French press review 17 December 2015

There's further proof that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has been starving and torturing opponents to death in a prison system described as an "abattoir". There are worries about the way the current state of emergency is being used by the French authorities. And are the Socialists becoming centrists?


Centrist Le Monde gives pride of place to new evidence that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has starved and tortured opponents to death.

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The revelations come from the independent organisation Human Rights Watch and are based on the identification by family members of victims photographed by a former regime police officer who has since fled Syria.

Le Monde's editorial says the photos are genuine and there is now overwhelming proof that Assad has killed thousands of people in the Syrian prison system, which the centrist paper describes as an "abattoir", a murderous machine powered by hunger, disease and torture.

The crucial question for Le Monde is how far Western diplomacy should tolerate Assad in its primary desire to defeat the "barbarity" of Islamic State.

Communist L'Humanité continues to be worried by the current state of emergency, introduced in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks in Paris, now posing a danger to civil liberties in general and the trade union movement in particular.

Catholic paper La Croix looks at the continuing flow of refugees into Europe, most of them from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. The onset of winter and the cold shoulder from security-conscious European governments have done nothing to dissuade them, with Greece still registering 3,500 new arrivals every day.

The main story in right-wing Le Figaro has the French president and his prime minister seeking their political salvation in the centre-right of the ideological spectrum.

Le Figaro says the executive odd couple needs to rebound after recent setbacks in the regional elections and, since the Socialist closet is bare of ideas, is now scratching around for something to borrow from the opposition.

The right-wing paper's editorial says François Hollande, who launched his presidency promising to kill the dragon of high finance, now has an easier target in the far-right Front National. But France needs desperate measures, says Le Figaro, and a limp centre-left alliance won't do the trick. What is needed is the courage to cut spending, reduce taxes, simplify labour law, reform education, stop immigration and prevent the disintegration of France along ethnic-religious community lines, it says.

I'm not sure how the parties concerned will feel about it but the main headline in left-leaning Libération says Donald Trump, the billionaire who hopes to win the Republican nomination for the US presidency, is the other Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right Front National party. Trump is currently doing very well in the opinion polls. With 33 per cent support, the man who has called for a complete ban on all visits by Muslims to the United States and the "elimination" of the families of jihadists is leading his nearest Republican challenger by nearly 20 points.

It is hard to be professionally objective about Donald Trump. He is rude, crude and makes George W Bush look like an intellectual. Well, nearly. Trump hasn't a good word to say for journalists . . . we're all liars and gasbags. He has made fun of the physically handicapped. He wants all American Muslims to be registered with the FBI. He's at least a racist, a fascist according to some. He considers such criticism a matter of pride. He has promised to turn America around economically if elected to the White House.

His supporters say Trump tells the truth, unhindered by the powerful lobbies and considerations of political correctness which hamper his opponents.

He at least shares with Marine Le Pen the ability to attract voters who are disheartened by the mainstream political offer. A recent study showed that 93 per cent of Trump supporters describe themselves as unhappy with the current power "system" which they think runs Washington.

He's an outsider, he's rich, he's loud, very sure of what he says, even, or especially, when it makes no sense. For those who are sick of being talked down to by a remote political élite, he's the ideal man for the job.

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