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President Hollande reshuffles Cabinet with eye towards 2017 election

President Hollande hopes a government reshuffle, one that extends a hand to other left-wing parties, will boost his chances for reelection in 2017. But the president has big obstacles to overcome.

French President Francois Hollande reshuffled his cabinet Thursday in a bid to boost his flagging support ahead of parliamentary elections in 2017.

The socialist president is suffering some of the lowest approval ratings of any prime minister in French history. The Liberation newspaper published results of an opinion poll this week that shows a staggering 75 percent of voters do not want Hollande re-elected.

Record unemployment, a moribund economy and the worst terror attacks ever to strike France have bedeviled his first four years in office.

Then Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault gestures as he leaves a polling station in 2014.

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault

The most prominent of Hollande's new appointees is Jean-Marc Ayrault,66, to the post of foreign minister. Ayrault was Hollande's first prime minister, but after the socialists took a pounding in municipal elections in 2014 Hollande reshuffled his Cabinet, ushering the more forceful Manuel Valls into the prime minister's seat.

A fluent German speaker, Ayrault is expected to enhance the government's cooperation with Germany, particularly on the thorny migration issue.

The other new faces in the Cabinet are seen as an attempt by the socialist president to drum up support on the political left, beyond the Socialists.

Increasing his base

Hollande "must increase his political base at all costs," a source close to the president said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We can't face a presidential election without a Socialist family rallied behind their candidate and without the ecologists."

Toward that end, the 61-year-old Hollande named a member of the French Greens Party, Emmanuelle Cosse, as housing minister, while Jean-Michel Baylet, the head of the small Left Radical Party becomes minister for local authorities.

Watch video 02:07

France remembers terror victims

"Two other ecology-minded politicians have been appointed under-secretaries in the new government.

But Hollande's attempt to unite the left ahead of the next year's election suffered a serious blow on Wednesday when, the leader of the radical Left Party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who won 11 percent of votes in 2012, announced he would run for president.

I don't think this is convenient for the left or the ecologists," said government spokesman Stephane Le Foll.

The government attempted to kickstart the sputtering economy last year with a series of reforms, but were met with criticism, along ideological lines, from some fringe members of the Socialists. They accused the Valls government of being too pro-business.

Hollande's popularity saw a couple of bumps last year after a pair of terror attacks - the first being the deadly assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in January - the second the November attacks across Paris that left 130 people dead.

But his gains have been minimal, and short-lived.

bik/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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