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French President Emmanuel Macron attempted Thursday to mend fences with the military after the resignation of the armed forces chief in a row over budget cuts for which France's new leader has drawn criticism.
General Pierre de Villiers quit on Wednesday after being publicly slapped down by Macron for protesting the government's plans to slash 850 million euros ($980 million) from this year's defence budget.
His resignation capped a week-long spat, during which Macron made clear he would brook no insubordination as commander-in-chief, drawing a mix of criticism and respect.
On Thursday, however, he reassured the troops in person at the Istres air base in southern France that they had his support. De Villiers’ replacement, General François Lecointre, was at Macron's side for much of Thursday's event. Lecointre, 55, is a heroic figure in France due partly because of his role in the now famous Vrbanja Bridge bayonet charge during the Balkans War.
'I know what the nation owes you'
Saying he "deeply respected" the military, which is engaged in operations against jihadists in Syria, Iraq and West Africa while also defending against attacks on home soil, Macron said: "I know what the nation owes you."
He also repeated his promise to hike the defence budget by over a billion euros in 2018, in line with his promise to raise defence spending to 2 percent of GDP -- about 50 billion euros -- by 2025.
Macron said on Thursday, "This increase in the budget, in a year where no other budget except the army's will see an increase, is unprecedented, and I want to you to understand how important this is."
The outgoing de Villiers, a highly respected figure who prided himself on his plain speaking when addressing the government, riled Macron after telling a parliamentary committee last week he would not allow the armed forces to be "screwed".
In a sign of de Villiers' popularity with the rank and file, staff at the defence ministry gave de Villiers a rousing sendoff as he left for the last time on Wednesday, forming a guard of honour amid rapturous applause.
The video of his departure was posted on the official Twitter account of the chiefs of staff with the message: "Thank you".
2017.07.21 / 15:36