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Macron holds 'extremely frank' talks with Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he had "extremely frank, direct" talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Versailles.

Mr Macron pushed for co-operation on Syria and against Islamic State but also launched an extraordinary attack on two state-funded Russian media outlets he accused of spreading "lying propaganda".

The two leaders emerged from their first meeting - discussions at the sumptuous Palace of Versailles that lasted more than an hour longer than planned - clearly still at odds on multiple issues, but also seemingly keen not to let their differences define their fledgling relationship.

Mr Macron said he spoke to Mr Putin about LGBT rights in Chechnya and about the rights of embattled NGOs in Russia, vowing he would be "constantly vigilant" on these issues.

Mr Putin emphasised the need for closer co-operation between Russia and France, two nuclear-armed permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Speaking with remarkable frankness, Mr Macron tore into the state-funded Russian media outlets Sputnik and Russia Today for spreading what he said were "serious untruths" during the French election.

"When press outlets spread defamatory untruths, they are no longer journalists, they are organs of influence. Russia Today and Sputnik were organs of influence during this campaign, which, on several occasions produced untruths about me and my campaign," Mr Macron said.

"I will not give an inch on this," he said. "Russia Today and Sputnik ... behaved as organs of influence, of propaganda, of lying propaganda."

Mr Macron was the first Western leader to speak to Mr Putin after the Group of Seven (G7) summit over the weekend, where relations with Russia were a key topic.

His invitation to the Russia leader was a surprise after the tough stance on Russia Mr Macron took during the French election.

Mr Macron's aides also claimed that Russian groups launched hacking attacks on his campaign.

Moscow strongly denied all allegations of meddling in the French election that Mr Macron won on May 7.

Mr Putin on Monday again dismissed the idea as unfounded press speculation.

But he also defended his March meeting with Mr Macron's rival in the presidential race, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Mr Putin described Ms Le Pen as a politician who wants to develop friendly ties with Russia and said it would have been strange to rebuff her overtures.

He said the meeting with Ms Le Pen did not represent an attempt to sway the race.

Mr Putin added that Russia had been well aware of opinion polls predicting Mr Macron's victory.

Mr Macron said he was firm on other issues, too.

He said any use of chemical weapons in Syria - where Russia is propping up the government of president Bashar Assad - is a "red line" for France and would be met by "reprisals" and an "immediate riposte" from France.

He did not specify what form such reprisals could take, but France flies warplanes over Syria and Iraq, striking IS targets as part of an international coalition.

Mr Macron portrayed the meeting as just a first step in resetting the country's relations with Russia.

"Big things are built over time," he said. "It was an exchange that was extremely frank, direct, with a lot of things that were said."

"We have disagreements, but at least we talked about them," he added.

The leaders' first handshakes - relatively brief and cordial - after Mr Putin climbed out of his limousine at Versailles were far less macho than Mr Macron's now famous who-will-blink-first handshake showdown with US President Donald Trump when the two leaders met for the first time last week.

Mr Putin said he and Mr Macron agreed to discuss pursuing closer co-operation on anti-terror efforts, with a proposed exchange of experts to work towards that goal.

On Syria, Mr Putin underlined the importance of securing the Syrian state, adding that it is essential for combating terrorism.

Mr Macron took the same stance, saying: "I want us to organise a democratic transition but also preserve a Syrian state."

"Failed states in that region are a threat for our democracies" and fuel terrorism, he said.

AP

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