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France avoids  defense cuts to boost military

France will keep its defence budget at the same level for the next six years after the government decided proposed cuts would hamper its ability to mount military operations such as its intervention in Mali. The freeze will still lead to the loss of 34,000 jobs in the defence ministry at a time of growing unemployment in France, according to a strategic review announced on Monday. The decision also means the Socialist government will need to look elsewhere to raise funds as it tries to reduce state spending by 60 billion euros over its five-year term and meet deficit targets. "France wants to maintain its ability to react alone. This recent period has proved that there is a definite lack in the army in terms of equipment," President Francois Hollande said. Hollande had come under pressure from his own left-wing lawmakers and armed forces officials.

The Mali operation showed the military’s limitations in mid-air refuelling, troop transportation and intelligence gathering.

The French review, which outlines defence priorities from 2014 to 2019, comes at a sensitive time for France, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and a nuclear power.

The document seeks to overhaul the armed forces to create a more mobile army and to boost intelligence resources and special forces. It also makes cyber security a priority.

Hollande ordered the review to take recent revolutions in the Arab world into account as well as changes to France's historical ties in Africa, and a shift in the United States' focus away from Europe towards Asia.

The White Paper set an overall budget for the period of 179.2 billion euros ($233.4 billion). It kept 2014 spending at 31.4 billion euros, equivalent to 1.5 percent of GDP.

It also factored in job cuts from the 228,000 personnel now.

"In total, from 2014 to 2019, the defence ministry will have to reduce its staff by about 34,000 people," the document said.

Paris will push for a more integrated European Union defence programme, the review said, and will co-operate with Britain on a new anti-ship missile.

Contractors including Thales and Safran wrote to Hollande in March warning him of the risk of cutting back on defence spending when the number of people out of work is rising.

A list of priorities spares the chief procurement programmes from being axed.

France will renew its ageing fleet of Boeing refuelling tankers with a programme to buy converted Airbus A330 passenger jets from 2014. Its targeted refuelling fleet of 12 aircraft is lower than previous estimates of 14 planes.

The White Paper also backs the Airbus A400M military airlifter, a seven-nation project plagued by cost overruns and delays. France aims to have a fleet of 50 tactical airlifters.

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