France was riveted by the surprise development of Dominique Strauss-Kahn walking out of a New York courthouse without bail and free from house arrest Friday, with his allies hopeful that he can revive a 2012 presidential bid if exonerated.
New York prosecutors acknowledged there were questions about the credibility of the hotel housekeeper who accused him of sexual assault.
"This is an incredible sudden transformation," businessman Jerome Klein said. "We have gone from a phase in which everything was on the side of the accuser and now it seems that everything has turned around with an astonishing speed."
The news was welcomed by many, especially those who want to see Socialist Strauss-Kahn replace conservative Nicolas Sarkozy as president. Many in France have felt the U.S. media and public have unfairly assumed the 62-year-old Frenchman is guilty.
"Those who know Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not be surprised by this evolution of events," one of Strauss-Kahn's French lawyers and a friend for 40 years, Leon Lef Forster, told The Associated Press. "What he was accused of has no relation to his personality. It was something that was not credible."
Strauss-Kahn stepped down as head of the International Monetary Fund after he was charged in May. He denies the allegations.
His arrest upended French politics and appeared to dash his ambitions for France's top job. While he hadn't formally declared his candidacy, for months polls had suggested that Strauss-Kahn would beat Sarkozy and enjoyed greater popularity than any other Socialist.
There was quickly speculation that the Socialist Party's primary election to choose a candidate might be delayed. The deadline for Socialists to declare candidacy for the party's presidential primary is July 13. The primary vote is scheduled for October.
"I have asked my colleagues if we can have a pause of decency in the primary process," Michele Sabban, a Socialist politician who has long known Strauss-Kahn said on BFM TV after his court appearance _ covered in special reports on a handful of TV stations.
Strauss-Kahn had been confined for weeks to a ritzy Manhattan loft on $6 million in cash and bond. The charges, which include attempted rape, have not been reduced, but the changes signal that prosecutors do not believe the accusations are as ironclad as they once seemed.
The 32-year-old hotel maid accused Strauss-Kahn of chasing her through his luxury suite in May, trying to pull down her pantyhose and forcing her to perform oral sex. Authorities have said they have forensic evidence of a sexual encounter, but defense lawyers have said it wasn't forced.