France’s Hollande: Central African Republic Troubles Could Spill Over

The Central African Republic has descended into chaos since mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March, the latest coup in the poor but mineral-rich country. “There is a political emergency because there is no state,” Hollande said as he addressed reporters in Pretoria alongside South African President Jacob Zuma. “There is also an emergency at a regional level because there is a risk of spillover. We might witness religious conflict,” he said, in comments translated from French. There have already been sectarian clashes in the conflict that has driven more than 400,000 people from their homes, fleeing violence including murder and rape. France has about 400 troops in the capital, Bangui, and sources have told Reuters their numbers could be increased to around 750. However, Paris is reluctant to be left to deal with another African hotspot after it felt allies such as the United States were hesitant to help it halt a rebel advance by al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Mali earlier this year. The Central African Republic is geographically at the center of what some strategists have called an “arc of insecurity” of Islamist fighters that cuts from Kenya and Somalia in east Africa across to Mauritania in the west. Hollande said there was need for African governments to develop a standby force to deal with conflicts as they arise. The African Union has deployed about 2,500 troops. But its resources are limited, prompting Paris to seek a U.N. Security Council mandate that would turn the operation into a U.N.

Is France turning racist?

But the outpouring of sympathy last week when more than 300 would-be illegal immigrants drowned on a boat that sank en route from Libya to Italy suggests that Europe isn’t exactly being swept by racism. In other countries in Europe, the more potent issue seems to be frustration with the European Union and its institutions, widely blamed for the policies of austerity which have sent unemployment sky-rocketing to more than 20 percent in several countries. In Britain the U.K. Independence Party, which favors pulling out of the European Union altogether, is rising in the polls and claims to be the country’s legitimate third party. Britain’s ruling conservatives fear the prospect of UKIP taking so many of the votes they lose the next elections. Meanwhile, another euroskeptic party, Alternative for Germany, just missed out on a place in the Bundestag in last month’s general election. It came from nowhere to fall just short of the threshold of 5 percent the national vote needed to enter Parliament. But is the rise in the vote of these once-fringe groups the result of immigration, or of skepticism about Europe, or is it simply a protest vote against hard times and economic stagnation? Most likely, it is a combination of the three, combined with distrust of conventional politicians. Whatever the components of their appeal, it makes it difficult to dismiss these parties as “extreme right” or racist or even neo-Nazi. It is more complex than that. Austria’s Freedom Party is drawing mass support from working-class, blue-collar voters, University of Vienna political scientist Sylvia Kritzinger says, “Because of the policies they put forward, like immigration reform , anti-European integration, anti-corruption in the political system.” In France, the FN appears to be losing its pariah status and appealing to disillusioned socialist and conservative voters with promises to crack down on crime and illegal immigration and to leave the euro currency. Under its new leader, Marine Le Pen, a lawyer and mother of three, the FN’s image has both broadened and softened since the days when it was founded and led by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen , who was easily dismissed as an extremist for calling the Holocaust “a footnote of history.” In last year’s presidential election, when she won 17 percent of the vote, almost 1-in-5 women and nearly a quarter of those aged 18-25 voted for her. The real tide that is running is the steady erosion of the traditional two-party system of left and right that harks back to the days of Karl Marx when a party of capital faced a party of labor. That two-party system no longer reflects social reality, when the labor unions are weak and there is no longer a mass industrial working class.

Lloris: France is a ‘formidable’ team to avoid

France’s ranking is a fair reflection of the team’s overall slide since the 2006 World Cup – the last time it reached a major final. “It shows the work that we still have to do. France should be a seeded team. We have a lot of history, experience,” Lloris said. “It’s a bit of a handicap, but unfortunately we have to put up with that. It means we should work harder and the players must surpass themselves.” Another win against Finland, and more of the attacking flair shown against Australia, will send France into the playoffs on a high. “We’re trying to create a positive dynamic and we had a very good result on Friday, where we scored a lot of goals,” Lloris said.” We showed a lot of initiative, played high up and played with a lot of freedom. When we play like that we can cause problems for other teams.” Since striker Olivier Giroud replaced Karim Benzema, the team has played with a sharper focus. Giroud scored twice against Australia and his ability to hold the ball up or lay it off, combined with his excellent touch, make him easier to find than Benzema, who tends to drift wide when he is not getting on the ball and has also lost confidence recently. Deschamps hinted that Giroud has now established himself as the first choice. “You don’t need to ask me the question because he’s started the last two games and has played more than Karim,” Deschamps said. “Yes, we’ll play with one center-forward. I think that’s the system where we’re strongest. It’s easier when you play high up and win the ball in your opponent’s camp. They have less time to get organized, there’s less distance to run when you defend and so you save energy.” Deschamps is expecting Finland, third in Group I, to put up stiffer resistance than Australia did.