Macron's first non-Europe trip focuses on fighting extremism

Vladimir Putin speaks by phone

19 French soldiers have been reported to have been killed since the operation started in 2013. France's new president Emmanuel Macron has chosen for his first offic.

New French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian, right, and new Deputy Minister in charge of European Affairs Marielle de Sarnez arrive for the first weekly cabinet meeting under new French President Emmanuel Macron, Thursday, .

PARIS (AP) - French President Emmanuel Macron held a special security meeting, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and convened his Cabinet for the first time Thursday - all under a growing cloud of concern that his office is trying to control the press.

"The division and fractures in our society must be overcome", said the 39-year-old centrist who was elected on May 7 after beating the far right leader Marine Le Pen following a bitter campaign that was dominated by France's role in Europe and which blew apart the traditional party structure in France.

Visiting Mali days after taking office, Macron vowed to keep French troops in the Sahel region until there was "no more Islamist terrorism" there. At a meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin, both went further than expected in saying they would be prepared to look at changing European Union treaties in order to allow further integration of the eurozone.

Diplomats said Macron wanted to fine-tune policy to ensure countries were also given more help to develop rather than just focusing on security aspects. "I want to strengthen that partnership and make sure that this German commitment. can be intensified".

In January, Germany's cabinet approved the deployment of eight helicopters and 350 extra soldiers to Mali as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, bringing total German strength there to around 1,000 soldiers. Without it, "we would not be able to operate in the area", he said.

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The statement said the presidents agreed to "jointly work on current worldwide and regional issues, including the fight against terrorism".

Most of the West African extremist groups France is combating trace their origins to al-Qaida's North Africa branch.

"The road is long. but we are going forward and we will succeed", Keita said.

The operation comprises around 4 000 soldiers who are deployed in five countries - Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.

"I don't think Macron's arrival will change anything to our daily life", Ousmane Maiga, a resident of Gao, told The Associated Press.

But another survey sounded a cautionary note, finding that only 45% of voters had confidence in Macron and even fewer in Prime Minister Edouard Philippe - the lowest ratings for French leaders starting their terms in over 20 years.

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