Bastille Day 2010: Top 5 French News Stories
As the world wishes France a Happy Bastille Day, Surge Desk looks at some of the more recent news events our French friends are generating these days.
1. African Troops March in Bastille Day Parade
Troops from African countries that were formerly French colonies were invited to march in the Bastille Day parade down the Champs-Elysees today to mark the 50th anniversary of their independence. Soldiers from 13 African countries marched in front of French troops as leaders from the African nations watched from the stands.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was criticized by some groups for inviting the countries and their leaders, several of whom are accused of human rights violations, The Associated Press reports.
The African nations represented were Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad and Togo.
2. Veil Ban Passed
Speaking of human rights violations, the lower house of France's Parliament voted Tuesday to ban people from publicly wearing veils that cover the face, like the Muslim niqab. If the legislation passes a vote in the Senate in September, the veil ban will take effect next spring. People who wear the veil in public will be charged a fine of about $185 or receive community service, and those who force others to wear the veil will face a $38,000 fine or a year in jail, according to the LA Times.
Proponents of the bill say that face-covering veils are a public safety hazard and run opposite to French sensibilities about the equality of men and women. Jean-Francois Cope, the majority leader of the French National Assembly, compared the veil to the ski mask used by robbers when describing its hazardous nature in an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune.
Though some groups are questioning the constitutionality of the law, it has overwhelming support in France. Parliament passed the bill with a 335-1 vote Tuesday.
3. Thierry Henry to Join the New York Red Bulls
After France's embarrassing performance in the World Cup, wherein team members acted like a sugar-addled group of third-graders trying to organize themselves for a game of flag football, it's not surprising that French striker Thierry Henry is defecting to the United States.
Henry, 32, played on the 1998 French team that won the World Cup and is best known for his handball during a World Cup qualifying match against Ireland, which sneaked France into this year's tournament. He will be leaving FC Barcelona to join the Red Bulls, which are ranked fourth in the league.
Henry's opening game will be on July 22 against English team Tottenham Hotspur (best name ever?).
4. President Sarkozy Battles Scandal
French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared on television Monday evening to defend himself against an insidious scandal that would be textbook French if only it included a torrid affair.
The story begins with the richest woman in France, Liliane Bettencourt, the 87-year-old heiress to the L'Oreal fortune. Three years ago her daughter Francoise charged that celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier had tricked her aged mother into giving him money and gifts (including a Picasso, a Matisse and an island in the Seychelles) adding up to $1.25 billion.
During the kerfuffle, Bettencourt's disgruntled butler produced audio recordings he had made with a hidden recorder while serving coffee and tea to the heiress and her financial advisers. The recordings included conversations about tax-avoiding Swiss bank accounts and the employ of the wife of Eric Woerth, who was then the French budget minister, i..e. guy in charge of taxes.
Then, earlier this month, Bettencourt's former bookkeeper (also disgruntled) revealed that part of her job had included handing out envelopes stuffed with cash to French politicians. One of those envelopes ended up in the coffers of Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign.
On Monday evening, Sarkozy said he would ask Woerth, now Labor Minister Woerth, to resign as chief fundraiser for Sarkozy's political party. The president added that the accusations were an attempt by the opposition to foil his plans for retirement reforms.
5. Tour de France Plods On Largely Unnoticed in the U.S.
It's been a big month for sporting events that don't get much attention in the United States. Stage 10 of the Tour de France finished today with a win by Sergio Paulinho, 30, of Portugal, a member of Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team. Armstrong placed 31st today. Stage 10 was about 111 miles long and included two hill climbs, according to The New York Times. Luxembourger Andy Schleck still holds the coveted yellow jersey of the Tour leader.