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French press review 12 March 2013

All eyes are on Rome today, apart from a little attention being paid to Dijon, where at least one person still cares about worldly matters.

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Today 115 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church will be locked into the Vatican's Sistine Chapel and they won't be let out again until they have chosen one of their number to succeed Benedict XVI.

Interestingly, the men in the little red hats have exactly five days to choose the new pope, after which time they can take as long as they like, provided they can survive on a diet of bread and water.

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"Pope Academy" is Libération's front page headline, a wry glance at the TV talent show Star Academy, which turns gawky teen hopefuls into insufferable teen superstars.

There are no front-runners this time, and no wave of emotion to drive the procedings since the outgoing pope hasn't left the job feet first. French cardinal Philippe Barbarin says you could make a good case for any of 12 potential candidates, a situation which could lead to bread and water overtime for the lads.

The same Cardinal Barbarin says that tonight's first vote will be crucial in cutting the field down to the two or three men capable of attracting between 30 and 40 votes, thus focusing the conclave on the serious contenders.

Right-wing Le Figaro says the eyes of the world will be on the Sistine Chapel chimney, waiting for the white smoke which will signal that the new head honcho has been chosen.

Le Figaro's editorial wonders at the worldwide interest awakened by this strange election. The paper suggests that we in Europe are ill-placed to understand the appeal of the Catholic Church in the emerging world.

If the old continent has tended to abandon religious observance and adherence to a faith, people in Africa and Asia have been at the forefront of a movement putting the Church at the centre of political reality. The election that opens today will have an impact far beyond the nominal world population of one billion Catholics.

And that, says Figaro, can be explained by the fact that the Pope represents no political or national interest, and has no strategic ambitions. In a world without landmarks or believable authority figures, the successor of St Peter has an important global role.

President François Hollande is currently in the north-eastern French city of Dijon, attempting to win back some of the support he has so patently lost in the 10 months since his election.

According to communist paper l'Humanité, he chose his ground carefully yesterday, avoiding any potentially embarrassing questions from trade union leaders or from disgruntled Socialist voters who have seen their hopes drowned in the deep and difficult waters of austerity.

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