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France

French press review 25 February 2011

media

Two of this Friday's French dailies put forward what had until now been not exactly a forgotten angle to political events in Libya, but certainly one kept in the background: oil panic. Or, as the front page headline in financial Les Echos puts it: "The scenarios that frighten the markets".

The paper lists the following: the continuing increase in the price of oil – a barrel of Brent crude nearly touched the 120-dollar mark yesterday; production in Algeria and the Middle East could also be affected; and all stock markets have been hit for a week now.

Les Echos carries the warning issued by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that continuing oil price hikes are a threat to economic growth in the world.

Experts warn that if Libya and Algeria were to stop production, a barrel of oil could zip up to 220 dollars.

So, should we panic? Only if, like the markets, we give ourselves a fright by believing what Les Echos calls "hypothetical disasters"... in other words speculating on the "what if..." basis.... what if Saudi Arabia were hit by civil war? What if Algeria's oil production stops abruptly?

Right-leaning Le Figaro comes in this morning with the worrying front page splash, "The threat of a new oil crisis".

The only fresh angle brought by the paper on the subject is the news that petrol pump prices have nearly reached their 20 June 2008 peak. Nothing like it to bring home to Joe Public the real horror of political upheavals.

Left wing Libération concentrates on the situation on the ground in Libya, with reports from two of its journalists sent to Benghazi in the east and to the Tunisia/Libya border.

The focus is on the destruction and violence that wracked Ezzaouia, Benghazi and other towns.

Libération, in a side piece, looks at claims that Kadhafi employs mercenaries. Indeed, says the paper, thousands are being used. They come from Niger, Chad, Sudan and Mali. They number between three and six thousand, and many are extremely violent. But the side effect for many African migrants in Libya is they are being mistaken for mercenaries and attacked by anti-Kadhafi crowds.

Communist L'Humanité also looks at matters financial. However, it is the massive profits made by the French stock market's 40 top quoted companies that the paper targets. While the Cac 4O happy few – they include oil giant Total, two banks BNP Paribas bank and Société Générale, France Télécom and cosmetics group L'Oréal – toted up some 80 billion euros worth of profits in 2010, they have achieved this by delocalising, L'Humanité is keen on stressing. In other words, shedding jobs in France and employing cheaper labour abroad. And worse still: products manufactured in such countries as Slovenia, Portugal or Turkey are then imported into France, skewing further its trade balance.

Catholic La Croix leads with an interview conducted in Burma with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who outlines her political roadmap.

In another piece, the paper looks at Islamist movements in the Maghreb and the Middle East. Interestingly, it explains why several experts criticised the use of the term "Islamist" as it fails to differentiate between a host of realities. Roughly, explains the paper, there are several groups: those who, like the Muslim Brothers, have a political view of Islam; those, like the Salafists who oppose such an interpretation; not to mention a galaxy of other groups, such as the Shia and Tabligh.

Centre-left Le Monde splashes again with events in Libya under the headline: "Five Days of Terror that Pushed Benghazi over the Brink" ... a reference to the eastern city breaking out of Moamer Kadhafi's grip.

The piece is accompanied by a picture of a man kneeling in prayer in the midst of debris against the background of the burnt-out shell of a building. But Le Monde's resident cartoonist, Plantu, once again displays his grim sense of humour. In the front page cartoon, former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, his wife and another member of his family are crammed on a couch in Saudi Arabia where they are now in exile with a bag and a suitcase full of cash. A Saudi opens the door to the room – from under which a red bloodstain seeps and warns them: "You will have to move up a bit, we are expecting Kadhafi".

The paper gives a lot of coverage to Libya and the repercussions the unfolding situation may have on the rest of the world. The latest instalment looks at the economic impact it is having on Europe and asks two questions: was the Libyan Eldorado just an illusion? Have the contracts signed between investors and Libya been implemented?

One country most at risk is Italy, which represents nearly half of Libya's 6.3 billion euro imports.

Le Monde points out that Tripoli, through its Libyan Investment Authority and its central bank, has a kitty worth an estimated 150 billion euros which it ploughs into other countries to buy a stake in their economies. In Italy, for instance, it controls 7.6 per cent of the country's largest bank.

Another means of pressure used by Kadhafi: African migrants. Libya's population is made up of an estimated 1.7 million foreigners, mainly Africans, or 30 per cent of the total. Kadhafi, Le Monde says, turns the immigration tap on and off depending on internal politics and does not hesitate to resort to xenophobia at times, while at others he will present himself as the father of the African continent.

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