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French press review 2 November 2013

The crisis in Brittany is making the French government rather uncomfortable, according to most of today’s French press headlines, as thousands are expected to show up at protests in the western French city of Quimper today.


The unpopular “ecotax”, which aims at encouraging environmentally-friendly commercial transport, was designed to impose new levies on French and foreign vehicles transporting commercial goods weighing over 3.5 tonnes.

Critics in Brittany said the tax would seriously damage the region’s precarious farming and food sectors by increasing transportation costs, driving companies out of business and leading to major job losses.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has warned against a "spiral of violence” ahead of the protest against a controversial environmental tax on road freight and massive lay-offs in the region, reports the right-wing daily Le Figaro.

But despite the government's decision to suspend the ecotax, fishermen's and farmers' unions are calling for it to be completely scrapped.

The head of the government was probably hoping to catch a breath after the suspension, says the daily, but reports from within his government have hinted that the protests may go array, as "extremists" groups linked to this year's anti-gay marriage protests and far-right movements have announced they would descending on the coastal town today, ready to make trouble.

But “Who is fuelling this massive anger in Brittany?” Is the question the popular daily Aujourd’hui en France is asking on its front page.

Local business owners and farmers, interviewed by the daily, argue that because Brittany has less rail infrastructure than other French regions, it would be unfairly penalised by the tax, because most goods have to be transported by road.

The region is suffering, says one of the farmers speaking to Aujourd’hui en France, and the government is “just leaving us to die”.

But the crisis is also awakening the separatists, says the newspaper, who, although few in numbers, are feeding off the general anger against the government.

Left-wing Libération decided to stay away from the social unrest and Brittany for its weekend edition and led with a culture story.

The newspaper headlines with French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and the upcoming publication of his essays and classes transcripts on painter Edouard Manet.

The sociologist gave classes on Manet’s work at the College de France from 1998 to 2000, during which he explained the influence of the painter on the Art world and how the scandals caused by his painting, questioning artistic and political norms, led to an evolution of mentality in France.

Another eye-catching article in today’s Libération: the French-Canadian province of Quebec is faced with a debate France struggled with a few years back: secularism and “conspicuous” religious symbols worn by government employees.

You might remember the very tense 2009 debates on national identity and secularism in France. Quebec’s government, taking example from France for the elaboration of a recently proposed charter on secularism, has triggered an almost equally agitated debate on religious freedom.

The charter plans to prohibit public employees from wearing large crosses and crucifixes, Islamic headscarves, Sikh turbans and Jewish yarmulkes as a way to establish “religious neutrality” in public, explains Libération.

Deemed unconstitutional by many, the charter has sparked many protests across Quebec in the past couple of months.

And finally, as it’s always good to end on a slightly lighter note, the Catholic newspaper La Croix tells us that the French National Lottery is turning 80 on Thursday.

The first lottery was held on 7 November 1933 and the 5 million francs price (about 3.3 million euros) was won by a hairdresser from Southern France, says the paper.

At the time, the lottery was meant to finance aid to World War 1 veterans and victims of agriculture calamities.

Today, more than 25 millions people still try their luck at the French lottery every year.

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