France turns the page on 'annus horribilis' of 2005

2nd January 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 1 (AFP) - France welcomed in the New Year against a backdrop of burning cars, but was spared the explosion of violence feared by authorities as the country said farewell on Sunday to a year of crisis and setbacks.

PARIS, Jan 1 (AFP) - France welcomed in the New Year against a backdrop of burning cars, but was spared the explosion of violence feared by authorities as the country said farewell on Sunday to a year of crisis and setbacks.

Fearing a new outbreak of full-scale rioting on New Year's Eve, 25,000 police were mobilised to keep the peace, with a state of emergency imposed in November in response to the urban violence still legally in force.

Car-burnings — a grim New Year's ritual in many run-down French suburbs — were reported in more than 250 towns, with 425 vehicles set alight, the national police department said.

The figure was around a third higher than last year, but there were no large-scale arson attacks or other serious violence.

Breathing a sigh of relief, many French people will gladly turn the page on 2005, a year marred by difficulties on both the domestic and international fronts.

In May, France found itself isolated in Europe after its voters issued a resounding "non" to a draft European Union constitution, a personal slap in the face for President Jacques Chirac who led an energetic campaign in its favour.

Just two months later, the national mood sank a notch lower as Paris was spurned in its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, losing out to London.

Going from bad to worse, France made headlines across the world for three weeks in the autumn as black and Arab youths, feeling trapped in unemployment and poverty, created mayhem in hundreds of poor city suburbs.

The urban violence, the worst in France for 40 years, spread like wildfire through hundreds of run-down city suburbs, with arson attacks on 10,000 cars and 200 public buildings.

The tough 2005 has thrown up challenges for France's political leaders in the coming year, with all eyes already turned towards the 2007 presidential and legislative elections.

In his New Year's address to the nation, Chirac acknowledged that both the riots and the rejection of the constitution had revealed "tensions" in French society.

The riots exposed the plight of an ethnic minority underclass, plagued by unemployment rates several times the national average and a lack of representation in public life.

France's much vaunted Republican model for integrating immigrants, based on colour-blind equality under the law, was suddenly attacked for having allowed such inequalities to develop unchecked.

Meanwhile, the constitution vote plunged the bloc into an unprecedented crisis, calling into question a vision of Europe — and France's role as a driving force within it — that had nourished French political life for decades.

Voter fears about globalisation, competition from eastern Europe and Turkey's EU membership bid all revealed France as a country turned in on itself, having lost its self-confidence.

Additionally, the immediate outlook for the French economy is bleak, despite early signs of a recovery, with almost 10 percent unemployment and public overspending cited as key problems in a recent OECD report.

In his address to the nation, Chirac announced that he would shortly outline initiatives to "relaunch the construction of a political Europe, a social Europe".

But the 73-year-old leader's authority has been badly eroded by the constitution debacle, and his public standing further harmed by a spell in hospital in September for a blood clot around an eye.

By December a survey showed that a mere one percent of French voters wished to see him seek a third mandate.

Within his own centre-right UMP party, Chirac has been gradually eclipsed by a duo of rivals for his succession -- his ally Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, 52, and the ambitious interior minister, 50-year-old Nicolas Sarkozy.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article