France’s new prime minister has staunchly defended the appointment of a colleague accused of rape as his interior minister, in charge of enforcing French laws.

Prime Minister Jean Castex’s vigorous expression of support for Gerald Darmanin follows protests by women’s rights groups and questions about whether President Emmanuel Macron is failing in his promises to make a priority of equality between men and women.

Mr Castex told broadcaster BFM-TV that he takes total responsibility for Mr Darmanin’s appointment at the Interior Ministry. He was promoted from his previous job as budget minister.

“He, like everyone else, has the right to the presumption of innocence,” the PM said.

Darmanin is under preliminary investigation over a rape accusation that he firmly denies.

Mr Macron’s office has said the probe was “not an obstacle” to Darmanin’s appointment to his new role in charge of police and other law enforcement bodies.

The recently reopened investigation is based on a 2017 legal complaint by a woman who alleged that Darmanin raped her when she sought legal help from him in 2009.

Darmanin, the highest-ranking French official accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, says the encounter was consensual and sued the woman for slander.

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