French budget chief under pressure after rape accusation

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French budget chief under pressure after rape accusation
FILE. In this May 17, 2017 file photo Newly named French minister in charge of the budget, Gerald Darmanin, is pictured during an handover ceremony in Paris. France's government is sticking by its budget minister as he fights a rape accusation. Darmanin is the highest-ranking French official accused of sexual misconduct since the scandals that broke in Hollywood. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) — Pressure is mounting on a member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s government accused of rape.

Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin strongly denies wrongdoing, and other government members have rallied around him. Darmanin is the highest-ranking French official accused of sexual misconduct since the Hollywood scandals that broke last year.

Nearly 3,000 people signed an online petition launched by a feminist group urging the prime minister to fire Darmanin. It argues that ministers facing corruption investigations have lost their jobs in the past, and asks whether being accused of a sexual crime “is less serious.”

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s office said Monday that he continues to have confidence in Darmanin.

A preliminary investigation is underway into an accusation that Darmanin raped her when she sought legal help in 2009.