Polanski pulls out of 'French Oscars' after protests

Paris (AFP) - Director Roman Polanski pulled out of his role Tuesday as the honorary host of the "French Oscars" -- the Cesars -- after pressure from women's groups and the government over his child rape case.

The setback underlines the pariah status of the maker of "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby" for many outside the film industry almost four decades after he was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles.

The controversy over his appearance at the Cesars ceremony next month, where he would have given the opening speech, "deeply saddened Roman Polanski and affected his family," his lawyer Herve Temime said in a statement.

Last month he won his legal fight to end efforts by the United States to extradite him from his native Poland for unlawful sex with a minor.

Polanski confessed to the crime, which dates back to 1977.

Leading French feminist group Osez le feminisme ("Dare to be Feminist") had called the decision by the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques to invite Polanski "shameful" and urged people to protest outside.

France's minister for women's rights, Laurence Rossignol, said Friday she found it "surprising and shocking" that the controversial filmmaker had been chosen for the awards.

A petition calling for the 83-year-old to be removed garnered nearly 62,000 signatures.

- Film industry backing -

Polanski's lawyer Temime said the decision to pull out had been made "in order not to disturb the Cesars ceremonies, which should focus on the cinema and not on the appointment of the (event's) president."

His victim Samantha Geimer has previously appealed for the US case to be dropped, saying she wanted to move on.

Temime added that Polanski himself had attended many festivals and ceremonies in the course of his life and had received top awards without criticism of his attendance.

While the choice of the Franco-Polish film-maker caused outrage for some, the director won backing from many French industry insiders.

"I spoke to him yesterday by phone and I think we shouldn't have added problems to the problems. He's deeply hurt," said the director of the Cannes film festival, Thierry Fremaux, on Tuesday.

"It's a case you need to know well in order to speak about it. I know it well but I'm not going to add my own comments," he told RTL radio.

The French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques had praised Polanski as an "insatiable aesthete" and former culture minister Aurelie Filippetti defended him last week as a "great director... who should be allowed to preside over the ceremony".

His third wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, posted a picture of a forest on Instagram on Tuesday where she said she had woken up "far from human nastiness and stupidity ... and lies".

Polanski, who was 43 at the time of the rape, was accused of drugging Geimer before having sex with her.

He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, or statutory rape, as part of a plea bargain under which he served 42 days in detention while undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

But in 1978, convinced that a judge was going to scrap the deal and hand him a hefty prison sentence, Polanski fled to France.