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France Emmanuel Macron Great National Debate

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Protests welcome French president's 2nd Great Debate address

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Anti-govenrment protestors contained by riot police in the small town of Souillac in south western France, 18 January 2018 Pascal PAVANI / AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron has addressed some 600 mayors in Souillac, a town of 3,750 inhabitants in the southwest, on the second leg of his Great National Debate. To remind Macron why he was there, a few hours before he arrived, several dozen anti-government protestors were contained by riot police.


The president's tour of France for his government's "Great National Debate" is a gesture to appease the discontent expressed by the "Yellow Vest" movement which began late last year.

He kicked off the tour three days ago in Normandy in northwest France, where, like in Souillac, he was greeted by an angry mob.

The president, who was due to meet local mayors as he did in Normandy, is maintaining his sangfroid.

He stopped off at a school in Sozy in Lot county, where he said, "School and health are the two driving forces for our investment, because these are investments in human beings."

Commenting on the previous generation's move away from the countryside, he explained that rural areas will become attractive again for families once "young working couples know they will be able to raise their children and find doctors there."

The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer and Sébastien Lecornu, minister for local government and jointly in charge of the Grand National Debate, travelled with the head of state.

In the midst of ambient dissatisfaction, some of France's university rectors have directed their discontent pointedly at Blanquer – he says he is firm in his resolve to hike fees for foreign students from outside the European Union from 243 euros to 3,770 euros for those wishing to enrol in a Masters or Doctorate degree.

Other issues the President heard about from ordinary French people, pensions, VAT and exclusion of physically or mentally challenged people from the mainstream.

At the same time, the government has launched an internet platform called granddebat.fr.

Since its launch 3 days ago, official statistics from the Prime Minister's office say that it has received 276,000 visitors and that more than 21,000 have registered to take part in the GDN or to organise a debate in France.