French media attacks Jospin image
LONDON, England -- Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's attempt to enhance his image in advance of a likely presidential campaign failed, according to the French press.
An upbeat Jospin ventured onto French TV to declare that the economic slowdown was not as serious as in other Western nations, and he promised to fight crime and continue to cut taxes.
Speaking during an interview that addressed a wide range of concerns that have built up during the summer -- including fears about the faltering world economy -- he said: "Now that the situation is a bit less favourable, I note that the slowdown is a bit less marked in France."
Jospin, 64, who was interviewed on theTF1 network on Tuesday, has been trying to build his leadership image ahead of next year's presidential race, in which he is widely expected to challenge conservative President Jacques Chirac.
But his refusal to announce his candidacy during the television appearance -- "There will be an answer to that question when the time comes," he said -- niggled the national press.
Newspapers gave Jospin's performance the thumbs down, describing it as boring, belaboured and insincere.
"His presentation was about as thrilling as a television documentary about the renaissance of Uzbek culture," the popular daily France-Soir said.
The La Parisien newspaper said: "He was ill at ease, lectured like a professor, sometimes in thick jargon, and was generally boring."
More sympathetic newspapers, such as the left-leaning Liberation, also faulted the Socialist leader for steadfastly fending off repeated questions about whether he would run against Chirac in presidential elections next spring.
"It's hard to keep the viewers' interest when you decide to ignore the main question they have," it commented.
"Lionel Jospin is so unconcerned about the presidential election that he rushed onto television as soon as he was back from summer vacation," it added dryly.
"That's what's called betraying your intentions."
During the interview, Jospin pledged to continue cutting taxes as planned, despite the economic downturn, and eased the strictures of a law cutting the working week to 35 hours to help small firms having difficulty with hiring new workers.
The shortened workweek, down from 39 hours, has already gone into effect in large companies and will apply to smaller companies next year.
The project, a centerpiece of Jospin's government, was designed to create jobs by forcing companies to hire more workers.
It has outraged many business leaders, who accuse the government of tampering with the economy.
He said exemption clauses would be introduced for companies employing fewer than 20 staff.
Despite the media reaction, Jospin has enjoyed broad public support in recent years as he presided over several years of falling unemployment and a prosperous economy.
But recently he has been coming under fire from leftist members of his coalition including the Greens and the Communists.
Latest opinion polls show Chirac slightly ahead of Jospin in voters' preference for the next president.
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