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Macron vows support for French heritage amid virus downturn
French President Emmanuel Macron (L), wearing a protective face mask, removes his jacket before cutting a stone during a visit at the Polignac castle on September 18, 2020 in Condom, on the eve of the European Heritage Days and the third edition of the "Loto du Patrimoine" lottery draw aiming at help restoring heritage sites at risk. GEORGES GOBET / POOL / AFP.

PARIS (AFP).- President Emmanuel Macron on Friday pledged support for deteriorating heritage sites crucial to France's tourism sector at a time when budgets have been battered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Macron travelled to the town of Condom in southwestern France on the eve of the 37th annual European Heritage Days -- a weekend to celebrate culture and history when buildings which are usually off-limits are opened to the public.

The president visited the 18th-century Polignac private hotel, a neo-classical edifice and one of 18 endangered monuments to have benefited in 2018 from France's heritage lottery fund.

He met builders and volunteers engaged in the building's reconstruction and underscored the importance of cultural heritage in France's economic activity and employment.

"Our heritage is the mark of the past. But it is also very much alive and anchored in the daily life of the French," the president said in a message posted on Facebook.

"For our heritage to be alive, in our cities and towns, there is still a lot we need to do. We will step up our efforts," he vowed.

France's famous museums, cathedrals, palaces and monuments are a major draw card for the 90-odd million tourists who visit the country each year, though that number has been slashed by the Covid-19 epidemic that shuttered hotels, restaurants and tourist sites for months, and grounded flights from abroad.

The tourism sector in France employs about two million people and represents more than seven percent of gross domestic product.

Of France's 100-billion-euro ($118-billion) coronavirus recovery plan, some two billion euros have been set aside for culture, of which 614 million euros for heritage and museums.

The government has earmarked 334 million for mayor sites such as the Louvre Museum, Versailles palace and the Musee d'Orsay -- all in the Paris area -- and 280 million for sites in the rest of France and for the promotion of the arts.

Some 1,500 French European Heritage Days events have been cancelled in dozens of cities and towns this year where virus transmission is high, including Marseille, Bordeaux, Nice and the island of Corsica, as well as Guadeloupe, an overseas territory.

But Macron urged members of the public to attend those events that have been maintained, especially in small and medium towns, though cautioning they should be "very careful" to observe anti-virus measures.

Some two dozen labour union members gathered in Condom to protest what they said were Macron's "capitalist policies".

© Agence France-Presse

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