Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Macron's first non-Europe trip focuses on fighting extremism

Kenny Thornton | 19 May, 2017, 22:06

Speaking alongside Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at the Gao military base in the north of the country where some 1,600 troops are based, Macron also said France was determined to act for continued security in the region, and would seek to strengthen cooperation with France's European Union partner Germany to that end.

On his first official trip outside Europe, new French President Emmanuel Macron is highlighting his determination to crush extremism with a visit to French-led military forces combating jihadist groups in West Africa.

He was expected to visit a French base in the eastern city of Gao.

With France shouldering the bulk of European military operations overseas, and in particular in Africa, officials said the trip would also be an opportunity to outline his desire for a greater European role, something that France has been pushing for years, but with few tangible results.

The new president discussed the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday during his first visit to a foreign leader since taking power. It said in a statement that Vladimir Putin on Thursday congratulated French President Emmanuel Macron on taking office and forming his Cabinet.

Mr Macron repeatedly pledged ahead of his May 7 election that fighting terror would be his priority, after multiple attacks in France since 2015 that killed more than 230 people.

"This visit to Mali is really to show to the French public, and also the people in West Africa and the rest of the world that he is not just the new president of France, he is also the commander-in-chief of an army that's now fighting an insurgency across northern Mali and the Sahel", Haque said, referencing a politically fragile area that spans from Mauritania to Sudan and hosts a number of armed groups.

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France has sent some 4,000 soldiers to the region, while United Nations' peacekeepers have been deployed to ensure Mali's stability.

Seventeen French soldiers have died serving in Mali since 2013 when Hollande launched an intervention to chase out jihadists linked with Al-Qaeda who had overtaken key northern cities.

The victims were soldiers and former fighters trying to stabilize the region after a 2015 agreement with the government.

Macron was sworn in as the new French president on Sunday. "Macron comes to see the French soldiers but not us".

Diplomats said Macron wants to fine-tune policy to ensure countries were also given more help to develop, rather than just focusing on security aspects.

Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet and John Leicester in Paris and Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed.

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