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Thousands Protest Hollande's First Year as French President

Hollande's failure to keep the support of those on the far left protesting in Paris on Sunday while also angering the right -- who think his economic reforms and budget cuts haven't gone far enough -- has made him one the least popular presidents in modern French history. In a sign of how he is being squeezed from both sides, police said 15,000 people -- largely right-leaning -- gathered in another part of Paris on Sunday to protest the recent passage of a law legalizing gay marriage.

Hollande and his ministers have pleaded for more time to allow their policies to take hold.

On the one hand, France's reluctance to enact major budget cuts may seem prescient to some as many economists and politicians in Europe rethink the austerity programs demanded in exchange for bailouts. The effects of budget cuts and tax increases have been much more detrimental to growth than some expected, and the prolonged recession and high unemployment in many countries has begun to make those policies untenable.

But others note that France hasn't just shied away from budget cuts, it has also skimped on reforms. While Spain and Italy may be struggling more than France currently, both countries are also laying the groundwork for a strong, durable recovery, many economists say.

France, on the other hand, may be left behind when the rebound comes since it has only partially committed to labor market reforms. Many of its companies are still not competitive on the world stage, its government spending is still too high and Hollande's administration has only exacerbated the impression that France is a difficult place to do business. One of his ministers has had very public spats with Goodyear (GT), ArcelorMittal (MT) and Yahoo! in the past year.

Hollande has been trying to turn that reputation around, recently unveiling a raft of tax cuts for entrepreneurs. But that announcement is a good example of the bind he finds himself in: Those very tax cuts were held up as a call to arms for Sunday's protest. And many deplored what they see as a stranglehold on power exercised by big companies and banks.

"Our march ... is a protest against the coup d'etat of the world of finance that is happening throughout Europe," said Jean-Luc Melenchon, the head of a grouping of leftist political parties known as the Left Front.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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