MUMBAI: France’s former first lady Valerie Trierweiler tried to shrug off the furore over her split from President Francois Hollande on a trip to India on Monday, telling a media scrum she was feeling “very good”.
In her first public appearance since the weekend announcement of the separation, Trierweiler appeared relaxed as a pack of journalists followed her every step of a trip to Mumbai that saw her visit a hospital and a slum.
“I’m feeling very good about being here,” the 48-year-old told a press conference where she declined to answer questions about her private life.
“This visit has been in my diary for the last six months and we have been planning it for the last year. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Trierweiler insisted she would only discuss her work promoting French charity Action Against Hunger which has organised her two-day trip to the Indian financial capital.
She flew in from Paris late on Sunday and will later attend a fund-raising gala dinner at the five-star Taj Mahal Palace hotel, sponsored by champagne brand Moet & Chandon among others.
As patients looked on with bemusement at the media circus that shadowed her to the hospital, Trierweiler said she had found the sight of premature babies “very moving” and promised to continue to highlight malnutrition.
“It’s an injustice because even if everything is done for the best, they don’t have the same resources as in our hospitals,” she said at the maternity ward where she saw some pre-term babies weighing less than one kilogram (two pounds).
Up to 20 policemen stood guard to keep order with patients left perplexed by the sight of the glamorous mother-of-three who spent a week in hospital herself after revelations about Hollande’s affair.
Later at a malnutrition centre in the giant Dharavi slum, featured in the hit film “Slumdog Millionaire”, she tasted a paste given to undernourished children and underlined India’s child mortality rate.
“In India a child dies every 30 seconds, not all from malnutrition,” she said.
The twice-married career journalist visited India in February last year with Hollande.
She spent time at a shelter for street children in New Delhi and spoke of her desire as First Lady to become a champion of children’s rights.
Hollande announced to AFP on Saturday that he was splitting from his partner of eight years following intense media scrutiny over his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet, 41.
The separation has fuelled debate in France about whether an official role is necessary for a president’s partner or spouse.
A recent poll by Le Parisien daily showed that 54 percent of French people felt it was not.
The Socialist leader heads to Turkey on Monday on his first trip abroad since the split.
Labour Minister Michel Sapin, who is close to Hollande, said Sunday the separation “was necessary for the sake of clarity”.
A source in Trierweiler’s entourage told AFP she was “on good terms with the president”, adding that they had lunched together on Thursday to finalise the end of their relationship.
She is visiting India accompanied by a presidential bodyguard and was greeted by French ambassador Francois Richier at the airport.
The break-up followed revelations two weeks ago in Closer magazine that Hollande had been having an affair with Gayet, whom he allegedly visited late at night on a motor scooter.
Hollande has reiterated that he has no intention of speaking about his private life despite attacks from opponents in France who have slammed his alleged infidelity.
The 59-year-old has four children from former partner Segolene Royal, a Socialist party presidential candidate in 2007 from whom he officially split shortly after her defeat by Nicolas Sarkozy.
He then started living openly with Trierweiler, who assumed the role of first lady at official functions after Hollande’s election in 2012.
“I believe that everybody now understands that president or not president, one is entitled to have a private life,” Hollande told Time magazine on Saturday.
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