Macron takes to airwaves amid rail strikes, Syria crisis

Paris (France) (AFP) –


Having shunned the French media for most of his presidency, President Emmanuel Macron is to sit for two prime-time interviews this week starting Thursday as he battles strikes at home and faces his biggest test abroad in Syria.

The 40-year-old leader will appear for a one-hour interview on Thursday at an unusual time and place: on a lunchtime news show filmed in a primary school in the village of Berd'huis, a two-hour drive west of Paris.

His intention is to shed his image as a Paris-centric metropolitan and reconnect with rural voters and the elderly, who have been irked by higher taxes on pensions and lower speed limits on country roads, analysts say.

"Emmanuel Macron wants to speak to the 'real France' and escape his image as the 'president of the rich', who is young glamorous and Parisian," political commentator Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet said.

Macron will also be keen to reiterate why he believes overhauling the debt-laden state railway operator SNCF is necessary as train staff press rolling strikes that have repeatedly crippled the network.

But as he approaches the one-year anniversary of his unlikely election victory last May, he is also facing the biggest test of his mettle overseas with France poised to join punitive strikes on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons there.

Macron set a "red line" on the use of such weapons last May and believes that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was responsible for an attack on Saturday near Damascus that rescue workers say killed more than 40 people.

"If France doesn't react now that the conditions are met, we would lose all credibility," Bruno Tertrais, a political scientist at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), told AFP.

With French warplanes thought to be preparing to join US-led operations, the issue is set to be addressed from the bucolic setting of Berd'huis, where locals have been invited to the school and encouraged to ask questions.

Macron, who last gave a French television interview in December, will take to the airwaves again on Sunday evening for another two-hour grilling.

Polls show his approval rating fluctuating between around 40-50 percent depending on the survey and the question asked.