Published: Sat, May 20, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

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

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

GAO, Mali (AP) - On his first official trip outside Europe, new French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday highlighted his determination to crush extremism but said "other countries can do more" to help protect Europe from the threat.

On Sunday, Macron, who won the French runoff election on May 7 with over 66 percent of vote, officially assumed office.

France has been involved in the fight against militancy in the Sahel region.

At the end of his first week in office, Macron flew into Gao, a city in Mali's deeply-troubled north, where he will hold talks with his Malian counterpart Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

He said it was vital to step up the military effort because of signs that Islamist militants were reorganising and regrouping.

Macron will also meet some of the 1,600 French soldiers stationed there, making it the largest base outside France.

"My wish is for us to accelerate" the deal's implementation, Macron said at a press conference, describing the so-called Algiers Accord as the top priority to ensure Mali's security. "I want to strengthen those European partnerships, in particular with Germany", he said.

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The Sahel, a politically volatile, mainly desert expanse stretching from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, hosts a variety of jihadist groups and is seen as a springboard for attacks on European targets.

That has been brought further to light after a spike in violence across Mali, where the former colonial power intervened more than four years ago to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who hijacked a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako.

Mr Macron - accompanied by Defence Minister Sylvie Goulard and her predecessor, now Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian - will review some of the 4,000 anti-insurgent troops France has deployed in the region.

However, security in Mali has deteriorated recently. France and Germany jointly brokered the 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine.

In January, Macron showed his dedication to gender equality when he said in a speech: "Women now represent 53 percent of the electoral body, so it's unacceptable that they make up less than 30 percent of those elected to the National Assembly", he announced.

"Germany knows that what is at stake here is also part of Europe's security and our future", he said.

The German government earlier this year approved an expansion of the country's military deployment in Mali, with Berlin sending more helicopters to support the United Nations peacekeeping mission there and raising the maximum number of German soldiers from 650 to 1,000.

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