By Catherine Bremer
PARIS (Reuters) - Cleared of sex assault charges, Dominique Strauss-Kahn could be back in France within days but may not get a hero's welcome, if sober newspaper editorials and cautious statements by his Socialist allies are anything to go by.
Newspapers focused on Wednesday on the stain to his image from his liaison with a New York hotel maid and his political allies reluctant to speculate on his plans.
Strauss-Kahn could be home as early as next week, after settling his affairs in Washington where he was based as head of the International Monetary Fund until his mid-May arrest on attempted rape charges, which were dropped on Tuesday.
His lawyer in France, Henri Leclerc, said he was not aware of a set date for Strauss-Kahn to return.
Far from celebrating the exoneration of a man who had been pegged as France's next president before his arrest and who has long been affectionately known in France by his initials DSK, newspaper editorials were sober and reflective.
"Far from being cleared, DSK will now have to live with, rather like another kind of sentence, the suspicious regard of public opinion," wrote Yves Threard in the daily Le Figaro.
Left-wing Liberation ran its story under the headline: "One dismissal but three ball-and-chains" referring to the three open legal cases against Strauss-Kahn relating to alleged misconduct.
The main opposition Socialist Party, which lost its top economic thinker with Strauss-Kahn's downfall, has cheered the dropping of charges but given no indication of what role he might play in the future, focusing instead on preparing for its annual congress this weekend in the seaside town of La Rochelle.
Segolene Royal, one of a handful of Socialist presidential hopefuls, sought to change the subject when pressed on BFM TV to talk about Strauss-Kahn. "I don't want to comment about this. I will not discuss his future activities," she said.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who polls show could win around 13 percent of the vote in the first election round in April, said the dropping of all the criminal sex assault charges left a "nauseating" and "bitter" taste in the mouth.
The decision to scrap the case against the former finance minister ended a three-month saga that filled newspapers around the world with sordid details about his 9-minute liaison with maid Nafissatou Diallo, which his lawyers say was consensual.
Political analysts say Strauss-Kahn may never completely win back the respect of the French people and could struggle to be accepted in public office given the tarnishing of his image from the case and what it revealed about his private life.
"It's all come tumbling down," a woman who gave her name as Besma told Reuters Television in Paris. "It's too ambiguous. Already in Paris there are a lot of stories about him. He has a certain notoriety. I think the least he could do, even if it's his private life, is to have a certain image."
Diallo is pursuing a civil case against Strauss-Kahn, and an inquiry is under way in France over allegations he tried to sexually assault writer Tristane Banon in 2003. Diallo's lawyers have also filed a complaint against a Strauss-Kahn ally in France for allegedly trying to silence a witness with money.
Strauss-Kahn's public relations office declined any comment on Wednesday, but his U.S. lawyer Benjamin Brafman told the daily Le Parisien the former IMF chief had things to settle there in the United States before returning to France.
He said he was confident Diallo's civil case would also collapse and he that there would be no financial settlement.
"One thing must be clear to the French: DSK has no intention and has never had any intention of giving her money," he said.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)