French President Francois Hollande has confirmed that Interior Minister Manuel Valls is to become the country's new prime minister. Valls will replace Jean-Marc Ayrault, who resigned after an election debacle.
Hollande confirmed the widely expected appointment of the 51-year-old Valls in a televised address to the nation on Sunday.
In his speech, Hollande said he had decided it was "time to begin a new chapter" in his presidency in reaction to the rout of his party in municipal elections.
Opinion polls have consistently shown Valls to be France's most popular politician. His tough takes on security and immigration also make him relatively palatable to French conservatives, although they tend to alienate him from the left wing of his party.
The son of a Catalan artist who left Spain during the Franco dictatorship, Valls did not obtain French citizenship until he was 20.
Earlier, officials at the prime minister's official residence, Matignon, had confirmed that Ayrault and his Socialist government had resigned.
"Mr. Jean-Marc Ayrault, prime minister, this afternoon handed in the resignation of the government to the president of the Republic," a communique from Matignon stated.
A recent survey published in the French daily Le Parisien showed that almost three-quarters of French people, including Socialist supporters, wanted to see Ayrault step down.
The shake-up of Hollande's deeply unpopular government comes after nationwide local elections on Sunday in which both the far-right National Front (FN) and the mainstream opposition party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) made historic gains, while Hollande's Socialists suffered some of their worst losses ever.
The UMP, the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, snatched a number of towns long considered Socialist bastions, a performance that bodes well for its chances in national elections scheduled for 2017.
The FN under Marine Le Pen also put it its best showing at the grassroots level of French government, winning control of 11 towns and more than 1,200 municipal seats nationwide.
The results reflect the growing discontent in France with Hollande's government, which came to power in 2012. Critics say it has been helpless in the face of a stagnant economy, persistently high unemployment and falling living standards in many quarters.
tj/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
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