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French press review 28 February 2015

Text by: Brian Eads
5 min

Bowie gets an exhibition at Paris’s new concert hall. A Bangladeshi blogger is murdered. IS runs amok in a museum. French retirement homes’ prices come under fire. A Marseille school seeks ethnic and social harmony. And, as the Ebola epidemic declines, it’s time to learn the lessons.


The weekend edition of left-leaning Libération is often eccentric and this morning is no exception.

The cover story promises eight inside pages on the English singer David Bowie and the Icelandic singer Bjork. They are hailed as "sacred monsters".

The pretext is a bit thin. From next week, the newly constructed Paris concert hall, la Philharmonie, is staging a huge exhibition focused on Bowie. Entitled David Bowie Is and on loan for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it includes many of the singer's extravagant and outrageous costumes from throughout his career.

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Bjork, who is competition for Bowie in the weirdness stakes, is releasing a new album. And, an even thinner excuse for a story here, the Museum of Modern Art in New York is staging an exhibition on her.

By page 10 Libé delivers some news. None of it very pleasant.

There's a report from Mosul in Iraq where jihadists of the Islamic State armed group have been trashing antiquities dating from the Assyrian and ancient Greek civilisation more than two millenia ago. The paper carries shots from a video showing holy warriors smashing irreplaceable statues with sledgehammers.

There's more barbarism on the next page, with a report on the hacking to death with machetes on a busy street in the Bangladeshi capital, Dacca, of a Bengali blogger who'd returned from the United States for a bookfair. His crime, it seems, was to suggest that atheism, the belief that there is no God, is acceptable.

The notorious, masked holy warrior known as “Jihadi John” finally rates a mention in the French papers. As far as I could see they all missed the story yesterday when he was identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born London computer programmer, perhaps because none of the several Western hostages he beheaded in Syria were French nationals.

Click for RFI reports of the Charlie Hebdo killings

Le Figaro's front page lede is the Islamist vandalism in Iraq. The paper laments the destruction of priceless antiques. Equally disturbing is that the jihadists themselves filmed and broadcast the destruction. Le Figaro says the mindless destruction has triggered anger worldwide. The paper itself is indignant. Its editorial is headlined "A crime against humanity." It laments what it calls "a crime against the living, a crime against the dead, a crime against the past and against the future".

On an entirely different note, Aujourd'hui en France/Le Parisien, is worried about the cost and availability of places in retirement homes. The tariffs vary widely depending on the département - they can be up to twice as expensive in some areas - and state benefits to help pay for them are judged insufficient. The inequalities are unacceptable, the paper says. What's more, the system of assisted living is nearing collapse.

Looking into its crystal ball, Le Parisien tells readers that by 2040 some 10 million French people will be 75 or older. Two million of them will be unable to take care of themselves. We must ensure that they can live in dignity, the paper says. There is an element of personal responsibility here, of course. Thinking about and planning ahead for retirement homes for your parents and yourself is essential, the paper says. It's hard to argue with that.

The Catholic daily La Croix, always on the lookout for good news, visits a school in the southern port city Marseille, a Catholic college named Henri-Margalhan, which, the paper says, is out of the ordinary. What it seeking to do, successfully it seems, is achieve a harmonious social and ethnic mix. The French Socialist government appears to have recognised the importance of this goal since the slaughter by Islamist gunmen of 12 people, journalists of Charlie Hebdo and others, in Paris in January.

The paper also has good news from the Ebola front.

Dossier: Ebola outbreak 2014

It is an epidemic in decline, says La Croix. Three useful graphs tell the tale. In the three countries worst affected - Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea - the number of confirmed infections peaked in November last year. Since then they have fallen sharply.

Next week, the European Union is to host an international conference in Brussels to take stock of the Ebola crisis. Among the lessons, the UN's World Health Organisation was slow to respond when the outbreak began. It's to be hoped it's a lesson that has been learnt.

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