French press review 14 May 2015

Congo faces bankruptcy after an international court orders Brazzaville to pay a Franco-Lebanese tycoon 800 million euros. French President Francois Hollande rallies his leftist majority for an all-out fight over his government's college reform programme, while the EU makes a hard sell for a sharing of refugee quotas. Also, France fears a genocide in Burundi as an army general stages a coup against President Nkurunziza.


Le Figaro highlights the applause from the streets of Bujumbura which have greeted Major General Godefroid Niyombaré’s coup announcement against President Pierre Nkurunziza. The paper runs excerpts from one of the demonstrators who rushed to the centre of the capital Wednesday night to celebrate the coup.

To justify the revolt against the Nkurunziza regime he argued that even if Nkurunziza had built Bujumbura to look like Paris, it would still be out of order for him to stay in power for a third term. According to Niyombaré, the people of Burundi need to construct a lawful state in a period of democratisation which ought to see the light of day after the 13-year civil war. If the president wants to violate the law, everyone can do the same and the country will be ungovernable, he concluded.

Violence related to Nkurunziza’s third term has already caused several deaths, writes Le Monde. It reports that most of the victims have been killed by grenades thrown by security forces on demonstrators. The protests, it says, started off in predominantly Tutsi neighbourhoods but have now spread to cosmopolitan neighbourhoods in the country.

Liberation blames the stubbornness of the president to remain in power for the coup attempt. According to the paper, tens of thousands of Burundians, essentially Tutsis, are now cramped up in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, haunted by the spectre of ethnic cleansing in this country inhabited by the rival Hutu and Tutsi groups   the 1994 Rwandan genocide still very fresh in their minds.

Le Monde takes the lid off of a time bomb waiting to explode in Congo Brazzaville. It is the saga of Mohsen Hojeij, an Anglo-Lebanese tycoon who is claiming 800 million euros from the authorities for a series of construction contracts his giant firm carried out in the country in the 1980s. The newspaper presents Hojeij as an old friend to President Denis Sassou Nguesso back to his first mandate as Congo’s military leader.

They have since fallen out and according to Le Monde, the Congolese leader has refused settling the debt, accusing Hojeij of having enriched himself behind his back with the complicity of his ministers. The bad news for Congo is that the Paris-based arbitration court of the International Chamber of Commerce has validated Hojeij’s claims in a verdict delivered in 2013 which Brazzaville has refused to execute. Le Monde quotes Standards and Poor’s saying that the bill brandished by Hojeij represents 17 per cent of Congo’s annual budget and could endanger Brazzaville’s ability to refund its commercial debt.

The Socialist government's college reform is risky and the Socialist party is losing its nerve. That’s the view upheld by Le Figaro as it tries to maintain the young Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem under pressure. The right-wing newspaper says that the call to arms from UMP presidential candidates for the immediate scrapping of the reform is paying off.

This after Vallaud-Belkacem asked the bi-partisan commission working on the draft bill yesterday to rewrite the sensitive chapters pertaining to the teaching of culture, Latin and ancient history. For the conservative publication, President Francois Hollande's call on all cabinet ministers to support the strongly contested project of the education minister is a sign that the pressure is paying off.

The French dailies are expressing surprise at news that France is outpacing powerhouse Germany in economic growth in the first quarter. INSEE, the Economic Forecast Agency announced on Wednesday that the French economy posted its strongest growth in nearly two years, with GDP expanding by 0.6 per cent from 0 percent at the end of last year.

Le Figaro attributes the economic facelift favourable external elements such as historically low interest rates (1 per cent), cheap oil (67 dollars per barrel) and the fall in the value of the euro (1.12) against the dollar. For Le Figaro, the fact that employment figures remain as high as ever means that the facelift is not a result of the government’s policies.

The EU’s proposal to share the burden of boat refugees rescued from the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy attracts a flurry of comments from today’s papers. Le Figaro says that each country will see itself being attributed a quota of migrants, under the plan presented by the Commission for approval by the different European capitals.

France is expected to absorb 11.9 per cent, Germany 15.4, Italy 9.94 and Spain 7.75 per cent. The conservative publication says a resolution on the use of force against traffickers is under debate at the United Nations. The EU’s Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini tells the newspaper that while they are preparing a large-scale naval operation aimed at dismantling the economic model pursued by traffickers, Europe has ruled out striking them on Libyan soil.

Le Monde traces the route taken by some 22,000 Syrian and Afghan refugees who have crossed over into Europe since January. Its Greek correspondent met with some of them as their boat docked on the island of Kos, near the Turkish port of Bodrum. She followed them to a meeting with traffickers in Athens, charged with smuggling them into Europe across the dangerous Macedonian border.

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