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New French military head named after general quits over Macron dispute

General Francois Lecointre has been nominated France's military chief after his predecessor quit in a dispute with President Emmanuel Macron over budget cuts.

French government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters that President Macron has nominated Gen Lecointre as the new chief of staff of the armed forces, replacing Gen Pierre de Villiers.

Gen Lecointre served in Sarajevo during the Yugoslavia wars in the 1990s and recently led the EU military training mission in Mali to help fight Islamic extremists.

President Macron's office sought to play down tensions over de Gen de Villiers departure, even as French defence commentators described their public dispute as a serious crisis.

Gen de Villiers' office said the general submitted his resignation to Mr Macron at a security council meeting on Wednesday and the president accepted.

President Macron's office did not immediately comment.

Gen de Villiers lashed out at new spending curbs during a closed-door parliamentary commission meeting last week, according to leaked reports.

The dispute escalated over the past week, with Gen de Villiers issuing an appeal on Facebook saying "Watch out for blind trust... Because no one is without shortcomings, no one deserves to be blindly followed".

Without naming him directly, President Macron then publicly admonished Gen de Villiers to military officials, saying, "it is not dignified to air certain debates in the public sphere. I made commitments (to budget cuts). I am your boss."

President Macron's own behaviour has elicited criticism, notably by those who accuse him of authoritarian tendencies after he overwhelmingly won election in May and saw his new centrist party dominate last month's parliamentary elections.

The resignation foreshadows the battles Mr Macron will likely face as he tries to reduce the deficit and government spending and boost the stagnant economy.

While President Macron has promised to boost defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2025 as part of France's commitments to Nato, his budget minister last week announced limits on this year's military expenses as part of an overall spending squeeze.

Gen de Villiers, head of the military since 2014, insisted that it was his "duty" to express his concerns about military resources amid the sustained threat of extremist attacks.

"I have always taken care ... to maintain a military model that guarantees the coherence between the threats that weigh on France and Europe, the missions of our armies that don't stop growing, and the necessary budget means to fulfil them," he said his resignation statement.

"I no longer consider myself in a position to ensure the durability of the military model that I believe in, to guarantee the protection of France and the French," he said.

AP

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