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Bastille Day, marking the official start of the government summer holiday season, came like a much needed time-out from the recurrent political scandals of the past weeks.
In addition to the usual pomp and circumstance that military parades are known for, troops from African countries that were once French colonies were invited to march in this year’s parade to honor Africans who have fought under the French flag and to commemorate 50 years of African independence. Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo took part in the event while the president of the Ivory Coast boycotted the celebration.
Critics, including some callers invited to comment on a morning radio show, questioned the sincerity of Franco-African relations, particularly given that France continues to maintain a military presence in some of these countries, even during peace time.
The mild flak over the African participation at the parade paled in comparison to the avalanche of negative publicity the government has received over the last weeks, particularly in the Bettencourt affair that has claimed as a casualty his labor minister, Eric Woerth, who resigned this week from his position as UMP party treasurer.
On Monday night President Nicolas Sarkozy answered questions about the affair in a television interview that few people found convincing. He offered Woerth his full support and blamed the scandal on the opposition and other detractors seeking to derail his pension reform. Woerth is now expected to devote his full attention to the president’s plans to increase the retirement age to 62 from 60.
Cabinet members endorsed the pension plan Woerth presented on Tuesday, the same day parliament’s lower house passed a nearly unanimous vote on the law to ban face-covering veils in public places. That bill will go to the Senate for a vote in September.
To be continued.