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French press review 12 May 2015

The French press takes a look at the heavy toll of air polution in France: more than 16,000 lives lost and 48 billion euros every year. The French college reform is dogged by ideological battles and the spectre of Rwanda's genocide hangs on Burundi as the country's president arms tribal militia to push his illegal re-election.

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The bleak picture painted by Libération comes amid reports that tens of thousands of people have fled to Rwanda following the outbreak of violence triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term, despite being barred by the constitution. More than 19 people have been killed so far in the violence in the capital Bujumbura.

Libération publishes excerpts of testimonies by two ex-secret service agents who have informed the UN about the arming of militias to secure Nkurunziza’s re-election. Anyone who will dare oppose the third term will suffer the consequences; one of the agents is reported to have told the UN.

Libé reports that the ruling party's youth wing militia known as the Imbonerakure, or, literally, "Those Who See Far" has been going house to house, daubing doors of suspected opposition supporters with red paint as a grim warning of attacks to come.

African Union Commission President Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has described the environment as unsuitable to hold elections. Liberation doubts that a regional summit scheduled in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday will suffice to get President Nkurunziza drop his plans. The Burundi strongman it says is already an isolated man with less and less allies in neighbouring countries and in the West.

The Socialist government’s plans for college reform continue to attract heated reactions from politicians and intellectuals alike. The proposal drafted by a bi-partisan panel of experts seeks to correct weaknesses in the French school system, with pupils having fallen behind in French, mathematics and history over the past decade.

This reform seeks to break away from “uniformism” in teaching, combating boredom and drop-outs at school, and improving living conditions. But more substantially it targets an end to the “ghettoisation” of college establishments, including the creation of joint areas to encourage social diversity and the resource allocation reform set to come into force at the start of the 2015 academic year.

But according toLe Figaro, the document is a slap on the face of French tradition and culture. The paper speaks to the renowned philosopher Alain Finkielkraut. He claims that the proposed reform is destructive to the education system. Finkielkraut denounces what he calls the elitist rage of Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem to do away once and for all with the republican school which still bears such a name.

La Croix says supporters of the reform are also raising their voices in support of the government project. According to the Catholic daily they include the Catholic education secretary, the head of the National Federation of Parents Associations and the head of the Free Education Parents’ Federation (APEL) who joined the two main teachers’ unions on Monday.

L’Humanité expresses consternation at the exceptionally violent tone the college reform debate has taken. According to the Communist party daily, it is high time to repair the ravages of the Nicolas Sarkozy presidency which was marked by the particularly toxic shedding of 80,000 teaching jobs.

L’Humanité points out that 64 per cent of French classes have more than 25 students with 10 per cent suffering from overcrowding, as teachers are over-burdened by the handling of 30 students at a time when the size of classrooms in the OECD is dropping.

What if Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is right, wonders Libération. It argues that the pitched battles over her reform underline two irreconcilable concepts of education and the stark differences in approach between the left and the conservative. It is a choice, it says, between an egalitarian or nostalgic elitist system.

France is lagging behind other European countries in the fight against air pollution. This is according to L’Humanité. The Communist party newspaper cites the World Health Organisation’s latest study in 53 countries across Europe, which attributes 600,000 premature deaths in 2010 to air pollution.

More than 16,800 lives have been lost in France due to poor-quality air, says L’Humanité. It claims that the grim statistics attributed to a surge in lung and heart diseases and cancer compound findings by the OECD that worsening air pollution is costing France a massive 48 billion euros, representing 2.3 per cent of its GDP.

The Communist party newspaper also criticises France for failing to act on a series of reports underlining the deadly consequences of micro particles on public health and of dragging its feet to add some muscle to the air quality law passed 20 years ago.

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