Polish director Roman Polanski attends a news conference for the film Chacun son Cinema at the 60th Cannes Film Festival, May 20, 2007. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

France's government Wednesday softened its stance on the arrest of Roman Polanski for having sex with a 13-year-old girl, calling it a serious case after initially rushing to the film director's defense.

France and Poland, where the 76-year-old Oscar-winning director spent his childhood, at first called his arrest in Switzerland unjust and indicated they would appeal to the United States.

But after several politicians voiced unease over the case, which dates back to 1977, France took a more moderate line and said Polanski was neither above nor below the law.

A judicial procedure is under way concerning a serious case, the rape of a minor, and the U.S. and Swiss justice systems are doing their work, French government spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

On the other hand, there's emotion, and we can understand the emotion stirred up by this belated arrest, more than thirty years after the events, and the method of the arrest, he said.

Polanski, who has dual French and Polish citizenship, was arrested at the request of the United States when he flew into Switzerland Saturday to receive a lifetime achievement prize at the Zurich film festival.

He pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with the girl in the home of actor Jack Nicholson, skipped bail and fled to France.

France's political and artistic establishment defended him after the arrest, with Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand saying he was stunned and accusing the United States of revealing a frightening face by seeking his extradition.

Those comments backfired badly when politicians across the spectrum accused the government of elitism and acting in haste.

Green Member of the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit said Mitterrand should have waited before more details of the case were known. Extreme right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen denounced a political-artistic caste claiming special privileges.

Several members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's own UMP party said even great artists should not enjoy legal immunity.

Charges of raping a 13-year-old child, that's not something trivial, UMP parliamentarian Marc Laffineur said.

Poland has also softened its tone, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk urging moderation.

Sarkozy himself has refrained from speaking out. Sunday, the culture ministry said Sarkozy wanted Polanski's swift release. But Wednesday, Chatel said Sarkozy was feeling the same range of emotions that I and all French people share.