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French PM Valls unveils new cabinet amid govt crisis

Joel Saget, AFP | French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

French Prime Minister Valls named a new cabinet on Tuesday, a day after the shock exit of three high-profile ministers that has drawn attention to the deep divisions within the ruling Socialist Party.

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Arnaud Montebourg was forced to step down as France’s economy minister on Monday after openly criticising the government’s austerity policies, spurring the culture and education ministers to follow him out the door.

This forced government reshuffle was further bad news for President François Hollande, a Socialist, who is already struggling with a record-low approval rating and soaring unemployment.

Half way through his five-year term, Hollande has also failed to curb unemployment or France’s ballooning debt, prompting a growing number of people on the left of his Socialist party, like Montebourg, to question the soundness of his economic strategy.

France’s economy has been stagnant for the past six months, and the government has had to cut its growth forecast to 0.5 percent for this year, half of the already modest estimate it had previously given for 2014.

Absentee teacher

The departing Montebourg said he had failed to convince Hollande and Valls that austerity measures they have implemented were misguided, but insisted he was leaving on good terms with both men.

Valls, whose right-leaning tendencies have likened him to former UK prime minister Tony Blair, will also have to replace the popular culture minister Aurelie Filippetti and soft-spoken education minister Benoit Hamon.

Hamon’s self-imposed exile was considered especially problematic coming only one week before the start of the new school year.

Many commentators also speculated on the possible exit of heavyweight Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who is also seen as being on the left-wing of the government and close to Montebourg.

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