Francois Hollande will not seek second term as French president
French President Francois Hollande has announced he will not seek a second term in next year's presidential election.
The 62-year-old said he hoped to give his Socialist party a chance to win "against conservatism and extremism" by stepping aside.
"I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election," Mr Hollande said in a sombre address on French television that recapped his achievements since taking office in 2012.
The country's least popular leader since the Second World War said he was "conscious of the risks" entailed in him running, alluding to his historic lack of support since coming to power.
The Socialist party has been deeply divided over Mr Hollande's policies, with rebels within the party openly criticising his pro-business strategy and calling for more left-leaning policies.
Two of his former cabinet ministers - Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon - have already announced they would run in next month's Socialist primary, alongside other low-profile candidates.
Mr Hollande had repeatedly said he would seek re-election only if he were able to curb the unemployment rate in France, which for years has hovered around 10%.
The latest figures showed a slight decrease in the jobless numbers but did not seem to quell the criticism.
Thursday's announcement came just a few days after his number two, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said he was "ready" to compete in the Socialist primary.
Mr Valls, who polled slightly higher than Mr Hollande, is widely expected to jump into the primary field.
Whoever is chosen by the Socialists will face former prime minister Francois Fillon, who won France's first-ever conservative presidential primary on Sunday after promising drastic free-market reforms, along with a crackdown on immigration and Islamic extremism.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, is expected to be a major competitor in the two-round presidential election in April and May.
Mr Valls praised Mr Hollande's "tough, mature, serious choice" without saying if he would run for presidency in a written statement on Thursday night.
"That's the choice of a statesman," he said.
He said Mr Hollande had led France with a "constant concern" for the protection of the French people, in an implicit reference to several attacks by Islamic extremists in the country in recent years.
"I want to tell Francois Hollande my emotion, my respect, my loyalty and my affection," he added.
In his address, Mr Hollande avoided saying if he would support Mr Valls - or any other candidate.
The president's office - denying rumours of an internal battle - said the two men had their weekly working lunch on Monday at the Elysee Palace in a "cordial and studious atmosphere".
An at times emotional Mr Hollande said during his televised remarks that he was standing aside so the Socialists would have a better chance of holding on to power, which he said was for the "interest of the country".
"As a life-long Socialist, I cannot allow the dissipation of the left, its breaking-up, because it would rid us of any hope of winning in the face of conservatism or, worse still, extremism," he added.