A former government spokesman for French leader Emmanuel Macron has pulled out of the race to become mayor of Paris after media reports of leaks on to the internet of compromising sexual images.
The sudden withdrawal of Benjamin Griveaux left the president’s party without a mayoral candidate in the capital for the municipal elections next month.
Paris is the most coveted of France’s municipalities and a political prize that has been used in the past, notably by former president Jacques Chirac, as a springboard for higher office.
A grim-faced Mr Griveaux announced the withdrawal on Friday morning, saying he had been targeted by “vile attacks” on the internet and social media.
A Russian performance artist noted for macabre, politically charged actions reportedly claimed responsibility for the online video posts that apparently prompted the resignation.
The Liberation newspaper said Pyotr Pavlensky called the daily on Thursday night and said he obtained the video from an unnamed source who had a relationship with Mr Griveaux.
Liberation quoted Mr Pavlensky as saying he wanted to denounce Mr Griveaux’s “hypocrisy”.
“He is someone who is always playing up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites as examples his wife and children. But he does the opposite,” Liberation quoted Mr Pavlensky as saying.
Rapid expressions of support for Mr Griveaux, even from political rivals, were a reminder of the longstanding and widely held view in France that public servants’ private lives are largely off limits.
Politicians warned that people will no longer want to stand for elected office if they run the risk of their private affairs becoming public, and that the leaking of sexually explicit material was a threat to France’s democratic traditions.
“We’re not trying to elect saints,” said Sebastien Chenu, a spokesman for the far-right National Rally party, normally an unforgiving political opponent of Mr Griveaux’s centrist camp.
On the far-left, former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon also expressed support, saying Mr Griveaux was the victim of score-settling and that French public life must not become prey to voyeurism.
“The publication of intimate images to destroy an adversary is odious,” Mr Melenchon tweeted.
Legislator Cedric Villani, who split from Mr Griveaux’s party to stand against him in Paris, warned in a tweet that his rival was the victim of an attack that posed “a serious threat for our democracy”.