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No anniversary party for under-fire Hollande

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Under fire from right and left, French President Francois Hollande on Monday spent the first anniversary of his election triumph hunkered down with ministers to thrash out a comeback strategy.

Hollande, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and most of the embattled Socialist government's ministers held talks at the Elysee Palace to set the administration's reform agenda for the coming months.

Hollande is marking the anniversary of his May 6 win last year over right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy as the most unpopular president in modern French history.

Many in France are angered by his government's failure to turn around the economy, which is predicted to enter recession this year, and a rise in unemployment to a 16-year high.

Monday's talks were to focus on boosting economic growth, fighting joblessness, controlling public finances and social issues like access to housing, health care and retirement, officials said.

French newspapers marked the anniversary with harsh criticism of Hollande, with even the left-wing daily Liberation's front-page headline depicting the president as "A Man Alone".

"A year after the election of Francois Hollande, France is in crisis -- political, economic, social and moral," Liberation wrote, saying Hollande "has not been able, for the moment, to win the confidence of his countrymen."

Noting that no political events were planned to mark the day, right-wing daily Le Figaro said: "The Socialist Party is in hiding for the first anniversary".

With criticism of the government mounting, some are predicting a cabinet reshuffle before the summer.

In an interview late Sunday, Ayrault admitted the government had made mistakes in its first year.

"Sometimes there are hiccups, but what is essential for the French is the government's direction," he told TF1 television, adding that government policies would lead to a "return to growth".

Tens of thousands of left-wing protesters took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to accuse Hollande of turning his back on Socialist principles, while thousands more demonstrated across the country against a government bill legalising gay marriage.

Hollande's opponents rounded on him again on Monday, with the head of the right-wing UMP's parliamentary faction, Christian Jacob, telling France Info radio: "Simply put, right now the boat is sinking and we have a president who is incapable of taking action."

Since his election, Hollande's approval rating has fallen faster and further than any other president's since the founding of France's Fifth Republic in 1958.

His popularity has been especially dented by two recent crises -- a tax-fraud scandal involving his ex-budget minister Jerome Cahuzac and a deeply divisive debate on gay marriage that saw widespread protests.

A new TNS Sofres poll for i-Tele released Monday showed more than 76 of respondents saying they were disappointed with Hollande's performance and 56 percent of those who voted for him considering his record negative.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130506/no-anniversary-party-under-fire-hollande