French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stepped down Tuesday to focus on running for president in next year's election and was replaced by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a man who embodies the fight against Islamic extremism, the AP reports. Valls resigned a day after announcing his candidacy in the wake of President Francois Hollande's decision not to run for a second term last week. Valls hopes to unite Socialists and keep the left in power despite polls suggesting the second round of next year's election could pit Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, against conservative Francois Fillon. Cazeneuve, 53, is a close ally of Hollande and became a popular figure in French politics as the champion of measures tackling extremism in his interior minister role.
Cazeneuve was appointed interior minister in 2014 and had to supervise the response to a series of attacks that have claimed more than 200 lives since January 2015. He was in charge of implementing France's state of emergency following the Paris attacks that killed 130 people last year. Valls, a leading yet divisive figure of the Socialist Party, has been harshly criticized by members of his own party after championing tough labor reforms and endorsing a controversial ban last summer on the Islamic "burkini" swimsuit. Valls is the third prime minister to announce his resignation this week: Italy's Matteo Renzi is stepping down after backing the losing side in a referendum, and New Zealand's John Key says he is quitting for family reasons. (Read more France stories.)