French president in Ivory Coast to launch anti-terrorism academy

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French President Emmanuel Macron has arrived in Ivory Coast, where he plans to share a holiday meal with French forces Friday evening, at the start of his West Africa visit aimed at confronting the region’s rising jihadist violence.

The weekend trip is providing a respite for Macron from the ongoing strikes back home over his plans to raise the retirement age, which have paralyzed transport ahead of the holiday season.

France has some 4,500 military personnel stationed throughout West and Central Africa, where Islamic extremist groups have carried out unprecedented attacks this year against local armies in Mali and Niger. Attacks are multiplying, too, in Burkina Faso.

The security situation Africa’s Sahel region is deteriorating by the day, said Ivorian political analyst Geoffroy Julien Kouao. Ivory Coast is not only home to a French military base, it is also the region’s economic powerhouse and it came under attack in 2016 when al-Qaida-linked militants sprayed gunfire at a popular beach, killing 19 people.

Let’s not forget that Ivory Coast shares 800 kilometers (500 miles) of border with Mali and Burkina Faso so the military component dominates this visit by the French president,” Kouao said.

Macron was to meet with leaders of the Sahel countries in France earlier this month but the meeting was postponed when an Islamic State affiliate carried out the deadliest assault on Niger’s military in recent memory. Officials said 71 soldiers were killed when their army camp was overpowered near the volatile border with Mali.

During his first stop Friday evening at a French military base, Macron is meeting with those on the front lines of the fight including some commandos who were involved in the operation in Mali during which 13 soldiers died in a helicopter collision.

On Saturday, Macron plans to help launch the International Academy to Fight Terrorism, which will focus on regional strategies and training those involved in the fight against extremism, according to the French presidency.

He also will pay a visit to Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou in Niamey on Sunday before returning to France, where the summit with West African leaders has been rescheduled to mid-January.

Titi