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French press review 24 January 2015

Sunday's general election in Greece excites a lot of coverage in this morning's French newspapers.

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"Europe prepares for the victory of Syriza" is the top headline in the centrist daily Le Monde. All the opinion polls predict that the radical left party will triumph at the poll. Though the paper notes that party leader - Alexis Tsipras - is hoping for an absolute majority of seats in Parliament but it's by no means certain that he will succeed. The key question is how big a majority he need to govern.

The rules, Le Monde explains, are that a party with an absolute majority can form a government. Otherwise, the party with the most seats is authorised by the President to form a coalition with other parties. The catch is - the permission expires after three days, and the party with the second largest number of seats is invited to try and form a coalition government. If that fails . . .  it's the turn of the third largest party, ad infinitum. Which sounds ominous - a recipe for delay, horse trading and no certainty of an stable government. Not least because there is little common ground between rival parties.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Le Monde tells its readers that Brussels - that's to say the European Union and other members of the eurozone - is seeking to avoid a confrontation with Syriza, which doesn't want to abandon the euros but does want to re-negotiate Greek debt. Evidently, Europe does not want Athens to exit the common currency. At the same time, renegotiating Greek debt before a second bail-out package is completed is out of the question.

Last but not least with regard to the unfolding Greek drama, Le Monde compares and contrasts the politics of Greece with those of France. The French Socialist party refuses to accept any parallels with the situation in France. This, despite the fact that austerity policies - driven largely by Berlin - are as unpopular with the radical left and many mainstream Socialist in France as they are in Greece. Le Monde says the ruling French Socialist Party faces a dilemma. It's difficult for them to support Alexis Tsipras who want to end austerity. Difficult also to support his right-wing rival - Antonis Samaras - who favours austerity.

The paper devotes considerable space to the death yesterday of the Saudi King - Abdullah. And the succession of his half-brother Salman. Le Monde notes that during Abdullah's 20 years reign he allowed some small reforms in the fiercely conservative Kingdom - for example, allowing women to sit on the Consultative Council. But, small is the operative word.

Wahhabi Moslem clerics - whose version of Islam is strict and unforgiving - have successfully resisted significant changes in Saudi society - such as allowing women to drive. Salman, the new King, says he will continue the policies of his half brother.

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Right-wing Le Figaro leads with what it calls "Population policy" - and what the Prime Minister Manuel Valls is planning. To fight against what he has called "apartheid" - he wants to increase the social mix in what France calls "les quartiers"- an unvarnished translation of which would be districts inhabited largely by non-white immigrants; It is an idea, says Le Figaro, that's opposed not only by the right but also by the left.

Valls see this as part of the struggle against terrorism and radical Islam. In communities and schools, Valls wants to overcome what he has called "ghettoisation and segregation". and "territorial, social and ethnic apartheid." In part, this is to be achieved by requiring communes with more than 3,500 inhabitants must provide 20 per cent of social housing - for lower income families.

Not everyone is convinced. One Socialist Party deputy - Malek Boutih - described Valls pronouncements as "pure demagoguery". The definition of which is "a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people." "We won't make radicals disappear by scattering them," scoffed Boutih.

Le Figaro's front page editorial considers Valls' recent remarks about what he called "apartheid" in France. The paper doesn't much like what he had to say. It's a mistake to suggest that the French state has racist policies, it says. Le Figaro reminds us that "population policy" was mentioned also in the "Little Red book" of the Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-tung. It involved shifting and re-educating populations and multi-ethnic planning. Scholars of Chinese history tells us it all ended in tears.

Le Figaro thinks it is "a curious idea for a socialist (i.e. Manuel Valls) reputedly less socialist than his comrades."

"The (French) Republic," the paper tells us, "remains faithful to herself - one and indivisible".

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