French health minister to run for Paris mayor

February 16, 2020 - 12:11 pm

PARIS (AP) — France's Health Minister Agnes Buzyn has been named the new candidate for mayor of Paris by the country's governing party, which scrambled to replace the original contender who abruptly withdrew after a leak of sex videos on social media, a press official for the party said.

The choice on Sunday of Buzyn, whose profile rose with the outbreak of the new deadly virus from China, came just two days after a frantic search for a candidate began. It underscored the importance that President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party placed on winning the mayor's office — and emerging from a scandal.

The post of mayor of Paris is currently held by Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist looking to renew her term and favored in polls in the two-round municipal elections to be held in one month.

The centrist party had promised to quickly name a replacement for Benjamin Griveaux, who withdrew Friday after explicit videos began circulating on social media, a leak operation claimed by a controversial Russian performance artist.

Piotr Pavlensky, meanwhile, was being questioned by police investigators on counts of invasion of privacy and diffusing without permission images of a sexual character after Griveaux filed a complaint for invasion of privacy, the prosecutor's office said Sunday. The French press reported that his companion was being questioned on the same counts. Pavlensky claimed responsibility for the leaks, denouncing the "big hypocracy" of Griveaux who put family at the forefront of his campaign.

Pavlensky's lawyer, Juan Branco, who had defended in the past Wikileaks figure Julien Assange, was forced by judicial authorities to withdraw from the case, according to the French media.

The mayorship of the French capital is a symbol of prestige, and more. For Macron's young party, The Republic on the Move, which he created to win the presidential race in 2017, a Paris victory could compensate for losses elsewhere around the country.

The scandal over the sexually explicit material has led to questions over whether Pavlensky had been a front man for more sinister forces wanting to bring down Griveaux and about the role of social media in a democracy. The affair also has raised indignation across political classes in a country that respects the private lives of politicians.

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