Two French women jailed on drugs charges freed on Christmas pardon

Two French women walked free from jail in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday after 18 months behind bars for drug smuggling, a French government spokeswoman said.

Sarah Zaknoun, 19, and Celine Faye, 20, were “very, very happy” to be free, said the spokeswoman for Alain Joyandet, the French development minister who was on the Caribbean island to greet them.

The two were sentenced to eight years in jail last year after being found with six kilograms (13 pounds) of cocaine in their luggage, which they said was planted on them without their knowledge.

They were freed in a Christmas pardon granted last week by Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.

Joyandet warned: “This nice Christmas tale must not make us forget that drug traffickers continue to destroy lives and abuse the naivety of our youngsters,” according to his spokeswoman.

The two women were due to speak by telephone with French first lady, the ex-model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Joyandet said her intervention was decisive in their release.

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French discos can stay open all night under new rules

AFP – Discotheques across France can now stay open until 7:00 am under new regulations that business leaders said Monday would liven up Paris and other French cities.

The measure seeks to harmonise closing hours for bars across France and cut down the number of party goers who drive from one area to the next in search of a place to spend the night on the dance floor.

The new rules published in the government gazette at the weekend state that any establishment that serves alcohol and has a dance floor can now stay open until seven in the morning.

But last call will be at 5:30 am, allowing for a one-and-half-hour “dry period” when no alcohol will be served.

The Synhorcat trade group of bar owners described the new regulations as a “major victory that will help reduce the risk of road accidents from drunk driving across France.”

“This harmonisation will discourage young people from getting behind the wheel of their cars to find a bar that is open,” said Didier Chenet, president of Synhorcat.

“It will also make Paris and other French tourist destinations more dynamic especially since they were seen as cities that shut down early compared to Berlin, London or Barcelona,” he said.

Top French chefs take bluefin tuna off the menu

A fisherman is seen loading bluefin tuna cought around mid Adriatic Croatian town of Zadar, in 2007. Environmentalists say bluefin tuna faces the threat of extinction because of overfishing and want its trade banned by CITES, the UN body that rules on wildlife trade.

A fisherman is seen loading bluefin tuna cought around mid Adriatic Croatian town of Zadar, in 2007. Environmentalists say bluefin tuna faces the threat of extinction because of overfishing and want its trade banned by CITES, the UN body that rules on wildlife trade.

The City & My Life|AFP Top French chefs this week pledged to keep bluefin tuna and other threatened fish species off the menu, whatever the cost.

With half of the fish eaten in Europe dished up in restaurants, it was high time for the food-loving nation’s leading chefs to take a stand, said one of the country’s greatest chefs, Olivier Roellinger.

Roellinger, celebrated for his fish and seaweed fare in western Brittany, took bluefin tuna — aka red tuna — off the menu five years ago. “We have a responsibility towards all those who are in charge of feeding others, cooks but also mothers and even fathers, and must show them the way,” he told AFP.

“They must be made aware that the sea, this natural larder, is in danger,” added Roellinger, who a year ago threw in the coveted three-star rating awarded him by the Michelin Guide, the French food bible, on grounds of fatigue.

Environmentalists say bluefin tuna faces the threat of extinction because of overfishing and want its trade banned by CITES, the UN body that rules on wildlife trade.

In a move to protect the species, an international body meeting in Brazil last week agreed to cut the allowable bluefin tuna catch in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by 40 percent next year compared to 2009.

Scientific experts reckon the fish we eat will have disappeared from the oceans by 2050, said the luxury hotel network Relais et Chateaux this week.

Roellinger, who has just become its deputy president, has won an agreement from 60 percent of its members — 475 European, Japanese and US chefs in 57 countries, including the Inn at Little Washington and Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco — to stop dishing up bluefin tuna.

“We will release the names of all those and their establishments who don’t agree in order to make sure that they assume their responsibilities,” Roellinger added.

Another Paris eatery well-known for the quality of its fish, Auguste, no longer serves bluefin, fresh codfish or even white tuna, which is also known as germon.

“We chefs have played our part in this catastrophe,” chef Gael Orieux told AFP. “People tend to buy fish at the market that they’ve had at a restaurant. So my logic is to propose other fish, that are less under threat, in order to influence consumers in their choices.”

Three-star Michelin chef Gerald Passedat, one of only 26 in the top league in France, took bluefin off his menu in Marseille two years ago though he cooks with 65 to 70 species of fish a year.

“I like to work with lesser-known fish,” he said “for the different tastes but also to help biodiversity.”

Likewise Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse — arguably among the handful of the world’s very top chefs with respectively 18 and 14 Michelin stars for their various restaurants across the globe — too have scrapped red tuna in their inns.

Robuchon took it off the menu a year ago while Ducasse scrubbed it off a couple of years ago.

But with sushi bars flourishing and Japan by far the world’s largest consumer of red tuna, the chefs are wary of fighting a losing battle.

“We have to make people conscious individually,” said Orieux. “During the ‘mad cow’ crisis, people completely stopped eating calf sweetbreads and bone marrow and then rediscovered this with pleasure a few years later.

“This is what we need to do to save fish.”

Confident Irish ready to fight for World Cup place

France national football team coach Raymond Domenech, seen here in Clairefontaine, knows his side sits firmly in the driving seat for Wednesday's World Cup clash vs Ireland in Paris as they will only need a tie to qualify in the wake of their 1-0 victory in Dublin.

France national football team coach Raymond Domenech, seen here in Clairefontaine, knows his side sits firmly in the driving seat for Wednesday's World Cup clash vs Ireland in Paris as they will only need a tie to qualify in the wake of their 1-0 victory in Dublin.

SPORT|AFPIrish eyes should be smiling ahead of the Republic’s World Cup playoff clash against France here on Wednesday despite the visitors trailing by a goal, according to team manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

“I’m confident, because in football every match is different. From the opponents to the circumstances, nothing’s ever the same,” Trapattoni told reporters here on Tuesday.

“I’ve told all my players to be confident. We can believe in ourselves.”

Statistics are firmly against the men from the Emerald Isle, who haven’t beaten France away since 1931 and, notably, haven’t beaten a top ranked team in official competition since a win over Turkey in qualifiers for Euro 1992.

But with a place in the World Cup at stake, it’s no surprise the Republic – aiming to qualify for the first time since 2002 when they made it to the second round – want to believe in a dream finale to their campaign.

While France coach Raymond Domenech says his charges are “impatient” to show their superiority, the Irish know they have everything to win.

“The pressure’s on the French,” said the Republic’s captain Robbie Keane. “They’re playing at home and the home fans will be expecting them to play well.

“We’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to win,” added the Spurs marksman, one of the few survivors from the 2002 vintage.

Trapattoni hopes to send out the same team that lost 1-0 at Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday, when a deflected shot from France striker Nicolas Anelka gave ‘Les Bleus’ a first leg advantage.

“Prior to yesterday (the final training session) I wanted to make some changes,” added the Italian.

“But I want all the same players to be given their chance again. They’ve all recovered and I’m sure they’ll be ready to go another 90 minutes.”

An Irish goal at the Stade de France would change the landscape dramatically for Trapattoni’s men and add impetus to their bid for a place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next summer.

It needs not be said that a France goal would put Raymond Domenech’s France side firmly in the driving seat, and make qualifying even more of a formality.

France and Barcelona striker Thierry Henry warned they would not be sitting back and waiting for the Irish to attack.

“We’ve won over there but we still have a battle on our hands. And it won’t be easy because they’re a tenacious side,” he said.

“But when we start playing, it will be to win. We won’t be sitting back relying on the goal we have from the first leg.”

Despite that pledge many France players, including Henry, will be aware that the Stade de France, and its fans, have been fickle partners in the past.

Scotland striker James McFadden hushed the Stade scoring one of the goals of his career in a 1-0 win over France in September 2007.

And, it is only since a 1-1 draw with Romania earlier this year that France has lifted its game in the stadium.

Also looming is the dark memory, still talked about by many French football fans, of Les Bleus’ failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup after being eliminated by Bulgaria.

Needing only a draw from their final two qualifiers, Israel beat Gerard Houllier’s France 3-2 at home despite France leading 2-1 seven minutes from the end.

Bulgaria then pounced on a fluffed cross from second half substitute David Ginola to go up the field and score their second goal to hand them a 2-1 win thus eliminating France.

That exit came 16 years ago, almost to the day, on November 17. But Domenech insists it is not on his mind: “The past is the past.”

But in the back of his mind Domenech, whose wacky ways with the media has led to him having a love-hate relationship with the French public, must be praying his team of mostly world class players come good on the night.

Prompted that it could be his last match in charge, the Frenchman was his typical evasive self saying: “I’m not wavering from what my job is, which is to prepare the players for the match – not for before the match or after the match.”

France cornered amid EU deficits charge

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde smiles before the start of an Economy and Finance Council meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels. France was cornered among Europe's big guns on Tuesday as it sought to avert a public slap from the European Union this week over ballooning deficit levels.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde smiles before the start of an Economy and Finance Council meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels. France was cornered among Europe's big guns on Tuesday as it sought to avert a public slap from the European Union this week over ballooning deficit levels.

The City & My Life|AFP France was cornered among Europe’s big guns on Tuesday as it sought to avert a public slap from the European Union this week over ballooning deficit levels.

The European Commission is to order France on Wednesday to bring its bloated public deficit — set to reach 8.5 percent of GDP in 2010 — back to within three percent of gross domestic product by 2013.

However, the French argued at talks between EU finance ministers in Brussels that 2014 is a more reasonable deadline, which would mean an extension of one year more than any other country can get under formal excessive deficit procedures.

“The French are being totally unreasonable,” said an EU source, adding that the cost of servicing France’s debt by 2011 “will be greater in the French budget than the education provision.”

Under European Union regulations, member states are bound to hold their annual public deficits to three percent of output — with Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia insisting “fair” treatment will be meted out to all, big or small.

Spain and Germany will also be given until 2013 to comply, although Britain will be allowed leeway until 2015 to fix its annual budget, and none of these countries has mounted rearguard action.

The EU official added: “The Germans believe in budgetary discipline, that’s the big difference … Some small countries are lining up behind France, but (Paris) won’t have the same clout as Germany.”

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, for her part, insisted that Paris was still “negotiating” with the commission over the deadline.

“Quite clearly 2015 is too far down the line. 2012 is too soon,” she said. “But between the two (dates), there is 2013 and 2014.

“It is obvious that 2014 already represents a fine effort — I think 2013 will be extremely difficult, that’s what I told my colleagues” at a meeting of EU counterparts in Brussels.

Twenty of the 27 EU nations have so far been warned for breaching guidelines designed to promote stability and growth across intertwined economies.

Only seven EU members — Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden — have respected the three percent limit.

Member states have formally agreed to start beating a retreat on unsustainable housekeeping by 2011 at the latest, ongoing recovery permitting.

French driver suspected in bank heist becomes Internet star

French police handout made available on November 6, of an undated photograph of Tony Musulin. The French security van driver suspected of making off with 11.6 million euros (17.2 million dollars) in cash has become a rising star on the web.

French police handout made available on November 6, of an undated photograph of Tony Musulin. The French security van driver suspected of making off with 11.6 million euros (17.2 million dollars) in cash has become a rising star on the web.

The City & My Life |AFPA French security van driver suspected of making off with 11.6 million euros (17.2 million dollars) in cash has become a rising star on the web.

Several Facebook groups have cropped up to discuss the heist allegedly carried out by Tony Musulin, a 39-year-old employee of the Loomis security firm who disappeared from the central city of Lyon on Thursday morning.

Two co-workers who had briefly stepped out of the van to run an errand returned to find that Musulin had disappeared. Three hours later the vehicle was found empty in an area nearby.

Police suspect Musulin of staging the heist and a Europe-wide hunt has been underway since Friday for the man who apparently fled with 49 sacks of bills picked up from the Bank of France in Lyon.

The “Tony Musulin for president” Facebook page features such tongue-and-cheek comments as “he can certainly solve the crisis with 11.6 million” while members of the “Tony Musulin fan club” said he was a “hero” for his “no guns, no violence” approach.

“The World is Yours: Tony Best Driver 2009” page is also drawing a steady stream of comments describing the theft as “the heist of the century”.

Lyon prosecutors have said the inside job appears to be a first in France.

Musulin’s former girlfriend told TF1 television that the security firm employee led a simple life but that he “loved nice things.”

“He was very careful with money,” said the woman who manages a bar in a Lyon suburb and broke up with Musulin last year after 11 years together.

“His life was his job and sports and he liked to stay home in the evenings.”

Investigators were looking into a possible Serbian or Croatian connection, a judicial official said.

But he declined to comment on press reports that Musulin had rented a van before the theft that may have served as a getaway vehicle.

Musulin owned a Ferrari sports car but had declared it stolen in April, according to investigators. He had also emptied his bank accounts and his apartment before the heist.

Chirac ordered to stand trial

He may be one of France’s most popular former presidents, but Jacques Chirac has a rendezvous with justice.

Two years after leaving the Elysee Palace, the 76-year-old has been ordered to stand trial on embezzlement charges dating back to when he was the mayor of Paris.

This is the first time a former French head of state has been put on trial on such charges.

When Chirac handed over power to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 he lost immunity from prosecution. Sarkozy has refused to comment on the latest development.

French constitutional expert Guy Carcassonne said: “This demonstrates once and for all that under the current constitutional system French presidents have immunity, but they don’t have impunity … if there is a court case, and of course we can normally start a case according to common law once they leave the Elysee.”

Judge Xaviere Simioni made her ruling over accusations that Paris City Hall gave contracts for non-existent jobs as political favours. Chirac denies any wrongdoing. His office says he is “confident and determined” to prove before a court that none of the jobs in question were fictitious.

Observers say it is still not certain that Chirac will go on trial, because previously the Paris public prosecutor had previously recommended that the case be dropped. He now has five days to appeal the judge’s order.

It is reported that nine other people have also been ordered to stand trial alongside Chirac.

He was Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 95, and then served as president until 2007. Any hopes he might have had for a stress-free retirement, working for his charitable foundation, seem to have been dashed. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.