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Sarkozy party hit by sexual assault allegations

Nicolas Sarkozy's party was hit by its own sex scandal on Wednesday after two women accused one of the French president's ministers of sexual harassment.

It comes less than two weeks after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief and leading Socialist presidential challenger, was charged with attempting to rape a hotel chambermaid in New York.

This time the alleged perpetrator comes from Mr Sarkozy's ruling UMP party. Georges Tron, the public works minister, was accused of indecently assaulting the female workers, aged 34 and 36, after offering them "foot massages".

A local prosecutor confirmed that the women have filed sexual harassment complaints.

The 52-year-old minister is alleged to have committed the assaults between 2007 and 2010. What started out as regular "therapeutic" reflexology sessions turned into full sexual assault, the two women claimed.

They told 'Le Parisien' newspaper they were encouraged to break their silence following Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest.

"When I see that a little chambermaid is capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I do not have the right to stay silent," said one given the false name of Laura by the newspaper.

"Other women are perhaps suffering what I went through. I must help them. We must break this omerta."

She said the minister touched her inappropriately on various occasions.

The alleged repeated assaults drove both women to depression and attempted suicide, they said.

Mr Tron, who joined Mr Sarkozy's government in March last year, dismissed the allegations as "crazy" and said it was part of a "personal vendetta" by two women fired from their town hall posts.

He said he intended to pursue them for slander.

France is still reeling from Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest, which has provoked soul-searching about perceived tolerance of sexual harassment and the reluctance of media to investigate such issues because of privacy concerns. Some 15,000 people have signed a petition condemning "the impunity in France when it comes to this kind of "sexism", referring to male politicians and commentators belittling the alleged rape with expressions such as "lifting the skirt of a servant". © Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent