French culture minister denies paying boys for sex

PARIS – France's culture minister denied Thursday paying boys for sex, in an impassioned response to critics on the right and left demanding that he resign over a candid book recounting encounters with male prostitutes in Thailand.

"I condemn sexual tourism, which is a disgrace. I condemn pedophilia, which I have never in any way participated in," Frederic Mitterrand, 62, nephew of late President Francois Mitterrand, said in a national prime time television interview.

"All those who accuse me of this kind of thing should be ashamed."

In a 2005 book, "La mauvaise vie" or "The Bad Life," Mitterrand describes Bangkok's brothels in rich, torrid detail, and the joy and freedom of paying "boys" for sex.

On Thursday, Mitterrand said on TF1 television that the book was not a strict autobiography. He admitted to "errors" in paying for sex in the past, but said he had relations only with men his age.

The exploits described in the book came back to haunt him recently, after he jumped to the defense of filmmaker Roman Polanski. Polanski is currently in a Swiss prison on U.S. charges relating to his sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl in 1977, when he was 43.

As excerpts of Mitterrand's book circulated publicly in France this week, a cascade of political figures called for him to quit or be fired after a leader of the far-right National Front launched a tirade on television against Mitterrand and read excerpts from the 4-year-old book.

Mitterrand shot back firmly Thursday, saying he had no intention of leaving the government. He said he spoke to President Nicolas Sarkozy — who has not spoken publicly about the book — Thursday morning and Sarkozy "confirmed his confidence" in the culture minister.

The affair is awkward for France and especially Sarkozy, whose embrace of figures outside the conservative fold such as Mitterrand has upset the governing UMP party. Mitterrand's critics say it's about child sex tourism, which France's government is campaigning against. But it also involves a politician's sex life, which many French consider private business, and a public figure's recognition of his homosexuality.

"We must not confuse pedophilia and homosexuality," Mitterrand said on TF1, visibly upset by days of high-profile criticism.

He said his book was neither a memoir nor a novel. "I preferred to leave things vague," he said.

Asked whether he made a mistake in paying for sex in Thailand with "boys," he said: "An error, without a doubt. A crime, no."

"Each time I was with people who were my age, or who were five years younger — there wasn't the slightest ambiguity — and who were consenting," he said.

He has said that he uses the term "boys" loosely, in his life and in the book.

The far-right National Front party says it went looking for dirt on Mitterrand after his praise for Polanski.

"Frederic Mitterrand must resign because his presence in the government as a representative of France is an indelible stain for the entire world," National Front Vice President Marine Le Pen said Thursday. Le Pen triggered the controversy earlier this week.

Leftists joined in. Socialist Arnaud Montebourg said Thursday that Mitterrand "deliberately acted in violation of national and international laws" and appealed to Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon to fire him.

Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley contributed to this report.