TWO HORSE RACE Francois Hollande will NOT contest Le Pen and Fillon for French presidency

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Speaking during a hastily arranged press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris this evening, the Socialist leader admitted his unpopularity in Government made it impossible for him to challenge Conservative candidate Francois Fillon or far-right leader Marine Le Pen. 

A downcast Mr Hollande rattled off what he said were a series of achievements on economic reforms during his four years in office, but admitted that for many voters what few successes he oversaw had come “too late”. 

And he expressed serious worry about the “fragmentation” of the left in France, admitting that he had to stand aside to allow a more popular left-wing candidate to contest the election.

Laying into the two favourites to succeed him in the Elysee Palace, he branded Mr Fillon a “threat” to the French economy and called Ms Le Pen a “dangerous isolationist” who would undo decades of European integration. 

Dressed in a black suit and black tie, the left-wing president delivered a funereal assessment of his time in office which at points appeared more like an obituary than a defence of his achievements.

He admitted to making a number of mistakes but insisted France”s immigration policy was not one of them, instead saying he regretted suggesting stripping terrorists of citizenship in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

Referencing the response to the Islamist terror threat, Mr Hollande said he had attempted to “defend out values” whilst avoiding divisions and the “stigmatisation” of Muslim communities. 

He also hailed keeping Greece in the euro currency as one of his greatest achievements in office, saying he had worked with the rest of Europe to take on the banking system which brought the world to the brink of ruin in 2008. 

In the live televised address Mr Hollande said: “My dear compatriots, the world, Europe and France have all experienced very hard times during my presidency.

“I understand the stakes of the times in which we live. I have the responsibility to ensure that our institutions continue functioning. 

“For four-and-a-half years I have served with honesty. Faced with all the trials, I have developed a real sense of resistance against any fatalism or adversity. 

“I have never lost leave of my senses and today I’m very much aware of the risks of taking a step that would not bring people together. 

“All the progressive forces must unite, because what’s at stake is not one person, it’s the future of our country.

“I don’t want France to exposed to a situation that would be dangerous for its cohesion, its unity, its social equilibrium.” 

Mr Hollande is widely seen as the most unpopular French president since the Second World War and one of the least liked of all time, with his recent approval ratings hitting near record lows. 

A poll this summer showed nine out 10 voters disapproved of him as leader, and analysts had already written off any chance of him retaining the presidency. Stubbornly high unemployment rates in France have recently started to ease, but the economic good news has come too late to save the beleagured leader. 

With his announcement today the socialist has become the first president in French history not to seek a second term in office – a record some commentators believed he would be desperate not to hold. 

The socialist party, which is in disarray after nearly five years of rule which has been marked by terrorist attacks and sluggish economic growth, will now hold primaries to pick from a number of candidates including a militant communist and Mr Hollande”s current deputy, the prime minister Manuel Valls. 

However, no left-wing candidate is expected to come even close to challenging Mr Fillon and Ms Le Pen, who are expected to breeze through to a second round of the presidency contest which the conservative candidate is likely to win.