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By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - France's Francois Hollande said he was undeterred by a first year in power marked by economic slowdown and a record slump in his personal popularity, arguing his 5-year presidency would achieve results over time.

In comments to correspondents from Reuters and Agence France Presse a week before the anniversary of his May 2012 election win over Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande shrugged off polls showing his popularity rating around 25 percent, after the sharpest fall for any president in over half a century.

"I'm aware how serious the situation is. It's a president's duty to stay the course and to look beyond today's squalls. It's called perseverance," Hollande said.

"People can criticize my decisions, think I am on the wrong track or have not taken the right route, but if there is one thing I am sure of it's that I have taken major decisions for France - many more in 10 months than were taken in 10 years."

Hollande, France's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand, is squeezed between a business sector clamoring for lower taxes and labor costs, euro zone partners pressing for budget cuts and households hostile to austerity measures.

He said he would persevere with measures to restore growth like corporate tax credits aimed at easing headcount costs and a labor reform set to become law in May.

"It's the president who is held to account, and that's quite legitimate. It's up to me to weigh up what I need to do for the country today. To remain in control by being sure of my ideas."

RALLY THE NATION

After his campaign pledges to revive the flagging industrial sector, end a relentless rise in unemployment and meet deficit-cutting targets, Hollande has had to row back on almost all his economic targets, as factory layoffs continue apace.

While he stands by a goal to turn around unemployment by year-end, few believe he can achieve that. Jobless claims rose for the 23rd straight month in March to an all-time high.

Treading a delicate line as he attempts step-by-step reforms that were not part of his election campaign, Hollande said the country should have faith in him.

"The only thing that counts is the results. I have made promises and I will be judged on them," he said. "My hope is to rally the nation and restore confidence. That will take time, but it's my sole objective."

His economic woes aside, Hollande is also suffering from a perception that since he took power France is losing its voice on European policy. His prime minister said this month that France was losing its leadership role.

Foreign investors are watching closely since the government admitted it would need an extra year to reach a European Union budget deficit ceiling of 3 percent of output.

Inside France, where a scandal over an ex-budget minister's secret Swiss bank account has not helped, polls show a slim majority of people would prefer Sarkozy to be president today.

"I realized a long time ago that I would not go far if I let the commentary get to me," Hollande said. "According to what was said about me as a candidate, I had no chance of becoming president."

(Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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