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New French military head named after General quits over cuts (Lead)

Paris, July 19 (IANS) General Francois Lecointre, a career military officer, was named Frances military chief after his predecessor resigned on Wednesday after a clash with President Emmanuel Macron over proposed cuts in military spending.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Gen. Lecointre, a member of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s Cabinet, would take up his duties in the new role on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.

Quoting Macron, Castaner called Gen. Lecointre “a hero recognised as such in the Army”, and a General, “whose long-term action” would “accompany the great project that we carry for our Army”.

The 55-year-old top military official served in Bosnia during the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He also headed a mission in Mali to help fight Islamic extremists.

Gen. Lecointre’s nomination followed a row between Macron and the outgoing military chief, who had criticised the government’s plan to cut Defence Ministry expenditure by 850 million euros ($980 million) this year.

Earlier on Wednesday, 60-year-old De Villiers resigned, saying: “In the current circumstances, I see myself as no longer able to guarantee the robust defence force I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people, today and tomorrow, and to sustain the aims of our country.”

In his first political test at home, Macron, the youngest head of state in France’s modern history, stressed that despite the planned spending cut, the defence budget “will protect the country”.

“The President of the Republic has reaffirmed his commitment to the gradual rise of the armed forces budget to two per cent of gross domestic product by 2025, with a significant first step in 2018,” the government spokesman said.

Jean-Jacques Bridey, Chairman of the parliamentary committee on defence, was among those announcing his opposition to the cuts “while our men risk their lives every day”, the Independent reported.

The far-right Front National and left-wing opposition groups also opposed the move as French troops continued to fight Al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Mali and remained stationed in other countries, including the Central African Republic, Chad and Libya.

France is also a member of the US-led coalition bombing ISIS territories in Iraq and Syria.

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