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Strauss-Kahn goes back to court

The former International Monetary Fund head charged with trying to rape a hotel maid has formally declared his innocence in his first court appearance in the case in two weeks.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty in a strong voice at the brief hearing, standing between his defence team as his wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, watched. He already had said he's innocent.

State Supreme Court Justice Michael Orbus went through the formality of telling Strauss-Kahn he needed to appear in court and had a right to be present at his trial to which the economist said "yes." His next court date is set for July 18.

The French diplomat appeared in state Supreme Court in Manhattan for the first time since he was released on 6 million dollars bail last month. He has been under house arrest that includes 24-hour monitors and armed guards, first in a downtown Manhattan apartment and now in a town house.

His arrest rocked politics in France, where Strauss-Kahn had been considered a potential contender in next year's presidential elections, and shook the IMF. He resigned his post at the powerful lending body after his arrest, and it has yet to name his replacement.

Strauss-Kahn was arraigned on charges of attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The most serious charge carries a maximum term of five to 25 years in prison.

The 32-year-old maid at the Sofitel near Times Square in Manhattan told police Strauss-Kahn chased her down a hall in his hotel suite, tried to pull down her tights and forced her to perform oral sex.

Prosecutors said last month that evidence against Strauss-Kahn was building by the day. Tests have found Strauss-Kahn's DNA matched material on the woman's uniform shirt.

But Strauss-Kahn's lawyer Benjamin Brafman told a judge that the defence believed any forensic evidence "will not be consistent with a forcible encounter" - a remark that could signal his lawyers are planning to argue the episode was consensual.

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