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French report
by Euro Reporter
2013-07-29 12:30:07
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Storms in France leave thousands without power

Violent storms swept through large parts of north and southwest France on Friday night and Saturday morning, leaving thousands of homes without electricity and causing at least two severe injuries. As of midday Saturday, around 100,000 homes were still without power, with ERDF, the agency responsible for maintaining the electricity network, dispatching some 1,000 technicians to help restore power as quickly as possible.

"The goal is to do everything possible to restore the maximum number of customers with power by tomorrow night," an ERDF spokesman told the AFP news agency. He noted that there was "a lot of damage everywhere” but particularly in the Poitou-Charentes and Aquitaine regions of southwest France, where 53,000 and 28,000 homes were without power respectively. A 70-year-old woman in the Aquitaine town of Gironde was seriously injured after a church bell tower collapsed onto her house, according to French media reports. 

Fire-fighters took more than four hours to free the woman from the rubble. In the city of Nantes, meanwhile, a postman was taken to hospital in a serious condition after being struck by lightning, having taken shelter from the storm underneath a tree. The violent weather also caused disruption to the country’s rail network, with falling trees causing severe delays on the high-speed TGV service between Paris and Bordeaux. More bad weather is set to come, with the country’s national meteorological service issuing storm alerts for 28 departments for Saturday afternoon and evening, with hail, heavy rainfall and winds of up to 120 km/h expected in some parts of the country. 


France orders Strauss-Kahn to stand trial

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced former chief of the International Monetary Fund, was ordered Friday to stand trial in France on charges linked to his involvement in a prostitution ring prosecutors say was operating in France and in the United States. Judges in the northern city of Lille, who have been investigating Mr. Strauss-Kahn and a small group of French businessmen and police officials for nearly two years, charged him and 12 others with pimping, or “aggravated procurement in a group.” That charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of 1.5 million Euros, or about $2 million.  Mr. Strauss-Kahn, whose political career collapsed around a 2011 New York sex scandal and the subsequent flood of sexual misconduct claims against him, has denied any wrongdoing, though he has admitted participating in sex parties in France and Washington. He was not aware, he has said, that the women involved were prostitutes.

“Dominique Strauss-Kahn denies the totality of the deeds of which he is accused,” said Frédérique Baulieu, a lawyer for Mr. Strauss-Kahn. “There was no infraction,” Ms. Baulieu added, noting that a state prosecutor called for the case to be dismissed in June.  At that point, it appeared that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s legal worries might be through; in October, rape charges involving a Belgian escort were dropped, and shortly thereafter his lawyers reached a confidential settlement with the New York hotel housekeeper who had accused him of assaulting her. But the magistrates in Lille overruled the prosecutor on Friday. Ms. Baulieu insisted that their investigation had been biased. A trial will probably be held next year, she said.

A likely contender for the French presidency before the encounter in New York, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has in recent months begun a return to public life. He appeared in black tie on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in May and recently testified before the French Senate as an expert in global finance. This month, he was named a member of the board of a banking subsidiary of Rosneft, the Russian state oil company.  Earlier in the year, a roman à clef by a onetime lover described him as a “pig.” Mr. Strauss-Kahn was unable to halt sales of the book, but a court ordered that a flier be included with each copy noting that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s privacy had been violated. 


Police brutality, not burkas, the source of tensions

Until recently, the Parisian suburb of Trappes was famous for producing some of France's brightest stars, including footballer Nicolas Anelka and comedian Jamel Debbouze. But this weekend, it gained notoriety as the site of the latest burka ban controversy. At the heart of the recent protests is a concern over systemic and institutionalised racism in France's establishment and the unwillingness on the part of politicians and sections of the media, to confront it. The disturbances began following the ID check of a woman wearing the face veil. What ensued remains unclear, with dramatically diverging testimonials from police and eyewitnesses. 

The police claim face-veil clad Hajjar, who was accompanied by her mother, husband and four month old baby resisted the check and that her husband reacted violently, assaulting an officer. Official sources present the resultant protests as opposition to the enforcement of the 2011 ban on face veils by 'Islamic militant elements'. For her part, Hajjar claims she and her husband, 21 year old Michael, were the victims of excessive force used by bigoted police officers. Eyewitnesses confirm Hajjar's testimonial that she was violently dragged by her hair and pinned against a police car. Her husband intervened and was handcuffed. Both Hajjar and eyewitnesses deny police claims that the couple were violent towards police officers. According to Samba, a representative for the Association of residents of Trappes, a North African woman who attempted to intervene was told to "sod off, you dirty Arab", by officers present. 

Following the incident, around 200 (mainly) peaceful protestors, including women and children, gathered outside the local police station on Friday evening, objecting to the treatment of the couple and to the unwillingness of the local police station to hear a complaint over the behaviour of the officers. What is certain is that a minority of protestors clashed with police officers who responded in full riot gear, using tear gas. A fourteen year old boy suffered a serious eye injury and a police officer was injured. Six people were arrested - three of whom have since been handed sentences ranging from ten to six months. One of those arrested ended up with 15 stitches, head injuries and a broken leg, all of which he claims occurred at the hands of seven police officers who assaulted him without provocation. 

In a visit to Trappes on Monday, Interior Minister Manuel Valls was intercepted by a woman who expressed the distress of the residents and concern over a "two tier system" in which police violence goes unchecked. Highlighting the current gulf separating politicians from some of France's most marginalised communities, Valls responded by chastising the woman for questioning the police force's integrity. Despite the serious nature of the allegations, as well as the injuries sustained, Valls has publicly stated that he is in no doubt that the "police did their job perfectly". This, despite persistent allegations that French police use excessive force, particularly in their dealings with residents of France's impoverished and marginalised suburbs.


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