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photo: cafe le primrose

Watering hole on the way to the Champ de Mars.

Mugging of the Week

Paris:– Monday, 19. July 2004:– France's 'favorite' government minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, only managed to land on Le Parisien's front page three times during the week, but was a nightly feature of the TV–news.

Newspapers have dubbed him the 'second in the government.' I suppose this technically means second to the prime minister, Jean–Pierre Raffarin, and not 'second' after Président Jacques Chirac.

Nicolas Sarkozy is in the news because he wants Jacques Chirac's job, and he would prefer having it tomorrow rather than wait the constitutional three years until the next presidential election in 2007. Nicolas is in a hurry.

Jacques Chirac was in a hurry to become president too, but it took him 20 years to get where he is today. He was mayor or Paris and several times government minister. In 1995 his turn rolled around andphoto: french, eu, un, flags ballots sent him to the Elysée Palace for seven years. Two years ago, after the term was shortened to five years, he was returned for five years, thanks to a lot of leftist voters who cast ballots against Jean–Marie Le Pen.

French, EU and UN flags on Bastille Day.

Also two years ago, leaders of Chirac's RPR party decided to rename it as the UMP party, with one–time prime minister and mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé, as head. Unfortunately Alain was convicted early this year of treating public money with dubious judgement, and his appeal of the conviction is coming up this fall.

So Alain resigned this week as head of the UMP party and returned to Bordeaux. Nicolas is acting as if he wants to be head of the UMP party, but at the same time he is Minister of Finance in Jean-Pierre Raffarin's government – which was appointed to the job of running France by Jacques Chirac.

This is not the funky 20th century anymore, so there are new rules in the land. One of them concerns not holding multiple elective offices. At one time it was possible to be a mayor, a deputy, a regional councilor, and a senator, all at once. I may be wrong, but it is possible that Nicolas is currently mayor of Neuilly, Minister of Finance, and something in the Hauts–de–Seine department or the Ile–de–France region.

The 'patron' of the 'shanty,' Jacques, has told Nicolas that he can't be leader of the UMP party without giving up his ministerial post. Nicolas chooses to be deaf.

On Bastille Day, Wednesday, 14 July, Jacques Chirac tried yet again. Traditionally, the 'patron' of the French holds a televised session after the Champs–Elysées parade.photo: fireworks, eiffel This usually comes off a sort of 'here we are and how we're doing' exercise, lodged in time between the military parade and the garden party in the grounds of the Elysée Palace.

Fireworks, fireworks!

Jacques said, 'Nobody is obliged to be a minister.' Devoting a third of the televised time to an instruction for his wayward Minister of Finance, Jacques clearly stated in plain French that Sarkozy could not hope to be both boss of the UMP party and Minister of Finance.

"There are no differences between the Minister of Finance and me, for a simple reason" Jacques intoned icily, "I decide and he executes."

In the adjoining Salle des Fêtes where friends and supporters watched the live broadcast on television, there was vivid applause. Nobody could remember any applause before in this room on the occasion of these traditional July speeches.

Alluding to Sarkozy's multiple ambitions, Jacques added, 'If a minister becomes head of the UMP and doesn't resign, I'll end his functions immediately.' Then he added that there are three years remaining before the next presidential elections.

Nicolas' supporters thought all of this was a bit 'rude.'

Along the way, the other news of the day was Jacques' decision to organize a referendum so that the French can vote for – or against – the proposed European Constitution. This is foreseen for the second half of 2005.

While the 'patron' was talking to the French on television, out in the garden of the Elysée Palace the Minister of Finance, the petit bonhomme known to all as Nicolas Sarkozy, was running his own 'Sarko Show.'

With wife Cécilia in white pants and daughter in tow, Sarko dispensed good cheer to all, including ex–Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who had his difficulties with François Mitterrand. 'It's not a civil war,' Rocard was overheard saying, 'It's democracy.'

Other ambitious ministers watched the procession glide to the bottom of the garden and back to the top. More and more photographers swarmed around Sarkozy. Everybody wanted to be in the photo, with the palace in the background. Not wanting to seem like he was moving in, the Sarlozy made for the exit. "Let's go!" he said. A supporter of the 'patron' didn't try to slow him down.

In Thursday's edition Le Parisien summed it up – "Chirac 'flingue' Sarkozy. 'Flingue' is argot for shoot, to assassinate, to bump off. Headline hyperbole.

Above the logo of Le Parisien on Friday, the headline 'Chirac, Raffarin, Sarkozy – Au bord de la crise de nerfs' blazed. Inside on page four, 'Sarkozy Refuses to Bend.' The story is about nothing substantial, other than the fact that Nicolas Sarkozy had packed his bags for a trip to La Baule, a seaside resort where he expected to tell his UMP fans about his future.

Where he persisted. On Friday night the energetic petit bonhomme did not cede a millimetre, not in form, not in substance. He continued his usual double–talk, always saying he will not be party to controversy, insisting that he is merely exercising his right to free speech.

Nicolas said, 'I am not modifying my calendar between now and the end of August.' He has, he said, the responsibilityphoto: army tank, bastille day of preparing the budget. He said, according to reports, that he will not exonerate the military budget from the sacrifices to be made by civilians. Jacques won't like hearing this.

Rubber–tired 'city' tank in the 14th.

Somehow Nicolas escapes Sunday's edition of Le Parisien but today he is back, having exchanged his calendar for his calculator. During the summer he'll be meeting the other ministers and strong–arming them for budget reductions. A spokesman says that the defense budget won't be cut, to conform to the 'wish' of the president – AKA 'patron' or boss.

Adieu Juppé

Also at La Baule on Friday, Alain Juppé resigned as head of the UMP party, just as he said he would do. With a simple letter of resignation he recalled his nearly 30 years of public service.

Early this year he was convicted for his part in the fictional employees affair that dated back to 1998. He was sentenced to 18 months, suspended, and ten years of political exclusion. President Jacques Chirac asked him to continue as party head for another six months, although he wanted to quit. The conviction has been appealed, but the decision won't be rendered until later this year.

Alain Juppé entered politics as a councilor in Prime Minister Chirac's cabinet in 1976. In 1983 he became a councilor in the Paris city hall, in charge of finance as second assistant tophoto: fireworks, eiffel the mayor, Jacques Chirac. He was elevated to Minister of the Budget under Jacques Chirac in 1986. In 1988 he became the national secretary of the RPR party, created by Chirac and now called UMP.

In 1995 Alain Juppé was appointed Prime Minister by the newly elected President, Jacques Chirac, while holding the office of mayor of Bordeaux and functioning as head of the president's RPR party. In 2002 he was named president of the UMP party.

More fireworks, more!

Reports say he has attempted to leave the party in good hands so that it can continue its primary mission – ensuring the reelections of Jacques Chirac and his centre–right conservative companions. Juppé will be missed.

Mugging of the Week

On Friday, 9. July at 9:27 Marie with her 13 month–old baby in a pousette boarded the double–decker RER 'D' train at the Louvres station to return home to Aubervilliers. She parked the pousette on the wagon's entry platform, to avoid using the stairs to the seats above or below, and remained standing near the doors.

At the same time a group of teenagers boarded the SNCF wagon at the opposite end. They filtered through both levels of the long wagon, until finding Marie and her baby alone on the platform. Afterwards she said four were North Africans and two were Africans, without being able to be more precise.

She was encircled, and three of the youths had knives. One took her back–pack and discovered Marie's purse containing a debit card, 200€ in cash and other papers. Her identity card had an old address in the 16th arrondissement on it.

"Rich kid," said the youth with the papers. "Only jews live in the 16th." Then the aggressors became 'violent and sadistic.' They ripped her t–shirt and jeans, and held a blade to her cheek, and cut off a hank of hair, 'for a souvenir.' With a black marker they drew swastikas on Marie's bare stomach.

Marie's horror lasted 13 eternal minutes as the train passed the stations – Les Noues, Goussainville and Villier–le–Bel. At Garges–Sarcelles they pushed over the pousette, and left the train, taking Marie's back–pack. Luckily, the baby wasn't injured.

No passengers leaped forward to defend Marie, nobody pulled the alarm signal. Marie was unable to say how many other passengers had been riding in the same wagon. She guessed 20. The wagons have a capacity of 160, and the entire RER train can carry 1600 passengers. Even if there had been 20 passengers in the wagon, they might not have been close enough to witness the drama.

Shaken, Marie continued her journey to Gare du Nord and then switched to the Métro to ride out to Aubervilliers. It was here in the afternoon that Marie went to the police to press charges. She was examined by a doctor and declared unfit to work for 10 days.

Alerted by Pontoise, the Police Judiciaire of Versailles joined their colleagues at Cergy, to conduct the investigation. They weren't able to get a statement from Marie until Saturday afternoon. After listening for hours, they suggested that she avoid staying at home for security reasons. On Sunday night the Pontoise police asked for witnesses to step forward.

The investigators recuperated the tapes from the video cameras posted at the RER stations. They spoke to two passengers. Units of gendarmes, CRS, national police and railway cops spread out along the RER line looking for clues and additional witnesses.

Due to not being interrogated by police until Saturday afternoon the story was missed by the day's papers, but covered by TV–news Saturday evening.

Shortly after the story hit news agency wires, Minister of the Interior Dominique de Villepin condemned the 'ignoble' act, and minutes later Jacques Chirac said he was appalled.

By chance, Jacques Chirac had made a speech at Chambon–sur–Lignon on Thursday. This town in the Haute–Loire was being honored for receiving thousands of Jewishphoto: eiffel, before fireworks children during WWII and hiding them in the Haut–Lignon region from the Nazis. The president saluted the 'France fraternelle' in front of the villagers, accompanied by Simone Veil, Jacques Barrot, and Jérôme Monod – who had been one of the enfants.

Before the fireworks – like it is every night.

So it was that the outrage against antisemitism broke like a flood and reached heights seldom seen here by Sunday, which is the day that politicians are seen and heard by the media. Politicians of every stripe condemned the attack.

Last Monday Le Parisien gave some of its front page to the story, and all of its pages two, three and four. It listed no less than seven 'grave précédents' this year alone. On Monday the Communist Party led an pro–Jewish demonstration in Belleville. One banner read, 'Juifs et Arabes Pour la Justice.' The Elysée Palace let it be known that the 14. July presidential amnesty would not apply for racial crimes.

But by late Monday it was becoming apparent to the horde of investigators that there were problems with Marie's story. The police said the identities of witnesses would be kept confidential, but none came forward. The couple that Marie said aided her were equally unfindable. The half–dozen SNCF agents on the scene at the time, saw nothing.

Initial viewing of the videos from the stations revealed no images of any band of six youths, or of Marie. One investigator recalled that the swastikas drawn on Marie's tummy were backwards. One witness was found who said he saw Marie at Louvres with her pants already ripped. Her portable phone was checked, and was found to have been used for a call from Louvres station at the same time as Marie was being attacked on the train. The police began to doubt.

They discovered in their records that Marie had laid charges no less than five other times in the past, for attempted rape, aggression, violence – five complaints closed by police after follow–ups to nowhere.

By Wednesday Le Parisien's front page main headline was, "Mensonge(s)" Curiously, the photo just below the large type showed the movie 'Spiderman' attacking a commuter train.

Marie lied, the paper says. Held for interrogation, Marie spilled all the beans. The whole story was total fiction. School friends told the paper her nickname was 'Mytho.'

The first reaction to this was an answer to the question of why politicians had reacted so quickly, so unconditionly. Antisemitic acts this year are said to have increased four times over 2003. 'Foul' cried leaders of the Muslim community, with reason. The Prime Minister said the affair was a 'real emotion resulting from an event, real or virtual.'

By Thursday Marie had retreated to the Siberia of Le Parisien's page 11. She and her boyfriend were detained for a while on Wednesday and on Thursday authorities in Pontoise were trying to decide what to do. Marie's mother had been interviewed on radio RTL, saying that if her daughter was to be judged, she should be treated too.

The embarrassment was embarrassing. Were the president and other notables too swift with their condemnations? Since the perceived abandonment of the aged during the heat wave last summer, all politicians have attempted to seem more alert to the concerns of the French.

Finally, on Thursday night's TV–news and on Friday morning's Le Parisien front page, we saw the photos of Marie outside the Hôtel de Police at Cergy. She has been charged with making 'charges of fake crimes.' She risks six months in jail and a fine of 7500€, but was set free to await a hearing later this month.

Most likely, if Marie seeks psychiatric help, the court will be lenient. This is what her mother hopes, and what is most likely to happen because Marie has confessed all of her 'crimes' to the police.

Marie is an attractive, well–dressed young lady with a young baby. Judging from all the times they have been mentioned, I suspect she has made enough confessions to last her a lifetime. To these she has added her excuses, made publically to the newspapers and on television.

Trip of the Lip?

Yesterday, speaking in Israel to representatives of American jewish organizations, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that immigration to Israel was the sole response to 'an unfettered antisemitism that is spreading in France.' He added that he thought French Jews would be wise to 'move immediately.'

'Ten percent of the population of France consists of Muslims, supplying fertilizer for a new form of antisemitism,' the Israeli leader contended.

The French reaction was swift. 'Unacceptable' said the foreign minister, Michel Barnier, who asked French representatives to contact Israeli authorities quickly for 'explanations.'

Théo Klein, honorary president of the council representing French jewish institutions, said he thought Sharon should let French jews handle their own problems. Patrick Gaubert, president of the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism, judged that, 'Mr. Sharon would do better to shut up, because his proposals do not bring the calm, peace or serenity we all need.'

'Very badly informed,' considered Patrick Klugman, vice–president of SOS Racisme, 'about what's going on in France. Very badly informed about the reality of the Jews of France who are above all happy to be able to live here, happy with a government that protects them.'

It is difficult the evaluate the effect of antisemitism in France on emigration to Israel. According to the Jewish Agency, in 2003 there were 2 313 French emigres, and 2566 in 2002, but these were 2.5 times more compared to 2000/2001. In all, 70,000 French Jews have moved to Israel since 1948. This is hardly an exodus.

It is thought that France's jewish population numbers about 600,000. After Israel and the United States, it is thephoto: marianne stamp, assembly national world's third largest Jewish community. Some French observers think that the Jewish Agency seeks to motivate French Jews to emigrate because of falling immigration from Russia and Argentina.

Display of new Marianne stamp on the Assembly National.

The 'invitation' has been made before, most notably on 6. January 2002, when the vice–minister of Israeli foreign affairs, Michael Melchior, stated that 'France was the worst country in the world when it comes to antisemitism.'

According the French interior ministry there have been 135 antisemitic acts since the beginning of the year, compared to 127 in 2003 and 192 in 2002.

The weekend marked the sad memorial of the 'Roundup of the Vélodrôme d'Hiver' – 'Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv' – in July 1942, when 12,884 Jews in the Paris region were rounded up and arrested by Vichy's police. Many were interned, but 8000 were sent to Drancy and then on one–way trips to death camps in eastern Europe.

The memorial ceremonies of the 62nd anniversary coincided with the 'Journée nationale à la mémoire des victimes des crimes racistes et antisémites et d'hommage aux 'Justes' de France.'

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