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French press review 14 May 2018


Another day of disruption has started as the strike by French rail workers continues. Saturday's knife attack in Paris once again raises the question of police powers of prevention.

France faces another day "without trains and without rail workers" as transport workers continue the latest phase of the strike which began on Saturday, the ninth sequence of protests against government reform of the rail sector.

There have been 18 days of transport disruption since the industrial action began in March.

Both the striking unions and the management of the national rail company agree that today will see some of the worst disruption since the start of the dispute. Allowing for regional variations, only about one-third of national rail services are guaranteed this Monday.

International services Eurostar and Thalys are expected to run normally.

Lies about privatisation?

Le Monde gives prominence to the possibility that the government has been lying with its repeated promises that there are no plans to privatise the national rail company.

Yesterday tabloid newspaper Le Parisien published a letter detailing a meeting earlier this month between the transport minister Elisabeth Borne and senior rail managers, at which were discussed the various amendments to be proposed by French senators when they consider the rail reform bill later this month.

Among the various topics examined, a government-inspired amendment which would reorganise the business structure of the rail service, leaving the state in control of an overall holding company but with two separate entities  - one each for the trains and the rail network - which could be sold off.

Trade union reactions have been violent.

"A breach of confidence," is how Erik Meyer, the national leader of Sud Rail, the second largest union in the company, sees the revelation. "The government promised that 100 percent of the business would remain publicly owned, and now we learn that they're planning to break it up and sell it off in smaller chunks."

The same meeting also allegedly considered the question of hiving off the regional train service.

The rail company has denied that the changes considered would amount to privatisation.

Le Monde completes its analysis by saying that the reform bill, which has already passed the first stage of parliamentary reading, does technically guarantee continued state ownership of the national rail company. A new law would be needed to sell off the component parts of what is, for the moment, a single unit.

Can individual terrorists be stopped before they attack?

Right-wing daily Le Figaro looks at the background to Saturday night's knife attack here in Paris, asking what this latest tragedy reveals about the usefulness of the anti-terror watchlist.

Saturday's killer, himself shot dead by police, had been interviewed by police a year ago because he'd been in contact with suspected terrorists. Since 2016 the knife attacker had been listed as warranting special attention by the authorities. He was even on a separate list of those suspected of Islamic radicalisation. But he was considered low-risk by the police.

Voices on the right have been raised, demanding tougher treatment for those suspected of terrorist sympathies.

The police point out that, legally, being on a list of suspects is a formality, not a criminal judgement. It allows the various police organisations to coordinate their efforts and share information. It also allows certain legal short-cuts for such activities as phone-tapping and search warrants. The outspoken anti-terrorist judge Marc Trévidic three years ago warned that the system of special surveillance was a waste of time if there was no serious judicial follow-up.

Another problem is posed by the low-tech nature of Saturday's attack. No weapons or explosives had to be obtained, no vehicles needed to be stolen. There were, as far as the police have been able to ascertain, no accomplices. The attacker arrived on the scene in the metro, armed with an ordinary kitchen knife.

And, like the majority of the perpretators of recent French terrorist attacks, Saturday's killer tragically emerged from the low end of the risk spectrum, leaving the authorities practically no chance of predicting his sudden outburst of violence.