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Paris (AFP) - Controversial film director Roman Polanski told AFP on Thursday he would not attend the French Oscars because he fears a "public lynching" by feminist activists.
The veteran is at the centre of a storm of protest after his new film about the Dreyfus affair, "An Officer and a Spy", topped the list of nominations for the Cesar awards, which will be presented in Paris on Friday night.
France's equality minister and feminists were outraged at his 12 nominations, including for best film, given that Polanski is still wanted in the United States for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
"We know how this evening will unfold already," Polanski said in a statement to AFP as posters appeared at the theatre that will host the ceremony condemning him as a rapist and sex criminal.
"Activists are already threatening me with a public lynching, with some saying they are going to protest outside," the 87-year-old added.
"What place can there be in such deplorable conditions for a film about the defence of truth, the fight for justice, blind hate and anti-Semitism?"
- Bardot backs Polanski -
Earlier this week, French star Adele Haenel, who last year accused the director of her first film of sexually harassing her when she was only 12, blasted the Cesars for honouring Polanski.
"Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims," she said. "It means raping women isn't that bad."
But veteran French screen icon Brigitte Bardot rowed to Polanski's defence Thursday, declaring "Vive Roman!"
In a handwritten note to AFP, she said, "Fortunately Polanski exists to save the cinema from mediocrity.
"I judge him on his talent rather than his private life," she added.
The 85-year-old, who now lives as a virtual recluse, said she regretted never making a film with the director.
Even so, the entire board of the French film academy which awards the Cesars resigned early this month after Polanski's movie became the favourite to lift the top prizes.
- 'Sick minds' -
Academy head Alain Terzian had justified its choice by saying that the academy "should not take moral positions" about giving awards.
Despite protests outside some cinemas, the movie -- about Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer wrongly persecuted by the French army at the turn of the 20th century -- has been a French box office hit.
However, even before it opened the publicity campaign for the film was halted after French photographer Valentine Monnier claimed that she had also been raped by the director in 1975.
Monnier, an 18-year-old model and actress at the time, said Polanski tried to give her a pill as he beat her "into submission" at his Swiss chalet.
Polanski "absolutely denied" the allegations, pouring scorn on her story.
The director told AFP that he had taken the decision not to attend the Cesars ceremony to protect his team and "my family, my wife and my children, who have been subject to insults and affronts as part of a kind of collective responsibility that comes from another age".
"The activists brandish the figure of 12 women who I am supposed to have molested half a century ago," he added.
"These fantasies of sick minds are treated as established fact -- a lie repeated 1,000 times becomes a truth."
- No fix -
Polanski said that he would not submit himself to a trial by media so "that the irrational triumphs yet again".
And he hit out at those who claimed that "our 12 nominations were a present from the academy management... brushing aside the secret vote of 4,313 professionals who alone decide the nominations as well as the more than 1.5 million people who have gone to see the film" in France.
The director caused uproar at the Venice film festival last year -- where his film won two prizes -- by likening his hounding by the media to the anti-Semitic persecution Dreyfus suffered.
He later blamed the disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for his woes.
He said Weinstein had tried to brand him a "child rapist" to stop him winning an Oscar in 2003 for "The Pianist".