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Thousands Protest Hollande's First Year as French President

By Sarah DiLorenzo

PARIS -- Tens of thousands of supporters of leftist parties marched through central Paris on Sunday to express disappointment with President Francois Hollande's first year in power, criticizing the leader for reneging on his promises to rein in the world of finance and enact economic stimulus.

Hollande, a Socialist, rose to the presidency last May, promising to spare France the austerity measures imposed elsewhere in Europe. And the French government has largely avoided the deep spending cuts, big tax hikes and the wide-ranging reforms of many of its neighbors.

Instead, it has nibbled around the edges of its deficit, cutting 10 billion euros ($13 billion) in spending and increasing taxes, largely on the rich, by 20 billion euros. That's relatively little for a country with 2 trillion euro economy of which 57% is government spending.

Still, France's economy has continued to deteriorate, with growth stagnating and unemployment rising above 10%.

Leftists who took the streets on Sunday -- largely from parties to the left of Hollande's mainstream Socialist Party -- rejected the notion that Hollande had spared France a worse fate.

"Salaries are frozen. They continue to reduce hiring in the public sector," said Brigitte Blang, a 64-year-old teacher from eastern France. "We're waiting for true leftist policies. There's money in the coffers!"

Blang was among tens of thousands of people from around the country who gathered around Paris' iconic Place de la Bastille, named for the prison stormed by French revolutionaries in 1789. They carried signs that said, "Down with austerity," ''Out with finance, humans first" and "OUSTerity -- finance should pay."

Paris police said 30,000 people showed up, although protest organizers said there were 180,000. After speeches, the crowd marched to another Paris square.

Several protesters acknowledged that they voted for Hollande a year ago -- either simply to ensure the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy's defeat or because they had hope for his leadership.

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