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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Jospin takes to TV to stop rot
Lionel Jospin
Lionel Jospin defending himself in troubled times
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has appeared on television in an attempt to rebuff growing criticism of his administration.

Workers' demonstration
Workers are angered by Jospin's handling of lay-offs
Mr Jospin staunchly defended his government's record on the economy, underlining a steep fall in unemployment since his socialist-led coalition took power four years ago.

"Can anyone really say these have been bad years for France? Honestly I don't think so," he said in his first extended television interview for six months.

But Mr Jospin's leadership has been under question in recent weeks as he has faced a catalogue of problems including poor local election results, public transport strikes and large-scale lay-offs.

Dissent from within

Mr Jospin announced new worker-friendly measures including penalties to make it more difficult for large companies to lay off staff in the wake of mass redundancies by Marks and Spencers and Danone.

But this failed to appease his critics.

Dominique Voynet
Dominique Voynet: Jospin should take a break
"We heard nothing about the real expectations of French people - nothing concrete on law and order pensions, a minimum level of public transport," said Michele Alliot-Marie, chairwoman of the opposition Gaullists.

Mr Jospin has also faced criticism from within his own ranks.

Environment Minister Dominique Voynet last week pointedly suggested he should take a break after he lost his cool with two journalists during a visit to Brazil.

And on a visit to the flood-hit town of Abbeville, he was jeered by residents who said he had turned up too late.

But Mr Jospin rejected the idea that he could not take the strain.

"I think it would be an illusion to think I've a particularly nervous disposition," he said.

Beset by his current problems, he remained coy about his expected candidacy against Gaullist Jacques Chirac in next year's presidential elections.

"I could be a candidate, but I don't need to be," he said.

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See also:

19 Mar 01 | Europe
Socialists make history in Paris
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Hundreds flee French floods
09 Apr 01 | Business
French court rules against M&S
28 Feb 01 | Business
French jobless hits 10-year low
25 Jan 01 | Europe
French strikes cause chaos
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