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French press review 19 September 2011

Are the French media suffering from DSK-overload? Will the West get out of Afghanistan on deadline? And are banks putting the squeeze on smalls businesses?

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I had expected the French front pages to be unreadable, indigestible, unspeakable, this morning.

Former International Monetary Fund boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was on national television last night, talking about the sex scandal that put an end to his IMF career, and incidentally did for his hopes of being the Socalist candidate in next year's French presidential race.

Normally, a prime-time TV appearance merits a unanimous splurge of comment, analysis and sleep-inducing repetition of stuff that wasn't very interesting in the first place.

But either the TV slot was too late for most editorial deadlines or the nation's editors have finally woken up to the fact that the vast majority of literate French people have had an overdose of DSK and really couldn't care a damn.

Dossier: The Strauss-Kahn affair rocks France, IMF

Just two papers give pride of place to the disgraced man from the Monetary Fund. Le Figaro has him on the front page, accepting moral responsibility for his acts, and admitting that he's not proud of himself. But, in somewhat ungentlemanly fashion, he blames the lady in the case for everything, calling her an outright liar.

In that, he has the support of the New York prosecutor who was forced to admit that the repeated lies of the chief witness and unique accuser of DSK left the prosecution with no option but to abandon the case.

Those are the legal facts of the affair. The human facts, the real truth, will remain forever known to just two people. Given the amount of attention the whole case generated, that seems like a sad failure. But that's the way justice works, and there's not much anyone can do about it.

Libération also has Strauss-Kahn on page one, but they take a different angle, focussing on the possibility that the great man was the victim of a plot. But he has never presented even a grain of evidence to support such an idea.

Dossier: AfPak news and analysis

Who could have been behind such a trap? How would it have been set up? And why would they have bothered? It's all too ridiculous for words.

After answering questions on the legal case, the great man went on to talk about the Greek debt and the crisis in the eurozone, getting down to serious questions on safe territory.

By the way, just to put my earlier estimation of the degree of interest in the DSK saga by ordinary French TV viewers in perspective, last night's interview broke all records, attracting 47 per cent of the potential audience, a total of 13 million people. Which may go some way to explaining why I'll never get to be a newspaper editor.

The other front-page stories this morning are Afghanistan, with Le Monde wondering how the Western military can propose a complete troop withdrawal between now and 2013.

The Taliban are clearly well organised and terribly determined. The Afghan army is underequipped, poorly paid and has an eight per cent desertion rate.

Business daily Les Echos wonders about the effect of the current banking crisis on the supply of money in the form of loans to businesses.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The banks are in trouble, and are happy to pass that on to their customers in the form of higher interest rates. But without ready, cheap loans, French businesses will not be able to expand, and that's bad news for the overall economy. Especially since the most optimistic estimate of economic growth for next year is a miserable 1.2 per cent.

The bankers are to meet the French finance minister to discuss the situation tomorrow.

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