Tuesday

18th Jun 2019

Attack in Nice prompts deep divisions in France

  • During the attack in Nice on Bastille Day. The French government in under pressure to take more security measures. (Photo: Reuters)

Four days after the lorry attack that killed 84 people in Nice on Bastille Day (14 July), France is struggling to maintain unity in its reaction.

The attack is the latest in a series that has killed 235 people since January 2015, most notably on 13 November when 130 were killed in Paris.

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"Fed up with carnage," read a placard put on Nice's Promenade des Anglais, the seafront avenue where the latest atrocity occurred.

As a consequence, French people are losing faith in their leaders, politicians are divided over measures to take and a debate is starting over the level of freedom to maintain to address the terror threat.

On Saturday, president Francois Hollande called for “national cohesion and unity” in face of “attempts to divide the country".

But according to an opinion poll published Monday, by the Figaro newspaper, 67 percent of French people do not trust president Hollande to fight terrorism. That was 16 percentage points more than in the previous similar poll in January.

While 99 percent of respondents said they felt that the threat level was high or very high, 81 percent say they were ready to accept more controls and limitations to their freedoms in order to face it.

'Renunciation'

While the first attacks against the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a Jewish supermarket in January 2015 had mainly triggered a debate on Islam in France, the aftermath of the Nice attack is about security.

Parliament is expected to vote this week a three-month extension of the state of emergency, which has been in place since November.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve called on “all French patriots" to join the operational reserve of the police and the gendarmerie to support the 10,000 military deployed in the streets.

But less than a year before the next presidential and parliamentary elections, the government is under pressure to do more.

“I hear a speech of renunciation that can only incite the population to defeatism, discouragement and anxiety,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said.

"The spirit of the 11 January has died out,” Le Monde newspaper said on Saturday, referring to the mass demonstration and calls for unity tolerance after the first attacks in 2015.

Eric Ciotti, an opposition MP for the the centre-right The Republicans party (LR), said that the French people were “angry" and did "not see Francois Hollande as a war leader."

“The emotion-communication-banalisation trilogy is over," he said about the government management of the attacks. "We need a legal, military and moral rearmament.”

'Total war'

On Sunday, former president and LR leader Nicolas Sarkozy said that France was in a "total war" but rejected Hollande's call for unity.

"Do you really think that French people's concern is to know whether we are going to smile at each other and hold out hands," he asked on TV.

"All that should have been done in the past 18 months has not been done," said Sarkozy, who is preparing to run again for president next year.

He said that the government should take new measures like considering viewing jihadist websites as a crime, closing mosques with links to radicals, create de-radicalisation centres and separate terror convicts from other prisoners.

He also demanded that people who are know as Islamic radicals by the police are deported when they are foreigners, and kept under house arrest with an electronic bracelet when they are French.

The opposition's criticism suggests that the attack could have been avoided.

The truth is that “terrorism is part of everyday life, for a long time" and that "other lives will be taken", prime minister Manuel Valls responded.



Inevitable confrontation

He condemned “irresponsible politicians" who say more measures would avoid attacks. Referring to the populist US presidential candidate Donald Trump, he warned of a “trumpisation of minds” in France.

“Undermining the rule of law, undermining our values, would be the greatest renunciation,” he said.

Beyond controversies between politician, another concern is rising.

At a parliamentary hearing in May, which transcript was published last week, the head of the DGSI, the domestic intelligence service, said that a confrontation between the “ultra right” and Muslims was “inevitable”.

“I think it will happen. One or two more attacks and it will occur,” Patrick Calvar told MPs.

He said there was a “radicalisation of society” and that he expected that the confrontation would be “between the ultra right and the Muslim world - not the Islamists, but the Muslim world”.

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