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French press review 9 July 2010


To claim that the French dailies are complying with president Nicolas Sarkozy's "hands off our Woerth" injunction would go too far.

Yes, once again, the front pages lead with the Bettencourt affair, with which our listeners will now be familiar. I will sum up: a nasty whiff surrounding the cosmetics L'Oréal heiress's financial dealings; the suing by the said heiress's daughter of a society photographer accused of wringing close to a billion euros from her mother; and the doubts surrounding the role of Labour minister and ruling party treasurer Eric Woerth, whose wife worked for the accountants managing Liliane Bettencourt's wealth.

Politics, money but no sex - so far - despite what the former butler heard and recorded secretly.

Right-leaning Le Figaro once again bangs the drum for the government. The paper clamours that the testimony made by Mrs Bettencourt's former accountant has boomeranged against the accusers and carpers. You will remember that among other things, the former employee had alleged that 150,000 euros stuffed into an envelope had been given to Eric Woerth in 2007 to finance Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential bid.

Even centre-left Le Monde runs with the headline "The Elysée Palace counter-attacks following fresh developments", the main one being the backtracking of the former accountant. She confirmed that money was handed to Eric Woerth, but denied that it was for Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign. But the website to which she gave the information refused to back down.

Left-wing Libération sums up the latest twist: "The accountant bends but does not break", an echo of one of La Fontaine's fables, and reports on the claims of political pressure made by the beancounter's lawyer.

One worrying aspect highlighted by the papers, not though by Le Figaro, is the salvoes fired by several government ministers against the media as part of 'the best defence lies in the attack" type of tactics.

Catholic La Croix once again shows boldness in turning to the painful issue of paedophile priests. This time, it focuses, in the wake of the latest scandal affecting the top clerics in Belgium, on the attitude of the Catholic Church to the legal requirements that prevail in individual countries.

Up until now, the Vatican has bypassed national jurisdictions to protect its clergy accused of illegal sex acts with minors. La Croix points out, in its two-page spread, that the courts in several countries are increasingly less tolerant of such behaviour.

It highlights the fact that the Vatican itself, under international pressure, has put on line the advice it gave in 2001 and even added that the duty of the faithful is to denounce paedophile clergy to the authorities if the law says so.

Financial Les Echos ignores the Bettencourt affair and paedophilia to concentrate on the government's plan to scrap tax rebates to scrimp together 2 billion euros. But, the paper explains, the move will hit the development of solar panels and biofuels, despite recent commitments by the government to do more for the environment.

It's the equivalent of the Exclusive tag in British tabloids: Communist L'Humanité, under the tag "Revelations", tells its readers about the government's plan to break up the hospital health service in the Paris region and lay off 5,000 staff. In fact, the proposals were made some six months ago and had been discussed with the unions. Still, the paper carries the warnings of top health practitioners that the proposed hospital mergers and closures have been badly thought out. In the debate on cash savings versus widespread access to health care, the jury is still out. 

Have you heard of the Banyana Banyana? Well, they are the female equivalent of the Bafana Bafana, South Africa's national football team.

Le Figaro's correspondent went to visit the HPC centre in Pretoria, which trains youngsters in several sports.

Here is a heart-warming story. HPC has turned out nine of the women's national side players; eight of the under-20 side; and ten of the under-17 team, known as the Bantwana.

Most girls come from poor backgrounds, including several from townships. They have been recruited since 2003 by Fran Hilton Smith, called by Le Figaro Africa's most qualified coach, as Fifa appointed her to train other coaches and develop women's football.

The girls are given schooling; many have to learn English so they can one day go and play abroad. One of the training centre's specialities is assertiveness classes so the girls gain in self-confidence.

And so successful are South Africa's women football players that the country is to host, for the first time, the distaff version of the Africa Cup of Nations, in October and November this year. Besides, Le Figaro notes, South Africa numbers up to 80,000 female club players, that’s 20,000 more than France.

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