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French press review 24 February 2015

5 min

The French military dominate two of this morning's front pages, but the stories could hardly be more different.

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"France steps up the pressure on Islamic State" is the main headline in conservative Le Figaro.

This is a reference to the deployment of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, with its 36 fighter planes, to the Persian Gulf. In the face of terrorist threats from Al-Qaeda, IS and, most recently, the Somali group Al Shebab, the Paris authorities have promised "total determination".

The Figaro editorial asks if it might not be wiser to keep a low profile, and thus expose the country less to the danger of terrorism? No, says the right-wing paper, because it won't work, and it would show a scandalous level of cowardice.

The government has had the courage to engage this strange new enemy, says Le Figaro. It must now find the finance necessary to ensure the success of its soldiers.

The front-page story in communist L'Humanité looks back one decade to the air attack on the north-central Ivorian city of Bouaké in 2004.

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Nine French soldiers of the Licorne mission died when their base at Bouaké was attacked. Forty other French military personnel were injured.

The facts are well burried, by what L'Humanité calls "political pressures" and "obstacles errected by successive governments," essentially the right-wing administrations of Jacques Chirac, president at the time of the attack, and of Nicolas Sarkozy, who took over in 2007.

On the day in question, two Sukhoi 25 aircraft of the Ivorian air force took off from Yamoussoukro, piloted by Belarusian mercenaries. Having flown over the French contingent once, the two planes returned and opened fire.

The nine dead were burried quickly, and the legally required autopsies were systematically refused. The two pilots, arrested by the French in Togo immediately after the attack, were freed without charge, as were their Ivorian accomplices. The order to free them appears to have come directly from Paris.

There is no question that the attack was a mistake, the French troops were a designated target, according to one witness, a military assistant to the head of the Licorne Mission, General Henri Poncet.

The suggestion is that the Africa Desk at the Elysée Palace colluded in the attack in an effort to destabilise Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, and speed his departure, by blaming him for the error.

It all went tragically wrong, with Gbagbo raising the stakes by organising street protests against the French military. Dozens of civilians were shot by French troops beseiged in the Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan, the day after the Bouaké attack. Jacques Chirac ordered the destruction of the entire Ivorian air force, and French tanks surrounded the presidential palace, not to protect the president but to make sure he stayed inside.

Michel de Bonnecorse, the African Advisor at the Elysée in 2004, says the whole theory of a Paris-bred plot is a fabrication, typical of a zone which is crawling with inveterate liars. He says France has absolutely nothing to hide.

Which prompts L'Humanité to wonder why there has never been an official commission of enquiry.

Catholic La Croix looks at Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island where more than 6,500 African migrants have landed since the start of this year. Despite the extraordinary difficulties which this is causing for the residents, La Croix says the people of Lampedusa remain open and welcoming to the new arrivals who risk their lives in search of a better life in Europe.

The director of Frontex, the agency supposed to keep illegal immigrants out of Europe, says his mission is a contradiction, since he's also supposed to save lives and fight the ruthless human trafficers who charge a fortune for the crossing, and won't hesitate to drown their clients to save themselves.

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