French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday travelled to the southern city of Marseille for a high-stakes visit during which he will 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.
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 just eight months ahead of next year’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. During his visit, Macron will meet with local representatives and visit schools, and will unveil the so-called “Marseille Plan” (Plan Marseille) in a bid to help the city 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 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 and more alarming over the past year. “There were 15 murders, and some of them extremely violent. We’re talking about bodies being tied up, and burnt, and being found in trunks of cars,” he said, noting that one of the victims was just 14 years old.
“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 and that police stations in some instances have been shut down, so they want to see investment. And so Macron is going to make announcements in that direction,” he said.
Creedon noted that although one of Macron’s top priorities of the trip will be to help boost the city’s security, he will be careful not to come across as “coming in and taking over”, and will instead underscore the Élysée Palace’s “support” for Marseille.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)