French press split on lessons of Mohammed Merah

The siege came to an end Thursday morning
Image caption The siege came to an end on Thursday morning

French newspapers are divided over the political lessons to be learned from the Toulouse gunman Mohammed Merah.

Some want politicians to insist on tolerance of diversity while others urge an "intransigent" stance on the integration of minorities.

Many papers also take an interest in the life of the 23-year-old suspect, with front-page headlines such as "Trajectory of hatred" (Liberation), "Itinerary of a killer" (Le Parisien) and "End of the road for a killer" (L'Humanite).

Le Parisien has a photo of a smiling Merah splashed over most of its front page.

"We must be intransigent"

A front-page editorial by Paul-Henri du Limbert in the centre-right Le Figaro says the killings show that President Nicolas Sarkozy and his interior minister have been right to adopt a hard line on Islamic "sectarianism".

"If we want to avoid a repetition of the terrible tragedy of Toulouse, we must be intransigent," the paper says. "That is what Nicolas Sarkozy and Claude Gueant are, despite the accusations of 'stigmatisation' that have been levelled at them by the left for years as soon as they talk about immigration, integration or citizenship," it adds. The left, by contrast, is guilty of a "denial of reality".

The centre-left Le Monde draws the opposite conclusion. According to the paper, it is precisely the goal of jihadists like Merah to "prevent France from being France and Europe from being Europe in their diversity and their tradition of tolerance". "Today the worst mistake... would be to give in to this pressure at a time of grief and in the face of threats," the daily says in a front-page editorial.

The centre-left Liberation takes a similar line. An editorial by Nicolas Demorand praises President Sarkozy for his "dignified and moving" account of the lives of the three soldiers killed, which it says reflect the diversity of modern France. But "why wait for such a massacre to utter those simple words?" it asks. "Certain words, certain speeches should disappear from public life once and for all," it adds, while urging politicians to reject "the poison of populist one-upmanship".

Sarkozy "the winner"

Several commentators in the regional press regard Mr Sarkozy as the main beneficiary in the presidential election campaign just a month before the first round.

Philippe Waucampt in Le Republicain Lorrain says the speed of his response and the police's swift identification of the suspect mean that the president is "the great winner in this difficult situation". "We have thus every reason to believe that his popularity ratings will soar and that voting intentions in his favour will continue to go up," the paper says.

Writing in Sud Ouest, Bruno Dive agrees that Mr Sarkozy can be expected to benefit, but he adds that "nothing is decided", all the more since his Socialist rival Francois Hollande "has also shown tact and dignity". He adds that the suspect's profile may also play into the hands of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Philippe Marcacci in L'Est Republicain believes the debate has been focused again on "issues which have haunted all recent elections: law and order and the Islamisation of society".

But a commentary by Dominique Quinio in the Catholic daily La Croix warns against even analysing who will benefit politically from the shootings. "The very idea is odious, indecent," says the paper, which asks how such words would be received by the families of those killed. "Dignity, respect, calm, solidarity, that is the tribute we owe them," it says.

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