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What the papers said 11 April 2018

rfi English, Apr 11

D-Day looms as Western allies weigh military options to punish Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons against rebels; Macron’s determination to revamp SMCF; and is he putting the issue of secularism at the centre of French political debate.

We start with reactions of the commentators to the dangerous escalation in Syria after US President Donald Trump cancelled a trip to South America to prepare his response to Syria's alleged use of toxic gas in an attack on the rebel-held Douma in which more than 40 people died.

Le Parisien reports that on Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council failed to agree a global response to the incident, after Washington and Moscow opposed each other's rival motions to set up an international investigation into chemical weapons use in the seven-year-old conflict.

That according to the publication, has prompted the American leader to go public with his plans to make Assad, and perhaps his Russian and Iranian backers, pay a pay a high price.

Le Figaro upholds the view that an allied response to the incident is imminent. The paper says two American missile destroyers have been deployed in the Mediterranean reportedly within striking distance of Syria - the USS Donald Cook and the USS New York.

Le Figaro says that eight US Navy submarines deployed around the world at secret locations may have moved closer close to the Mediterranean to boost US operations once President Trump reaches his decision.

The publication recalls that after the deadly Sarin gas attacks in the rebel-held town of Khan Cheiknoun last year the US air force fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Syrian destroying air force fighter jets, shelters, fuel and ammunition depots and anti-missile systems using warships also deployed in the Mediterranean Sea

As French President Emmanuel Macron, consults Washington before deciding on his response, the conservative daily says, that if he opts for airstrikes, these would probably target the Damascus regime's capacity to produce chemical weapons and in no case, Syria's Russian and Iranian allies.

The most likely scenario according to Le Figaro, is to launch Scalp cruise missiles with a range of 250 kms from Rafale jets based in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates or even from positions in France without having to fly over Syria whose airspace is probably protected by Russian air defence systems.

Le Figaro expects the allies to benefit from the air power of British Royal air force which carried out 1700 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from their bases in Cyprus and Akrotiki.

For its part, Le Monde warns that despite their overwhelming military fire power in the region, the three Western allies must now plan their response carefully without precipitation and broaden the scope of the alliance as far as possible.

The paper urges them to always bear in mind the consequence of the operations carried out, considering the highly explosive environment and the parties involved such as Russia, Iran, but also Israel and Turkey. According to Le Monde they should at all times bear in mind that the Middle East has never been as dangerous as it is right now.

SNCF

Meanwhile, L'Humanité is not letting up in its campaign to keep railway workers and the unions fired up in their industrial action against President Emmanuel Macron's determination to revamp the public Railway Company.

According to the left-wing daily, what is at stake at the SNCF and the civil service strikes here in France is the conviction that public services are not a line of expenditure but and asset which should never be sacrificed on the alter of corporate chiefs' large appetite for profit making and competition.

Secularism

Elsewhere, many commentators are asking if President Emmanuel Macron flouting France's strict law on secularism? The question has become an issue of passionate comments in today's papers after he told a meeting of France's bishops that he hoped to repair relations with the Church through a "dialogue of truth".

Libération sounds a warning from leftwing politicians that while Macron has not cross the yellow line separating religion from government affairs, he got really close to undermining the 1905 Code by trying to give the church a role in the promotion of human values which has been the preserve of the State under French tradition.

Le Figaro argues that by ringing the bell of Christianity, Macron is simply trying to end the denial of France's cultural heritage. The conservative publication says he is doing this out of shear recognition of the role of the Catholic Church in the country without ceding to the episcopal injunctions about the imperative for European countries to take in more immigrants.

Le Figaro expresses the hope that the President's offer will not fan a new wave of anticlerical sentiments or turn attention away from the “burqa threat”.

L’Opinion praises President Macron for putting the issue of secularism at the centre of French political debate, at a moment he embarks on the difficult project of tackling the organisation of Islam in France.

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