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French press review 4 March 2013

How will France finance pensions for its aging population? When will the French-intervention in Mali end? And what's at stake at the Kenyan elections? Some of the key questions being discussed in French newspapers today.


Right wing Le Figaro is happy to report that French president François Hollande has his back to the wall on the question of how to finance retirement benefits.

Having violently criticised his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, for his efforts to get retirement spending under control, Hollande now finds himself obliged to consider radical measures, according to Le Figaro.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

If nothing is done, says the right-wing paper, the pensions debt will reach 22 billion euros by the end of the decade. One solution would be to push back the age of retirement, notionally 60 years for hard-line socialists, currently 62 thanks to a Sarkozy-imposed change.

The socialists may be preparing us for a change of direction, since one party figure recently said it was impossible to continue to have people spending more time in retirement than they had actually working.

Left-leaningLibération wonders if the war in Mali has reached a turning point.

Fighting in the northern desert at the weekend was extremely violent, and may have cost the lives of two key jihadist figures, Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The crucial question is what effect the military escalation will have on the security of the 15 French nationals held by various Islamist groups in Africa.

Libé's editorial says the time has come for an end to the government's silence on a war which has so far killed three French soldiers. We should be told the exact purpose of the French intervention. When will an African force to replace the French be operational? And when are France's so-called European allies going to do more than praise the legitimacy of an operation they resolutely refuse to join?

The weekend edition of Le Monde looks to Kenya on the eve of the elections, and discovers a nation "haunted by the dark hours" of early 2008. Few people, and no Kenyans, will need to be reminded that the last election (in December, 2007) triggered a spate of inter-communal violence in which at least 1,133 people lost their lives and a further 350,000 were forced out of their homes.

Everyone fears a repeat of that violence. The pre-election period has been relatively peaceful, except for the inter-tribal clashes in the Tana River Delta; clashes which many commentators have blamed on local politicians anxious to ensure a favourable result by forcing the supporters of their opponents out of key constituencies.

Dossier: War in Mali

Nationally, the great rift is between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin tribes. Their two champions and arch rivals from the 2007 race - Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and William Kipchirchir Ruto - have now joined forces and have campaigned together. Theirs is the pre-election ticket rated first in most opinion polls, ahead of Raila Amolo Odinga, who represents the Luo people of the Rift Valley, the only Kenyan province to have voted against the new constitution, and the scene of the worst of the violence in 2008.

Some commentators suggest that the current political alignments, far from curtailing the risk of inter-communal mayhem, simply ensure that the clashes this time will be between different communities.

US president Barack Obama, who has a deep personal investment in Kenya through his Luo father, has called on today's voters to show the world that they are not simply members of a tribe or an ethnic group, but proud citizens of a great nation.

Le Monde also wonder why the Motion Picture Academy favoured Argo over Zero Dark Thirty in last week's Oscars. Why, in other words, choose the story of an American "failure" (Argo is set against the humiliating flop of US efforts to free dozen of diplomats held in the Iranian capital, Teheran, in 1979) rather than an American "triumph" (Zero Dark Thirty being an edited version of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden)?

Le Monde suggests that Hollywood, at least, has understood that the image of an American superpower, coldly determined to exact a vengeance worthy of Sharia law, is worse than counterproductive. Better, by far, the message of Argo which shows US intelligence (in both the individual and CIA senses) at its best, cleverly saving its citizens from the barbarous hands and bearded chins of Iranian fanatics.

The mollahs in Teheran don't like either film, which just goes to show that (to misquote Abraham Lincoln: the mollahs don't like him either) you can't please all of the people all of the time.

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