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France's Hollande and his premier weigh presidential bids

Associated Press Associated Press 5 days ago By SYLVIE CORBET, Associated Press
French President Francois Hollande arrives at the Francophonie Summit in Antananarivo, Madagascar on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP) © The Associated Press French President Francois Hollande arrives at the Francophonie Summit in Antananarivo, Madagascar on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

PARIS — France's government spokesman is insisting that Socialist President Francois Hollande and his prime minister can't compete against each other in an upcoming presidential primary — except if the second quits.

Attention turned Monday turned to the troubled French left, after the staunchly conservative Francois Fillon won the right-wing presidential nomination Sunday on promises of slashing public spending and immigration.

While the unpopular Hollande still hasn't said whether he'll seek re-election, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French newspaper Journal du Dimanche that he is ready to compete in the left-wing primary in January. The national election is in April and May.

"I will make a conscious decision," Valls said.

Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said on Europe-1 radio Monday, "There will not be a primary between the president and the prime minister." He said Valls could seek the nomination only if he leaves his job.

This scenario would imply a Cabinet reshuffle, only few months from the end of Hollande's term.

The Socialist president of France's lower house of Parliament, Claude Bartolone, said last week he wants both Hollande and Valls to run in the primary.

The two men had their weekly working lunch on Monday at the Elysee Palace in a "cordial and studious atmosphere," the president's office said.

Hollande is expected to say in the coming weeks whether he will seek re-election. The party has fixed a Dec. 15 deadline for the primary's participants to declare themselves as candidates.

The Socialist party is deeply divided over Hollande's presidency. A group of rebels have expressed their opposition to what they consider a pro-business stance and calls for the preservation of the welfare state and other left- leaning social policies.

Two former ministers who have joined the rebel group, Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, have already announced they are running for the Socialist nomination.

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