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In France Valls in last-ditch bid to rescue French presidential bid

Valls, who served as Hollande's premier from April 2014 to December 2016, has warned that Hamon's programme would "ruin" France.

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Former French prime minister Manuel Valls goes into the runoff of the Socialist presidential primary as the underdog after a first round cut seven candidates down to two play

Former French prime minister Manuel Valls goes into the runoff of the Socialist presidential primary as the underdog after a first round cut seven candidates down to two

(AFP/File)

Former French prime minister Manuel Valls will seek to rescue his ailing presidential bid on Wednesday in a final TV duel with his leftist rival for the Socialist nomination, Benoit Hamon.

Valls, 54, goes into the runoff of the Socialist primary as the underdog after being beaten by Hamon, 49, in a first round of voting at the weekend that whittled seven candidates down to two.

Hamon won 36 percent of the vote to Valls' 31 percent.

Former education minister Hamon surged from behind with a raft of radical proposals aimed at breathing new life into a party adrift after five years of the spectacularly unpopular rule of President Francois Hollande.

His call for a universal basic income to offset the growing automation of work dominated the campaign, forcing his rivals to take positions for or against.

Valls, who served as Hollande's premier from April 2014 to December 2016, has warned that Hamon's programme would "ruin" France.

Picking Hamon to represent the Socialists would mean "certain defeat", he declared after the first round.

But polls show both men as rank outsiders in the presidential race.

The surveys show the April-May election as a three-way contest between conservative candidate Francois Fillon, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron.

The far left's Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Socialist candidate are shown trailing in fourth and fifth place respectively.

'Rogue secularism'

The primary has highlighted deep ideological divisions within the Socialists, of the kind seen in the US Democrats and Britain's Labour.

Hamon, who was sacked as education minister in 2014 for joining a rebellion against what he saw as the government's rightward drift, represents a hard-left faction, while Valls champions a more business-friendly approach.

On Tuesday, the tough-talking ex-premier attempted to corner Hamon on the place of Islam in public life -- a sensitive issue following a series of attacks by Islamist radicals.

Valls, an arch-defender of France's strict brand of secularism, painted the mild-mannered Hamon as too "accommodating" with ultraconservative Muslims who try to impose their customs on others.

Alluding to remarks by Hamon playing down the existence of cafes in high-rise suburbs that refuse entry to women, Valls declared: "No French cultural tradition allows for women to be refused entry to a public place."

Hamon hit back, accusing Valls of pushing a "rogue version of secularism" for having backed controversial bans imposed by some towns last summer on the Islamic body-concealing "burkini" swimsuit.

With the Socialists given little chance of hanging onto the presidency, the primary has failed to generate much excitement.

Around 1.6 million people cast votes in Sunday's first round, according to the organisers -- a far cry from the four million who voted in the first round of November's conservative primary.

The opposition has accused the Socialists of massaging the turnout figure, pointing to inconsistencies in the numbers of ballots cast and the various candidates' tallies.

The primary's organisers have vehemently denied the allegations.

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