By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) - France's Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday he was determined to take his recently launched political movement to victory in 2017 elections, but stopped just short of announcing he would run for president at a first rally in Paris.
The 38-year-old former investment banker, who launched the En Marche, or Forward, party in April, has kept the country guessing about his political ambitions, refusing to confirm or deny whether he would run for president in next year's election.
The movement he wants to be "neither of the left nor of the right" could shake up the political landscape, with the mainstream center-right and center-left parties under pressure from the rise of the far-right National Front.
At the Mutualité conference center in Paris' Latin Quarter, a venue often used for rallies by the left, the pro-reform minister told more than 3,000 supporters he was ready to take risks in the upcoming political battle, but crucially stopped short of announcing a bid.
"Nothing will stop us," Macron, clad in a blue suit with no tie, said at the end of a more than one-hour-long speech as the crowd went wild, chanting "Macron President!".
"This movement, because it's the movement of hope and our country needs it, we will bring it all the way to 2017 and on to victory," he added, without making clear what he meant.
The rally, where several Socialist grandees such as Lyon Mayor Gerard Collomb and former trade minister Nicole Bricq showed up to support him, was the strongest sign yet Macron could challenge unpopular president Francois Hollande.
After thanking the Socialist leader for "trusting him", Macron went on to criticize those who did not keep their campaign promises and expressed his frustration with the rigidity of the current political system.
It remained to be seen whether Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who when asked about Macron's rally earlier on Tuesday said "it was time that all this stopped", would let the increasingly confident minister keep his job in government.
Macron, who came to symbolize President Francois Hollande's 2014 pro-business U-turn, has been hinting at loftier political ambitions for months.
On the sidelines of the Tour de France race, he told the Journal du Dimanche last week: "When you cycle, you must aim for the yellow jersey."
His Paris rally also comes just two days before the annual Bastille day presidential speech, one of Hollande's last chances to shore up his popularity, the lowest of any post-war leader.
Macron's ambivalence has increasingly grated with fellow cabinet ministers and lawmakers in the Socialist majority, with some publicly expressing irritation with him.
Budget Minister Christian Eckert took to Twitter this month to criticize "superman" who by speaking outside his brief acted as if he was the only master of the sprawling Finance Ministry complex by the river Seine.
A leak at the Finance Ministry also caused him embarrassment last month when it revealed the value of the Macron couple's villa in the chic resort of Le Touquet near Calais had made him liable for the country's wealth tax.
But the episode has not dented his popularity. He came top as the politician the French most wanted the Socialist party to pick for presidential candidate, well ahead of Hollande who came 7th, according to an Elabe poll for BFMT TV released on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Simon Carraud and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Janet Lawrence and James Dalgleish)