French support softens for Polanski, Hollywood divided

Wed Sep 30, 2009 7:15pm EDT
 
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By Yann Le Guernigou and Jill Serjeant

PARIS/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Film director Roman Polanski, arrested earlier this week in Switzerland, saw support weaken on Wednesday for his effort to evade sentencing in the United States in the rape of a 13-year-old girl three decades ago.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in New York that Polanski's extradition from Switzerland to California to face sentencing on the 1977 sex crime charge was a matter for judges, not diplomats, to handle.

Polanski, 76, was in a Swiss jail after his arrest there four days ago during a visit from his French home.

In France, the government changed its passionate protests about Polanski's arrest to a more measured stance and described the charges as serious. A French government spokesman said the "Chinatown" director was "neither above nor below the law."

Major U.S. newspapers called on the Oscar winner to account for the crime, and commentators said U.S. public opinion was running strongly against Polanski. Few in the cinema world in Hollywood and Europe stepped forward on Wednesday to join his supporters.

Polanski, 76, was arrested in Switzerland over the weekend and his lawyers say he will fight extradition to the United States where he faces a possible jail sentence for pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor in 1977, after first plying her with champagne and tranquilizers.

The director fled the United States fearing a California judge would renege on his initial plea deal, which would have set the director free after spending 42 days in detention while awaiting trial, and instead send him back to prison for years.

Polanski's arrest first drew outrage in Europe's diplomatic and artistic quarters. Around 100 mostly European artists have signed an online French cinema industry petition demanding Polanksi's release, and U.S. directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and David Lynch have joined in.   Continued...

 
<p>Director Roman Polanski exits the Santa Monica Courthouse after a hearing in his sexual assault case in Santa Monica, California October 24, 1977. REUTERS/Chris Gulker/Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library</p>