Hollande vows to help Nigeria fight extemists

President François Hollande pledged in a speech in Nigeria to help fight terrorism and extremism there not simply with 'political' means. He also plans to meet French troops on Friday deployed in the Central African Republic.

Hollande vows to help Nigeria fight extemists
French President François Hollande promised on Thursday to help Nigeria fight extremists. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

Hollande promised Nigeria support on Thursday in the battle against Islamist group Boko Haram, saying France would always be ready to help combat extremism in defense of democracy.

"Your struggle is also our struggle," Hollande told delegates at a security conference in the capital Abuja ahead of Nigeria's unification centenary celebrations.

"We will always stand ready not only to provide our political support but our help every time you need it because the struggle against terrorism is also the struggle for democracy."

The pledge came just before Hollande's office announced he will visit French troops deployed in the Central African Republic on Friday and meet with the interim president of the troubled former colony .

Hollande will have talks with Catherine Samba Panza, address some of the soldiers and also meet with religious leaders during a brief stopover in the capital Bangui on his way back from Nigeria, where he is attending a summit with African leaders.

Hollande lamented some of the recent violence perpetrated by suspected by Boko Haram fighters, including the massacre earlier this week of at least 43 students in their sleep at a secondary school in the Islamists' northeast stronghold.

Despite crises in several regions, the French president maintained there was reason for optimism in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

"Africa has a great future. It's the continent of tomorrow," he said but warned that such promise could be "impeded by insecurity".

He then vowed to double French overseas development aid to the continent within the next five years. 

Hollande, guest of honour for the celebrations to mark 100 years since Nigeria's unification, was expected to hold talks on trade and investment with his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan.

But given the deteriorating Boko Haram conflict in northern Nigeria and France's recent military interventions against militants in Mali and the Central African Republic, security was expected to feature prominently in bilateral talks.

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Here’s the latest in France’s presidential race

President Francois Hollande warned would-be successors they should cleave closely to Europe as it was "impossible" that France could contemplate going its own way.

Here's the latest in France's presidential race
French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in Reunion. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Here are three things that happened in the campaign on Saturday:

Let them throw eggs

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, under pressure over allegations of fake parliamentary jobs for the family which have hit his poll ratings, received a chaotic reception on a trip to the southern Basque region where some protesters pelted him with eggs.

Fillon, who has accused Hollande of helping foment a smear campaign against him amid claims his wife was on the public payroll but did little for her salary, ran the gauntlet in the small town of Cambo-les-Bains.

Locals demanding an amnesty for radical Basque nationalists banged pots and pans, hurled abuse and objects.

“The more they demonstrate the more the French will back me,” Fillon insisted before meeting with local officials.

Warning on Europe

President Francois Hollande warned would-be successors they should cleave closely to Europe as it was “impossible” that France could contemplate going its own way.

In a barb aimed at far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, Hollande said: “So some want to quit Europe? Well let them show the French people they would be better off alone fighting terrorism without the indispensable European coordination…

“Let them show that without the single currency and (single) market there would be more jobs, activity and better purchasing power,” Hollande said in Rome where he attended the ceremonies marking the EU's 60th anniversary.

Le Pen, favoured in opiniion polls to reach the second-round run-off vote in May, wants France to dump the euro, but Hollande said that would lead to devaluation and loss of purchasing power as he warned against nationalist populism.

'Not Father Christmas'

French centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, seen in polls as beating Marine Le Pen in the May 7 run-off, was in Reunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, where alongside discussing local issues, he told voters he was “not Father Christmas.”

“I don't have the solution to all problems and I am not Father Christmas,” the 39-year-old former economy minister and banker admitted, saying he had not come to make “promises.”

He indicated he would focus on education as a priority on an island where around one in five youths are illiterate.