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French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral on Friday to mark four years since the fire that destroyed significant parts of the world heritage landmark, urging workers to "stay the course" and ensure restoration is finished by the end of 2024.
The cathedral is already due to regain its famous spire by the end of this year, an identical copy of the 96-metre (314-foot) one added in the 19th century by architect Viollet-Le-Duc, made from an oak wood structure and lead covering.
Its 80-tonne wooden base, made at a site in eastern France and resting on stone arches 30 metres above the heart of the cathedral, is due to be completed on Saturday -- four years to the day since the fire that shocked the world.
"Stay the course, that's my motto," said Macron as he toured the interior of the cathedral that remains shut to the public, alongside his wife Brigitte and Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak.
Police cleared the area around the cathedral ahead of the visit, amid calls for protests at the site over Macron's unpopular pension reform, which faces a crucial constitutional court decision later on Friday.
His vow to "stay the course" could also be seen as applying to decision to press ahead with the reform despite popular opposition.
Heading up into the area where the installation of the spire will begin at the end of the month, Macron told workers: "Thank you, you can be proud. Good luck and we don't give anything away in the months to come."
The cathedral is due to reopen by the end of 2024, though not in time for the Olympics in Paris that summer.
Jean-Louis Georgelin, the French army general who Macron put in charge of overseeing the restoration efforts, predicted "we will be able to get there."
"It was never easy, but we overcame all the obstacles," he added.
The fire prompted a global outpouring of support and solidarity, including 846 million euros ($935 million) in donations.
Authorities say progress is "well advanced" on cleaning some 42,000 square metres (450,000 square feet) of walls, decorations and vaults, while stone masons have been rebuilding the collapsed walls since November.
Cleaning has also begun on the great organ, which was undamaged but coated in lead dust. Its 8,000 pipes will be reassembled one by one.
Plans for an internal redesign are due to be approved this summer, aimed at creating "an educational and spiritual journey" for visitors, according to Archbishop of Paris Laurent Ulrich -- "not the equivalent of a museum."
A presidential official, who asked not to be named, said Macron told teams working on the site that he was "favourable" on considering an idea to set up a Notre-Dame museum.
A judicial investigation is ongoing to determine the causes of the fire, while a judge is also investigating subsequent lead pollution.
Despite four years of investigation, the origin of the fire remains unclear although nothing so far suggests criminal involvement.
After initial investigation, prosecutors said they favour an accidental cause such as a badly extinguished cigarette stub or an electrical problem.
The government this week announced 220 million euros to restore and secure 87 cathedrals around France.
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