France boosts defence budget in wake of Paris attacks
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 that killed 17 people and put France and neighbouring European countries on high alert.
Speaking after a meeting with his defence council, Hollande said the decisions were taken to ensure internal security but also the safety of military forces engaged in operations abroad, such as in the troubled Sahel region of Africa or in the Central African Republic.
"Security, protection, independence, these are principles that are non-negotiable," he told reporters.
"We have the duty to support people who may come under threat, but we also defend our own security."
- 'French must feel safe' -
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 setting out defence targets for 2014 to 2019, pouring in an extra 3.8 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in funds over four years would represent a roughly three percent increase, taking overall spending to 131 billion euros.
"It's a significant effort, it's even a very big effort," Hollande said, acknowledging France's ballooning budget deficit.
"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 security.
As part of these cuts, some 34,000 jobs were due to be slashed in the 2014-2019 period.
But Hollande had backtracked on the cuts after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine, a policewoman and a Jewish supermarket, saying France would slash fewer military jobs than planned.
On Wednesday he said that 18,500 posts, more than half of those that had faced being axed, would be preserved.
France has some 9,000 forces engaged in military operations abroad.
The military had complained of being overstretched, with defence officials saying they are having to cut leave and training sessions for some soldiers.
French troops are present in the Sahel region, where jihadist groups operate, and were also deployed to help keep peace between warring factions in the Central African Republic.
France is also part of an international coalition carrying out airstrikes against the radical Islamic State group.
© 2015 AFP