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French press review 17 December 2014

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The French front pages are divided between fear and shock this morning, the fear provoked by Russia's financial woes, the shock by the murder of 136 schoolchildren by the Pakistani Taliban.


The rouble has been struggling for some time, as declining crude oil prices and Western sanctions combine to put the squeeze on the Russian currency. It has lost 50 per cent of its value against the US dollar over the past 12 months, despite efforts by Russia's central bank to halt the slide, notably by raising interest rates to 17 per cent.

Catholic La Croix says the problem is Russia's dependence on the export of raw materials, which accounts for 70 per cent of national earnings. The collapse of the prices of oil and gas have thus hit Russia badly. And investors have had the jitters since Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and started biting off chunks of Ukraine. That started a move to convert roubles into dollars, a move that has now become a scramble.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Conservative paper Le Figaro says the real problem is that Russia's rumblings are unlikely to leave Europe's troubled economy untouched. Already hotels at the top end of the luxury winter holiday market have reported a severe drop in the number of Russian reservations.

The political crisis in Greece is also having a negative effect on investor nerves. The candidate of the hard-left Syriza party could well take this week's presidential election. He's promised to tell the European Central Bank where to go for the repayment of the billions Europe has so far poured into Athens in an effort to keep the Greek economy above the waterline. And then there's France and Italy, supposed to be economic powerhouses in Europe, both struggling with immense public debt burdens, slow or no economic growth and a general feeling that recesssion is the only game in town.

Le Figaro's editorial fulminates against the "cowardice" of Islamic militants, kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria, murdering children in a school in Peshawar.

Libération's stark main headline reads "School massacre", a reference to yesterday's murder by Taliban gunmen of 136 youngsters and nine teachers in northern Pakistan.

Le Figaro describes the killers as "abject", wondering what ideology could be used to justify such a crime. The conservative paper suggests that the terrorists have now lost the power to terrorise, provoking only a sense of disgust and an angry determination to see them wiped out.

With a certain amount of historical confusion, the same editorial reminds readers that the Taliban remain the creation of the Pakistani security services, aided and abetted by the American CIA, back in the days when Soviet troops controlled Kabul. That is more the case for the Afghan Taliban, who have been among those condemning the Peshawar attack.

Dossier: Pakistan General Election 2013

But Pakistan has always had an ambivalent relationship with Islamic militancy. This was, after all, the country where Al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden found refuge for several years in the wake of the US's invasion of Afghanistan because of the 11 September attacks. The Pakistani Taliban appear to have been tipped off about a recent offensive by the Pakistan military, since there was an unprecedented rush across the border into Afghanistan by Islamist leaders in the weeks before the army moved. Perhaps the tragedy of Peshawar will bring that ambivalence to an end.

A security analyst interviewed by Libération says the Taliban are constantly trying to raise the stakes, attempting to ensure that the latest attack is more horrific than the last. He says the worry now, for the army and the state in Pakistan, is what the Taliban will do next. It's a chilling perspective.

Finally, communist L'Humanité devotes its front page to the future of the printed press, on the day the French parliament starts considering a bill on the modernisation of the newspaper industry. Socialists and Greens are in favour of the changes; the conservatives and the far left are unsure.

According to L'Huma, the whole debate misses the essential point which is how the traditional press can come to terms with the new realities of computerised information. Soon only major industrial groups will be able to afford to own newspapers, says L'Humanité, and that can't be good for independence or objectivity.