A Lot Less

photo: rest la tourelle, rue hautefeuille

One quiet block off the Boulevard Saint-Michel, in the
'old,' non-fastfood Quartier Latin.

Than All the News 'Fit To Print'

Paris:- Monday, 24. September 2001:- For a reason unknown to me, and one claimed to be unknown to Le Parisien's management, this newspaper has been unavailable where I habitually get my daily dose of newsprint.

This has forced me to rely on unfamiliar publications such as 'Le Monde,' 'Libération,' 'Le Journal de Dimanche' and lastly, 'Le Figaro.'

These are all esteemed publications but they lack an attribute enjoyed by 'Le Parisien.' Nonephoto: us flags, scarves, 50 francs of them are known as the 'concierge's newspaper of choice.' Jargon aside, it means that they all have smaller type and many pages.

This verbosity annoys Dimitri enough so that he only reads 'Le Parisien' if it is freely available at the café Le Bouquet. Dennis, being a literary-type of newcomer here, prefers to read his newspapers free in another part of town - and in the case of this week he has chosen Rome to do it in.

Not available everywhere, but US flags on sale outside FNAC Saint-Lazare on Friday.

This leaves me face-to-face with nearly a half-dozen strange papers to skim for likely - or better yet - unlikely stories, all within 90 minutes - and get the gist of them down here within the same time.

Explosion of the Week

Slightly more than a week after the incredible events in New York and Washington on Tuesday, 11. September, Radio France-Info astonished me by breathlessly reporting a huge explosion at 10:20 in Toulouse on Friday.

The blast, at a petro-chemical plant in a southern suburb of Toulouse, demolished the factory and its shockwave blew down everything around it while registering an earthquake level of 3.4 on seismographs.

Cars on a nearby autoroute were reduced to battered junk, roof tiles were blown off roofs, suburban stores, schools and hospitals were demolished and windows were blown out as far away as downtown Toulouse - while a five-metre deep crater 50 metres across was left to mark ground zero amid the smoking ruins.

The blast gave off a giant orange cloud of smoke and people who had rushed out of buildings for safety, scrambled back into them as it approached.

Early reports of the blast swept the country, already nervous from the terrorist suicide attacks ten days earlier - especially when the first rescuers on the scene believed they were confronted with a bombing.

By today, the death toll has risen to 29, with 2450 wounded, including 782 persons still hospitalized this morning.

Five hundred houses were rendered inhabitable, with 69 schools, 18 high schools and one university with 25,000 students being severely damaged.

Emergency funds totalling 30 million francs were set up by the government, by the city of Toulousephoto: metro, printemps, bd haussmann and by TotalFinaElf, the operator of the chemical works.

The explosion is believed to have centered on a silo containing 200 or 300 tons of ammonium nitrate, which is used for making fertilizers, explosives and solid rocket fuels.

The Printemps' flagship store on the Boulevard Haussmann.

By tonight investigators were said to be certain the explosion was accidental, but the plant's operators were still at a loss for an explanation for the cause of the detonation.

There are currently 372 industrial sites scattered around France that are classed in the high-risk category of 'Seveso II.' When the AZF factory that exploded on Friday was constructed in 1924, it was beyond the outskirts of Toulouse.

It was only in 1987 that a law was passed in France to prevent urbanization near dangerous sites. Needless to say, Friday's explosion has launched a debate, with the usual promises of investigations, and the deliberations of committees of experts.

Part of France Votes for Part of Senat

According to Saturday night's TV-news, elections for a third of the seats in France's 320-member Sénat were to take place on Sunday. Terms in the Sénat are nine years long and elections take place every three years - to renew a third of the Senators each time.

Senators are not elected by universal suffrage, but by communal and regional representatives, who tend to return right-wing candidates to the body. TV-news did not bother to explain how candidates are chosen, or if they campaign for office.

All the same, leftist candidates are expected to increase their representation by some seats, partly due to proportional voting being introduced to Départements that are represented by three or more Senators.

Despite 'parité,' candidate lists have been juggled to put lady candidates into second place. No more than a dozen were expected to receive convincing majorities, which will continue the imbalance in the highest assembly.

France's Sénat is important for at least two reasons. All laws voted by the universally-elected Assembly National have to pass the Sénat with a majority. If they don't, the Assembly National has to rewrite them and try again to get them accepted by the Sénat.

The Sénat is located in the Palais du Luxembourg in the Luxembourg garden, which also belongs to the Sénat rather than the city of Paris. The Sénat also runs the Musée du Luxembourg.

In the past few years it appears as if the Sénat has been much more conscious of its relations with the public, with its regular fare of important exhibitions, both in its museum and hung outside on the railings lining the gardens.Continued on page 2...

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