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Like many of his fellow thespian supporters, Mr. Fonda noted that Polanski’s young victim, Samantha Geimer, - now 43 and a mother of three - has asked that the case be dismissed and even attended the recent premiere of a sympathetic documentary about Polanski, posing in a black formal gown for photographers on the red-carpeted walkway. Many of the Hollywood set also point out that Polanski is the “doting father” of two minor children.

The French government, which initially expressed outrage over the arrest, has since adopted a more neutral line.

“Roman Polanski is neither above nor beneath the law,” government spokesman Luc Chatel said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We have a judicial procedure under way, for a serious affair, the rape of a minor, on which the American and Swiss legal systems are doing their job. One can understand the emotion that this belated arrest, more than 30 years after the incident, and the method of the arrest, have caused,” Mr. Chatel said.

After the 1977 crime, Polanski was charged with giving a controlled substance to a minor, committing a lewd or lascivious act upon a child under 14, unlawful sexual intercourse, rape, perversion and sodomy. He pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse and spent 42 days in jail.

Reportedly fearing that the California judge would not honor a plea-bargain deal he had struck with prosecutors over the length of his jail term, Polanski jumped bail, fled the country and settled in Europe before he could be sentenced. The case has remained in judicial limbo ever since.

A growing number of critics do not appear ready to forgive Polanski.

Carol Jenkins, president of the Womens Media Center, an activist group originally founded by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, called on the media “to focus their coverage of Roman Polanskis recent arrest where it belongs: on the crime he committed, the rape of a child.”

“Too often, the media is complicit in misrepresenting or silencing the victims of sexual assault,” she said.

“The rape of a child is at the heart of the case,” Ms. Jenkins added. “That is not disputed, and should not be represented as subjective.”