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Hollande’s presidency marked by terrorism, love scandal

French President Francois Hollande made the unprecedented decision not to run for re-election © AFP

Paris, France, May 14 – Dogged by France’s stubbornly high unemployment throughout his presidency, Francois Hollande also faced an unprecedented wave of jihadist attacks, violent protests over labour reforms and public airing of his tangled private life.

Here are some of the defining moments of the Socialist leader’s mandate which began in 2012 and, following an unprecedented decision not to run for re-election, ends Sunday.

– Terror attacks –

A series of deadly jihadist attacks has killed more than 230 people since January 2015, mostly the work of French radicals acting in the name of Islamic State (IS) or other extremist groups.

Hollande won praise for rallying a shocked nation after the first attacks in January 2015 on the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Around 50 heads of state joined him on a march against terror that saw 3.7 million people take to the streets of France.

Ten months later, he reacted quickly when IS massacred 130 people in Paris at the Bataclan concert hall, at cafes and bars, and outside the national stadium.

Hollande announced a state of emergency, declaring that France was “at war” and deploying troops to patrol the streets.

But in July, when 86 people enjoying Bastille Day festivities in Nice were killed in a truck rampage, accusations mounted that Hollande’s government was failing to tackle the extremist threat.

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– Tumultuous private life –

Before taking office Hollande took aim at the romantic antics of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy — who married supermodel Carla Bruni while president — vowing that on personal matters, he himself would be “exemplary”.

French President Francois Hollande split with his long-term partner after it emerged he was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet © AFP/File / VALERY HACHE, THOMAS SAMSON

But cracks began to show in Hollande’s relationship with long-term partner Valerie Trierweiler, and the couple split after it emerged he was having an affair with Julie Gayet, an actress nearly 20 years his junior.

Trierweiler published a bestselling memoir that proved deeply embarrassing to Hollande, not least with its claim that the Socialist leader disdained the poor.

To make matters more complicated, Hollande has four children from an earlier relationship with Environment Minister Segolene Royal.

– Violent labour protests –

Hollande took power on a leftist platform — including a top tax rate of 75 percent — but later shifted towards business-friendly policies, notably trying to tackle France’s famously rigid labour laws.

French protesters demonstrated against labour and employment law reforms in 2016 © AFP/File / PHILIPPE LOPEZ

His government suffered months of violent protests in 2016 over reforms designed to make it easier to hire people but also easier to fire them, before finally managing to push through a watered-down version last summer.

Hollande’s approval ratings sank to catastrophic lows, dragged down by disappointment over his management of the economy. Despite promises to create jobs, unemployment remains near 10 percent.

– Foreign wars –

Hollande launched a military operation in January 2013 to halt the advance of Islamists who had taken over swathes of northern Mali, a former French colony.

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The following December, a second operation was launched in the Central African Republic — another former colonial possession — in a bid to restore stability to a country gripped by religious violence.

Jihadists remain active in Mali and a vast portion of the country remains out of government control, while violence also remains rife in CAR.

Hollande also sought to intervene in Syria in 2013, but backed out of air strikes when it became clear then US president Barack Obama did not intend to follow suit.

France began air strikes in Syria only in September 2015 as part of an international coalition targeting IS. French raids against IS in Iraq had begun in September 2014.

– Row over French nationality –

After the Paris attacks, Hollande sought to modify the constitution to allow convicted terrorists to be stripped of their French nationality if they were dual nationals.

The issue sparked fierce debate over the ethics of such a move, with Justice Minister Christiane Taubira quitting in protest.

Hollande finally scrapped the idea. When announcing late last year that he would not seek re-election, Hollande flagged up the row as the one major regret of his presidency.

– Global climate deal –

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Hollande campaigned hard for the historic climate agreement signed in Paris last December and hailed it as one of his key achievements.

– Gay marriage –

The Socialist leader had made “marriage for all” one of his election pledges, and same-sex marriages were signed into law in April 2013, despite angry protests by tens of thousands of social conservatives.

– Macron’s rise –

Hollande launched the rise of his successor, choosing Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker with no political experience, as an economic advisor. He then brought Macron into his Socialist government, promoting him to economy minister in 2014.

President Francois Hollande launched the rise of his successor Emmanuel Macron, appointing him as an economic advisor © POOL/AFP / PHILIPPE WOJAZER

But Macron turned his back on Hollande, quitting the cabinet to build his own centrist political movement “En Marche” (On the Move), and eventually winning the presidential election.


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