France to form National Guard amid calls to step up security

© Pascal Rossignol
French President Francois Hollande has announced that a National Guard will be set up to ensure additional protection after a series of terrorist attacks in the country.

Hollande said in an official statement that initial parliamentary talks on the formation of the force would take place in September, "so that this force can be created as fast as possible to protect the French."

“Training methods and the breakdown of the forces of protection across the territory” will be defined after the parliamentary consultations.

The French public and a number of politicians have expressed outrage at what they regard as a lack of necessary security measures to ensure people’s safety, after a recent spate of terrorist attacks.

In Nice, heavily armed national police officers were absent at the entrance to a promenade, from where an attacker drove a truck and slammed through the crowd at Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, leaving 84 people dead.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve at first said armed officers had been present at the site, but then backtracked on the statement, triggering anger over a perceived lack of transparency in the authorities’ communication with the public.

Following an attack in a Normandy church on Tuesday, in which a local priest was killed by two Islamist extremists, President Hollande said the country is in “a state of war.”

However, the French president rejected opposition calls for reforms to toughen security laws – in particular demands that all people suspected of planning or being connected to terrorist activity be detained.

It has also emerged that both suspects in the Normandy case were on a police watch list, and that police were possibly aware of an attack being planned in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen tweeted that “those who have governed this country over the past 30 years” bear “huge responsibility for the current events.”

Opposition leader Nicolas Sarkozy has said that the “enemy [Islamic State, IS] has no taboo, no limit, no morals, no borders” and urged the country’s leadership to "thoroughly change the strategy of our counter-attack.”

After the Nice truck attack, Hollande urged thousands of reservists to boost the existing security forces, with the Interior Ministry later saying that 2,500 people were willing to enroll.