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20.12.2019 Ivory Coast

France's Macron in Ivory Coast for Christmas with troops

By Jérôme RIVET, Patrick FORT
France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) was greeted by Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara.  By LUDOVIC MARIN (AFP)
LISTEN DEC 20, 2019
France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) was greeted by Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara. By LUDOVIC MARIN (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Ivory Coast on Friday to celebrate Christmas with French troops, coinciding with a push by Paris to strengthen regional ties against Islamist militants.

Away from the protest strikes gripping France, Macron was to share a dinner cooked by his personal chef with around 1,000 troops at the military base in Port-Bouet, near Abidjan's airport.

Macron did not make any declarations on the airport tarmac where he and his wife Brigitte were greeted by his Ivorian counterpart Alassane Ouattara before meeting local chiefs.

The jihadist insurgency in several poor Sahel nations will be a top item on Macron's agenda in 48-hour stay.

"He is a young president who works a lot for African countries," said M'Bollo Koka Denis, traditional chief from Abobo, a working-class district of Abidjan. "This visit should bring us security, as we've been threatened for a while now."

Dining in a huge tent installed on a football pitch, guests were to tuck into traditional French Christmas fare, including foie gras, poultry from the Landes region served with morel mushrooms, regional French cheeses, chocolate cake and mandarines from Corsica.

He was to meet several French soldiers who took part in November in an anti-terrorist operation in Mali, where 13 men lost their lives.

A billboard in Abidjan depicting French President Emmanuel Macron and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara -- 'Akwaba' means 'Welcome'.  By Ludovic MARIN (AFP) A billboard in Abidjan depicting French President Emmanuel Macron and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara -- 'Akwaba' means 'Welcome'. By Ludovic MARIN (AFP)

On Sunday, Macron will pay a flying visit for talks with President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, where jihadist attacks are frequent, as in both neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso.

The leaders of five Sahel nations are due to attend a summit in Paris on January 13.

Macron spent Christmas in 2017 with troops deployed to Niger and went last year to Chad.

The men in Ivory Coast serve as a support force in anti-jihadist operations and constitute the largest French contingent in Africa after the one in Djibouti on the northeastern side of the continent.

On Saturday, Macron and Ouattara will visit an International Counter-Terrorism Academy launched by the two countries near Abidjan in October 2018.

A 2016 attack by suspected Islamist extremists on a hotel in the Ivorian beach resort of Grand-Bassam left 19 people dead and more than 30 wounded.

French troops are working with local forces in the Sahel to battle against Islamist militants.  By CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON (POOL/AFP) French troops are working with local forces in the Sahel to battle against Islamist militants. By CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON (POOL/AFP)

"Ivory Coast is a fundamental partner of France in Africa," Macron's office said.

However the local political situation is tense, and critics are sceptical of Ouattara's close relationship with France, the country's former colonial power.

A presidential election is scheduled in 10 months, almost three years after a prolonged post-electoral crisis in 2010-2011 led to serious unrest and the loss of some 3,000 lives before Laurent Gbagbo, who rejected defeat by Ouattara, was captured.

On Saturday Macron will visit the rundown Abidjan district of Koumassi with Didier Drogba, a former hero of the Olympique de Marseille and Chelsea football clubs, to inaugurate sports facilities.

Two years after a first trip to Abidjan when he laid the foundation stone for a metro network, Macron is due to finalise plans with Ouattara to finance the vast construction effort, estimated at 1.5 billion euros ($1.66 billion).

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