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by Euro Reporter
2011-03-21 09:52:29
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French voters slam Sarkozy in local balloting

French voters slammed President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of local elections on Sunday, as the ruling UMP party fell well behind the opposition Socialists and close to the extreme-right National Front, which is now seen as a first-rank contender in next year's presidential elections. According to the Interior Ministry's first estimates, Mr. Sarkozy's UMP, or Union for a Popular Movement, gathered about 16% of votes, well behind the Socialist Party, with about 25%, and close to the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, with 14%. Turnout was low, at under 50%. The elections are a key test for Mr. Sarkozy, as the final ballot before next year's presidential elections.

Ms. Le Pen, who took over the National Front leadership in January, has smoothed the abrasive image that her father Jean-Marie—who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred and of minimizing the Holocaust—gave the party. An opinion poll by Harris Interactive last week showed Ms. Le Pen, who has been playing on immigration concerns, would come in first if the first round of presidential elections were held now, ahead of Mr. Sarkozy and potential left-wing candidates. An Ipsos poll this week showed the National Front leader at a similar level to Mr. Sarkozy if presidential elections were to take place this weekend. "If these first results are confirmed, the [National Front] is in the same league as the UMP: Marine Le Pen's strategy is paying off," said Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at think tank Cevipof at Sciences Po, a Paris university. "It looks like Sarkozy has lost a good chunk of the electorate that voted for him in 2007."

While Mr. Sarkozy hasn't officially declared whether he intends to run for a second mandate and the Socialist Party hasn't yet picked a candidate, Ms. Le Pen is already on the campaign trail. "This is the first step of a grand renewal to which French people aspire," Ms. Le Pen said in an interview on TV station France 2, noting that this was her party's best result yet in local elections. The French political establishment, both right and left, is worried that Ms. Le Pen could repeat the shock of her father's success when he outpolled then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, in the first round of 2002 presidential elections to go head-to-head with Jacques Chirac in the second round.  Despite Mr. Chirac's eventual victory, Jean-Marie Le Pen's performance left an indelible mark on the French political landscape. It was followed by a merger of leading right-wing parties to form Mr. Sarkozy's UMP.

Prime Minister François Fillon has hinted for the first time at the possibility that the UMP could be absent from the second round of next year's presidential vote, with Ms. Le Pen running against a Socialist candidate. Mr. Sarkozy has struggled over the past year to rebuild the popularity that gave him the presidency in 2007.

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French news agency says 3 foreign journalists missing in eastern Libya


Two journalists working for a French news agency and a photographer travelling with them have gone missing in Libya while reporting on the fighting between Moammar Gadhafi's forces and rebels, the agency said Sunday. Agence France-Presse said the journalists went missing Saturday morning while working near the eastern city of Tobruk, not far from the border with Egypt. That area mostly remains under rebel control, but government forces have gained back territory in the east in recent days. The AFP journalists are reporter Dave Clark and photographer Roberto Schmidt. They were accompanied by a photographer for Getty Images, Joe Raedle, who is also missing.

AFP said the journalists planned to meet opponents of Gadhafi and interview people fleeing the fighting. Several foreign journalists have been arrested by Libyan authorities during the uprising that began Feb. 15. An Al-Jazeera cameraman and a Libyan journalist have also been killed. Those being held include four journalists for The New York Times who were detained by government forces during fighting last week in the east. The newspaper reported Friday that Libyan forces said they would release them, but there has been no confirmation that they have been freed.

On Saturday, Al-Jazeera TV said Libyan authorities detained a team of its journalists in western Libya. A cameraman for the network was killed a week ago in an ambush near the rebel capital of Benghazi. On Saturday, a Libyan who ran a webcast program showing the aftermath of government attacks and commentary on the uprising was killed in a government assault on the city. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said six Libyan journalists who criticized government policies are missing and believed held by forces loyal to Gadhafi. Three of them disappeared shortly after speaking to Al-Jazeera on the air, the group said. "The authorities in Tripoli must release all journalists in detention immediately," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program co-ordinator.

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French leery of "nuclear safety" rhetoric


Anti-nuclear sentiments have been running high for some time. The government has rejected concerns about the dangers posed by nuclear reactors in France. Instead, it says French technology is the most advanced when it comes to nuclear safety.  It all started in 2009. France lost a juicy 20 billion dollar nuclear power plant contract in the UAE to South Korea.

Local newspapers now report that a few months later, in a bid to reduce costs, not only did French authorities want to scale down the stringent safety standards, they also planned to shut down the country's independent Nuclear Safety Body which sets those standards.

But the French energy giant EDF says it has earmarked 500 million Euros to ensure that nuclear plants in France can survive earthquakes.  These demonstrators want the government to rethink its nuclear policy, and that's why they have gathered outside the French Parliament.  Whatever the final outcome in Fukushima, campaigns for renewable energy sources will receive fresh impetus as a result of Japan's nuclear crisis.


        
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