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Denis Baupin (L), French National Assembly vice-president and former Green Party EELV head Emmanuelle Cosse (R), arrive to attend the "France is committed to climate. Go COP21 !" event at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

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By Brian Love

PARIS (Reuters) - Five years after the sex scandal that forced IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn to resign, hundreds of female French politicians on Tuesday denounced sexual harassment in the corridors of power and a Mafia-style code of silence that lets it go unpunished.

Their petition published on the front page of left-wing newspaper Liberation came a day after the surfacing of another sex scandal, which triggered the resignation of the vice-president of France's lower house of parliament, Denis Baupin.

The French have long been indulgent of their leaders' infidelities and the media has largely avoided raking over the private lives of politicians.

While the Strauss-Kahn scandal in 2011 unleashed a soul-searching debate within France about sexual abuse that goes undeclared or undetected in the upper echelons of power, the petition in Liberation said too many women still remained silent for fear of damaging their career or political party.

Signed by 500 politicians, mostly women but many men too, the petition condemned what it called an Omerta, or a Mafia-like code of silence on unwelcome sexual advances, from harassment to acts of outright aggression.

"End the Omerta" was the slogan adopted by the group behind Tuesday's appeal, which stated: "It's time to speak out, to bring this impunity to an end, time for men to change their behaviour rather than for women to adapt to it."

The petition appeared hours before the public prosecutor's office said it was opening an inquiry after several women went public on Monday with accusations of harassment against Baupin.

Baupin denies wrongdoing. On Monday he quit his post as vice-president of France's National Assembly and said he would pursue his accusers for defamation.

His wife, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Cosse whom he married last year, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that she had known nothing about the matter until this week and it was now for the justice system to tackle.

In 2011 Strauss-Kahn was the runaway favourite to become France's next president, but he was forced to resign from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and abandon his political ambitions after his arrest on sex crime accusations.

The sex assault charges based on the accusations of hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo were ultimately dropped but the Frenchman later reached a financial settlement in civil proceedings.

(Editing by Richard Lough)

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