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French press review 16 December 2013

Central African Republic, corrupt African leaders and their spending in France, Hollande and his Prime Minister and Peter O'Toole - all in today's papers.

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To begin with both Catholic La Croix and left leaning Libération devote their front pages to African issues.

Dossier: War in Mali

La Croix wonders how French troops can stop what it describes as the "spiral of violence" in the Central African Republic. The paper leads on its front page with a photo of a French soldier trying to calm down the population in the district of Kpetene in Bangui.

Editorialising on the situation, La Croix says the worries concerning the French intervention 12 days ago have since been confirmed, with a still serious situation in Bangui and elsewhere in the country where the different militia have not been disarmed and where sporadic lynchings still take place.

The paper says the French on their own cannot solve the Central African Republic's problems, suggesting that Paris call on the rest of Europe to join forces to help the African peacekeeping troops. But in a country where the infrastructure is all but inexistant and the economy in a state of paralysis, the next step after the humanitarian needs must be structural development.

Libération devotes its attention to what it says is the "path to Congo" in reference to a French inquiry into fraudulently acquired property and goods by African leaders in France.
The paper says that after Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, French investigators are now turning their attention to what it says is the the vast spending by the Sassou-Nguesso family.

Although there is no legal term to describe the practice, Libération quotes non-governmental organisations following the dossier, who are certain that public money which has been stolen by unscrupulous leaders amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide. It says that a complaint launched by Transparency International in 2008 against Omar Bongo, Teodoro Obiang and Denis Sassou Nguesso has revealed the extravagant spending by these African heads of state.

It says that concerning the Sassou Nguesso family, the pillaging was systematic and well- organised and accounts for about 60 billion euros in France since 2005 including jewelry, fast cars, and luxurous properties with swimming pools.

At a time when Paris has sent troops to the Central African Republic, Libération says Paris must ask itself whether it can still maintain its privileged links with regimes which are so blatently stealing from their own people.

Right wing Le Figaro leads with a row which has broken out in France over a new report on the integration of immigrants. The report suggested several highly controversial changes, including an end to the law which bans overt religious symbols in all French government-run schools.

President Hollande felt it necessary to intervene from Cayenne where he was on a visit, to make clear that the ideas in the report were not shared by himself or his government. This after a huge row in parliament on Friday when the Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who commissioned the report, was lambasted by the opposition UMP party and by the far right National Front and where he received little backing from his own side.

The President's intervention has severely weakened the prime minister's authority, writes Le Figaro, which goes on to speculate that relations between the two men are at an all time low. But, it says, even if this is the case, the underlying problem remains. Do Hollande and Ayrault consider that it is for the French Republic to impose its rules on the different communities which make up France, or do those communities force the Republic to adapt to their demands?

Popular Le Parisien/Aujourd'hui en France leads on its front page with a question: "Who can stop Martine Aubry?". For those who don't know, Martine Aubry is the Socialist mayor of the northern city of Lille and a former employment minister.

Ahead of the upcoming municipal elections in March, the paper says the latest opinion polls show her in the lead for a third term as mayor of Lille, where it says she appears unbeatable. But, while describing her as a bulldozer, the paper says it's not all good news for her, as the far right National Front is also on the rise in the city.

Communist L'Humanité has a special edition today with all its articles written by a group of 18 to 25 year olds.

The paper says the chance to edit a newspaper, even for a day, will offer them what it calls a path to the future.

L'Humanité says the experience is also a great way of believing in the future of the written press in France at a time when many newspapers, including L'Humanité, are struggling to make ends meet. The gap between young people and the traditional written press is not insurmountable, it writes.

Several of the papers pay tribute to the Irish actor Peter O'Toole who died on Sunday at the age of 81. Libération publishes a photo on its front page of him in his most famous role as Lawrence of Arabia.

Le Figaro describes him as a "monster of the cinema and theatre worlds", saying quite simply that Lawrence of Arabia is dead.

As for Aujourd'hu en France, it simply describes Peter O'Toole as "eternal".

Finally, Le Figaro draws attention to the growing popularity of hamburgers in France. Quoting a study by Gira Conseil, the paper says the iconic fast food product is fast becoming an accepted form of French food. As a result, it says 80 per cent of the 110,000 restaurants in France now propose various different forms of hamburger on their menus.

And in the country renowned for its haute cuisine, Le Figaro says hamburger sales have increased by 40 per cent over the past two years. That means each French person now consumes an average of 14 burgers a year, it says, making the French only second in Europe behind the British.

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