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In France as well as worldwide, the news has been varied and ongoing. This week’s highlights include Japan, Libya, Sarkozy, FN Marine Le Pen, and price hikes—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Japan: After two weeks, the death toll mounts in Japan and there has been slower-than-expected progress in controlling a two-week-old crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Elevated radiation levels have prompted a new round of worry in the international community.
Some of the reactors at the power plant continue emitting smoke and there have been problems cooling them. People living within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant have been asked to evacuate their homes. And there have been bans placed on selling much of the food raised in the area.
People are giving up hope of finding family and friends who have disappeared. The death toll from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami has reached more than 11,000 with 17,443 people still missing, according to the national police.
Libya: NATO has agreed to take over enforcement of the no-fly zone over the country. Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister says the international military operation against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces may last days or weeks — but not months.
Juppé says he hopes the campaign in Libya will serve as a warning to autocratic regimes elsewhere, including in Syria and Saudi Arabia. France’s President Sarkozy helped lead the diplomatic push for a U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from Gadhafi’s forces, and French warplanes fired the first strikes in the campaign. Both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have sent planes to be part of the coalition.
There will be another meeting of world leaders in London this week to coordinate the strategy and military operation against Gadhafi’s forces. French President Sarkozy is very much in the forefront.
Syria: Protests spread across Syria on Friday, challenging the rule of the Assad family after its forces killed dozens of demonstrators in the south. The question is very much as to whether or not the Assad family may be overthrown. It’s felt that the people have been inspired by recent events in Tunisia and Egypt and there could potentially be a revolution.
Politics: In the political arena, Front National leader Marine Le Pen is giving the party a fresh look, attempting to dispel her father’s far-right party’s nationalistic, xenophobic mantra. She’s targeting middle-class voters, who are disappointed with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s economic record.
According to a poll released by consultancy Ipsos last week, Ms. Le Pen would beat Mr. Sarkozy in the first round of the presidential vote if Strauss-Kahn runs on the Socialist ticket. Survey results indicate Ms. Le Pen would attract 19% of votes, contrasted to 18% for President Sarkozy in the first round, while Mr. Strauss-Kahn would take 33% of the vote.
Rising costs: Get ready to pay more for flour, coffee, oil, bread, butter and pasta as commodity prices have soared worldwide and the supermarkets aren’t going to eat the increases. We’re talking just two percent, but that masks a range of increases that range from 15-20 percent on flour and 10-20 percent on coffee, which are products where the raw material price is a major part of the purchase price.
EDF confirmed it will raise its rates by five percent beginning in July and warned that prices are due to rise 30 percent by 2015.
Beginning in May, the price of using Paris’s Vélib’ rental bikes is scheduled to increase by up to 70 percent. The cost of day tickets will go from €1 to €1.70, while a seven-day pass will rise from €5 to €8. Users pay a subscription for a day, week, month or year, during which time they can use the bicycles free of charge for up to 30 minutes.
Wine: In the event you were wondering, and much to the chagrin of French wine growers, the French are buying less and paying less per bottle. Gone are the days when people drink wine at lunch. People describe themselves as weekly or monthly drinkers, with just 15 percent admitting they are daily drinkers, the majority of whom are men who are over 60.
The shift away from drinking in bars to drinking at home has been happening for years, but the smoking ban and the economic crisis have accelerated the trend. The average household is also spending less on drink but buying better: spending on average €0.30 more for each product than in 2007, up from €3.90 to €4.20 per liter.
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