PARIS (AP) " French President Francois Hollande is hinting that he could seek a second term in elections next year, even though he is the least popular French leader in modern times.
The Socialist Hollande gave a sweeping speech Thursday laying out his vision of democracy and repeatedly suggesting that he is eyeing a re-election bid. "I will not let the image of France be spoiled ... in the coming months or the coming years," he said.
Campaigning for the April-May elections is picking up speed. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking the conservative nomination, and polls suggest far right leader Marine Le Pen is a strong contender.
Hollande's popularity plunged soon after he took power in 2012, and polls show most voters don't want to see him stay in office.
"I won't let France being damaged, reduced, having its freedoms called into question, its rule of law disputed, its education reduced and its culture slashed. This is a battle of a lifetime," he said, speaking to an audience of leftist supporters and most of the members of the government.
Hollande stressed that France's upcoming electoral choice is decisive for Europe's future.
"I will not let Europe collapse or dissolve, I will not let it be seized by nationalism, borders, extremism," he said, a reference to recent success of populist parties in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and the National Front in France.
Hollande said the only possible path to respond to recent attacks by Islamic extremists is to hold on to democratic values: "Democracy will always be stronger than the barbarism which has declared war on it."
He said the Patriot Act and the Guantanamo camp did not make the United States safe from threat.
Hollande clearly positioned himself for a re-election bid by directing attacks against conservative and far-right leaders' proposals.
He suggested he would oppose a national law banning burkini swimsuits.
Sarkozy and Le Pen, among others, called for a national ban on the head-and-body-covering suits, worn by a small minority of Muslim women.
Hollande argued against measures stigmatizing Muslims. He continued, "as long as I am president, there will be no legislation of circumstance that is as impossible to apply as it is unconstitutional."
Hollande said the secularist principles adopted by the state over a hundred years ago remain valid now that Islam has become the second religion in France.
"Can Islam accommodates itself with secularism as did before it Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism? Can it accept the separation of faith and law which is the founding principle of secularism? My answer is yes, clearly yes", he said, calling on French people for unity.
Angela Charlton contributed to the story
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings