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French press review 7 January 2012

Joan of Arc joins the presidential campaign. At least two candidates receive death threats. And a Brittany village says no more Mademoiselle.


What I suppose we should be calling the Joan of Arc affair appears to have caught the fancy of the papers here in France. Clearly editors' fingers are on the public pulse. My taxi driver this morning could talk of little else.

A little background to begin. Joan, known also as "The Maid of Orléans", is a national heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. A peasant girl, she led the French army to victories during the Hundred Years' War, before she was captured, sold to the English, tried and burned at the stake when she was just 19 years old. This year is the 600th anniversary of her birth.

This week some contenders in the country's April presidential election have been eagerly paying tribute to her and, it is suggested, trying to appropriate a little of Joan's lasting glamour and popularity.

In a front-page editorial headlined "Joan of Arc - woman of the year 2012" Le Figaro notes, "No political parties are strangers to Joan and all the parties need her. Why? Because she is this mysterious force, this divine force from which springs hope."

Elsewhere, the paper reports President Nicolas Sarkozy's remark that "Joan loves France. She belongs to no party, no faction, to no clan. Furthermore, we should think of her as the symbol of our unity and not leave her in the hands of those who would use her to divide."

Just in case readers have not fathomed of whom the president speaks, Le Figaro tells us. In the past, the right-wing Front National has clutched Joan to its collective breast. And in the forthcoming election Front leader Marine Le Pen will be a troublesome rivalto Sarkozy.

"This anniversary," says Le Figaro, "is the first opportunity to refuse the Front National exclusivity."

As you'd expect, Catholic daily La Croix also reflect on Saint Joan, though on her spirituality rather than the grubby efforts of politicians to bask in her reflected glory.

Left-leaning Libération reports that Sarkozy was well ahead of the Front National in the footsteps of Joan of Arc. Yesterday, the head of state visited Domrémy in the Vosges, her birthplace. It is in this town, the paper reminds us, that Jeanne la pucelle (Joan the virgin), as Joan is often called in France, mounted her horse and set out one day in 1429. She was 17 years old. Sarkozy is now somewhat older - 56 in fact - and he too is preparing to campaign.

Back to earth - as it were - Aujourd'hui en France has the front page news that another presidential hopeful, François Hollande of the Socialist Party, yesterday received a death threat, delivered in a telephone call, while campaigning in the south-west of the country. The paper cites its informants as saying that Madame Le Pen has also had death threats via the internet.

How to protect candidates on the campaign trail, the paper wonders, and devotes two inside pages to the question.

Aujourd'hui reveals that five of the 10 candidates have police protection. Two have chosen not to be protected. And three more have yet to ask for protection and may rely of their own supporters.

The paper interviews the chief of the police force's protection squad, which numbers 760 officers, who says risks increase during an election campaign.

Which is not to say that political life is risk-free at other times. Six months ago, as President Sarkozy was on walkabout down South, a man from the crowd grabbed him by the collar and tugged. The assailant was seized immediately by security men before more damage was done. But since then security around the president has been tightened, says Aujourd'hui.

Finally, several papers pick up on the news, first reported by Ouest France, that the local government in the small town of Cesson in Brittany has forbidden the use of the term of address "Mademoiselle" in all administrative documents.

Evidently, officials have decided that the use of the term "Miss" is intrusive and discriminatory. This because there is no similar distinction made between married and unmarried men. Henceforth all females whatever their marital status or their age will be addressed as "Madame".

Is the modern world entirely bonkers or what?

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