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French press review 13 August 2018

Hard times for white supremacists in the United States. A warning of further strikes by pilots at Air France. And a chilling glimpse of life and death inside a Syrian military prison.


It's getting hard to be a white supremacist in the United States.

Le Monde's main story reports that the arrival of thousands of rival protestors under the banner "Unite to fight racism" put a stop to plans by far-right groups to celebrate the first anniversary of the Charlottesville riots with a march in Washington yesterday.

If the general atmosphere was of a battlefield without an adversary after far-right leader Jason Kessler and about 20 supporters left under police escort, Le Monde says many protesters came to call for peace and progress, not clashes.

There were plenty of far-left supporters, demanding the end of fascism, saying the system can't be fixed, it has to be overturned.

But Sherry Watken, a teacher from Virginia, wore a T-shirt proclaiming "Don't complain, vote". An ardent enthusiast for former president Barack Obama, she tells Le Monde "If you think education is expensive, just try ignorance," the main force which Sherry Watken believes explains the election of Donald Trump.

If the US president issued his usual torrent of twitter messages calling for calm before the Washington march, he refused to single out the far right. Trump's daughter Ivanka was more direct. She reminded protesters that, since Americans have the good fortune to live in a country which ensures personal freedom and the right to divergent opinions, there is no place for "white supremacists, racists or neo-Nazis".

French pilots take the helm at Air France

Le Figaro looks at the national carrier Air France where the pilots' union has declared it will welcome its prospective new managing director with a demand for immediate salary negotiations, unless the new man at the controls wants to see a further two weeks of strikes.

Stoppages so far this year have cost the airline 335 million euros and lead to the departure of the last boss, Jean-Marc Janaillac.

While a replacement has still to be found, the pilots want to make it clear that their dispute over salaries and conditions will resume in September, with or without a new boss.

And they might also be trying to ensure that one of the current candidates for the top job, the Canadian Benjamin Smith, who is currently number two at Air Canada, does not take over the helm at the French airline.

"We want somebody who understands the niceties of French industrial negotiations," says Phillipe Evain, president of the main pilots' union. Adding that the new director will have to know the European market, very different, we are assured, from the situation in Canada.

Bashar al-Assad's bureaucracy of death

Left-leaning Libération devotes its front-page to Syria, as seen through the eyes of the exiled illustrator Najah Albukai. The paper's editorial, on the same subject, is starkly headlined "Middle Ages".

We thought we had seen the worst in Syria, says the article, what with the use of chemical weapons, barrel bombs, the starvation of civilian populations. But the testimony and the drawings of Najah Albukai reveal an unsuspected horror: since the revolution and all through the war which followed, the Assad regime has established what Libé calls a "bureaucracy of death," comparable with the worst extermination campaigns in history.

While Western leaders and global organisations have been splitting hairs, Bashar al-Assad has been torturing and murdering his own people and keeping detailed accounts of his exactions.

Albukai was himself arrested and tortured. His wife bribed someone close to the regime to have him freed. His first-hand account of life and death in Syrian military jails today is a glimpse of methods worthy (perhaps I mean unworthy?) of the Middle Ages.

The majority of those who have died in custody are officially the victims of heart failure or respiratory problems. Albukai says such claims are an insult to the rest of the world.

If it is too late to save those already suffering, he continues, but at least we can try to make sure that the Syrian leader, the Butcher of Damascus, is eventually judged for his crimes.

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