French military chief resigns over Macron's budget cuts

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The head of the French armed forces has quit after a clash with President Emmanuel Macron over budget cuts.

In a statement De Villiers, who took over in February 2014, said he no longer felt able to command the sort of army "that I think is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people".

"Reservations" Gen de Villiers, 60, was infuriated by an €850m ($975m; £752m) cut in the military spending budget for 2017.

Macron has promised to boost defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2025 as part of France's commitments to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but his budget minister last week announced limits on this year's military expenses. Most was to come from cuts to equipment.

France's defence spending was expected to be 1.78 per cent of gross domestic product this year, down from 1.96 per cent in 2010, despite heavy commitments including operations in Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. He is the first president since de Gaulle to neither serve in the armed forces nor do military service. But it is also his method.

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Seen as one of the finest officers of his generation, de Villiers's departure triggered howls of indignation from the opposition.

His words were leaked, through no fault of his own.

"If the military chief of staff and the president are opposed on something, the military chief of staff goes", Macron told Le Journal du Dimanche.

The row between Macron and De Villiers has provoked a debate about whether the president had humiliated his military chief or whether he had no choice but to exert his authority just two months into his presidency. "You can not publicly question a military leader like that in front of his subordinates". His government said last week it needs to find EUR20 billion of savings next year alone to meet its objectives. Mr. Macron said in his election manifesto he would raise military spending to 2% of economic output by the end of his presidency, but that he would also cut overall spending by EUR60 billion to bring down the deficit and respect European budget rules. That would mean a sum of €50bn - at least a further €2bn each year, unprecedented in France.

De Villiers had repeatedly complained that the military was overstretched and said he saw it as his duty to inform politicians.

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