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Manuel Valls named as new French prime minister

French President Francois Hollande appointed popular interior minister Manuel Valls as premier.

PHILIPPE WOJAZER/EPA

French President Francois Hollande appointed popular interior minister Manuel Valls as premier, replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault.

PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande has named Socialist Manuel Valls as the country’s new prime minister after the government resigned earlier Monday.

In a prerecorded televised speech, Francois Hollande said Valls, the former interior minister, would lead a ‘‘combative government.’’

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Hollande admitted ‘‘it’s time to start a new stage,’’ just 24 hours after his Socialists suffered heavy losses in nationwide municipal elections.

Disappointment with the Socialists’ handling of the economy drove many voters to conservative or anti-immigrant far-right candidates in the elections Sunday and Hollande hopes the reshuffle will boost the government’s popularity.

The 51-year-old has drawn comparisons with former conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy and is also the most popular Socialist among France’s conservative right — he wants, for example, to rethink France’s 35-hour working week, a Socialist initiative.

He spelled out some key policy changes that included announcing new unspecified tax cuts and confirming a plan to cut 50-billion euros in government spending.

Valls is the Socialists’ hardliner on immigration and security and has held very controversial stances while serving as interior minister.

He allowed officials to ban shows by a comic considered anti-Semitic, Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala.

He was also known to talk tough on immigration — in one instance, praising a policy of destroying illegal Roma camps and expelling their residents from the country.

Valls was born in Barcelona in 1962 and became naturalized as French 20 years later. He has four children from a first marriage that ended in divorce, and since 2010 has been married to his second wife, the distinguished violinist Anne Gravoin.

Former prime minister conceded that the elections were ‘‘a defeat for the government.’’ The administration has failed to fulfill its promises to cut France’s more than 10 percent unemployment and boost growth, which was just 0.3 percent last year, according to figures released Monday.

Record-low voter turnout and the poor showing for Socialist candidates ‘‘really sends a message to Hollande that he has to change his Cabinet, he has to reshuffle,’’ said Hall Gardner, professor of politics at the American University of Paris.

Changes are especially expected in the Finance Ministry, which has scared away investors with high and complex taxes and struggled to find solutions to chronic low growth and growing joblessness.

Hollande is expected to stick to a grand plan for a payroll tax cut aimed at creating jobs — even though it also involves unpopular spending cuts.

The biggest winners in Sunday’s vote were candidates from the far right National Front, who won mayoral races in 12 towns and took 1,546 city and town council seats, the party said Monday. That’s less than some Socialists had feared, but still a record-high number for the party, whose leader Marine Le Pen has tried to soften its xenophobic image and tapped into widespread discontent with mainstream politics.

Meanwhile, bad economic news keeps coming. The state statistics agency said Monday that the deficit shrank less than expected last year — prompting a rebuke from the EU economy commissioner — and debt continued to grow to 93.5 percent of GDP.

The French economy avoided sinking into a new recession, growing 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter, but overall prospects for growth are slow.

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Thomas Adamson and Angela Charlton in Paris and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

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