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French press review 12 March 2014

Islamist groups in the Sahel region, Venezuela after Chavez and the sexual assaults in the French army are the main topics in today's French newspapers.

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One year after the hostage-taking at the Algerian oil installation of In Amenas, Le Monde's main story looks at the ever-present threat posed by various groups in the Sahel, the vast desert region shared between Mali, Algeria and Libya.

These groups are highly mobile, extremely well armed, and have had time to reorganise in the wake of In Amenas. The commander of the January 2013 raid, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is still at large. The intelligence community in Paris is worried that new attacks are inevitable, and that the French military presence in Mali will make French nationals and operations privileged targets.

Dossier: War in Mali

Le Monde's front page editorial looks to Latin America, specifically Venezuela in the wake of Hugo Chavez, who died last year after 14 years of socialist dictatorship.

The country should be enormously rich. Venezuela sits on the world's largest reserves of crude oil, and has the resources to be self sufficient in terms of agricultural production.

Instead, practically everything is imported, including one-third of the nation's food. There's no foreign exchange reserve, the hospitals are ill-equipped and under-staffed, inflation is running at 56 per cent.

Crime is the only sector that seems to be thriving, with Caracas now rated the most dangerous capital in the world, and the annual number of murders running at 25,000.

Since the start of last month, a lot of Venezuelans have been out in the streets, protesting at a system that has made a small number very rich while driving the nation to chaos and bankruptcy. The government of Nicolas Maduro has this week announced that it will be necessary to issue ration cards for basic necessities.

The army high command and those who control the thriving black market are rubbing their hands. The rest of Venezuela's 30 million inhabitants are wondering how much worse it can get, and what they can do about it.

Right-wing Le Figaro looks at the much-anticipated government reshuffle, saying that the Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is likely to hold onto his job, despite a plunge to 16 per cent in the popularity ratings, simply because President Hollande can't find anyone less bad to do the job.

Apart from those happy tidings, Le Figaro says the new cabinet is likely to be a leaner machine than the current one, with fewer ministers to whinge as 50 billion euros is whittled off the state spending rump.

What we really need, says the right-wing paper in a feisty (not to say nasty) editorial, is a new president, because François Hollande just doesn't have the political courage necessary to enforce the spending cuts the economy so badly needs.

Communist L'Humanité warns that French culture will be fighting against said spending cuts. Faced with a 7 per cent decline in spending compared to last year, French culture is to take to the streets of Paris this very day to protest against the negative impact of austerity.

In case you think this is about a bunch of arty-farty good-for-nothings looking to protect their ill-gotten privileges, you should know that the culture industry contributes 58 billion euros to the French economy evey year, that's seven times more than the entire automobile sector.

Popular daily Aujourd'hui en France looks at proverbial expressions in French, because an opinion poll company, fed up asking the French how much they disliked the government, decided to identify the nation's favourite expression. And the winner is . . . the proverb "dogs don't give birth to cats," meaning the people you don't like generally have obnoxious children.

My personal favourite is either "chewing the child" which means you've been waiting a long time in a state of nervous tension, or "taking the 11 o'clock train" which means, would you believe, walking.

Libération looks at the question of sexual abuse in the French armed forces. Fifteen per cent of French military personnel are women; there are currently ten cases before the courts where male soldiers are accused of sexual harassment, sexual violence, or rape. According to a recently published book, The Invisible War,sexual crime is hugely under-reported in the army, as the perpetrators use their rank, or the code of silence, to stifle protest. And the more determined victims can always be transferred.

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