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Macron under pressure over appointment of new French Interior Minister accused of rape

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Feminist activists held two small protests Wednesday in Paris following Macron's appointment of an interior minister who has been accused of rape
Feminist activists held two small protests Wednesday in Paris following Macron's appointment of an interior minister who has been accused of rape   -   Copyright  Thibault Camus/AP
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Pressure is mounting on French president Emmanuel Macron after he backed a newly-appointed minister facing investigation over a rape allegation.

The Elysée had said that the investigation was "not an obstacle" to Gérald Darmanin's appointment as Interior Minister in the new government.

Feminist groups protested in major French cities on Friday to condemn what is seen as "the middle finger" being given to "what was supposedly the 'Great Cause' of Macron's term: women's rights," said Laura Jovignot, national coordinator and activist from Nous Toutes.

Francois Mori/AP
Gérald Darmin was promoted from Minister of Public Action and Accounts to Minister of Interior after Macron's cabinet reshuffle on MondayFrancois Mori/AP

The Paris appeals court ordered the reopening of an investigation into a rape allegation against the then budget minister in June, two years after the case was dismissed because prosecutors were unable to establish an "absence of consent."

Sophie Patterson-Spatz alleges Darmanin coerced her into having sex in 2009 when she sought legal help from him while he was a local councillor.

Darmanin firmly denies the accusation and argues that June's ruling is just a matter of legal processing and not the result of new evidence being brought against him.

In an interview on French national radio station RTL, Darmanin claimed that he deserved "the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty" given the former rulings had been in his favour.

His comments are "usually the argument that is used in sexual misconduct affairs" and that it tends to reinforce the assumption that women are lying when speaking up, said Jovignot.

Feminist activists say that they are not denying him his rights but are concerned with the fairness of trials now that he is in charge of law enforcement, and therefore of the teams that may investigate his case. "This man is illegitimate when it comes to protecting the safety of female citizens," Jovignot added.

His nomination - alongside new Minister of Justice, Éric Dupont-Moretti, who has been criticised for his defence of clients accused of violence towards women when he was a lawyer - is "a way to sustain rape culture," Jovignot asserts.

Politician Caroline De Haas also tweeted that President Macron had "directly spat in the mouths of women victims of violence" with Darmanin's appointment.

Feminist groups say they hope that the marches on Friday will help heap pressure on the government.