Macron unveils 1.5 bn euro plan for struggling Marseille

Marseille (AFP) –


French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a 1.5 billion euro plan on Thursday to help Marseille tackle crime and deprivation, as the southern city's woes rise up the agenda ahead of elections next year.

Macron's aides said much of the money would be spent on improving transport in France's second-biggest city, as well as investing in culture.

The president had already outlined other measures, including boosting the number of police and surveillance cameras in crime-wracked neighbourhoods.

Crime levels in Marseille are lower than they have been in the recent past, but a surge in deadly shootings has moved the city's long-standing social problems higher up the political agenda.

Macron is widely expected to run again in next April's presidential election and his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, is likely to campaign on a law-and-order platform.

During his three-day visit to the city, Macron has called drug networks "parasites" and said traffickers would now be "harassed" by the authorities.

But Marseille has seen many grand plans in the past with little effect, and some locals were sceptical.

"We see you today but we'll never see you again, that's why we're asking you to do something for the housing estates of Marseille," said Bilal, a 32-year-old bin collector.

- 'Peace is a right' -

While the southern port city is renowned for its spectacular Mediterranean setting and gritty charm, some neighbourhoods are notorious for their rundown streets and desolate housing estates.

Its northern districts are some of the most deprived urban areas in France and serve as the hub for the narcotics trade.

Police say 12 people have been killed over the last two months in what appears to be a drugs turf war.

Macron said 500 additional surveillance cameras would be placed in the most dangerous neighbourhoods, 200 extra police deployed next year, and the temporary deployment of two anti-riot police contingents extended indefinitely.

"Living in peace is a right, including for the women, men and families living in these neighbourhoods," he said.

The city's police would also get a new headquarters, Macron said, promising more police cooperation at the EU level to hunt down the leaders of narcotics networks.

Calling Marseille "a global city", Macron said it had faced many challenges, from climate change and migration to poverty.

He said it was now "the duty of the nation" to help, and that improving conditions in the city of 900,000 would be "good for the whole country".

While the president focused on crime, his aides later pushed out a more holistic message, stressing that most of the money would be spent on transport and culture.