France's Hollande conditions re-election bid on cutting unemployment in tough TV interview

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PARIS — PARIS — Halfway through his term, French President Francois Hollande used a rare prime-time TV appearance Thursday to double down on his pledge not to run again if he makes no headway cutting France's stubbornly high unemployment.

It was only the embattled president's second prime-time TV interview since he came to office in May, 2012. Polls this week showed his popularity falling to new lows, around 12 percent.

EU Commission forecasts this week make grim reading for Hollande: France's unemployment is forecast to stay above 10 percent through 2016, compared to 9.8 percent when Hollande came to office. Last April, when Hollande first made the pledge, unemployment was about 10.1.

Hollande used the interview to defend his record but was hard-pressed by a panel of four regular citizens chosen by the TV channel that organized the interview. One member of the panel, small business owner Karine Charbonnier, was particularly combative and took the president to task for not doing enough to help ease businesses' burden.

Hollande admitted it was a "mistake" when he promised in 2012 that the unemployment rate would decrease by the end of 2013, and said his priority is to boost France's growth through a total of 40 billion of tax cuts for companies and a goal of cutting 50 billion euros in state spending by 2017, including 21 billion next year.

"From next year, there will be no new tax", he said.

He also promised to allow shops to open on Sunday in cities with many tourists.

In a twist the TV organizers of the interview launched a Twitter hashtag, #DirectPR, to elicit questions from people following the program online.

Much of the online commentary under that hashtag was harshly critical of Hollande's performance: a tweet by French daily Le Monde journalist Thomas Wieder that said "In the newsroom we are hesitating between describing this as 'a shipwreck' or 'a slaughter' was retweeted nearly 300 times.

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