Jan 6, 2009

World - France;Media scramble after Minister’s baby

Angelique Chrisafis

Paris: Paparazzi were camped outside an exclusive Paris maternity clinic after French Justice Minister Rachida Dati gave birth to a girl on Friday in a caesarean section and speculation intensified over the identity of the father, in what celebrity magazines are calling “the soap opera of the new year.”

Ms. Dati is the first Cabinet Minister in a rightwing French government to give birth in office. Zohra, her first child, was born two weeks early on Friday, sparking a scramble for the first pictures and any hint of the father. Ms. Dati, 43 and single, has refused to name him, saying her private life is “complicated.”

The Minister shot to popularity as the first Muslim woman with north African parents to hold a top French government post. But in recent months, after magistrates rebelled against her legal reforms and advisers quit, she has been beleaguered and distanced from President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Amid speculation that Ms. Dati could be moved in a Cabinet reshuffle this month, the birth will be seen as a test for the French President’s feminist credentials. As the self-styled champion of women in the Cabinet, he cannot be seen to sideline or demote Ms. Dati simply because she has given birth.

Ms. Dati’s aides stressed her commitment to her job, saying she would take less than a week’s maternity leave. Her spokesman said she was working from hospital. She could be back at work as early as on Wednesday, when Mr. Sarkozy is to deliver a speech to court of appeal judges, aimed at calming magistrates’ anger at the way legal reforms have been handled.

The spokesman said she was being updated on Ministry issues. “She hasn’t changed her mind and intends to be absent for little time. Clinic or not, she’s following the events... There is no holiday from power at the Ministry of Justice.”

Ms. Dati is standing by her “personal decision” not to name the father. The former Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, has denied the child is his, as has French Sports Minister Bernard Laporte. A millionaire French businessman also did so.

French glossy magazines were poised for the first pictures of the baby. In 1992, when the Socialist Segolene Royal became the first Minister in a leftwing government to give birth, she posed in hospital for Paris Match. Ms. Dati, who was criticised for posing in haute couture for the magazine before her pregnancy, was believed to have no plans for a hospital photo shoot. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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