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French PM Valls quits to enter presidential race

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is set to resign on Tuesday to free himself to do battle for the Socialist nomination in next year’s presidential election.

Announcing his candidacy on Monday France’s prime minister of the past two-and-a-half years said he would step down to try to rally the fractured left ahead of a primary in January.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve are among those tipped to succeed him as premier for the six months until the next legislative elections.

In a combative speech, 54-year-old Valls vowed to take the fight to the conservative opposition and the far-right National Front, who are both leading the Socialists in election polls. His announcement came four days after President Francois Hollande announced he would bow out after a single term, paving the way for Valls to try to become the left’s new standard bearer.

“My candidacy is one of reconciliation,” Valls, seen as a divisive figure, said in a speech from his political base in the tough Paris suburb of Evry.

He warned of the risk of far-right leader Marine Le Pen pulling off a repeat of France’s 2002 electoral upset when her father Jean-Marie Le Pen edged the Socialist candidate for a place in the presidential runoff.

Le Pen’s nationalist policies would “ruin the working class”, he said. Polls show Marine Le Pen winning or being placed second in the opening round of the election on April 23 but later being defeated by the conservative Francois Fillon.

Valls attacked the Thatcherite Fillon, accusing him of rehashing “the old recipes of the 1980s” by promising to cut spending and social programmes. “We’re told that Francois Fillon is the next president of the Republic. Nothing is set in stone,” he said defiantly.

Valls faces an uphill task to unite the divided French left, reeling after four tumultuous years under Hollande.

Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was appointed as the new prime minister on Tuesday after Manuel Valls resigned to seek the Socialist nomination in the presidential election, the presidency said.

Cazeneuve, who has overseen the security forces’ reaction to a string of jihadist attacks that have killed more than 230 people in France over the past two years, will take control of the Socialist government until legislative elections in June. 
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