Macron to host Putin at Versailles palace on May 29

Macron said he had discussed stepping up cooperation in Mali with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday and she had been supportive.

Ahead of a working dinner with visiting Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, he repeated his wish to work quickly within the European Union to strengthen rules to protect workers against social dumping and improve regulations on public procurement.

"Germany is very present in back-up operations", Mr Macron said.

In an interview with Challenges magazine on May 18, Russia's Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov said Moscow hoped Macron would show his autonomy compared to Hollande.

But Macron's position puts him at odds with Germany where Greek debt relief - following three different bailouts with public money for the country since 2010 - is seen as a vote loser ahead of general elections in September.

The French election was held amid concern over meddling by Russian Federation following US intelligence officials' conclusion that Putin ordered a hacking and propaganda campaign to interfere in the 2016 USA presidential election.

France intervened in 2013 to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who seized northern Mali the year before. France has also been one of the key European Union countries to push for sanctions on Russian Federation over the Ukraine crisis.

Macron was expected to emphasize the need for closer European cooperation in the fight against jihadists, especially with fellow EU heavyweight Germany, French officials said.

Macron is visiting France's largest overseas military mission and following up on his campaign promise that fighting terror would be a top priority. "Our armed forces are giving their all, but we must speed up" efforts to secure the Sahel, he told a news conference in Gao, Mali, where he held talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and spoke to some of the 1,600 French soldiers based there.

France's Operation Barkhane has about 4,000 soldiers in Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

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

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

France has been hard hit by Islamist attacks, which have killed more than 230 people on its territory in the past two years.

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