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July 28, 2017

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Former banker named French economy minister in reshuffle

PARIS -- Francois Hollande on Tuesday installed a former banker and ally as economy minister in an emergency reshuffle seen as the "last chance" to haul France out of the biggest crisis of his presidency.

In a clear break with the left flank of his ruling Socialists, Hollande caught everyone off guard with the appointment of Emmanuel Macron, a 36-year-old ex-Rothschild banker and architect of the president's economic policy.

The top members of the government remained unchanged, but three rebel ministers who had publicly attacked Hollande's economic policy were not in the line-up as the president sought to quell dissenting voices in his team and cement the country's move toward a more pro-business outlook.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the choice of Macron and his Rothschild past, likely to be the target of sniping from the left.

"So what?" he retorted when asked on French television about Macron's banking background. "Can one not be an entrepreneur in this country? One can't be a banker?"

"To be strong in the world, you have to have a strong economy," insisted Valls, acknowledging that French growth had ground to a halt and unemployment was at "unacceptably" high levels.

The new minister has the unenviable task of pepping up Europe's second-biggest economy, which registered zero growth in the first six months of the year.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius were also confirmed in their posts and Segolene Royal, Hollande's former partner and the mother of his four children, stays environment and energy minister.

The reshuffle was seen as an attempt by Hollande, whose popularity is at a record low, to wrest back control of the political agenda, crush internal party rebellion and push forward his economic reform policies.

Leading daily Le Monde described the cabinet reshuffle as "the last chance for the president to save his five-year term."

"There is one line, and the members of the government cannot make a spectacle out of themselves," said Valls.

Reshuffling the government without the three rebel ministers — Montebourg took two fellow leftists with him — was "an act of authority," said the prime minister, seen as being on the right flank of the Socialists.

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