Film director Roman Polanski, wanted in the US for having sex with a minor almost 40 years ago, has turned down an invitation to head the jury at France's César film awards following an outcry from women's groups.
The choice of Polanski for the César event, France's equivalent of the Oscars, was criticised by the minister for women's rights, Laurence Rossignol, last week.
"It's surprising and shocking," she told France Culture. "It sends a signal of indifference."
The Osez le Feminisme women’s rights group had earlier called for a boycott and protest at the awards ceremony, scheduled for February 24th next.
A petition signed by 61,000 people said Polanski had enjoyed “scandalous protection” by France, and that his nomination as jury president was an insult to women and rape victims.
Announcing his decision to step down from the jury, Polanski's lawyer Herve Temime said on Tuesday: "This controversy has been generated by totally unfounded information, 40 years after the issue in question."
“It has deeply saddened Roman Polanski and his family,” Mr Temime said.
The Polish-born Polanski, now aged 83, pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot in Los Angeles.
He served 42 days in jail after a plea bargain, but later fled the US fearing lengthy jail time if the deal was overruled.
His case remains an international cause célèbre, where some argue it is time to drop US demands for his extradition but others say he must be punished.
Subject to immediate arrest
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has long insisted Polanski remains a fugitive and subject to immediate arrest in the US because he fled the country before sentencing.
It says his case cannot be resolved until Polanski, who has both French and Polish citizenship and lives mostly in Paris, returns to California to face justice.
France does not extradite its nationals. A Polish court last year ruled against his extradition to the US and an earlier attempt to have him extradited from Switzerland when he went there also failed.
Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, has made clear she believes Polanski's long exile has been punishment enough, a point lawyer Temime underlined in his Tuesday statement.
His most notable films include Chinatown and The Pianist, which earned him the Oscar for best director in 2002.