French PM Valls wears velvet glove in plea for socialist unity

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Amid deepening divisions over government economic policy, France’s ruling Socialist Party held its annual end-of-summer conference this weekend at the port of La Rochelle, in south-west France, culminating with a much awaited speech by prime Minister Manuel Valls. The long-planned venue coincided with the government reshuffle earlier this week which saw the exit from the cabinet of party left-wingers, and notably the arrival of a former banker, Emmanuel Macron, as economy minister in replacement of the outspoken anti-austerity leftist Arnaud Montebourg. Valls, who earlier this week told a conference of the French employers’ federation of his “love” of business, was promised a fiery reception from the rebel Left of his party at his Sunday appearance. From a tense conference hall in La Rochelle, Stéphane Alliès reports on the address by Valls, who defiantly told a small group of journalists afterwards: “A speech will not be sufficient [...] but I’m continuing, I’m not giving up on anything.”

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There was an electric atmosphere about the Socialist Party’s annual summer conference on Sunday morning, at the end of a week that began with the socialist government reshuffle, dominated by the decidedly pro-market policy drive launched by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and the purging of leftists from his second cabinet.