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French press review 21 March 2011

4 min

Just one week ago, the French newspapers were predicting nuclear Armageddon and the end of everything because of the damaged Japanese reactors in Fukushima. The same publications have now relegated that particular story to the inside pages.As for the human tragedy provoked by the earthquake and tidal wave that hit Japan ten days ago, you'll have trouble finding that anywhere at all. 


This morning, the papers give pride of place to the on-going military action by French, British and US forces against Libya's mad leader, Moamer Kadhafi, action which has involved the bombing of military installations and air bases and has resulted in the establishment of something called a no-fly zone. The idea is to protect the civilian population from attack by Kadhafi's air force, an air force which was sold to the Libyan leader by the French, British and US governments back in the days when Kadhafi was a rehabilitated friend of the West, allowed to pitch his tent next to the French presidential palace here in Paris, a man whose oil income got him to the top of every guest list.

Right-wing Le Figaro is quite pleased with the weekend's events on the other side of the Mediterranean. But, since Figaro is owned by an arms and fighter aircraft manufacturer, and a fan of the Sarkozy government, that's perhaps not too surprising. Le Figaro's headline reads "The trap closes on Kadhafi". The trap may, in fact, be closing on the western powers behind the air strikes, but that remains to be seen.

Business daily Les Echos has "Kadhafi under Western attack" as its main headline, but mentions in the small print that not everybody is happy about what's happening. The Arab League, for example, wonders about the logic of bombing tanks and other military vehicles on the road to Benghazi if the objective was to establish a no-fly zone.

The road to Benghazi this morning looks tragically like the road to Kuwait during the first Gulf War, twenty years ago. Then, the idea was to protect the people of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Tragically, it didn't work, since it led, more or less directly, to the Iraq war, which is still going on. And it's not clear that it will work now. Where it will lead, this time, is anybody's guess.

Communist l'Humanité says Libya is just another western war in the sad line that leads from Kabul, through Baghdad to Tripoli. Like all the other western interventions of recent date, it has been described in many different ways. But it's a war nonetheless, and those who die as a result will be just as dead as the victims of all the other wars that were called something different.

And then there were those French local elections. If you are not particularly interested, don't worry, neither were the French. A record number of voters stayed at home, barely 45% of those registered actually bothering to go to the polling stations. And, as a result of a typically French display of mid-term dissatisfaction, the ruling UMP did badly, with the disorganised Socialists taking the lion's share, and Marine Le Pen's poisonous extreme right National Front making huge gains almost everywhere.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, it is my tragic duty to announce the death of Knut, the famous polar bear born in 2006 in Berlin Zoo, only to be rejected by his mother. His adoption by a keeper and his undeniable cuddly charm turned the little beast into an international celebrity and a huge source of income for the zoo. Alas, the strain all proved too much, and the six-year-old keeled over on Saturday before a horrified crowd of visiting fans, and died.

He'd being suffering from depression. Which is not so surprising for a lad who'd been under the glare of the world's media, had lost his beloved keeper, and was bullied by his mother and the other, bigger polar bears in Berlin. Knut, not to put too fine a point on it, is caput.

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