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Fresh crisis in France as Hollande orders cabinet shake-up

PARIS -- France was thrown into fresh crisis on Monday after President Francois Hollande told his prime minister to form a new government, following a high-profile show of insubordination by the country's firebrand economy minister.

It is the second reshuffle in just five months as the ruling Socialists struggle to pull France out of the economic doldrums and the party is riven by infighting over what direction to take to reduce sky-high unemployment and boost sorely needed growth.

The shock move caught France by surprise and opposition figures pointed to a major crisis of confidence at the heart of the deeply unpopular executive, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen even calling for the lower house National Assembly to be dissolved.

A presidency statement said Prime Minister Manuel Valls had offered the resignation of his government — a formality that allows him to form a new cabinet — and the new line-up would be announced on Tuesday.

“The head of state asked him (Valls) to form a team consistent with the direction he has himself set for the country,” it said.

The presidency did not give any reasons for the shock move, but it came after Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg bad-mouthed France's economic direction and the austerity policies of European powerhouse and ally Germany, angering Valls.

“You have to raise your voice. Germany is trapped in an austerity policy that it imposed across Europe,” Montebourg said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper published Saturday.

Then in a speech on Sunday, Montebourg said he had asked Hollande and Valls for a “major shift” in economic policy.

“Given the seriousness of the economic situation, an economy minister has a duty to offer alternative solutions.”

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French prime minister Manuel Valls, right, and Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg during a visit to French defense and electronic company Thales in Gennevilliers, outside Paris on April 10.

(AP)

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