French armed forces chief quits after dispute with Macron

French armed forces chief quits after dispute with Macron

France's head of the armed forces has resigned after a heated dispute with Emmanuel Macron over defence budget cuts, bringing to a head an early test of the newly elected president's mettle.

French government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters that Macron has nominated Lecointre as the new chief of staff of the armed forces, replacing Gen. Pierre de Villiers.

It is the first sign of the heavy opposition Mr Macron is likely to face as he seeks to cut €60 billion of public spending over five years to stay within the EU's deficit limit, which is 3 per cent of economic output.

De Villiers said he had sought to maintain a French defence force able to do an increasingly hard job within the financial constraints imposed on it.

"In the current circumstances, I believe that I am no longer in the position of ensuring the stability of the army in which I guaranteed the protection of France and the French, today and tomorrow, and to support our country's ambitions".

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Lecointre, de Villiers' replacement, is a veteran of the marine infantry.

Gen de Villiers threatened to quit last week when this year's defence cuts were revealed, reportedly saying: "I may be stupid, but I know when I'm being had".

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On Wednesday, Macron stood by his handling of the disagreement, telling France 2 television that de Villiers was a "fine soldier" it was "not the role" of the chief of staff to question the budget.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the far-left France Unbowed movement, opined that de Villers' was correct to speak "frankly" during the closed door parliamentary defense meeting about budget cuts.

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Only two days later, Macron told Journal du Dimanche that if de Villiers "has an issue with the President of the Republic, the chief of staff will be changed".

Macron's own behavior has elicited criticism, notably by those who fear he is growing power-hungry since overwhelmingly winning election in May and seeing his new centrist party dominate last month's parliamentary elections.

In a Facebook "letter to a young recruit" last week, he wrote: "As everyone has their shortcomings, no one should be blindly followed". President Donald Trump is saluting the United States' "unbreakable" bond with France.

Hours after being inaugurated Macron visited a hospital treating injured soldiers and his maiden foreign trip as leader took him to Mali to meet French troops engaged in counter-terrorism operations.

The AP reported that Macron had initially pledged to increase defense spending to 2 percent of its gross domestic product by 2025 as part of the country's commitment to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

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