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Clinton sex accuser seeks support

Lawyers for Paula Jones, the former receptionist clerk who accuses President Bill Clinton of sexually harassing her in 1991, are seeking support from women's groups to help them in what could be a long and messy civil rights suit against the then governor of Arkansas.

Ms Jones, now married and living in California, had been due to file the suit yesterday at a federal court in Little Rock. But last night William Stanley, one of her legal team, announced the move had been postponed until this morning, for undisclosed reasons. But, he insisted, 'the suit has not been withdrawn'.

Mr Traylor has been in contact with the powerful National Organisation of Women (Now), which has championed high-profile harassment cases, notably that of Clarence Thomas / Anita Hill, and the accusations by 24 women against Oregon's Republican Senator, Bob Packwood.

The White House is dismissing Ms Jones' allegations as a fabrication mounted by Clinton foes for political reasons and the President says he has no memory of ever meeting her. But he is taking the affair case seriously enough to enlist the help of Robert Bennett, arguably Washington's best-known defence lawyer.

According to the Washington Times, leading the conservative media barrage against Mr Clinton, Now has reacted cautiously - despite critics who point out that Ms Jones' case is at least as strong as the uncorroborated charges by Professor Hill which almost torpedoed Judge Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court in October 1991. Why, they ask, should they treat the President any more gently than liberals treated Clarence Thomas?

Once a suit has been filed, Mr Clinton has 20 days to respond. The case could be thrown out on a motion to dismiss, or by summary court judgment. But lawyers specialising in sexual harassment cases consider that unlikely. If no settlement is reached, it might be one or two years before the case is heard.

But long before the nightmare of a public trial, potential embarrassment enough awaits the President. It is expected, for example, that Ms Jones' lawyers will demand testimony from the Arkansas state troopers who claim to have procured women for Mr Clinton, thus guaranteeing another public airing of his alleged philandering while governor. At the very least, Mr Clinton's patchy reputation for trustworthiness will take another bruising.

Ms Jones says that on 8 May 1991 she was asked to meet Mr Clinton in a Little Rock hotel where she worked. Mr Clinton, she said, pressed himself upon her and asked her to perform a sexual act. She claims she rebuffed him. Mr Bennett says 'the event, quite simply, didn't happen'.