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France's ex-first lady Valerie Trierweiler focuses on hunger in India

AP , Monday 27 Jan 2014
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In her first public appearance since the French president broke up with her, Valerie Trierweiler turned her attention to the less fortunate Monday, cuddling and kissing children in a pediatric ward in India.

Trierweiler arrived in Mumbai overnight, smiling but looking tired after a business-class flight from Paris, on which cabin crew limited reporters' access to her. Trierweiler has been a subject of intense media interest after being hospitalized earlier this month with what aides described as shock and the blues following a tabloid's publication of photos it said proved Hollande was having an affair with an actress.

On Saturday, the French president announced their seven-year relationship was over.

On Monday, Trierweiler visited the children in the pediatric ward of a public hospital in Mumbai and spoke with mothers about nutrition.

"I cannot stand that these children have less chances than others," said Trierweiler, a career journalist who has three children from a previous marriage. "We should give same chances to all. We have (here) children who suffer from malnutrition, that is why I am here today."

The statement marked Trierweiler's first public comments since the scandal erupted. She did not discuss her relationship with Hollande, and canceled a planned visit to a Mumbai slum, though she maintained plans for a gala dinner Monday night in conjunction with aid group Action Against Hunger.

The long-planned trip to India has provided the former first lady with a convenient escape from the Parisian chattering classes, an opportunity to establish her independence and quash criticism that she may try to cling to the trappings of power even though she and the president never married.

After the hospital visit, Trierweiler posted a photograph of a mother and child in a message on her Twitter account that read: "Alongside ACF (Action Against Hunger) in India to fight malnutrition. A child dies of hunger every 30 seconds."

She also posted a message thanking the staff of the French presidential palace for their "devotion."

Trierweiler's chief of staff, Patrice Biancone, told The Associated Press that her office as first lady would be formally eliminated Wednesday.

"These last few days have been difficult. But today, she is serene," he said on Sunday.

The head of Action Against Hunger told the AP that Trierweiler planned to commit herself to humanitarian work.

Meanwhile in France, Hollande is facing a wave of discontent over his economic policies.

On Sunday, some 17,000 people marched through central Paris to denounce the country's high taxes, high unemployment and economic stagnation. His approval rating in France stands at about 30 percent. Some 250 people were arrested and 19 police officers injured after the protest degenerated into violence.

In an interview published Sunday and conducted before he split with Trierweiler, Hollande renewed his plea for privacy. He told Time magazine that "private life is always, at certain times, a challenge. And it has to be respected."

Hollande has never married. He and Trierweiler became a couple in 2007, after he ended a more than a two-decade relationship with the mother of his four children, former presidential candidate Segolene Royal.

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