Francois Hollande.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ STA/ Stanko GRUDEN/ ik

French President Francois Hollande made a case for his leadership Thursday during a televised debate in which he fielded questions on migration, religious extremism and labour reforms while trying to impress gains made in the first four years of his term.

Facing overwhelming disapproval figures, the Socialist Party president struck a defiant note, defending his government's record while trying to show resolve on central political issues.

Specifically, Hollande said he would not withdraw divisive labour reform legislation that is aimed at easing some regulations and that has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of France over the past weeks.

"I will pursue reforms every day of my mandate. I have pursued reforms since the first day of my mandate, and I will do it until the last," Hollande said, speaking about the legislation on labour as well as other government proposals.

Hollande spoke with three journalists on France 2 broadcaster during the two-hour debate and addressed questions from four invitees, including the mother of a jihadist who left for Syria, a small business owner, a National Front voter and a student protester.

The voter, Antione Demeyer, raised concerns about the migrant crisis in Calais. Hollande defended his government's record, pointing to the clearing of a makeshift migrant camp while also saying that those with the right to refugee status should have the chance to apply for asylum.

On migration, as well as other key issues, the president reiterated the stance developed over his years in office. Hollande's first five-year term will come to an end with presidential elections to be held in 2017 that are confronting established parties with significant challenges.

His Socialist Party, as well as the conservative Les Republicaines, are threatened by the rising popularity of the populist National Front. Demeyer, 35, told Hollande that his vote for the National Front was mostly driven by anger and resentment that the traditional parties that have dominated French politics haven't made significant changes.

Hollande's popularity has reached record lows after a surge in public approval following the November terrorist attacks on Paris largely dissipated. A poll released by broadcaster BFM-TV Thursday showed 87 per cent of French viewed him negatively, including 47 per cent who said they viewed him "very negatively."

Hollande said he would announce his candidacy for 2017 by the end of the year.

"The first quality is courage," Hollande said in response to a question from a journalist about the nature of the presidency. "I am not indifferent to the potential suffering of someone who expects me to accomplish the promises that I have made."

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