Sarkozy’s burka ban descends into predictable farce

Hind and Najet, who keep their features hidden at all times and refuse to identify themselves beyond their first names, were due to appear before a judge outside Paris.

Both are accused of violating France’s so-called “burka ban”, which came into force earlier this year and prevents anyone covering up their faces in public.

But when Hind, a 31-year-old mother, tried to enter the court building in Meaux on Thursday, police held her back, telling her to take her head-covering off.

Najet, meanwhile, simply stayed at home, with the 34-year-old saying she knew she would be stopped from entering. “For the hearing to go ahead, you must remove the veil. Justice must be administered in a calm atmosphere,” police commissioner Philippe Tireloque told Hind.

Hind, who had brought her own handcuffs to wear as part of an organised protest at the court, replied: “I’ll keep my veil on at all times. It’s non-negotiable.

“The law forbids me from expressing myself, and indeed from defending myself. It forces me to dress a certain way, when all I want to do is live according to my religion.”

Police are under strict orders not to remove face coverings themselves, meaning Hind was simply told to leave.

Their court appearance was accordingly abandoned, as state prosecutors began trying to work out how they can deal with the challenge to the new law. They are expected to come to a decision in September.

Or maybe some other year – after Sarkozy and his conservative bubbas discover how they do in the next national elections. The populist model for bigots espoused so often and loudly by the Republican Party/KoolAid Party here in the USA, after all, is why they passed the law.

That squeeze Sarkozy feels on his Left and Right ain’t a hug

The opposition Socialist Party comprehensively won French local elections on Sunday as the far-right National Front surged, between them pressuring President Nicolas Sarkozy a year before he faces the electorate.

With most votes counted in the second round of polls to elect ‘cantonal’ councils in half of France, the left had 49.9 percent against 35.9 percent for the ruling conservative UMP, according to Interior Ministry figures.

Socialist Party head Martine Aubry said she welcomed the results “with humility” given the low turnout and a strong showing for the anti-immigrant National Front.

The National Front, which has surged in opinion polls under new leader Marine Le Pen, scored 11 percent even though it put up candidates in only a minority of departments. In some areas it scored as much as 40 percent.

Despite a low turnout of around 46 percent, the polls will be seen as the last big test of sentiment before the April 2012 election, set to pit the unpopular Sarkozy against left-wing rivals growing in strength and a surging far right…

The prospect that Sarkozy might not even make it into a runoff has caused alarm and disarray in the UMP.

Anyone think the “ethics of Sarkozy’s UMP will prove different from their kissing cousins in the Republican Party? Their response to bigotry and racism will be to embrace the National Front with open arms.

Hugs and kisses all round for the 19th Century.

Uprising crushed – Gaddafi ‘finishing the job’ in 48 hours

“Whatever the decision, it will be too late”

The Gaddafi regime is taunting the West over its failure to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and said it would “finish the job” of defeating the insurrection against its rule by Friday.

As Col Muammar Gaddafi’s troops advanced towards the rebel capital, Benghazi, Saif al-Islam, his son, told “traitors and mercenaries” to flee the country or face the consequences…

Asked about continuing British and French attempts to persuade the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone, he answered: “Military operations are over. Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi. Whatever the decision, it will be too late.”

The failure on Tuesday by the G8 group of nations to agree military intervention in Libya is said to have “perplexed” Downing Street. An immediate decision was opposed by China and Russia but even the United States failed to come out in support of the idea.

The White House is said to be exploring “other options”, such as using sequestered Libyan assets to fund the opposition. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she was hopeful the UN Security Council would take a vote on a Libya resolution no later than Thursday.

But Bernard Jenkin, a senior Tory MP, said: “Where are the Americans? We are now in a new, entirely new situation. We have premised our defence and foreign policy for the last 60 years on the principle that if there is an international crisis involving our national interest the Americans would see that as involving their national interests.

“That is not the case under President Obama. He has been dithering and vacillating, his administration is divided and there is considerable concern on the other side of the Atlantic about what the United States should be doing.”

The Gaddafi family meanwhile repeated claims that they had funded the electoral campaign of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. “We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything,” Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said in his interview, with Euronews.

“The first thing we want this clown to do is to give the money back to the Libyan people. He was given assistance so that he could help them…”

A well-placed government source in Tripoli told The Daily Telegraph it was “common knowledge” that the Gaddafi family had funded Mr Sarkozy “for years”…

The Gaddafi claims were all strenuously denied by President Sarkozy’s office.

I won’t roll through all the contradictions of American politics, the demands of corporate concerns and a public that, frankly, is fed up in general with war as an instrument of foreign policy. Would I have cried crocodile tears over swift, instant air strikes taking out Gaddafi’s air force and tanks right from Day One of the uprising. Hell, no.

Issues were immediate and clear-cut – regardless of whining Republicans and super-patriots in Congress who gasped in disbelief at James Clapper who told them the truth about military capability – and the likelihood of Gaddafi staying in power.

Exactly the opposite of the crap invasions of George W. Bush – still dragging on mercilessly under the aegis of Barack Obama years later.

Nicolas Sarkozy orders hacks to holiday at home

Next one caught, i’ll squeeze your head till it pops!

Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered his ministers to stay in France on holiday to avoid diplomatic gaffes after two scandals over hospitality from authoritarian North African leaders.

Mr Sarkozy bowed to criticism from rivals after embarrassing revelations that his prime minister and foreign minister accepted free holiday flights in Egypt and Tunisia, shortly before popular uprisings in both countries.

From now on, members of the government must prefer France for their holidays,” Mr Sarkozy told a cabinet meeting, according to a transcript released by his office.

“Invitations accepted abroad will be authorised by the prime minister and the presidential diplomatic unit … to see whether they are compatible with France’s foreign policy.”

Francois Fillon, the prime minister, on Tuesday admitted that he had a New Year family holiday on the Nile paid for by Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s under fire president.

“What was common a few years ago can shock nowadays. So it must be strictly monitored,” Mr Sarkozy said. “Only by being above reproach will people holding high office strengthen their citizens’ trust in the state institutions”.

Mr Sarkozy and his pop singer wife Carla Bruni spent their end-of year holiday in Morocco at the Jnane Lekbir royal residence belonging to King Mohammed VI.

Not much difference from golf trips to Scotland paid for with lobbyist money or some congress-creep retiring and waiting a week or two before showing up back on the street with a foreign flag in his lapel and a fat wallet.

Artworks worth millions seized from Sarkozy’s buddy – as stolen

Café Concert Singer by Manet

Artworks worth tens of millions of pounds registered as “disappeared” or “stolen” – including some by Degas and Manet – have been seized from a world renowned art institute run by one of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s closest friends.

Guy Wildenstein faces an investigation after the heir of a wealthy private collector claimed the works belonged to him.

Among the 30 pieces seized from the Wildenstein Institute in Paris last month were an oil painting by the impressionist Berthe Morisot called Cottage in Normandy, valued at 800,000 euros and Café Concert Singer by the impressionist Edouard Manet, worth several million pounds.

The paintings are alleged to have belonged to Anne-Marie Rouart, a descendant of Manet. She was a friend of the late Daniel Wildenstein, Guy’s father and a celebrated dealer who amassed the world’s biggest private art collection.

According to a family member, she “entrusted him with her tableaux and gold ingots whenever she went on holiday”. At the time of her death in 1993, she bequeathed her collection to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, whose treasurer was Mr Wildenstein…

Other works seized by police also included bronzes of animals by Rembrandt Bugatti and two sketches by Edgar Degas. These allegedly belonged to Joseph Reinach, a major art collector who had many works expropriated by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Mr Reinach’s heir, Alexandre Bronstein, has filed for charges against persons unknown for “theft and concealment”.
Mr Wildenstein is a co-founder of Mr Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party and is among the President’s so-called “First Circle” — his exclusive club of major donors. Last year, the French president personally awarded “Mon ami Guy” the Legion d’Honneur, one of France’s highest honours.

He may get to award him the order of soap-on-rope for prisoners guilty of high-class theft.

Europe’s Odd Couple – a lesson in international politics

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

She makes fun, in private, of the way he walks and talks, of his rapid, jerky gestures and facial grimaces. He mocks her deliberation, her reluctance, her matronly caution. She has compared him to Mr. Bean and to the French comic Louis de Funès, with his curly hair and large nose. He sometimes calls her La Boche, the offensive French version of “Kraut,” and goes out of his way to give her an embrace and a double-cheeked kiss in the French fashion, the kind of contact that he knows very well, aides say, she cannot stand.

While the agonies of the European Union — sovereign defaults, deficits and bubbles — unfold like a great wonk drama, at their core is something more intimate: the fractured tale of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. They have been photographed across Europe giving the appearance of happy partnership. They are the best hope Europe has for continued unity. But they do not like each other at all.

As with any couple in trouble, economic difficulty has added to the strain. Two years ago, at the beginning of the crisis, Sarkozy burst out in public, saying, “France is acting, while Germany is only thinking about it!” Later, before a European Union meeting in Brussels on the Greek bailout, the French president was in a rage at his inability to persuade Merkel to do more for that country. After yelling at the E.U.’s president, Herman Van Rompuy, he threatened to boycott the meeting, muttering, according to French officials, “The Germans haven’t changed.” Later, when Sarkozy took camera crews in with him to a meeting, Merkel insisted they leave and, aides said, told Sarkozy, “I won’t let you do this to me.”

So it is not an easy relationship. But they know that they need to keep going for the sake of the kids — that is, for the sake of Europe. They have instructed their top foreign-policy advisers, Jean-David Levitte and Christoph Heusgen, both consummate diplomats, to make the relationship function. Some of the symbolism is a stretch — joint cabinet meetings, ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe and the Berlin Wall. But there is an extraordinarily close coordination between the two staffs, and before every major European Union summit meeting, Sarkozy and Merkel hash out a joint position to take to the other 25 member states. This isn’t very democratic; it probably isn’t very pleasant either. Yet if the European Union is to function, Sarkozy and Merkel have to get along.

Continue reading

Nuclear reactor deal builds ties between France and India

Nicolas Sarkozy and Manmohan Singh
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrapped up his four-day visit to India, last week, securing defense, energy and aviation deals worth billions of dollars.

Headlines heralded a significant breakthrough — a framework agreement signed by India and France that will allow French energy group Areva SA to build two nuclear reactors in India’s western state of Maharashtra and to supply fuel for 25 years.

The deal, worth $9.3 billion, is set to boost strategic ties between the two countries and help feed India’s growing demand for energy…

Preparations for the construction of the two reactors may start in early 2011…

India’s Ministry of Environment gave the project a go-ahead last month. India has 20 operational nuclear reactors and is seeking to expand its energy sector to meet the rising energy demands…

Disclaimer: I own enough shares of Areva to buy a year’s supply of good French cheese. There is hardly any other kind.

Let’s leave mutual defense treaties in the past

French President Nicolas Sarkozy believes the idea of Russia and Europe building up defenses against one another is something that should remain in the past.

The announcement came during Sarkozy’s speech at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

“The idea that Russia should protect itself from Europe and that Europe should protect itself from Russia is a thing from the far past,” Sarkozy said, adding: “We must believe that we are fighting against one and the same threats.”

He said that terrorism and mafia are identical threats and that Russia and Europe must jointly fight against them.

Russian President Medvedev announced his initiative to draw up a new pan-European security pact in May 2008, and the first real draft was presented by the Kremlin in November 2009. It got responses from more than 20 governments and their administrations. The European Union and NATO have also studied the draft.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said such a treaty was unnecessary.

Her position was echoed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who has stated repeatedly that the West is no threat to Russia and that extra security guarantees are uncalled for.

Unless, John McCain had won the 2008 election and appointed George W. Bush secretary of state and Dick Cheney secretary of war. All bets would have been off.

Sarkozy to ‘reshuffle’ after regional polls – One way to put it!

The UMP is cast in the base metal of his own image. Sarkozy has to recognize the French public’s rejection of his policies.

Jean-Paul Huchon and Cecile Duflot from the movements gaining strength
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Following a heavy defeat for his party in regional elections, the president met Prime Minister Francois Fillon the day after the vote to discuss strategy…

The election has left President Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party in control of just one of 22 regions. With almost all votes counted, it had won 36%, while the Socialist-led opposition gained some 54%. Voter turnout was 51%.

The elections are the last major electoral test in France before the presidential election in 2012.

Mr Gueant described the result as “a big wake-up call for quick and effective action” on unemployment and other economic challenges, while Mr Fillon said the vote showed that the centre-right had not been “convincing”.

With unemployment at its highest level in a decade, and with France’s bank books showing screaming red deficits, many here feel Mr Sarkozy’s bold promises were little more than whispered sweet nothings.

The poor results may make Mr Sarkozy far more cautious about pushing through a comprehensive programme of reforms that has already clearly cost him votes…

I presume you already know what “reforms” means from the lips of conservatives. Screw working people a bit more to benefit corporate wealth.

Many people are angry that the president’s election promises – to make ordinary people richer and to make France more competitive – have failed to come good, our correspondent says.

High unemployment and resentment over planned judicial and pension reforms are among the factors seen to have prompted people to use a regional election to punish the central government.

The Left lumped Sarkozy’s crowd 3 to 2 – while Right-Wing Nutballs siphoned away that small portion of the French electorate qualified as the eejit teabagger vote.