Macron in Marseille to unveil 'urgent' plan to tackle violence, poverty

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French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday travelled to the southern city of Marseille for a high-stakes visit to unveil an "urgent" plan aimed at tackling the city's drug-related violence and gang killings, eight months from presidential elections in which crime is set to be a key theme.

Known as France's second city, Marseille has seen a surge in gang killings and drug-related murders over the past year. Much of the violence stems from swelling social problems, and an increase in drug cartel activity, particularly in the city’s impoverished northern suburbs.

Macron’s visit comes ahead of next spring’s presidential election and will be the longest the French head of state has spent in another French city since he came to power five years ago. Macron met with local representatives and will unveil the so-called Marseille Plan, designed to tackle the "urgent" social, educational, economic and security problems the city is facing in a bid to help it get back on its feet.

The plan includes an increased police presence in the most troubled areas, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin having already vowed to add 300 police officers to the local force by 2023. Marseille’s Socialist Party mayor, Benoît Payan, however, estimates the city needs at least 800 more.

Reporting from Marseille, FRANCE 24’s James Creedon said the situation in northern Marseille has become more alarming over the past year.

“There were 15 different murders, and some of them extremely violent ... We’re talking about bodies being tied up, and burnt, being found in trunks of cars – really horrific stuff,” he said, noting that one of the victims was just 14 years old.

About half of Marseille schools, maybe 200, "desperately need renovation", as does the city's transportation infrastructure, said Creedon. But while public transport and education remain high on the agenda, security "is the No. 1 priority".

>> Read more: Grieving families seek justice in Marseille districts blighted by poverty, turf wars

Poverty is a major driver of Marseille's problems, fuelling the violence and luring kids away from school.

“What it points to is really serious rivalry between different drug gangs, cartels, in the north of Marseille. What it also points to is a lot of young people getting sucked into this way of life, because it’s easy money, and because a lot of them have fallen out of the education system,” Creedon said, noting that 53 percent of Marseille’s households are exempt from taxes because they are simply too poor to pay them.

Marseille’s city debt currently stands at a soaring €1.5 billion.

“The Marseillais are concerned that these gangs are still too present, too powerful, that there’s not enough of police presence in these areas," Creedon said. Police stations in some instances have been shut down, and residents want to see additional investment, so "Macron is going to make announcements in that direction".

Creedon noted that although Macron will be offering help on a number of fronts, he will also be walking a fine line. Paris and Marseille are rival cities, and Macron must be careful not to come across as coming in and "taking over”; instead he will seek to underscore that the Élysée Palace is there to “support” Marseille.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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