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French press review 20 February 2014

5 min

Two tragic situations dominate this morning's French front pages - the battles in Kiev and the Central African Republic's "descent into madness".


There's the unrest in Ukraine, which Le Figaro sees as a proxy war between the former Cold War blocs of east and west.

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Russia claims that Europe is attempting to organise a "coup d'état"; France and Germany have threatened sanctions against the leaders of the former soviet state. The right-wing paper's grim editorial warns that, 20 years after the Balkan war which lead to the fragmentation of Yugoslavia, the same tensions could provoke another all-out conflict.

Le Figaro describes a deeply divided nation, with a Russian-speaking population facing Moscow and the ethnic-Ukranians who look to the west, notably the European Union. The whole operation presided over by a deeply corrupt virtual dictator, kept in place by Vladimir Putin.

Communist L'Humanité says Europe's policy is the worst possible, since menacing a shaky administration will simply reinforce the already poisoned link with Moscow without doing anything to resolve the fundamental questions which divide the sides.

Catholic La Croix notes the worrying extension of the violence beyond the capital, Kiev, to include much of the west of the country. The Catholic daily also points to the speed and determination which characterise Russian interventions, as opposed to the laborious efforts towards luke-warn consensus which make European Union diplomacy such a bad joke.

Libération points to the current vulnerability of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the man the left-leaning daily describes as "Ukraine's godfather" in the mafia sense. Just days from the end of the winter Olympics in Sochi, Putin won't want to have the grande finale of his sporting extravaganza marred by further violent deaths at the hands of a puppet regime. But the West has to be careful, too, since Putin is a key element in the Syrian crisis and in the negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme.

The other front-page tragedy this morning is the one unfolding in the Central African Republic.

Communist L'Humanité says the CAR has sunk into madness.

Three months after the arrival of French soldiers sent to restore order, the country remains embroiled in the chaos of an inter-ethnic war. Another complicating factor is the CAR's refugee population, with escapers from Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, many of them Muslim and thus targets for the Christian militia which have sprung up in reaction to earlier massacres attributed to Muslim groups.

One local interviewed in the capital, Bangui, by L'Humanité's reporter says it is wrong to present the conflict in the Central African Republic as a cleevage between the Christian and Muslim communities. The real problem is that extreme poverty and the general lack of hope has forced people to regroup along ethnic lines. Says another, the root cause of the conflict is the French colonial past, which established the clan system which installed a few rich and powerful families at the expense of the general population.

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