Putin congratulates new French president in call

France wants a "new Franco-German impetus so that Europe plays a greater role in defence and security matters, especially in Africa and the Sahel", a source said. He said German Chancellor Angela Merkel told him she backs the idea during a meeting in Berlin earlier this week.

In his first visit after his inauguration, Macron acknowledged the toll on the operation's French forces when he went to a military hospital in a Paris suburb and met with two soldiers injured in Mali previous year.

Northern Mali fell to jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in March 2012, and these forces were driven out of key towns by a French-led military intervention the following year.

French President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled his 22-member Cabinet with ministers from the political left, right and centre.

Macron, a newcomer to worldwide diplomacy, put counter-terrorism at the top of his security priorities during the election campaign, vowing to strengthen support for West African allies.

Macron will hold talks with Malian counterpart Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on the fight against terrorism and the west African country's rocky path to normality since a 2015 peace deal. The rest of his day there Friday will be devoted nearly entirely to familiarizing himself with French troops who are combating West African extremist groups.

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On his first official trip outside Europe, new French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday highlighted his determination to crush extremism but said "other countries can do more" to help protect Europe from the threat.

He also will have lunch with troops, tour a surgical unit, have a briefing on military operations and give a speech to French forces.

Set up in 2014, the operation comprises around 4,000 soldiers who are deployed across five countries - Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.

The French president is visiting the eastern city of Gao, home of the permanent French military base in Mali.

Macron repeatedly pledged ahead of the May 7 election that fighting terror would be his priority, after multiple attacks in France since 2015 that killed more than 230 people.

Most of the West African extremist groups France is combating trace their origins to al-Qaida's North Africa branch. Macron vowed to maintain France's military operations in Mali and "be intractable" with extremist groups in the region.

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