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France

Macron heads back to French factory seeking workers' support

media Emmanuel Macron addresses Whirlpool employees in front of the company plant in Amiens, France on April 26, 2017. Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday went back to the Whirlpool factory in northern France that he'd visited during the presidential campaign, in a bid to gain workers' support amid criticism about his tax cuts for the rich.

Donning a neon high-visibility vest, Macron toured the plant owned by US appliance maker Whirlpool in the north-eastern city of Amiens.

It's not the first time he's visited the factory. Just months ago, between the first and second rounds of the presidential election in April, the plant was the scene of a dramatic clash between him and anti-globalisation far-right rival Marine Le Pen.

Then-candidate Macron, who was heckled by workers on arrival, faced off with Le Pen after she made a surprise visit to the plant.

At the time, the plant was facing the threat of closure as Whirlpool sought to outsource to Eastern Europe. Some 300 workers' jobs were on the line.

Macron returned to the factory as president on Tuesday, making good on the campaign promise he made during April's dramatic show-down to keep the site open.

Following negotiations between the local government and Whirlpool, the site is set to be sold to a local businessman who has promised to keep on nearly all the workers at a new factory on the site.

Macron hailed the apparent success story as proof that discussions between unions and the government "have worked", while warning: "I won't say that everything is going to be fixed in six months."

His factory visit comes amid growing criticism from unions and left-wing politicians that he is a "president for the rich", and not for the working class.

The first budget of his presidency, unveiled last week, announced plans to scrap a wealth tax on financial investments while raising a health tax that would disproportionately affect pensioners.

The announcement drew thousands of French retirees to protest throughout the country last week.

Macron also signed a set of controversial executive orders last month that made sweeping changes to France's labour laws. The pro-business reforms, strongly criticised by unions, include greater flexibility for employers in hiring and firing and a cap on severance payouts for dismissals.

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