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Strauss-Kahn maid makes appeal as civil suit looms

Nafissatou Diallo, the Manhattan maid who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her, stands during a media conference at
Nafissatou Diallo, the Manhattan maid who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her, stands during a media conference at

By Mark Egan and Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The hotel maid who accused ex-IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her made an emotional public appeal on Thursday for people to believe her story as her lawyer threatened a civil lawsuit.

In a highly unusual news conference, Nafissatou Diallo told reporters she cannot stop crying and that she wants no other woman to suffer like her -- first at the hands of a powerful attacker and then through media muckraking.

"I am going through a lot. My daughter, we are going through a lot. We are crying everyday. We can't sleep," an emotional and tearful Diallo said in broken English. "A lot of things they say about me are not true."

When she finished her remarks, her lawyer promised to file a civil lawsuit against her attacker "soon."

The case pits an illiterate, immigrant, 32-year-old mother and hotel maid against a powerful politician. She has said he behaved like a "crazy man" on May 14 in his suite at the luxury Sofitel hotel near Times Square. She alleges he brutally forced her to perform oral sex on him and attempted to rape her.

The 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn -- the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who was viewed as a possible French president -- denies the charges and contends any sex that afternoon with Diallo was consensual.

Diallo, known as "Nafi" to her friends, said her daughter told her: "She goes, 'Mom, please promise me you stop crying. People call you bad names because they don't know you.'"

"You have to remember this guy is a powerful man," Diallo said, adding that she told her daughter, "I am going to be strong for you and for every other woman in the world."

"What happened to me, I don't want to happen to any other woman," she said. "I said, 'God, Why me?'"

The case against Strauss-Kahn has teetered for weeks since prosecutors disclosed they had uncovered discrepancies in Diallo's account of her past, and of the immediate aftermath of the alleged assault.

With her credibility in doubt, prosecutors continue to investigate the criminal case as they mull whether to press ahead with charges or to drop the case.

The media event was the latest twist in a case which has generated lurid headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. The New York Post called Diallo a prostitute and she has since sued the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid for libel.

CASE MISHANDLED?

Diallo's supporters on Thursday said District Attorney Cyrus Vance had mishandled the matter and should be replaced by a special prosecutor. They suggested race and poverty may be a factor in the prosecution's treatment of the case and said Vance's office leaked numerous false stories about Diallo to the media, making her case harder to win.

A spokeswoman for Vance declined to respond, saying the DA's office does not comment on pending criminal cases.

Her lawyer Kenneth Thompson denied she was trying to shake the rich Frenchman down for cash, saying, "Nafi Diallo did not try to shake down Dominique Strauss-Kahn."

Thompson promised action, saying he and her legal team "will take the civil case to trial because we are going to hold Dominique Strauss-Kahn accountable, whether it be in a criminal courtroom or in a civil lawsuit."

Asked when such a civil suit would be filed, he responded, "I said soon. Soon is soon."

Accusers in such cases normally hide from the media glare until after their criminal case is over. Many media outlets, including Reuters, protect their identities by not revealing their names. But Diallo, the daughter of an imam from Guinea, broke her silence on Sunday, revealing her identity in interviews to Newsweek and ABC News.

At the news conference at a Christian cultural center at the church Thompson attends, Diallo was flanked by members of women's rights groups and advocates for Latinos and blacks. Diallo said the event was to thank supporters.

But some experts said her lawyers were pushing Vance not to drop the case because otherwise Diallo's supporters might not vote for him if, as expected, he seeks reelection in 2013.

Top defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz has called Diallo's media interviews, "a desperate gambit to try to put pressure on the prosecution to consider not dropping the case."

Notwithstanding Thursday's show of support, Diallo's case has not brought a groundswell of public support or led to widespread outcries about Vance's handling of the case.

"In my political travels around Manhattan, I don't hear any of the woman activists jumping up and down that much," said Arthur Greig, a lawyer and former New York County Democratic Committee counsel. "I haven't seen or heard any groundswell."

On Wednesday, Diallo and her lawyers held an eight-hour meeting with prosecutors focused largely on phone conversations she had with a fellow African immigrant in an Arizonan jail after the May 14 incident. News reports suggested Diallo told him a day after the incident that Strauss-Kahn was rich.

But Thompson disputed those accounts after hearing the tapes, saying such interpretations of that conversation were not true and that prosecutors had botched their translations.

Strauss-Kahn is no longer under house arrest but is barred from leaving America and next appears in court on August 23.

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