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France: Macron ousts interior minister in government purge

July 6, 2020

The president also replaced the head of the Justice Ministry, Labor Ministry and Ministry of Ecological Transition. The reshuffle is meant to shift the government’s focus to post-coronavirus pandemic recovery. 

Gerald Darmanin
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/L. Joly

French President Emmanuel Macron ousted his interior minister amid a government shakeup on Monday, following mass protests against police brutality. 

The reshuffle was aimed at shifting the government's focus to post-virus economic recovery in the last two years of Macron's term. Former Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin was named to replace Christophe Castaner, who had come under fire amid widespread French protests against police brutality and racial injustice, spurred by the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Macron also named a provocative lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, who defended WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as head of the Justice Ministry. He also named a former Green Party lawmaker, Barbara Pompili, as the new head of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, after Macron came under fire for not acting enough on promises to cut emissions. 

However, Macron did not change the finance, health, foreign nor defense ministers.

''At each stage of the reconstruction of our country, we will be careful not to leave anyone by the wayside,'' Macron tweeted.

Macron, whose presidency has been marked by mass protests and the coronavirus crisis, promised that the new government would be one of ''purpose and unity.'' In another tweet, he said that his 2017 campaign promises to modernize France and free up its businesses remain central to his agenda, but that he ''must adapt to the international upheavals and crises we are experiencing. A new path must be forged.''

Who's who

The primary change was in the Interior Ministry — the ministry in charge of police. Following protests against police brutality in France, former Interior Minister Castaner initially announced a ban on the use of chokeholds in police, but then backed down over counter-demonstrations and pressure by police unions. He was also criticized for launching an experiment with expanded Taser use.

Castaner's replacement, Darmanin, is a former conservative who joined Macron's centrist party in 2017, and is widely seen as being outspoken but effective. 

Read moreNew French Prime Minister Jean Castex, a low-profile functionary

Dupond-Moretti, the new head of the Justice Ministry and one of France's most famous lawyers, has also represented former government ministers accused of tax fraud and sexual harassment, and accomplices to Mohamed Merah, who went on an anti-Semitic shooting rampage in Toulouse in 2012, resulting in seven deaths.

Meanwhile, Elisabeth Borne the new Labor Ministry head, will be tasked with managing a pending surge in unemployment. Last week, Macron also cut former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who led France through its coronavirus lockdown and the first three years of Macron's presidency. Philippe was replaced by Prime Minister Jean Castex, a career civil servant with a low profile, who was appointed on Friday.

lc/stb (AP, AFP)