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Man behind videos that felled Paris mayor contender arrested

PARIS (AP) — A controversial Russian performance artist who claimed responsibility for releasing sex videos that brought down a high-profile candidate for Paris mayor was detained by police Saturday, the prosecutor’s office said.

Pyotr Pavlensky, a refugee, was questioned at a police station on Paris' Left Bank about a separate case involving “violence with a weapon” on New Year’s Eve, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. French news media reported that Pavlensky, allegedly drew a knife during a dispute at a Paris apartment. Online investigative site Mediapart said two people were injured.

The candidate, former French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, did not directly cite a connection between the explicit videos and his withdrawal from the mayoral race on Friday. The prosecutor's office said Griveaux filed a complaint Saturday for invasion of his private life, and an investigation was opened.

The circumstances surrounding his dropping out sent shock waves through the political establishment of a country that has a tradition of keeping the private lives of public servants out of view. Griveaux was the candidate of French President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party, which is searching for a quick replacement. The party said Friday it planned name its new mayoral candidate early next week. The two-round election begins in a month.

The mayor of Paris is a high-profile job that Macron's party was counting to win. However, Griveaux had been struggling in the race, with polls showing him in third place behind incumbent Mayor Anne Hidalgo and a conservative candidate.

Another candidate with a national profile, mathematician Cedric Villani, was booted from the party after he turned down a personal request from Macron to withdraw from the race and back Griveaux. French media reported that party leaders met discreetly with Villani on Saturday, a possible sign of the breadth of its frantic search for a new candidate.

Pavlensky, who fled Russia and was granted asylum in France, has had trouble with the law before. He was convicted in January 2019 of setting fire to a Bank of France branch and damaging its facade in 2017. He was sentenced to a year in prison, plus a two-year suspended sentence. However, the judge allowed Pavlensky to walk free because he had already spent 11 months in pretrial detention.

Pavlensky created a special site to post the explicit video material, believed to have been extracted from cellphone exchanges. He wrote on his Facebook page Saturday that French authorities had taken down the site, apologizing to followers.

Pavlensky was quoted on Friday as saying he carried out the action to denounce what he claimed was the “hypocrisy” of Griveaux, who often spoke publicly about his partner and children. He told French broadcaster BFM-TV that Griveaux was “a candidate who has lied to his electors" and “very dangerous” for Paris.

Pavlensky left Russia in 2017 after being told of rape accusations against him. While in Russia, he set a fire in front of the Russian federal security agency and nailed his scrotum to Moscow's Red Square in what he said was a metaphor for Russian political apathy.

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