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'Things are going better,' unpopular Hollande tells voters

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande on Thursday tried to convince skeptical voters that his policies were bearing fruit, and said he would decide at the end of the year if he would seek a second mandate in 2017.

French President Francois Hollande is seen before appearing on France 2 television prime time live programme "Dialogues Citoyens" (Citizen's Dialogue) for an interview at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, France, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane de Sakutin/Pool

The Socialist leader, plagued by a promise to shrink a jobless rate that has remained above 10 percent since he took office in 2012, said he would focus on reforms to combat unemployment until the very end of his mandate.

“My policies are producing results and will produce even more,” Hollande said in a TV interview hours after opinion polls showed an overwhelming majority of French citizens have a poor opinion of him and do not want him to seek a second mandate next year.

A massive 87 percent of respondents are unhappy with Hollande’s record after four years of a five-year term, a survey by Elabe pollsters showed just ahead of the interview.

But Hollande, who was more pugnacious and confident than in a TV interview earlier this year which had unanimously been judged as poor by commentators, said his reforms were working.

“Things are going better: There is more growth, less deficit, more competitiveness, better margins for companies, more purchasing power for workers,” Hollande told France 2 television.

The government targets 1.5 percent growth this year as the economic outlook improves. Economists say that rate is the minimum needed to lower unemployment but doubt France will achieve it.

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Marwen Belkaid, a business school student who was one of four voters who interrogated the president during the TV show alongside journalists, said Hollande failed to convince him.

“He heard but did not listen ... he did not convince me,” said Belkaid, who voted for Hollande in 2012 but said he would not give him his vote again next year.

Some 76 percent of voters believe Hollande should stand aside next year for a better Socialist candidate, a survey by Odoxa pollsters showed ahead of the interview.

More worrisome for Hollande, the poll showed that view was shared by 66 percent of people who customarily voted for left-wingers.

Hollande said he would keep carrying out reforms aimed at lowering unemployment.

“I will be focusing on reforms every day, until the very last day of my mandate,” he said. “I will be judged on how I do on unemployment.”

Hollande was elected in May 2012 on a left-leaning platform but changed tack as the economy faltered to embrace more pro-business reforms. That has eroded support among traditional backers and brought unions onto the streets to protest, even though the reforms have been watered down.

Adding to the perception of a wavering leader, he was pressured into dropping plans drafted after last year’s Paris attack to strip people convicted of terrorism of their passports. He has been also facing nightly street protests by students and young workers.

Recent polls have shown Hollande failing to make the second run-off round of the election, regardless of who runs against him, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen seen making it to the runoff.

The only solace from the Elabe survey was that 65 percent believed Hollande’s center-right predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, would have done no better. Sarkozy wants to run again in 2017 but faces stiff competition in his own camp.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander, Matthias Blamont, Elizabeth Pineau, Andrew Callus and Brian Love; Editing by Dominic Evans and Leslie Adler