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All eyes on returned Strauss-Khan

Dominique Strauss-Kahn has returned home to a mixed welcome in France - for the first time since attempted rape accusations by a New York hotel maid unleashed an international scandal that dashed his chances of the French presidency.

New York prosecutors later dropped their case against the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because of questions about the maid's credibility.

But the affair cost Mr Strauss-Kahn his job at the helm of the IMF and exposed his personal life to worldwide scrutiny that has stained his image and left the French divided over what he should do next. His high-profile return home on Sunday reflected how large he looms.

Smiling and waving silently, he stepped off an Air France flight at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport a different man from the one who, just four months ago, had been the pollsters' favourite to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's elections.

Few expect Mr Strauss-Kahn to return to French politics soon, but his supporters have been eagerly awaiting his return after three months of legal drama in the US that they saw as unfairly hostile to him. "I'm moved, I always believed in his innocence. I wanted very much for this to be over," fellow Socialist Party member Michele Sabban said on i-Tele television.

Residents of Sarcelles, a working class Paris suburb where Mr Strauss-Kahn is mayor, were largely enthusiastic about his return. "I'm happy for him. It's the end of an ordeal. Now ... we should leave him alone a little bit," resident Laurent Giaoui said.

A prominent member of Mr Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, Xavier Bertrand, shrugged off Mr Strauss-Kahn's appearance in Paris. "Like many French people, I have lots of others worries in my head," he said on Europe-1 radio. "I have a hard time imagining Strauss-Kahn back in politics."

Mr Strauss-Kahn flew in to Paris from New York's JFK Airport early on Sunday and gave a brief wave upon leaving the arrivals hall. His wife, respected former TV personality Anne Sinclair, was at his side, beaming widely. Riot police protected him and the area. The two then drove to one of their homes, on Place des Vosges. The crush of reporters was so thick that Mr Strauss-Kahn had trouble reaching and opening his front door.

The last time he tried to take an Air France flight out of JFK, Mr Strauss-Kahn was pulled out of first class minutes before take-off by police. They were investigating the maid's claim that hours earlier, he had forced her to perform a sex act and tried to rape her.

He quit his job, spent almost a week in jail, then six weeks of house arrest and nearly two more months barred from leaving the country before Manhattan prosecutors dropped the case last month, saying they no longer trusted the maid, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo. Ms Diallo is continuing to press her claims in a lawsuit. Mr Strauss-Kahn denies the allegations.

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