Sunday, August 01, 2004


Graffiti spray-painted on a wall in the Minguettes housing project in Vénissieux, near Lyon, praise Osama bin Laden and declare in Arabic, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet." — Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/Agence France-Presse

A French judge has ordered that the Guantánamo Four be held following their release from the US military base. Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali, Imad Kanouni and Brahim Yadel are now under formal investigation, which in France allows for detention without formal charges, kind of like... never mind. Defense lawyers say this is a goodwill gesture by Paris in Washington's direction though the detention came at the request of anti-terror magistrates Jean-Louis Bruguière and Jean-François Ricard, at least one of whom (Bruguière) is an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.

The Times' crack reporter in Paris, Craig S. Smith, has filed an interesting report today on the Benchellali family. The father, Chellali, and two of Mourad's brothers are currently being held in a high-security French prison on suspicion planning chemical and biological attacks in Europe. The Benchellalis live in Vénissieux, which has an unemployment rate of 33% and where Algerian imam Abdelkader Bouziane spoke in favor of wife beeting, prompting his hasty explusion which was soon followed by his grudging readmission to France.

Smith's report makes for gripping reading. He may not be able to translate French into genuine English ("...mortal to the simple touch" should of course be "lethal on mere contact" or something like that) but one thing's for damn sure, no French reporters are doing this sort of work in the US.


The Beeb is reporting that the Rwandan government will establish a commission to investigate possible French complicity in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Given the increasingly dictatorial nature of Rwandan society and the nefarious activities of the Kagamé government, don't expect the commission's probity to be too far ranging or that its findings will be anything other than political instruments. For more information, see my two exhaustive posts on recent developments.


As Delaware's Joe Biden gleefully pointed out on Meet the Press this morning , Nato members have agreed terms to begin assisting in the training of Iraqi police, though Biden failed to mention that France did in fact exact the concession that the Nato mission not be under US command. It's called negotiating.

On the other hand, France certainly lost out on Friday during EU negotiations on a common European position for the current WTO summit in Doha. All 24 of the council's other members refused to follow France's proposed opposition to the new WTO package, which has apparently succeeded as rich and poor nations have at last come to an agreement on how to slash trade subsidies and open up export markets (unlike last years summit in Cancún, which collapsed, earning it the nickname "Can'tcún"). The French representatives present on Friday, Commerce minister François Loos and Agriculture minister Hervé Gaymard, raised their hands when Dutch Finance minister Jan Brinkhorst asked the assembly if anybody had a problem with the draft resolution as it stood. The French delegates did not explain their objections and Loos raised only procedural matters, which brought a rebuke from German Finance minister Wolfgang Clement.

EU Business quoted an anonymous source who accused the French delegates of "playing the procedural game because they do not have the support required to block an agreement."

The potential reasons for opposition to the agreement became apparent to-day as French farmer's reacted to being exposed to competition on the open markets. The AFP reports that Jean-Michel Le Metayer, president of the National Federation of Growers' Unions (Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d'Exploitants Agricoles, FNSEA), France's largest farmers union, complained in muted terms, calling the deal "unbalanced."


Yesterday was the 867th anniversary of the death of Louis VI, known as "The Fat One." His son and successor, Louis VII, "The Young One," began the disastrous "Second Crusade" in 1147 which failed two years later.
The AP reported on Saturday that French judicial sources believe that the body of a French national has indeed been found in Fallujah, as first reported by Le Figaro in its edition of the same day. The Paris prosecutor's office may open an investigation into this matter when the man's identity has been established.


On Thursday, France welcomed Israeli PM Sharon's recent statements praising France's struggle against anti-Semitism as exemplary. "We have taken notice of the Israeli prime minister's remarks of this Wednesday, praising France for its determined actions in the matter of the struggle against anti-Semitism, which [Mr. Sharon] says are exemplary. [...] Naturally, we observed this with satisfaction." Sharon made the remarks on greeting 200 French Jews who had arrived in Israel and planned to make Aliyah.

On July 18, Sharon called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel in order to flee anti-Semitic violence. This provoked outraged reactions from the French MFA and president Chirac said that Sharon, who had not announced plans to visit France, would be unwelcome in France. French FM Michel Barnier is to visit Israel in October.

The French MFA's latest statements came with with regrettable timing, however, as news broke the same day that 30 grave stones in a cemetery in Saverne (Bas-Rhin) had been painted with Swastikas the night before.

The tombs dated mostly from the early 20th century and their vandalism was discovered by a person visiting the grave of a family member. Since April, 300 Jewish, Muslim and Christian tombs have been defaced in this way, according to the Nouvel Observateur.


Up to 3,000 French surgeons are threatening to go into exile in the UK from August 30 to September 5 to protest low pay and high insurance premiums. They claim pay has not increased in 15 years (in May, they said it was 14, as reported here). However, the French health ministry is now operating with a budget shortfall of €12.9 billion and can scarcely afford to pay more. The average age of a French surgeon is now 55.

Health minister Douste-Blazy says he hopes to reach a settlement with the group soon.

*** says that of all the 350 blood tests for performance enhancing drugs that were administered as part of the Tour de France, only that of Belgian rider Christophe Brandt turned up positive. Brandt was evicted from the Tour on 9 July.

How do you ask a man to be the only man to get caught losing? Bad luck, Chris.


Matt Damon may play Lance Armstrong in a forth-coming movie about the cyclist.

Damon will have to lose a lot of weight to look like a cyclist.

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