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French react to IMF arrest: Shock, anger at U.S.

Reaction in France to the New York arrest of IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn has ranged from shock and disbelief to anti-American condemnations of the justice system. But the very public airing of Strauss-Kahn's sexual assault charges has created what one French journalist calls "a watershed moment" for the country.

On CBS' "The Early Show," Paris-based journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet said reaction among the French public is varied:

"Well, they're all not saying the same thing, but they're certainly reacting - first with shock, and second with an element of disbelief," Moutet said, adding, "There's not much attention being paid to the victim here.

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Strauss-Kahn, who was a presumptive candidate for president, has watched his career implode in ways not seen before in France - in response not just to the charges he sexually assaulted a maid in a New York City hotel but to accusations rising in the media of previous episodes.

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Moutet said, "We're getting to a point where there's a reaction against this sort of reflective defense of Strauss-Kahn by his own class - the politicians, powerful people - and you've got more and more people saying, 'We should have known about his failings long before, we should know about the failings of politicians - and even if [it's] his private life, is very obviously something that the public should know about.'

"So it's a bit of a watershed he's ushering in - he's not happy to do so, but ushering in a new era in France," she said. "In France, when someone is powerful, they get away with - well, I won't say murder, but practically anything else - and it's turning out, Strauss-Kahn did. I cannot comment on what happened in this specific instance, but there are two perfectly believable women who [tell of] being attacked by him, perhaps not assaulted as brutally as what's being alleged in New York, but it was on the record. People talked about it, and nothing happened to him. They both decided not to press charges because they said, 'I will be disbelieved and this will follow me as somebody that rocks it boat.' It's not done in this country.

"It's sort of the attitude, we may have had a revolution in the 18th century in France but we still have the rulers and the ruled," Moutet said.

She also said the treatment of Strauss-Kahn would have been much different in France compared to New York, where he was ushered into and out of court in handcuffs and subjected to the media's cameras.

"Well, the perp walk is now illegal in France, but by and large, the police would have treated him with kid gloves - if he had been brought in at all," Moutet said. "Chances are, he's a VIP ... The hotel people would have said, 'Look, you will be compensated' to the maid, 'Do not press charges, that's bad for everyone concerned.' And my expectation is that he would not have been brought to the police.

"But more generally, there's a sort of unpleasant attitude right now in France in which people are becoming - when everything else fails, become anti-American," Moutet said. "And so they say the American justice is all about show trials, it's about attorneys, and official judges and magistrates perpetually campaigning for re-election. It's about humiliating someone. The system is unusually cruel. Anything, you know, any kind of explanation is now suddenly given for the fact that he was - Shock! Horror! - treated like any other normal person suspected of a crime."

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