French gov't reshuffle pushes out dissident ministers so president can pursue economic moves

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PARIS — France's prime minister reshuffled his Cabinet on Tuesday to silence ministers who had openly criticized Socialist President Francois Hollande's economic policies as he tries to pull the nation out of stagnation and steer it toward growth.

Emmanuel Macron, who had earlier served as top adviser in charge of the economy, took over the Economy Ministry, replacing Arnaud Montebourg, who had publicly railed against government policies as being too austere and unjust to the French.

Macron, a 36-year-old former banker who advised Hollande until June 2014, is known for his pro-business stance and is sure to send a positive signal to the European Union, which is pressuring France to get its finances in order.

Education Minister Benoit Hamon and Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti, who supported Montebourg in his criticism, also lost their jobs.

Hamon was replaced by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the former sports and youth minister, and Filippetti was replaced by Fleur Pellerin, former minster for commerce and tourism.

Yet, Finance Minister Michel Sapin, Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stayed in place in the limited reshuffle.

The Cabinet reshuffle came less than five months after the ambitious and popular Prime Minister Manuel Valls took office on April 1, steadfastly promoting Hollande's agenda. The changes are aimed at creating a Cabinet that embodies Hollande's policies, seen as too far to the right by some Socialists.

In addition to the ousted ministers, dozens of other Socialists are believed to consider Hollande's economic policies a betrayal of the party's cause.

Valls on Tuesday said any debate "should be held within the government."

"There is a single (policy) line and members of the government cannot make a spectacle," Valls said in a TV interview on France-2 TV in reference to Montebourg's public criticism of French economic policy.

"I have a single mission ... to set the country aright," the prime minister said.

The French president asked all the ministers to proclaim aloud their loyalty to the government line or to leave the Cabinet, a top government official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

France, the No. 2 economy in the eurozone, has had no growth this year.

Hollande is the most unpopular president in recent French history, with ratings below 20 percent. He has promised to lower the country's 10 percent jobless rate, cut the deficit, and rekindle growth. He has a goal of cutting 50 billion euros ($29 billion) in state spending by 2017.

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