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Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
Chirac's 'house on fire'
The mounting corruption allegations engulfing French President Jacques Chirac have attracted considerable comment in the French press.
The right-wing Le Figaro highlights the arguments of those who support Chirac's refusal to tell investigators where he got vast amounts of cash for Indian Ocean holidays and other expensive trips when he was mayor of Paris in the early 1990s.
"The right sees in the sudden acceleration of the investigation and in the fact that the president's family is being attacked head on an obvious political manipulation," the paper says.
It quotes a Chirac lawyer as saying that the Paris magistrates "are acting completely illegally" and carries an interview with Josselin de Rohan, president of the neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic group in the French upper house, taking up the cudgels in the president's defence.
"It's clearly a political operation," de Rohan asserts. A judge "shouldn't render services but respect the law, which says clearly... that the president of the republic cannot testify when he is in office", he continues.
"When a judge doesn't apply the law, it's the road to anarchy!"
Fear of fallout
The regional newspaper Ouest France worries about the impact of the snowballing scandal on the country's political system.
"The president, his relatives and the judiciary: will this be the 'soap opera' fable of this summer?" the paper asks.
"That would be deplorable: a blow to the demands of the dignity that is attached to the presidential post. A country needs institutions that are respected and thus respectable. The affair of the private trips of Jacques Chirac and his relatives gives such respect a rough ride."
It concludes that Chirac, "more than anyone else", has "the duty to aid the judiciary to shed light on the affair" and is "morally obliged to testify".
"Didn't he himself assert on 14 December 2000 that 'being heard as a witness would allow me to kill off a certain number of insinuations'? It's up to him alone to make it so!"
A family affair
Commenting on the questioning of Chirac's daughter over the cash payments, the centrist Le Monde dwells on her deep involvement in the president's political life.
"Untangling what is of concern to the public life and the private life of the Chiracs has always been a complicated affair... Bernadette Chirac and Claude, the couple's youngest, are not only the wife and daughter of the head of state.
"They are also his most visible intermediaries, his official collaborators and his unshakable allies. Thus summoning one or other before a judge resounds as much symbolically as politically," it writes.
A public-private partnership
The left-leaning Liberation focuses its attack on the blurring of the line between the public and private.
"Safely entrenched inside the Elysee presidential palace where he knows that no gendarmes will come to escort him to the court building, Jacques Chirac sees his closest relatives having to answer to magistrates about the mechanisms of a system which was entirely devoted to his political career", the paper writes in a special section headlined "Chirac's house on fire".
"We would willingly sympathize with a situation which may be judicially correct," it says with a hint of irony.
"But we cannot forget that what is happening here is deferred condemnation of the reprehensible confusion between private and public life, between personal leisure and official duties.
"Without mentioning the mix all the more reprehensible between state or municipal resources and the needs of one's own party".
"Since 1967 Jacques Chirac, as a result of his political responsibilities, has lived virtually without break in the palaces of the Republic, housed, fed, driven around, protected at all time from the upsets of everyday life," the paper writes.
"Of course, it will be said that the current president of the Republic isn't the only one to have survived by sponging off the state...
"But to invoke the famous Elysee unit and its job of protecting the secret [illegitimate] daughter of Francois Mitterrand serves only to remind us that this way of making things easy ends badly," it concludes.
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
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