a French Socialist lawmaker who represents the French population of Britain and other countries in northern Europe.

Ms Lemaire blasted the question as "disrespectful and discourteous", triggering a debate about freedom of expression.

In response to other British journalists who defended their colleague, Ms Lemaire tweeted: "Who is your Head of State here? The Queen. What if a French journalist asked her a question in the same way?"

British political journalists had reacted with indignation towards their French counterparts when they failed to bombard Mr Hollande with questions about his private life at a press conference in Paris earlier this month after allegations of the affair appeared in a French magazine.

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