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French press review 14 March 2014

French matters take a back seat in the French papers for once, leaving the front pages to the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

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Le Figaro reports that an armada of ships and search planes from 10 countries are now combing the East China Sea, an area as large as France, as the relatives of the 239 passengers and crew members on board are desperate for information.

The right-wing newspaper discusses five possible scenarios about what probably happened: a possible hijack, an explosion that caused a loss of pressure on board, the suicide of the pilot or a fire on board.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

Le Figaro observes that the phenomenon of missing planes remains extremely rare due to the sophisticated aircraft tracking equipment such as radars radio and satellites currently being used by airlines companies to keep in touch with planes from take-off to landing.

Aujourd’hui en France vents the frustrations of experts.  The Gulf of Thailand and the Sea of Japan have been included in the search operations area as current effort failed to produce any clues.

L’Humanité is urging ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy to stop trying to obstruct the course of justice, as the scandal about his phone being tapped snowballs. The controversy centres on explosive allegations that he attempted to pervert the course of justice by trying to obtain secret information about an ongoing court case from a friendly judge.

Investigators said they got the information after tapping the former president's phones over a separate probe into suspicions that the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi helped finance his 2007 election campaign.

According to the Communist Party daily, the former president has remained tight-lipped despite the mounting charges.

The scandal has boomeranged after the right-wing opposition UMP party accused the Socialist government of political espionage. The scapegoat is Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who denied knowing of the probe but later admitted being informed as stipulated by a new law.

L’Humanité argues that, while there are genuine questions to be answered about the government’s attitude, they should not make us forget the crux and scope of the cases facing the ex-president.

The calamitous handling of the Sarkozy phone-tapping affair is causing consternation within the left, writes Libération. The paper observes that Taubira’s change of line exposes a lack of coordination between Matignon, the prime minister’s office, and the Elysée Palace.

However Libé welcomes the rallying of cabinet ministers in defence of Taubira. It highlights remarks by Green MP and Housing Minister Cécile Duflot, who bluntly dismisses calls by UMP chief Jean-François Copé for Taubira’s resignation. She says that it is indecent for someone facing investigation for grave abuses like Copé to call for the justice minister’s resignation.

Aujourd’hui en France takes up the opening of an investigation by French prosecutors into the so-called Copé affair, allegations that a firm belonging to his friends systematically over-charged his won party, the UMP.

The probe was launched on 5 March following revelations by weekly Le Point that Jean-Francois Copé used his influence to channel party contracts to the PR company, which then charged the UMP more than the market rate. It is the latest corruption probe to hit France's centre-right opposition, which has been caught on the backfoot with a string of scandals

And Libération is calling for the institution of free transport for all after atmospheric pollution crossed red-alert levels in and around Paris and also in 30 other regions across France. The paper regrets that no coercive measures have so far been taken to curb road traffic and regulate the use of diesel-powered engines at a time when half of the French people are exposed to carcinogenic particles.

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