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French President Hollande meets with Pope Francis amid magazine reports of affair

French President Francois Hollande, right, sits at a table with Pope Francis on the occasion of their private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Hollande met Friday with Pope Francis amid tensions in his private life over a gossip magazine's report about an alleged affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Pool)

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French President Francois Hollande, right, sits at a table with Pope Francis on the occasion of their private audience at the Vatican, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Hollande met Friday with Pope Francis amid tensions in his private life over a gossip magazine's report about an alleged affair with an actress. (AP Photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Pool)

VATICAN CITY - French President Francois Hollande met Friday with Pope Francis amid tensions in his private life over a gossip magazine's report about an alleged affair with an actress.

Hollande didn't mention the scandal or the first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, in brief remarks to reporters afterward. He didn't take questions, nixing a planned press conference in favour of a statement about the issues discussed with Francis: Africa, Syria, refugees and the environment.

Vatican Television covered Hollande's visit live, showing the stately arrival of his motorcade in the Apostolic Palace courtyard, Hollande's slow walk in the frescoed palace halls accompanied by Swiss Guards and finally his greeting with a solemn-faced Francis in the pope's private study.

Hours before the arrival, a small homemade bomb exploded in front of a French foundation that manages French architectural treasures in Rome, including five churches, and is headed by the French ambassador to the Holy See. The Carabinieri military police said no one was injured, but that a few windows of the palazzo were shattered and that three cars parked on the street outside were damaged.

Police said it wasn't clear if the bomb, which contained metal bits as well as explosive powder, was related to Hollande's visit or the foundation, which is located in the heart of Rome's historic centre.

Hollande said he and the pope had discussed the security situation in the Central African Republic, where French forces are helping to stabilize the poor country and end sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims — as well as the war in Syria.

"I expressed the wish that the Vatican might welcome the democratic Syrian coalition, to make it clear that peace must be found through a political solution that allows for pluralism," said Hollande, noting that the Holy See was party to talks in Geneva over the Syria crisis. "We must do all we can to stop the fighting and deploy humanitarian aid."

He also said the pope had mentioned he was working on a document about the environment, without providing further details.

The president presented the pope with a book about St. Francis of Assisi, and the pope in turn gave him a medal.

The Holy See for its part said the talks focused on issues about the family, bioethics and respect for religious freedom. The Vatican and the Catholic Church in France vigorously opposed France's gay marriage and gay adoption law, which was a cornerstone of the Socialist Hollande's election manifesto.

Hollande has acknowledged "painful moments" in his relationship with his partner, Trierweiler. He said he would clarify his domestic situation before a Feb. 11 state visit to Washington, when Trierweiler would normally accompany him.

Trierweiler, 48, who was not married to Hollande, was hospitalized Jan. 10, a day after Closer magazine reported that Hollande was seeing actress Julie Gayet.

The magazine published photos showing a man it said was the president, wearing a helmet and seated on the back of a scooter, allegedly being taken to a rendezvous with Gayet.

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Jamey Keaten and Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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