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French press review 28 January 2013


Mali, gay marriage and tax exiles are among the stories in today's French papers...

Le Figaro is, figuratively speaking, with the French army on the outskirts of the northern Malian town of Timbuktu.

Latest news has the France-Mali forces in control of access to Timbuktu, but they are worried about the possibility of serious resistance in the narrow streets which have been, and may still be, in the hands of islamic fighters from Aqim, feared as the most battle- hardened and most determined of the opponents facing alliance troops.

Dossier: War in Mali

The weekend edition of Le Monde wonders if the frequently-made comparison between Russian and, later, Nato embarrassments in Afghanistan, and the current situation of the French in Mali is not missing at least one crucial point.

Yes, agrees Le Monde, there are similarities between the mountains and the desert, and there is always a danger when you face an adversary on his home territory. But, says the centrist daily, the reticence of the European partners and the United States to follow in the bootsteps of the soldiers sent to Mali by Paris may, in fact, be a reaction to the withdrawal of French soldiers from Afghanistan.

France under Nicolas Sarkozy was the first Nato ally to announce an early sell-by date in the endless war against the Taliban. That decision at least partly explains why France under François Hollande has been left to go it alone against the north African branch of the benighted soldiers of sharia.

There's good news, of a sober sort, on the front page of business daily Les Echos.

"First signs of an improvement in the eurozone" reads the main headline, and the forecast is based on the fact that recently-indebted national banks are paying off their borrowings from the European Central Bank, at a faster rate than anticipated.

A total of 137 billion has rolled back into ECB coffers, that represents nearly one third of the money doled out by the Central Bank in the course of 2011.

That's put Mario Draghi, the man who runs said European Central Bank, in understandably good form. He told the Economic Forum at Davos over the weekend that things were looking a lot better than just 12 months ago. In fairness, when you remember just how bad it all was last year, it may be that Super Mario is being a touch ironic.

Meanwhile, Pier Luigi Bersani, the centre-left leader who is likely to take up the task of running Italy after next month's elections, has made a plea for a relaxation of European economic rigour. Bersani says more spending will boost employment and get the old continent's economy moving again. François Hollande would certainly agree, but Angela Merkel and normally-dour Draghi probably won't like it.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

There was another march in Paris yesterday, this time organised by those who favour allowing marriage for everyone, regardless of the couple's sexual orientation.

We have the usual battle of the statistics, with pro-reform communist L'Humanité claiming 400,000 participants, while anti Le Figaro says, tosh, there were only 120,000.

Catholic La Croix looks at the shadowy business of moving your personal fortune to somewhere with a more generous tax regime. Lots of French people, including some fat actors and billionaire businessmen, have been shifting their sponduliks to northern countries in order to avoid being fleeced by the swingeing socialists.

It's obviously not easy to quantify, admits La Croix, since rich people try to be discrete about their richness, at least when slipping across the border with sacks of cash.

But the Catholic daily notes that it has now become a status symbol at fancy Paris dinner parties to boast that you've been obliged to move your money to another country. If you're liable for the (temporarily defunct) 75% tax rate, you have really arrived. And that means it's time to leave. Funny old world.

If you are in the business of selling weapons, then south east Asia is the place to set up your stall if you want to qualify for the 75% tax bracket..

According to Le Monde, all the major actors in the region have increased their spending on armaments over the past 12 months, despite the budgetary pressures imposed by the global crisis.

China leads the pack, with a 7% increase year on year for a total expenditure of nearly 83 billion euros. But that's making the neighbours nervous. Since Beijing is prepared to tell anyone who asks that about 70% of the South Chinese Sea is properly Chinese, regional powers are all obliged to boost defense spending in order to maintain a level of dissuasion which the Chinese authorities will have to respect.

If you have any doubts that control of sea lanes is the central strategic concern of the nations concerned, you might be convinced by the fact that most of the money being spent by regional governments is going on submarines, vessels of an obvious and very useful discretion.

Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam have all recently acquired underwater navies. China, Japan and India already have shoals of subs. The South China Sea is a big place. But you have to wonder just how long all these vessels can continue to circulate invisibly before there is an unfortunate accident and we find ourselves on the brink of World War III.

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