Head of French armed forces quits over budget cuts

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France's military chief has resigned following a public dispute with President Emmanuel Macron over the government's proposed defense budget cuts.

French government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters that Macron has nominated Lecointre as the new chief of staff of the armed forces, replacing Gen. Pierre de Villiers.

A former head of the French air force, General Vincent Lanata, told L'Express news weekly he was "very shocked" by Macron's treatment of de Villiers.

His remarks earned a public rebuke from Mr Macron, who in his first months in office has won public support by projecting an image of a more powerful presidency.

General De Villiers, who had been in the job for three years, said he felt he had no choice but to stand down.

He named General Francois Lecointre, a 55-year-old hero of the Balkans wars, as de Villiers's replacement.

A disagreement between the army chief and Macron started last week when the government revealed the details of a plan to make 850-million-euro cuts to the 2017 military spending.

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"I may be stupid, but I know when I am being had", he said, according to sources unnamed by Reuters.

On Friday, de Villiers wrote on his Facebook, "no one deserves to be blindly followed", referring to the French president.

Macron, a centrist, won the presidency in May by defeating far-right rival Marine Le Pen.

Despite promising to increase the military budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product - in line with France's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation obligations and U.S. President Donald Trump's demands - Macron made a decision to cut the military's budget this year by €850 million to keep within the European Union's 3 percent of GDP deficit cap. His dissatisfaction came as France prepared to host U.S. President Donald Trump and display its military might on the national holiday of Bastille Day.

Hours after being inaugurated Macron visited a hospital treating injured soldiers and his maiden foreign trip as leader took him to Mali to meet French troops engaged in counter-terrorism operations.

Macron pledged during his election campaign to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2025, in line with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation targets.

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