Ex French PM trades blows with Sarkozy

France’s ex-prime minister Dominique de Villepin has filed a law suit against Nicolas Sarkozy after the president called him and other defendants in a smear trial “guilty”.

Villepin accuses Sarkozy of violating his right to presumption of innocence when he said in a television interview last week that the “guilty parties” in the so-called Clearstream affair were on trial.

Under French law, the head of state enjoys immunity from legal action and the suit would in theory only be heard once Sarkozy is out of office.

France’s most politically charged trial in years opened last week with Villepin and four other defendants accused of taking part in a plot hatched in 2003-2004 to smear Sarkozy and derail his bid for the French presidency.

Villepin and Sarkozy were then bitter rivals in the struggle for the governing right-wing party’s nomination to succeed president Jacques Chirac.

Villepin described the comments as “unacceptable” and argued that Sarkozy had “an obligation to refrain from commenting” on matters before the courts.

Opposition politicians said Sarkozy’s remarks made on French television were a “revealing slip of the tongue” that showed he was not impartial in the case involving his arch-rival, Villepin.

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French culture ministry puts on ‘open house’ event..

They queued to see the secrets of the Moulin Rouge cabaret, the Elysee palace, a chateau and even the only Nazi concentration camp opened in French territory.

The French Culture Ministry said that more than 12 million people turned out to get a rare look into more than 15,700 national monuments during a special open doors weekend.

About 1,500 people got the chance to look behind the scenes at the Paris night club, renowned for its scantily clad can-can dancers. The management of the Moulin Rouge with its famous red windmill on the roof said it had to turn thousands more away.

About 19,000 people went to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s official residence, 28,000 to the Senate building and even 9,000 to the interior ministry.

In the provinces, about 1,500 people went to the site of the former Struthof concentration camp at Natzwiller in eastern France where thousands died during World War II. Hundreds went to the chateau of the dukes of Epernon at Cadillac near Bordeaux.

Castles, administrative buildings and other monuments across France opened specially for what has become an annual weekend when French heritage is thrown open to the public.

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French language course starts in Ho Chi Minh City

A tourism training course for teachers of the French language opened at the Asia-Pacific French Language Centre of the Ho Chi Minh City Pedagogical College on September 14.

The four-day course involves twenty-six French language lecturers from universities in Hanoi, Hue, Da Nang and Nha Trang and six foreign lecturers from Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

The trainees will learn about the social environment of tourism, basic concepts of French for tourism and methods of selecting teaching materials, and tapping supplemental sources, such as the Internet and other media.

The training programme aims to improve the lecturers’ knowledge of the language needs in the tourism sector, and develop the quality of teaching French for tourism at universities in Vietnam and other regional countries.

The course is jointly organised by the Ho Chi Minh City Pedagogical College, the Francophone Organisation and the Francophone University Agency with support from the French Embassy in Vietnam.

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French kissing goodbye to ‘la bise’

It’s a ubiquitous French tradition, as familiar as a baguette or an espresso at the neighborhood cafe. Now, “la bise,” the cheek-to-cheek peck that the French use to say hello or goodbye, has come under pressure from a globalized threat: swine flu.

Some French schools, companies and a Health Ministry hotline are telling students and employees to avoid the social ritual out of fear the pandemic could make it the kiss of death, or at least illness, as winter approaches.

Mainland France has so far only counted three swine flu deaths. The tally is worse in French southern hemisphere holdings now in winter, like the South Pacific island of Nouvelle Caledonie, with seven deaths and 35,000 cases overall, according to local officials.

Across France, authorities and school officials are taking few chances — while trying to avoid stirring panic when the academic year started last week. In recent months, a few schools in France have been temporarily shut after cases of swine flu emerged.

For kids in two schools in the town of Guilvinec, in France’s western Brittany region, the first lesson of the year came from local officials: no more cheek kisses to teachers or other students.

“I asked the children not to kiss anymore,” town mayor Helene Tanguy said by phone. “I felt that the protections sought — to wash hands regularly, not throw used handkerchiefs around, and not cough any old way — had no meaning if we let the kids keep kissing.”

“It seems we were the first town to do so,” she said. It’s just part of an effort to adopt new and more sanitary habits, and there’s no punishment involved for those who do exchange bises, she added.

As a playful alternative, some teachers in the town have set up “bise boxes”: Pupils slip heart-shaped greetings inside before they’re exchanged in class, Tanguy said.

Many in France see a threat to cherished customs.

“Swine flu has already changed our life,” read the headline of an article in Monday’s Le Parisien about banning the bise.

The national government isn’t calling for a ban. But the French Health Ministry, on its swine flu phone hotline, recommends that people avoid “close contact — including shaking hands and giving the bise.”

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Stay-at-home locals save French tourism

Tourism in France, the world’s top holiday destination, held up over the summer months because a rise in domestic French holidaymakers offseting a sharp drop in foreign visitors.

French hotels saw visitor numbers rise 1 percent in July and August, breaking down into a 3.6 percent increase in July and a 1.2 percent fall in August, Herve Novelli, state secretary for tourism, said in a statement.

Tourism accounts for around 6 percent of France’s gross domestic product and the government had forecast a marked decline for 2009 because of the economic crisis, extending last year’s 3 percent drop.

Foreign visitor numbers did indeed dive in France over the summer, with a 14.5 percent fall in July-August underlining the tourism downturn that has hit cities, beaches and mountain resorts all over Europe.

Compensating for this, hotels, holiday homes and campsites recorded a 6.3 percent rise in the number of French customers.

“In terms of types of accommodation, we have noticed that French customers tend to stay in more moderately priced accommodation,” the statement said.

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Je t’aime: French text msgs now divorce evidence

Unfaithful French spouses beware: Passionate text messages sent to mistresses and lovers can now be used as evidence against you in a divorce.

Experts say the recent ruling by France’s Supreme Court to accept phone exchanges as legitimate proof of adultery will make it easier for the French to get divorced. Previously, French husbands and wives often had to wait for years to escape a marriage if they could not prove that their spouse was misbehaving or mistreating them.

The June ruling by the country’s highest court went largely unnoticed until it was reported by the French media last week.

Text messages have long been accepted as official proof in murder and other criminal trials in France, and the new decision extends such practice into family law. E-mails are also accepted as evidence in trials.

Getting a divorce can be a lengthy and painful procedure in France. If the spouses fail to agree to separate by mutual consent, those filing for divorce must prove that the spouse was cheating or abusing or mistreating them.

If the judge is not convinced, a divorce will be pronounced only after 2 years of living separately. Up until 2004, French law required couples to wait as long as 6 years.

Over 273,000 marriages and nearly 135,00 divorces were registered in France in 2007, according to government data — meaning that half of all marriages was likely to end in divorce.

C’est la vie!

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French workers pull few punches in fight to keep jobs

Will threatening to blow up the factory where you work get you a better severance package?

What about staging a “bossnapping,” and attracting TV cameras?

These are the questions some French workers have been asking in the last six months. The problem is, they’re doing more than asking.

As jobs are lost, and factories close because of the global financial crisis, French workers have resorted to threatening management with violence; forcefully holding their bosses on company grounds; blocking and burning property in factories; and, in one instance, ransacking police headquarters.

The radicalized trend among the workers has “awakened an old anarchistic French tradition,” said Bernard Vivier, director of a French research institute on labor issues, the IST.

He and other experts say the climate is a sign of an increasingly grim outlook for laborers rooted to the same factory, often located in small, centuries-old towns, where they have worked their whole adult lives.

The radical methods “are the expression of local desperation, because a person’s job isn’t just a job in our country,” Vivier said. “In these towns it is something that is very rooted to the territory, a factory, the history of a people and place.”

The incident involved Molex, an Illinois-based automotive parts maker, which is planning to close a plant near Toulouse, in southern France.

As the company’s visiting American business development director, Eric Doesburg, walked out of his office Tuesday night, he was pelted with eggs “all over his body” and beaten by a drunken crowd of employees, he said in an interview.

“My French is weak,” Doesburg said over the phone. “But I can understand a good bit. In a crowd of 40 people yelling at me, they were obviously very angry. I couldn’t tell you the exact phrases that were being said, but I can tell you the intent: . . . The intent was violence. Anger and violence.”

French government officials have strongly expressed to workers that threats work against them. The acts of violence “do a disservice to the cause of employees, and make negotiations all the more difficult,” French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi said in a statement last week.

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