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Unpopular Hollande defends record on 2nd anniversary of vote

Francois Hollande marked the second anniversary of his election on the defensive on Tuesday, vowing to speed up reforms as he struggles with the worst approval ratings of any modern French leader.

PARIS: Francois Hollande marked the second anniversary of his election on the defensive on Tuesday, vowing to speed up reforms as he struggles with the worst approval ratings of any modern French leader.

With the latest polls showing him again hitting record lows in popularity, the embattled Socialist president took to the airwaves for an hour-long interview to champion his record.

He promised to do more to revive the French economy and fight record joblessness, even as the government pursues 50 billion euros ($69 billion) in cuts to rein in the deficit.

"We must go even faster because this is unacceptable to the French, they want results," Hollande said during the interview and call-in show with BFMTV and RMC radio.

He vowed to "go even faster on reforms" to reduce red tape, cut labour costs and decrease taxes.

Hollande also rejected accusations that his government had suffered from amateur mistakes.

"Was it amateurism to emerge from the eurozone crisis? Amateurism when we intervened in Mali when no one else did and terrorism was winning the game? Amateurism to go into the Central African Republic to prevent genocide?" Hollande said.

"All I am asking is to be judged at the end of my mandate" in 2017, he said.

The current public judgement of Hollande could hardly be worse, with 75 per cent of respondents in a CSA poll this week saying they had no confidence in the president to solve the country's problems.

In another poll by IFOP, Hollande's approval rating fell five points in April to only 18 per cent.

With the government forecasting growth of only one per cent this year -- after a meagre 0.3 per cent expansion last year -- Hollande is failing to convince voters he can steer the economy.

His administration has meanwhile been hit by a series of embarrassing scandals, including the resignation of the tax minister discovered to have a secret Swiss bank account and the quitting of a close presidential aide over an alleged conflict of interest and revelations of an extravagant lifestyle.

Hollande was himself at the centre of controversy over revelations of his affair with actress Julie Gayet, which saw him break up with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler.

The president again refused to discuss his private life during the interview, though he insisted he had survived the scandal with his dignity intact, saying he was "never vulgar or crude".

In an interview with Europe 1 radio Tuesday, Trierweiler wished Hollande "good luck" with the next three years and said she was "doing well" after the split.

Hollande praised his new prime minister, Manuel Valls, saying he would give the "necessary impulse" to tackling reforms.

Valls, the popular tough-talking former interior minister, took over the government in late March in a reshuffle prompted by the Socialists' dismal showing in nationwide municipal elections.

Hollande's party is likely to be dealt another blow in European Parliament elections at the end of this month, with polls showing the Socialists in third place behind the centre-right UMP of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and the far-right National Front.

Christian Jacob, the head of the UMP faction in the lower house National Assembly, said Hollande was losing support even among Socialists and did not rule out a government collapse before the next presidential election.

"It has been a disaster on the economic front, whether it's the continuing rise in unemployment or the inability to reduce the deficit and debt. And on the political front it has been a debacle," Jacob said.

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