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French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of an “urgent need to accelerate" the transformation of Marseille Thursday as he rolled out a multi-billion euro plan to tackle a “social, health and security emergency” in a city grappling with drugs, violent crime, and dilapidated schools, public housing and hospitals.
Admitting that Paris had probably underestimated Marseille’s now endemic problems, Macron rolled out his strategy to stamp out "cumulative poverty" by building and reinforcing links between sports, education, culture and public services.
During a speech at the Pharo Palace on the seafront in front of local officials and selected members of society, Macron described Marseille as a “world city” that was “poorer than other cities … but also full of energy”.
"We need to build the Marseille of 2030 now,” he said, while a post on his official twitter account added: "Together, we can make Marseille great."
The President announced 8 million euros to prop up Marseille’s beleaguered police force, as well as plans to regroup police in two districts of the disadvantaged northern suburbs.
In addition, 150 million euros will be spent on a new police headquarters. Plans to deploy an extra 300 police officers was earlier promised by France’s Interior Ministry.
Speaking ahead of Macron, Marseille’s Socialist Mayor, Benoît Payan, warned the city was “affected by arms trafficking, murders in abandoned neighborhoods that are closing in on fear”.
Authorities say there has been an “explosion” in gang-related killings since the middle of June, with 12 deaths in total.
To address the problem of Marseille’s “stricken” educational institutions, a word used by Payan, 50 schools are to be chosen for an educational experiment that hopes to "invent the school of the future”.
On the subject of education in troubled neighborhoods – Payan has warned nearly 300 schools are in an "unworthy state” – Macron said principals needed to be given greater authority.
"We must allow teachers to choose these districts and the educational projects that go with them," he added.
Macron also want to open 10 “micro primary schools” and 10 “micro high schools” in the northern districts by 2022.
“We must continue to relocate doctors and caregivers in the city,” Macron said, adding that neighbourhoods must not be left to their own devices.
“In the second largest city in France, there are medical deserts in the heart of the city,” he said.
Some 169 million euros was earmarked to renovate two hospitals, while a further 50 million will be devoted to services helping women and children in troubled areas.
Macron also announced a billion euros to improve the accessibility and the automation of the city’s metro, along with the creation of four tramway lines and five bus lines to help to “open up” the northern districts.
Macron’s three-day trip – the longest devoted to a single city since he came to office in 2017 – is also part of his election campaign ahead of next April’s presidential polls, during which he’ll almost certainly be a candidate.