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French press review 14 September 2011

Did Monsieur Afrique deliver bags of cash to French politicians from African leaders? Is France a banana republic? Should we believe spooks? Does France need to double the number of prison places? Can French hospitals cope with the elderly? Can a computer really predict revolutions?

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Several papers consider the allegations of Robert Bourgi, dubbed France’s former “Mr Africa” by Le Monde.

Bourgi, a lawyer, long-serving adviser to French governments and a well-connected go-between with assorted west African leaders, claims to have delivered bulging bags of African cash to leading French politicians.

Spate of high-profile trials in France

They include former President Jacques Chirac, likely presidential contender Dominique de Villepin and former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Bourgi claims the cash was used to fund their political campaigns. All three men deny the allegations. And it seems probably that they will sue their accuser.

In a front-page editorial  Le Monde wonders if France was, or perhaps is, a banana republic. At the same time the paper asks why Bourgi, lauded by current President Nicolas Sarkozy as “a great servant of France”, has chosen to speak out now.

Could it be connected with next year’s presidential election? Might it be an attempt to deflect attention from different scandals that are embarrassing the incumbent?

Libération also leads on the story. The paper notes that the charges are unproven and asks how we can be happy with the words of what it calls “a spook” against those of eminent statesmen. And why, Libération reflects, are such shadowy figures necessary? Do their activities bring honour to the French Republic? The unspoken answer seems to be "No".

L'Humanité reports on what it calls the dark tribulations of the Elysée Palace's Franco-Afican policy. In addition to exploring the headline charges issued by Bourgi, the paper cites American diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, which claim that Gabon's President Omar Bongo financed the political campaigns of both Chirac and Sarkozy to the tune of 28 million euros. L'Humanité observes that Bourgi's revelations are "unverifiable". And, again, asks, "Why now ?"

To stifle debate on the record and policies of Sarkozyists, the paper answers.

Le Figaro leads on the French government's plan to create 30,000 additional prison places between now and 2017. Whether this has to do with the Bourgi saga the paper doesn't say. Evidently, France imprisons half the number of people as its neighbour Britain and wants to catch up.

On its editorial pages, the paper dismisses criticism from the left and welcomes the move. The French state is not repressive, Le Figaro argues. The policy is a correct return to order.

Aujourd'hui en France also cover the story. The programme aims to combat overcrowding, tackle juvenile delinquency and avoid soft alternatives such as electronic tagging, it explains.

Les Echos reports that there will be 20 closed education centres for young offenders. Others will be required to perform several months of public service and be subject to military-style discipline. These are the sort of tough-on-crime promises that helped Sarkozy win the last presidential election. And can be expected to feature in the run-up to the next.

La Croix is worried about hospital care for the elderly. The concern, aroused by an ongoing court case against a doctor suspected of having cut short the lives of seven patients, is that increasing numbers of elderly people are seeking urgent care in hospitals that often struggle to cope. We must treat them like all other patients, the paper says. Because a patient is old it doesn't mean he is dying.

Finally, Le Figaro looks at Nautilus, the super-computer which can predict revolutions. Like predicting the weather or the economy, it isn't perfect, the paper says. But, once the technology is improved and operates in real time, it can change the course of history.

Perhaps.

What happens if Nautilus develops a mind of its own. You remember what happened in Arthur C Clarke's 2001 – A Space Odyssey.

"Open the pod doors Hal . . . Hal . . . Open the pods doors . . . Hal . . ."

Lest we forget, Hal would not open the pod doors. A cautionary tale from a visionary writer.

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