French, Niger presidents discus migration, extremism

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NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron promised more than 400 million euros ($474 million) in aid over four years to Niger during a visit and told the country's president he was ready to strengthen France's presence in the Sahel.

Macron spoke alongside President Issoufou Mahamadou Saturday after the two met to discuss the fight against extremism, migration and development in Niger.

"We are ready to strengthen our presence in the Sahel, because the fight against terrorism is essential," Macron said. Though he emphasized that there were other major issues of concern discussed.

"The lasting stabilization of Libya and the fight against migration and human trafficking," he said

African migrants travel through Niger and Libya in the hopes of making it to Europe, and many die in the vast desert. Thousands of West African migrants are being repatriated in recent weeks by their governments amid outrage over recent video footage in Libya showing a migrant slave auction.

Niger President Mahamadou said the root causes of migration are poverty, insecurity and a democratic deficit. He said a development plan is being put in place.

"If we manage to respond to this and we succeed in reducing rural poverty...If we manage to fix it in the villages, we could manage to bring a substantive solution to the question of migration and Niger is determined to pursue these efforts," he said.

Macron announced bilateral aid amounting to more than 400 million euros to Niger for 2017 to 2021 that will go toward security, development and democracy projects.

The French president visited Niger on Friday and Saturday, wanting to encourage Niger's growing military efforts to fight terrorism in West Africa. France has thousands of troops there in its largest overseas military operation and wants African forces to take a more prominent role.

Late Friday, Macron visited and dined with soldiers stationed in Niger who are fighting against extremism in the Sahel, reassuring them that France wouldn't abandon the region to extremists.

"The Sahel is a priority. It's that which plays a part in the future of the African continent, but equally and without doubt, a part of our future. We must not leave the Sahel in the hands of terrorists," he said late Friday amid 500 soldiers with Operation Barkhane at Niger's airport in Niamey, the capital.

In a show of support for French troops based in Niger, he brought with him the chef from the Elysee presidential palace, who oversaw a meal for the French troops in addition to American, Canadian and German forces.

He encouraged the soldiers to remain vigilant and courageous, while also emphasizing that the military response isn't the only answer to defeating extremists such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram in the region.

Macron supported the newly formed G-5 Sahel force that will work alongside the operation and is made up of African soldiers from Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso. A coordinated strategy across countries is needed, he said.

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