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December, 6, 2016

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French leader's comments in new book cause shockwaves

PARIS--Normally a man of consensus and caution, President Francois Hollande's frank comments in a new book written by two journalists is causing shockwaves in France.

"A President Shouldn't Say That ..." has exposed the inner workings of Hollande's troubled presidency and his views on Islamic veils, Barack Obama and his private life.

The timing of the book isn't accidental: the French president is weighing whether to run for re-election in six months, despite being the most unpopular leader in his country's modern history.

At least eight books have been published in recent months by journalists who have all met with the president. Most of them hurt Hollande's image, depicting his blunders, improvisations and policy changes as well as confidences on his feelings when he had to make big decision for the country's future.

Hollande is also used to answering journalists' questions himself through text messages — he didn't change his phone number when becoming president — and he often talk to reporters informally on the margins of events, at the risk of sometimes interfering with his own communication service.

But "A President Shouldn't Say That ..." is by far the most controversial book on Hollande to date. The authors, Le Monde investigative journalists Gerard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, met Hollande for 61 private interviews since the beginning of his term in 2012, reporting often spontaneous and unusually frank discussions.

According to the new book, the president went as far as sharing top secret information, including that he allowed "at least 4" military operations to kill people believed to be responsible for hostage-taking and actions against French interests. He didn't specified where and when.

Hollande also criticized his political rivals as well as other state leaders — including President Barack Obama. In a 2015 interview recounted in the book, he explained he felt abandoned by his U.S. ally in August 2013 when Obama informed him at the last minute he would not agree on an immediate military intervention in Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad's government.

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