Hollande shows new mettle as war leader, reformer

Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:59am EST
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By Catherine Bremer

PARIS (Reuters) - Francois Hollande has shot down the idea that he is a spineless, indecisive president in three days that saw him nail a landmark labor reform, stand up to anti-gay marriage protesters and dispatch troops to Mali.

The politician long nicknamed after a brand of wobbly blancmange pudding emerged from his most testing weekend in office looking like he has a lot more backbone than critics gave him credit for and should get a much-needed boost to his image.

A survey published on Monday of 1,021 people in France by pollster Ifop found 63 percent backed Hollande's decision to take military action against Islamist rebels in Mali, responding within 24 hours to the Malian government's appeal for help.

Newspaper editorials praised a triple show of decisiveness that marked a turning point for the Socialist leader. Le Monde daily quoted Interior Minister Manuel Valls as saying it took "exceptional circumstances" for a statesman to show his colors.

"This makes those who criticized his inability to make decisions look a bit silly," said Bruno Tertrais, head of research at Paris's Foundation for Strategic Research.

Bernard-Henry Levy, a celebrity philosopher who campaigned to persuade Hollande's conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, to intervene in Libya in 2011, said the Socialist president had earned his spurs.

"With the Mali intervention, an historic labor agreement and a gay equality law at the same time ... he's done his job," Levy told local newspaper Nice Matin. "I think we'll see a new climate where the Hollande-bashing stops a bit."

Beyond the immediate widespread backing, the risks thrown up by Hollande's Mali mission, including possible reprisal attacks by Islamist militants and new dangers for eight French hostages held in the Sahel, will make the next few weeks crucial.   Continued...

France's President Francois Hollande speaks at a news conference at the end of the first session of a two-day European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels October 19, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann