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French press review 7 July 2011

An eclectic mix of stories in the French dailies today, with worries about the effect of new educational reforms in France and the rise of Islamic fundamentalists in Tunisia. There's also an examination of Socialist Party views on France's nuclear industry and the extraordinary story of Mrs Thomas of Richmond...


Not a single DSK main headline this morning . . . perhaps a sign that we are soon to be freed from the daily scourge of alleged sexual misdemeanour? Don't count on it.

Communist L'Humanité looks at the education sector, suggesting that government cost-cutting efforts are deepening already profound social divisions.

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The commies are always happy to have a go, and their latest target is the Education Minister's decision to do away with the "special education zones", areas of high social difficulty where classes are kept small and where teachers are supposed to be supported by special needs tutors, social workers and psychologists.

Now, says L'Huma, the zones are to be zapped. To be replaced by something far better, of course, but less expensive.

Interestingly, 60 per cent of French voters see education as a priority, ahead even of job creation. Let those who hope to be elected next year take note.

Left-leaning Libération gives pride of place to would-be Socialist Party presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, who promises a "surprising" campaign, adding that she wants to be the president who solves problems. She'll certainly have plenty to keep her occupied if she does get the job.

Right-wing Le Figaro looks at the socialist primary race and sees nothing but rancour, disagreement and doubt.

They agree on nothing crucial, says Le Figaro, with one campaign prouncement contradicting another.

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Manuel Walls thus rejected the idea that 300,000 jobs could be created for the young unemployed, a key plank in the Socialist Party platform. He said any talk of reversing the retirement age to 60 was a lie.

On France's nuclear future, according to Le Figaro, key contenders Hollande, Aubrey and Royal all have different views, despite the fact that the Socialist Party manifesto was voted unanimously.

Business daily Les Echos is worrying, once again, about the Greek economy. The financial paper says that the recent downgrading of Portugal by the ratings agencies has given the global markets a touch of the jitters.

Catholic La Croix also leads with an economic story, but from a local angle, looking at the loopholes which allow some of France's wealthiest companies to get away without paying any tax.

The losers are ordinary taxpayers, and small and medium-sized businesses. L'Humanité claims that tax rebates to mega-rich companies cost the state at least five billion euros every year. That would pay for a few special education zones, for example.

Popular tabloid, Le Parisien, looks to Tunisia with a headline saying that islamic fundamentalists are gaining political ground, just three and a half months ahead of elections.

Latest opinion polls show the Ennahda Party, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, likely to win hands down. The party has enormous amounts of money, a well-oiled communications machine, and wide popular support.

A Tunisian journalist interviewed by Le Parisien warns against putting all islamic political movements into the radical basket. Those who exaggerate the scale of the fundamentalist threat, says the journalist, do nothing to help resolve the problem.

Which is not to deny the existence of a real problem. The leader of Ennadha, Rached Ghannouchi, is a supporter of the strict application of Sharia law in Tunisia.

And he's already playing both sides of the street, making moderate public statements while encouraging a far more radical tone in the mosques.

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Having only recently escaped the Ben Ali regime, few Tunisians, and even fewer of their womenfolk, want to hand that hard-won freedom to a bunch of religious fanatics.

But, with endless cash, most of it originating in Qatar according to Le Parisien, and a very slick campaign machine, the fanatics are doing a good job of convincing the moderate faithful that they, the fanatics, are the future of Tunisia.

Le Figaro reports the solution of an English murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie. In 1879, a certain Mrs Thomas, resident of the calm and comfortable London suburb of Richmond, was killed, cut up and cooked, by her maid, an Irish alcoholic by the name of Kate Webster.

Bits of Mrs Thomas were subsequently found floating through London on the Thames, but her skull . . . a difficult thing to do away with . . . was never found.

That is, until David Attenborough, the star presenter of TV documentary programmes, started some building work in his back garden, in the aforementioned calm and comfortable London suburb.

The workers dug up a human skull. The forensic scientists did their bit of carbon 14 dating, the police checked the murder records, and the headless widow from Richmond was, if you like, finally pieced together.

As for Kate Webster, she ended her days at Wandsworth Prison, at the end of a hangman's rope, in July, 1879. When arrested in her home town of Killane, Co Wexford, she was wearing the dead woman's jewellery and some of her clothes.

The Crown Coroner formally closed the inquest into the death of Mrs Thomas this week, recording a verdict of unlawful killing.

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