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France stalls over military cuts as chiefs threaten to quit

© Photo: AFP

Video by Josh VARDEY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-24

France's new prime minister vowed on Friday to spare the country's defence budget from fresh government spending cuts, after top military chiefs threatened to resign amid fears that further reductions will be made.

Manuel Valls (pictured) told reporters on Friday that the military budget would not be tampered with further after the top brass threatened to quit and newspaper Le Figaro published a leaked letter from Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to President François Hollande threatening serious consequences if cuts were to be extended. 

Under the current budget, adopted in December, defence spending totals about 31.4 billion euros ($42.8 billion). But a new proposal from the finance ministry would put that number at 29 billion – something France’s military leaders say they won’t work with.

With further tightening, "the army will become under-equipped and will not be able to undertake new operations," Le Drian told Hollande in the letter. He also wrote that the forces were in a state of "near exasperation" over cuts already announced.

The forces argue that further cuts will hamper the country's ability to conduct interventions in places like Mali and the Central African Republic: operations which have drawn praise from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the United States, and other French allies.

France's chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the air force, army and navy chiefs said they would resign if a proposal went ahead to cut the budget to as low as 29 billion.

Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé said the military leaders met secretly on May 13 and agreed to the pact.

Spending overhaul

The French government plans to cut 50 billion euros ($70 billion) from state spending over the next three years, partly through freezing a range of welfare benefits and the pay of most public sector workers.

As part of December’s budget it will scrap 34,000 defence jobs over six years and do away with some regiments.

The French military employs 285,200 people, of whom around 218,500 are soldiers, sailors and pilots.

Over the past two years, Hollande has ordered the costly deployments of thousands of French troops to two of France's former colonies in Africa — to Mali to fight jihadists, and to the Central African Republic to help stem inter-religious bloodshed.

Retired General Vincent Desportes, a former French army chief, told i-Tele TV station that when Hollande got red-carpet treatment in Washington this year, "it was not because of France's economic power. It's because of the [French] soldiers who know how to fight in Africa."

Hollande’s entourage said he will take decisions on the issue in the coming weeks.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP) 

Date created : 2014-05-24

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