Protests planned for Strauss-Kahn talk in Cambridge

NEW YORK Tue Mar 6, 2012 7:15pm GMT

Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves the financial brigade in Paris September 29, 2011. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves the financial brigade in Paris September 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A women's group annoyed that former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn will speak at Cambridge University has invited the lawyer for the New York hotel maid who accused him of sexual assault to speak there on the same day.

Strauss-Kahn's speech at the Cambridge Union Society on Friday has prompted a sharp rebuke from the Cambridge University Students' Union Women's Campaign, which circulated a petition opposing his invitation that includes more than 700 signatures.

The women's group invited attorney Douglas Wigdor, who represents the maid, Nafissatou Diallo, in her civil lawsuit against Strauss-Kahn, to discuss the case at a forum at the students' union hours before the former IMF chief talks to the university debating club on the state of the global economy.

"I was really stunned that such a prestigious institution as the Cambridge Union would let itself be used by Strauss-Kahn's (public relations) team to resurrect his image," said Wigdor, who holds a Masters degree from Oxford, on Tuesday.

The Cambridge Union Society did not immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday afternoon. Last month, Katie Lam, the president of the society, said in response to the criticism that the debating club's purpose is to provide a neutral forum for free speech.

"An invitation to the Union does not imply support or endorsement," she said in an email.

Strauss-Kahn has largely kept a low profile since New York prosecutors dismissed charges of attempted rape and sexual assault against him in August, based on concerns about Diallo's credibility. But in recent months he has rejoined the international speech circuit.

In December, he addressed an economic event in Beijing, and he is scheduled to speak at a conference in Brussels on March 27 alongside Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

The women's group accuses the debating club of trivializing sexual assault by giving Strauss-Kahn an opportunity to speak.

The group has organized a protest to follow the speakers' event. Wigdor said he would likely not attend the protest.

Though the criminal case is over, Diallo is pursuing civil claims against Strauss-Kahn in New York. The first court hearing on the matter is scheduled for March 28.

Strauss-Kahn was held for two days in January in a police station in the northern French city of Lille, where investigators questioned him about allegations that a prostitution ring organized by his business acquaintances provided women for clients of Lille's Carlton Hotel.

Police want to establish whether Strauss-Kahn knew that women at parties he attended in Lille, Paris and Washington were prostitutes. His lawyer has said Strauss-Kahn had no reason to think so.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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