French press review 1 May 2015

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been caught in the Bygmalion booby trap and the internet takes centre stage in search for Nepal earthquake survivors. Meanwhile, the French press is in a state of revulsion after UN child rape allegations against French soldiers in the Central African Republic.


Le Monde says the charges against 16 French soldiers are detailed in an internal report by UN investigators transmitted to French authorities on Thursday.

The children aged between 9 and 13 were allegedly forced to perform oral sex in exchange for food and money by the 16 soldiers serving with the Operation Sangaris forces between December 2013 and June 2014, according to the newspaper.

Liberation reports that suspects are said to have abused the children near Bangui’s M’Poko airport where they were guarding a centre for displaced people. This was in the outbreak of circular violence pitting predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels loyal to ousted President Michel Djotodia and the pro-Christian anti-Balaka militias.

Stories of the abuses were an open secret in Bangui, writes Liberation. The left-leaning newspaper claims that the identities of the children and the soldiers were a favorite gossip story in the capital.

Le Figaro says three Chadian soldiers and two others serving with the contingent from Equatorial Guinea are also accused of sexual abuse against children in the UN report.

The matter took a dramatic twist when the head of field operations at the UN Commission for Human Rights, Anders Kompass, was suspended for leaking the internet UN report to the French after suspecting his bosses of having hushed up the findings.

The scandal comes at a bad moment for the tight-lipped French army operating peace keeping missions in places like Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in addition to the Central African Republic, and with bases in other African countries such as Chad, Gabon and Djibouti.

President Francois Hollande moved on Thursday to dismiss speculation that France had been dragging its feet over the affair revealed to the French authorities in July last year. He vowed to show no mercy if the peacekeepers are found guilty of having sexually assaulted children in exchange for food.

Le Monde welcomes the rescue by Nigerian forces of hundreds of hostages held by Boko Haram in the north-east of the country. The paper reports that the more than 500 hostages including women and children were freed this week after a series of raids on the terrorists’ lair in the Sambissa forest.

Le Monde quotes a Nigerian army spokesman as saying that the hostages were held in inhumane conditions, many of them children deprived of food.

Prosecutors investigating the Bygmalion bills forgery scam dogging former president Sarkozy’s 2012 re-election campaign may have found the smoke they have been looking for.

Le Figaro reports that Sarkozy was duly informed about the budget constraints of the operation by his campaign accountant. Sarkozy has consistently denied knowing about the forgery operation which was intended to conceal the extravagant spending of the campaign.

According to Le Figaro, the campaign accountant’s letter was allegedly issued six weeks before the first-round vote, when spending had reached 23.1 million euros, well beyond the authorised legal ceiling of 22.5 million euros. Le Figaro says prosecutors also have a copy of the letter in which the UMP’s director general mentions Sarkozy’s plans to hold more than 40 rallies during the campaign, after the warning by his campaign accountant.

Le Parisien says the investigators are now convinced that the fraudulent system was put in place so that the UMP takes charge of 18.5 million euros of campaign expenses incurred by the events affiliate of the public relations firm Bygmalion.

According to the paper, the goal of the scam was to prevent the expenses from being included in Sarkozy’s campaign accounts which already had gone over the authorised ceiling. For Le Parisien, this was certainly why the affiliate of Bygmalion issued forged bills to the UMP for campaign rallies they never organised.

In Nepal the search for the missing has shifted to the internet one week after the devastating earthquake that struck the country last Saturday killing more than 6,200 people.

According to Le Monde, despite the chaos families in all corners of the planet have filled their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts with messages like "help me find my brother” or “I’m searching for my sister”. The evening newspaper conveys the fears of experts who are predicting a much higher toll especially from the Langtang Valley, 60km north of the capital Kathmandu.

Le Monde says that the resort on the Tibetan border is a favourite destination for foreign tourists with an estimated 10,000 trekkers storming the foothills of Mount Everest every April. The Valley suffered a double hit – Saturday’s quake which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and an avalanche three days later.

This is a record year for the French weapons industry after Qatar confirmed its order for 24 Rafale fighter jets worth 6.3 billion euros. After three decades of failed attempts to export the aircraft, Dassault has secured three contracts in two and a half months, crows Les Echos – the first 24 planes for Egypt in February at 5.3 billion euros, and then India’s bid to acquire 36 more in a deal still to be finalised.

The economic newspaper gives three reasons behind the sudden success of the Rafale: the quality and utility of the fighter jet in a worsening global geopolitical context, coupled with an element of share luck coinciding with fruits of years of diplomatic and commercial efforts harvested at the same time. The Qatar deal enables France to leapfrog Russia as the world’s second arms exporter.

Liberation expresses concern about the number of renowned writers calling for a boycott of the 2015 PEN America Center Freedom of Expression Courage Prize awarded to the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The prestigious gala is scheduled in New York on 5 May, but 145 authors have signed a collective letter branding Charlie Hebdo's cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed as a cause of great humiliation and suffering for French citizens from its colonial heritage, especially those made up of practicing Muslims.

The writers and editors include Wallace Shawn, Craig Lucas, Eve Ensler, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose and Joyce Carol Oates who considers Charlie Hebdo as sexist and xenophobic.

Liberation says the list is growing longer by the day. Australian Peter Carey, two times winner of the prestigious Booker Prize, said he was withdrawing because PEN was blindly rendering service to the cultural arrogance of France which does not respect its moral debt towards a great part of its population.

According to Libé, while the association did condemn the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices, its members accuse the weekly of mocking a portion of France’s population which is already marginalised and victimised. In a satirical note the signatories express their perceived impression that Charlie Hebdo appears quite sincere in its disdain for all religions.

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