France: Macron ally quits Paris mayoral race after compromising messages leaked online

The scandal is a political blow to Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche party

TOPSHOT - Former government spokesperson and La Republique en Marche (LREM) candidate for the upcoming Paris 2020 mayoral election Benjamin Griveaux is pictured as he announces his withdrawal from the mayoral campaign at AFP headquarters in Paris on February 14, 2020.   Griveaux, vested by LREM to lead the electoral battle in Paris, has withdrawn from the mayoral campaign after the release of a private video on social media on February 13. / AFP / Lionel BONAVENTURE
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French President Emmanuel Macron’s pick for Paris mayor has pulled out from the race after compromising messages he sent to an unidentified woman were leaked online.

Benjamin Griveaux, formerly a minister in France’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, announced he would step down as the La Republique En Marche (LRM) candidate after the personal messages were posted online by a Russian performance artist.

“An internet site and social media have spread vile attacks against my privacy,” Mr Griveaux said in a statement on Friday.

“No one, fundamentally, should be subjected to such abuse,” he added.

The scandal, which has hit both Mr Macron and his LRM, comes just over a month before Paris voters go to the polls in elections to city hall.

Mr Griveaux has been seen as perhaps Mr Macron’s closest political ally.  LRM had earlier intervened in the mayoral election to expel MP Cedric Villani after he refused to stand aside for Mr Griveaux as the official party candidate.

More generally, Mr Macron's party has been marred by a string of internal issues in recent months including the resignation of MPs from France’s national assembly and a prolonged feud between two senior party members over the control of a parliamentary committee.

Political figures from across France, where the personal lives of politicians are normally excluded from public debate, have rallied in support of Mr Griveaux.

"We're not trying to elect saints," said Sebastien Chenu, a spokesman for the far-right National Rally party, which is vehemently opposed to LRM’s centrist politics.

Left-wing former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon also expressed solidarity with Mr Griveaux, urging that French public life not become prey to voyeurism.

LRM has not announced a replacement candidate in the Paris mayoral race. The highly influential and coveted position has previously been a launchpad to the French presidency.

Among those being considered to replace Mr Griveaux are junior minister for gender equality Marlene Schiappa and mayor of Paris' ninth district Delphine Burkli, Le Monde reported.

Minister of Health Agnès Buzyn or ex-junior Minister for Digital Affairs Mounir Mahjoubi are also among those tipped for the job in city hall.