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France increases defence budget post-attacks

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President Francois Hollande announced Wednesday that France would increase its defence budget by close to four billion euros over four years, in response to extremist threats after the Paris jihadist attacks.

[PARIS] President Francois Hollande announced Wednesday that France would increase its defence budget by close to four billion euros over four years, in response to extremist threats after the Paris jihadist attacks.

He also said that emergency military patrols set up at sensitive sites nationwide after the January attacks would be made permanent, with a 7,000-strong force dedicated to internal security.

The announcements came nearly four months after jihadists went on a three-day killing spree in Paris, leaving 17 people dead and putting France and neighbouring European countries on high alert.

Speaking after calling a defence council, Hollande said the decisions were taken to ensure France's internal security but also the safety of military forces currently engaged in operations abroad, such as in the troubled Sahel region of Africa or in the Central African Republic.

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"We have the duty to support people who may come under threat, but we also defend our own security," he told reporters.

The French leader did not say how much of a percentage rise the budget increase represents, nor did he say where cash-strapped France would find the money.

But according to a law fixing defence targets for 2014 to 2019, pouring in an extra 3.8 billion euros (S$5.6 billion) in funds over four years would represent a roughly three per cent increase to an overall total of 131 billion euros.

"It's a significant effort, it's even a very big effort," Mr Hollande said, acknowledging France's ballooning budget deficit and its ongoing quest for growth and jobs.

"I made this choice for France, for its protection, its security, and I know that if they want to have confidence in the future, the French must feel safe everywhere." France had originally planned steep cuts in defence spending, forced to save much-needed cash despite the need to ensure ongoing security.

As part of these cuts, some 34,000 jobs were due to be slashed in the 2014-2019 period.

But already in January, as the country reeled from the attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket, Mr Hollande backtracked on that figure and said France would slash fewer military jobs.

Then on Wednesday he said that 18,500 posts would now be preserved, more than half of the 34,000 due to be axed - as part of the budget rise.

Adding to this, the military is now over-stretched, with defence officials complaining that they are having to cut down leave for some soldiers and even re-training sessions before they are sent back into operations.

Altogether, France has some 9,000 forces engaged in several military operations abroad.

These are present in the Sahel region where jihadist groups operate, in the Central African Republic and also fighting in Iraq where France is part of an international coalition bombing the radical Islamic State group.

AFP

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