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French public want Hollande to change policies -poll

Source: Reuters - Sun, 3 Nov 2013 13:18 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Poll shows 91 pct of French want immediate change

* Thousands protest in Brittany, clashes with riot police

* Agriculture minister defends government track record

By John Irish

PARIS, Nov 2 (Reuters) - The vast majority of French people want President Francois Hollande to change his polices or reshuffle his government, an opinion poll suggested on Sunday, a day after thousands protested against tax hikes and rising unemployment.

Hollande, the most unpopular French president on record according to a previous poll, has been hit by public anger over his economic methods, rows over immigration policy and repeated gaffes within the government.

Riot police fired water cannon to disperse protesters in Quimper in northwestern France, an agricultural hub, on Saturday after a peaceful demonstration turned violent.

Three people were arrested and five slightly injured during the demonstration.

According to an IFOP poll for newspaper Journal du Dimanche, 91 percent of French people want Hollande to change his policies or his government before March's local elections.

The survey also showed a deep discontent among supporters of the Socialist president's own party with 85 percent of those on the left polled also demanding change.

"There is a real doubt over the government's method and that is shared equally and in a way not seen before between supporters of the left, right and far-right," said IFOP's Frederic Dabo.

Jobless claims rose in September by the highest margin since the depths of the financial crisis in early 2009, undermining Hollande's pledge of reversing a rise in unemployment, which currently stands at 11 percent.

The government is also experiencing a growing backlash from voters and businesses after it imposed 30 billion euros ($40.46 billion) in tax hikes this year, seeking to honour a promise to its EU partners to bring its budget deficit below the bloc's target ceiling of 3 percent next year.

RED CAPS

Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll defended the government's track record, saying its main problem was explaining to the people its policies, which he said would eventually bear fruit.

"There is an explanation problem and coherence in how all of the government expresses itself," he said on Europe 1 radio on Sunday.

The IFOP telephone survey of 1,009 people, between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, came a day after between 10,000 to 30,000 people took to the streets of Quimper in the Brittany region.

The protesters accused the government of abandoning Brittany, the heartland of France's pork and poultry sectors, where there has been several factory closures since last year.

Hundreds had already taken to the streets last week in the region, protesting against a planned "ecotax" on heavy goods vehicles.

Despite the government suspending the tax during the week, they took to the streets again wearing red caps and carrying anti-government banners, including one reading: "Hollande, Brittany will be your cemetery."

"Brittany trusted Hollande," said one protester who gave his name only as Mikael. "We thought by voting left it would change something, but I'm rethinking that now."

The region voted 56 percent in favour of Hollande during last year's presidential elections.

The tradition of wearing red caps date back to protests in Brittany in the 17th century when the king at the time increased taxes to fund a war. The caps also became an official emblem of the 1789 Revolution.

Hollande's government is struggling to bring down the public deficit without killing a fragile economic recovery.

Although it has shifted the burden towards spending cuts rather than tax hikes in the 2014 budget, business leaders and voters have expressed mounting discontent. ($1 = 0.7414 euros) (Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Pravin Char)

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