- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — Pressure built Tuesday for Dominique Strass-Kahn to consider resigning as chief of the International Monetary Fund after he was charged with trying to rape a maid at a New York hotel.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn spent the night at the infamous Rikers Island, a 400-acre penal complex close to LaGuardia Airport, after being denied bail Monday. Prosecutors warned that the wealthy banker might flee to France and put himself beyond the reach of U.S. law like the filmmaker Roman Polanski.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s weekend arrest rocked the financial world as the IMF grapples with the European debt crisis, and it has upended French presidential politics. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a member of France’s Socialist Party, was widely considered the strongest potential challenger next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Austria’s finance minister suggested Tuesday that Mr. Strauss-Kahn consider stepping down to avoid damaging the IMF, which provides emergency loans to countries in severe distress and tries to maintain global financial stability.

“Considering the situation, that bail was denied, he has to figure out for himself that he is hurting the institution,” Maria Fekter said as she arrived at a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels.

Elena Salgado, Ms. Fekter’s Spanish counterpart, said Mr. Strauss-Kahn had to decide for himself whether he wanted to step down, considering the “extraordinarily serious” nature of the charges.

“If I had to show my solidarity and support for someone, it would be toward the woman who has been assaulted, if that is really the case that she has been,” she said.

In France, defenders of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister who had topped the polls as a possible candidate in presidential elections next year, said they suspected he was the victim of a smear campaign. Others expressed sympathy.

“I didn’t like the pictures I’ve seen on television,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said Monday night, referring to footage that showed Mr. Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs being escorted by police outside a New York precinct house.

Showing a suspect in handcuffs is illegal in France since a 2000 law aimed at preserving the presumption of innocence.

The 62-year-old Mr. Strauss-Kahn was arrested Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport after the allegations at the Sofitel hotel near Times Square.

Making his first court appearance Monday, a grim-looking Mr. Strauss-Kahn stood slumped before a judge in a dark raincoat and open-collared shirt. The silver-haired banker said nothing as a lawyer professed his innocence and strove in vain to get him released on bail.

“This battle has just begun,” defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman told scores of reporters outside the courthouse, adding that Mr. Strauss-Kahn might appeal the bail denial.

Because of his high profile, Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be held in protective custody on Rikers Island, away from most detainees, said city Correction Department spokesman Stephen Morello. Unlike most prisoners, who share 50-bed barracks, he will have a single-bed cell and will eat all of his meals alone there. He’ll have a prison guard escort when he is outside his cell.

Rikers is one of the nation’s largest jail complexes, with a daily inmate population of about 14,000.

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