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French press review 6 January 2012

Triple A ratings and Joan of Arc, a bankrupt cross-channel ferry company and Margaret Thatcher all feature on the pages of today's French dailies.

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Taking a welcome break from the gloom over a faltering economy and rising taxes, the Catholic daily La Croix strikes a positive note. Its front page leads with the stories of ten young Catholics it calls "God's entrepreneurs." Young people finding modern and innovative ways to contribute to society.

Among them is Pierre Janicot, diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20. Cured and out of hospital he co founded "Cheer Up" a scheme to recruit students to support other young cancer victims. Eight years later, "Cheer Up" has 400 student volunteers helping 400 youngsters with cancer.

Another, a young nurse, is successfully encouraging young people to donate blood. A third is working to persuade businesses to give training and jobs to disadvantaged young people in Versailles.

A refreshing change from the often miserable fare served up by the papers.

The communist daily L'Humanité, which seldom finds much to celebrate, declares that France's Universities are at risk as President Nicolas Sarkozy attacks the national education system.

Libération leads with a story that's become something of a scandal in France. The paper has an account said to reveal what really happened last January when two young French men were abducted and killed in Niger by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The two Frenchmen were in Niamey for a wedding ceremony. They were kidnapped during the night of 6 to 7 January in a night club. The French military are said to have bungled an attempt to rescue them and are accused of covering up their mistakes.

Libération has obtained the confession of a member of AQIM, who claims French intervention provoked the killing of the hostages.

Aujourd'hui en France is worried that France is about to lose its Triple A credit rating. The paper's front page trumpets an exclusive interview with the bosses of the ratings agency - Standard & Poor's. They say the markets are charging France interest rates in line with a Triple B rating. Very worrying news - if true.

Aujourd'hui also reveals have security has been tightened around France's nuclear power generating plants in the month since security was breached by Greenpeace activists. The paper carries detailed graphics of the new safeguards - including the location of alarms and surveillance cameras. One imagines they'll come in handy for the next wave of Greenpeace activists.

Le Monde assures readers that the Government and EDF - France leading electricity supplier - have promised make safer the country's nuclear industry. Safety was always high on the agenda. But, last year's nuclear catastrophe in Japan has concentrated minds.

Elsewhere, the paper wonders - to whom does Joan of Arc belong ? Evidently two candidates for the Presidency in France, the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and his far-right challenger, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, are both trying to annexe the iconic heroine, with highly publicised visits to her status.

They are not the first, Le Monde tells us in a typically scholarly piece. French politicians of different stripes have been trying it since the 15th century. Some things, it seems, never change.

Le Figaro's front page also focuses on the bankruptcy of SeaFrance - a cross-channel ferry company. The paper blames trades unionists for its collapse. A front page editorial "SeaFrance is the story of a shipwrecked company. It is a caricature of an old business model which our country is struggling to dump."

"The world has changed," the paper opines. No more duty free. A rail tunnel under the English Channel. Cheaper air travel. The British company P&O understood this and was fundamentally reformed. Not SeaFrance. She watched the trains go by !

Finally, next to the Sea France story - the right-wing paper carries an elegant portrait of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in her prime - with the headline "English superstar." Evidently, a new movie starring Merryl Streep has sparked what the paper calls - "Thatchermania." Sadly, the Iron Lady is now in her eighties and suffering from Alzheimer's - and the political class are said to be pondering how to manage her funeral.

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