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French socialists suffer heavy losses in local elections

France's socialists have suffered major losses in local elections, with the main opposition and far right gaining ground. The ruling party did at least enjoy a victory in Paris, which elected its first female mayor.

French Preisdent Francois Hollande (pictured left) was expected to conduct a reshuffle of his cabinet following the disappointing results, in an effort to revive his party's flagging fortunes.

"It has been a black Sunday," said socialist deputy Jean-Christophe Cambadelis.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls announced heavy losses for the party, which lost to the mainstream right in some 50 of France's larger cities. Toulouse, France's fourth largest city, was one of those that fell to the center-right Popular Movement (UMP). So too, did the city of Reims, capital of the Champagne region, as well as Limoges - which was run by the left for 102 years - and Saint Etienne.

"This vote is a defeat for the government and the (socialist) majority," said Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (pictured center), himself from the Socialist Party (PS). "This message is clear ... The president will draw conclusions, and he will do so in the interest of France," he added.

'Incontestable success'

It remained unclear whether any new government would be announced by Holland, and whether Ayrault would lose his job.

The PS lost as many as 155 towns in all. Valls said that the far-right National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, could have taken as many as 11 towns.

Le Pen said the result, which could give her party more than 1,200 local councilors, represented "an incontestably great success."

One bright spot of the night for the socialists was the victory of Spanish-born Anne Hidalgo, who was set to become the first-ever female mayor of Paris . The 54-year-old has spent the last 13 years working as deputy to the current mayor, Bertrand Delanoe.

Lyon, Lille and Strasbourg also bucked the trend, reelecting their PS mayors.

rc/crh (AP, AFP, dpa)