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May 16, 2007

Sarkozy succeeds Chirac as president of France

Sarkozy succeeds Chirac as president of France

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Entrance to Élysée Palace the official residence of the President of France
Image: David Monniaux.

Today, the official ceremony ushering in Nicolas Sarkozy as the new president of France took place at Élysée Palace. A 21-gun salute marked the moment he assumed power from his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

Jean-Louis Debré, president of the Constitutional Council, received the oath of office from Sarkozy. “From this day on and for the duration of your mandate, you embody France, symbolize the republic and represent all the French people,” he said as he made Sarkozy the 23rd President of France.

Sarkozy’s wife, Cecilia, and their five children were among the attendees.

“I will defend the independence of France. I will defend the identity of France,” said Sarkozy in his inaugural address. “There is a need to unite the French people … and to meet commitments because never before has [public] confidence been so shaken and so fragile.”

France needs “to take risks and follow initiatives,” he said, as well as “rehabilitate the values of work, effort, merit and respect.”

He also said he would place defense of human rights and the fight against global warming at the center of his foreign policy.

Handing over the launch codes for France’s nuclear arsenal, was one of the final tasks of Chirac’s presidency. After a private meeting with Sarkozy, Chirac drove off, ending his 12 years as president, with Sarkozy waving goodbye from the courtyard of Élysée Palace. Tuesday, Chirac had made his farewells to the nation in a televised address.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe
Image: Michael Reeve.

Sarkozy rode in convertible up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, where he rekindled the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He said that he was moved by a letter written by Guy Môquet to his parents. Môquet was executed by the Germans in 1941, along with Jean-Pierre Timbaud. It is essential that children know the horrors of war, he said. Coincidentially, Sarkozy is the first president of France to have been born after World War II.

After that, Sarkozy flew to Germany for talks about the future of the European Union.

“The first emergency is to get the European Union out of its current paralysis,” Sarkozy told reporters in Berlin. “For that, it is necessary that Germany, which today holds the EU presidency, and France, which has always been its privileged partner in Europe, see eye to eye on this.”

Related news

  • “Sarkozy wins 2007 French Presidential election” — Wikinews, May 6, 2007

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March 11, 2007

Jacques Chirac announces he will not pursue a third Presidential mandate

Jacques Chirac announces he will not pursue a third Presidential mandate

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

“I will not seek your votes for a new mandate.” With these words, the President of France, Jacques Chirac (74) announced during a radio and television broadcast at 20:00 UTC that it’s time for him to serve his country in a different way.

The announcement was widely speculated about and did not come as a surprise. The official announcement gives the candidate from the majority party UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy, more freedom during the next six weeks that remain before the Presidential elections in France. Although Sarkozy is from the same party as Chirac and hopes to receive an endorsement from him, the President has not yet expressed his support for a particular candidate to succeed him, and he did not refer to Sarkozy during any moment of his speech.

In his 4 decades in French politics, Chirac has occupied several posts as Minister and was Prime Minister twice before being elected President in 1995, and being re-elected in 2002. Shortly after taking office, he acknowledged the role of France in the deportation of 75,000 Jews during World War II. After he called for new elections in 1997, he had to work with a Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin for 5 years. In 2001, France became the first country to declare slavery a crime against humanity, and Chirac decided May 10 would be a day to commemorate the abolition of slavery.

In 2003, Chirac threatened to veto a resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would approve of an invasion of Iraq. Consequently, the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein without support from the United Nations. In 2005, Chirac couldn’t convince the French to approve the European Constitution in a referendum. At the end of that year, minority youths in France’s suburbs rioted for three weeks.

During his address, the President also discussed the democratic values of France, his role and responsibilities, Europe and the environment.

In the polls, Sarkozy has a slight benefit over Ségolène Royal, the candidate from the Socialist Party. François Bayrou, the candidate from the centrist party UDF, has improved his positions in the polls during the last few weeks, coming up in third position by only a few points. If none of the candidates reach an absolute majority during the first round on April 22, a second round between the two candidates with the most votes will be organised. In the polls, at least 40% of voters have said they are yet undecided about their vote in the upcoming ballot.

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October 12, 2006

French parliament approves bill on Armenian Genocide denial

French parliament approves bill on Armenian Genocide denial

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

An article published in the New York Times on December 15, 1915 on the Armenian Genocide.

Today, the French National Assembly passed a bill that would penalise what the bill calls negationism of the Armenian Genocide. The French government however opposes the bill; Catherine Colonna, Minister charged with European Affairs, reacted that “It’s the task, first and foremost, of historians and not of lawmakers to clarify history.”

The label “genocide” is disputed by the Turkish government, who has called the vote a “serious blow” to diplomatic relations. Turkey has been known to prosecute Turkish intellectuals who discuss the Armenian genocide, including recent Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. Under the Turkish Penal Code, “prosecution for anti-national plots” faces those who call “for the recognition of the Armenian genocide”.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan had warned France to look into its own colonial past in Africa instead of demanding Turkish recognition of the events. Ali Babacan, the Turkish Minister of Economy, in Brussels for talks on Turkey’s E.U.-membership, said he could not exclude that people would start boycotting French products in Turkey. In a recent visit to Armenia, the French President Jacques Chirac launched the idea that recognition as a “genocide” would be necessary for Turkey to enter the E.U., causing the media to label it as the “Chirac criterion”. The European Commission, which has confirmed that such a criterion would not be instituted, deplored the initiative of the French parliament, because it could damage contacts with the European Union.

Political map showing countries and individual U.S. states which have recognized the Armenian Genocide.

Most historians view the events comprising the Armenian genocide as a state-sponsored plan of mass extermination. Their reasons include various eye witness reports, Turkey’s recruitment of violent criminals to posts within the “Special Organization”, and the sheer number of dead, estimates of which remain as high as 1.5 million. Some politically influential countries like the U.S., Canada, and France have driven efforts to interpret these events as an attempt to eradicate an ethnic group. The Turkish government, as well as a few historians, estimate the number of casualties much lower, and attribute them to inter-ethnic strife, disease and famine during World War I.

Armenia has congratulated France over its “natural response” to an “aggressive” policy of “denial” by the Turkish government. Armenians often argue that Turkey’s recognition will help prevent similar events in the future. These assertions include claims that Scheubner-Richter’s observations of the Armenian genocide had a formative influence upon Hitler’s plans for the Jews.

The French bill provides for a 1-year prison sentence and a 45,000 fine, the same as for Holocaust denial. It must still be approved by the Senate and the President, and due to the parliamentary calendar, news sources think it is unlikely that it will be discussed before the end of the legislation period in February 2007.

Sources

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September 23, 2006

French newspaper suggests Osama bin Laden may be dead

French newspaper suggests Osama bin Laden may be dead

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

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Image of Osama bin Laden, from the FBI’s Most Wanted List

The French daily newspaper L’Est Republicain reported today that Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden may have died of Typhoid Fever in Pakistan on August 23, citing what it said was a leaked French secret service report dated September 21. The newspaper reported that unnamed Saudi secret services sources passed this information to the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE, the French external secret service).

“According to a source that is usually reliable, Saudi secret services are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead,” said the French intelligence report. The report states that Saudi Arabia first heard the information on September 4 and are searching for more details, more specifically Osama’s burial place, before making an official announcement. Bin Laden is alleged to have succumbed to a serious bout of typhoid fever, which caused a partial paralysis of his lower limbs. Due to his remote hideout, the report claims, medical assistance was out of the question.

A spokesperson of the Pakistani home office said that he had no information about the possible death of Osama bin Laden. U.S. intelligence services and spokespeople at the White House also say they have no confirmation of the report.

French President Jacques Chirac reacted: “I was rather surprised to see that a confidential note from the DGSE was published and I have asked the minister of defense to start an investigation immediately and to reach whatever conclusions are necessary.” He too stressed the information was not confirmed.

Meanwhile, a Saudi source told CNN and Time that bin Laden has a water-borne illness, but is still alive.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington D.C. has issued a statement saying: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no evidence to support recent media reports that Osama bin Laden is dead. Information that has been reported otherwise is purely speculative and cannot be independently verified.”

It’s not the first time bin Laden’s death has been announced. CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen pointed out that rumours of bin Laden’s death circulate every few months.

Related news

  • “Terrorism expert says Osama Bin Laden could be dead” — Wikinews, January 17, 2006

Sources

  • Scott Macleod/Cairo and Tala Skari/Paris. “Is Bin Laden Dead?” — TIME, September 23, 2006
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August 24, 2006

France offers promised 2000 soldiers to the UN in Lebanon

France offers promised 2000 soldiers to the UN in Lebanon

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

French ship Mistral is already enroute, carrying 100 engineering vehicles for the UNIFIL.

Deployment of Leclerc battle tanks has been evoked by the French press.

After a meeting with the government and general officers, French President Jacques Chirac announced today that the French complement in the UNIFIL will be increased to 2,000.

“Conditions required by France being fulfilled, I decided to favourably answer the requests of the General Secretary of the United Nations, and of the Lebanese and Israeli governments”, Chirac declared; “two more battalions will come to reinforce our deployment on the field within the UNIFIL. 2,000 French soldiers will thus serve under the blue helmet in Lebanon”.

Chirac also underlined that the deployment of the 1,700 strong Opération Baliste would continue.

UNIFIL is currently headed by French Major General Alain Pellegrini.

France initially surprised the world by promising to send only 200 more soldiers, after playing a major diplomatic role in settling the cease-fire, and while a reinforcement of the UNIFIL to 15,000 troops had been announced by the United Nations. The press has commented that France is reluctant to send Blue Helmets without clear rules of engagements and guarantees, after the experience of the UNPROFOR in Bosnia, where French soldiers had been forced to witness atrocities without being able to intervene, had been taken hostages without means to defend themselves, and had suffered heavy casualties.

Countries expected to contribute the bulk of the troops to the “reinforced UNIFIL” are France, Italy and Spain; reinforcements are also expected from Belgium and Greece.

President Chirac said that he wanted a “fair repartition of contributions” and called for “other permanent members of the Security Council” to contribute; he mentioned that “Several European partners will do so, as well as important Muslim countries of Asia”. Chirac cited United Nations Resolution 1701 by requesting “the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers, the return of the Lebanese prisoners, the delineation of the borders, especially in the Shebaa Farms area”.

Lebanese Prime minister Fouad Siniora declared that “the decision from President Chirac helps Lebanon, reinforced her stability, and helps her get back her territory through Israeli withdrawal, and instaur authority of the State in South Lebanon”.

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July 17, 2006

G8 Summit debates Middle-east crisis, WTO trade talks

G8 Summit debates Middle-east crisis, WTO trade talks

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Monday, July 17, 2006

G8 2006 logo.gif

The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) nations met over the weekend in St. Petersburg in Russia for the 32nd G8 Summit, held under Russia’s presidency, to discuss the ongoing Israel-Lebanon crisis, the stalled world trade talks and other issues. They also met with other world leaders, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy.

G8 leaders and other delegates gather for the customary photo-session (Source: G8 Website)

Israel-Lebanon crisis

The G8 leaders issued a statement expressing “deepening concern” over the unfolding crisis as Israel and Hezbollah militants operating out of Lebanon continued their attacks which have already killed scores.

G8 Statement on the crisis

The statement called for the safe return of the captured Israeli soldiers and restraint from Israel in its military actions.

The statement said the “root cause” of the crisis was the “absence of a comprehensive Middle East peace”, but “extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos,”.

The statement noted the rising civilian casualties on all sides and damage to infrastructure and called for an end to violence.

The statement called for the safe return of the Israeli soldiers who were abducted in Gaza and Lebanon, an end to shelling of Israeli territory, asking Hezbollah to make the first move to end the crisis.

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2006 Israel-Lebanon crisis

It urged Israel to be mindful of “the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions” and “to exercise utmost restraint, seeking to avoid casualties among innocent civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure and to refrain from acts that would destabilize the Lebanese government.” It also called for an end to Israeli military operations, withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the release of the arrested Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians. The statement said that Israel “needs to refrain from unilateral acts that could prejudice a final settlement and agree to negotiate in good faith,” .

Summit leaders express differing opinions

Speaking to reporters, the assembled leaders did demonstrate some differences in their views on the conflict.

United States President George W. Bush said on Sunday that Hezbollah and its links with Iran and Syria is a root cause of instability in the Middle East. United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair said that extremists backed by Syria and Iran wanted to interrupt the [peace] process. Tony Blair suggested that he was keen to travel to the Middle-East personally in discussions with George W. Bush, but George Bush suggested that Condoleezza Rice should travel there instead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier termed Israel’s actions as excessive and on Saturday said that Israel was pursuing “other, wider goals”. He also told reporters that Russia has specifically insisted on dropping any reference to Syria and Iran as Hezbollah supporters in the summit declaration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters, “We demand first that the Israeli soldiers be returned to Israel healthy, that the attacks on Israel cease, and then naturally for Israel to halt military action.”

While French President Jacques Chirac said on Sunday that the G8 is calling for a ceasefire, the US Undersecretary of State for political affairs Nicholas Burns disagreed and said that there was no push for one. Chirac had also expressed “extreme reservations about the disproportionate character of the Israeli reactions,” but no such language was incorporated into the G8 statement.

Call for UN action

The summit declaration called on the UN Security Council to draw up plans for implementing its resolutions UNSCR 1559 and 1680, which call for extending the Lebanese government’s authority over all of Lebanon and the disarming of militias such as Hezbollah. It also suggested that the Council should look at setting up a monitoring force in Lebanon.

The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Security Council members would follow up on the declaration and that starting Monday, work out a detailed plan for deploying a multilateral security force in Lebanon.

Reactions from the Middle-east

Israel later welcomed the Summit statement, supporting its call for Hezbollah to free the Israeli soldiers and halt rocket fire into Israel. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni said that the international community has “placed the responsibility for the conflict on extremist elements,” and that Israel “sees the path to a solution through the release of the abducted soldiers, a cessation of rocket fire on Israel, and full implementation of (U.N.) resolution 1559,”.

In initial reaction to the proposed deployment, Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, “I don’t think we’re at that stage yet. We’re at the stage where we want to be sure that Hezbollah is not deployed at our northern border,”.

In an address to the nation, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora urged an immediate cease-fire and establishment of the government’s sovereignty in all Lebanese territory with help from the UN. It requested humanitarian aid and called for international pressure on Israel to stop its attacks. Disclaiming prior knowledge or responsibility for Hezbollah’s capture of Israeli soldiers, the Prime Minister termed Israel’s actions as “collective punishment”.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said yesterday that Hezbollah would not disarm, despite calls from the US and “Zionists” (Israel). Iran says it offers moral but not military support to the Hezbollah and has denied Israeli accusations that Iranian arms have been used in the latest conflict.

Syria spoke of a “harsh and direct” response to any attack by Israel. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Saturday that Syria will put its resources at the disposal of Lebanon to help cope with Israeli attacks devastating the country.

WTO Trade talks

The leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa and the World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy were also present at the final session of their three-day summit.

They joined the G8 leaders in addressing the stalled negotiations in the Doha round of the WTO trade negotiations. The talks were deadlocked over US cuts on farm subsidies, the EU cuts on tariffs on farm goods and developing countries opening their markets for industrial goods and services.

Timely progress in the talks is crucial as the US president’s special authority to negotiate trade deals will expire in a year.

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Doha round

G8 powers have asked their trade negotiators and Pascal Lamy to broker a breakthrough on the stalled talks, giving WTO members one month to revive the Doha round.

A statement released said that the G8 was “fully committed to the development dimension of ongoing WTO talks.” and that “The Doha Round should deliver real cuts in tariffs, effective cuts in subsidies and real new trade flows,”.

“In agriculture we are committed to substantially reducing trade-distorting domestic support and to the parallel elimination by the end of 2013 of all forms of export subsidies a well as establishment of effective disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect as agreed in Hong Kong, the statement said.

The G8 also expressed support for Russia’s entry into WTO in accordance with the rules that apply to all its members.

Assistance to Africa and other issues

While assistance to Africa was top of the agenda at last year’s summit, this year it figured in the final session attended by Kofi Annan and the African Union delegation. Mr. Annan cited progress in implementing last years plans, but said much more needs to be done.

“Fourteen African countries have been given complete debt relief, eight more have had substantial debt relief. We’ve seen some progress in development assistance. For the first time in many years we have gone over 100 billion dollars,” he said.

The formal agenda of the meeting included securing energy supplies, boosting world trade talks and addressing a standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Summit leaders approved documents on education and fighting infectious diseases, discussed high world oil prices and the state of democracy in Russia and renewed a pledge to combat the AIDS crisis, though no detailed funding plan for it was agreed upon.

Bush also met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and discussed the standoff over nuclear power in Iran and nuclear weapons in North Korea.

A statement was also released reiterating the leaders’ condemnation of terrorism and resolve to combat it. The leaders expressed outrage at the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai, India which killed close to 200 people.

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June 30, 2006

French Parliament adopts controversial copyright bill

French Parliament adopts controversial copyright bill

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Friday, June 30, 2006

PARIS, France

EUCD.info, a group opposing the bill, garned 170,000 signatures on a petition, which it attempted to bring to prime minister Dominique de Villepin

The French parliament has today finally adopted a law known as DADVSI implementing the 2001 European directive on copyright, roughly an equivalent to the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The final text criminalizes sending copyrighted data over peer-to-peer networks, and enacts tough penalties for those designing programs “evidently designed” to send copyrighted data or meant for circumventing DRM protection techniques.

Free software groups contend that the law could in effect make it impossible to implement free software capable of reading DRM-encumbered formats. EUCD.info denounces the “worst copyright law imaginable”. [1]

The text started to be examined in Parliament in December 2005, when it took an unexpected twist with an amendment decriminalizing peer-to-peer networks (in exchange for the payment of a flat fee), since repealed. In March, other amendments were strongly criticized by Apple Computer, and as a result the US government pressured the French government to rescind them.

The ruling UMP party voted in favor of the law, but a number of its parliamentarians, including a vice-president of the National Assembly, expressed strong reservations; the centrist UDF split over it, with its president François Bayrou being opposed to the bill, but some other members abstaining from voting; the left-wing opposition PS and PCF voted against it. The opposition has announced it would mount a challenge over the law before the French Constitutional Council.

Proponents of the bill claim that it will rein in unauthorized copying of copyrighted content, which they claim jeopardizes artistic creation in France. Opponents opposed both the way the bill was examined in Parliament, which they claim was put under pressure, and some clauses that they claim may violate civil liberties or jeopardize free software.

The bill is due to be signed into law by president Jacques Chirac following the probable examination by the Constitutional Council.

Related Wikinews

  • “”Avast ye scurvy file sharers!”: Interview with Swedish Pirate Party leader Rickard Falkvinge” — Wikinews, June 20, 2006
  • French National assembly to approve copyright bill” — Wikinews, March 20, 2006
  • “March against new French copyright law” — Wikinews, May 7, 2006

References

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May 7, 2006

March against new French copyright law

March against new French copyright law – Wikinews, the free news source

March against new French copyright law

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Sunday, May 7, 2006

At the head of the march, protesters walked clad as prisoners, prosecuted by DRM publishers and “major” record companies (background: column of the Bastille)

Paris, France – Protesters marched denouncing the new copyright bill, known as DADVSI. Opponents to the bill contend that the broad civil and criminal penalties that it enacts in order to fight illegal online copying of copyrighted works will in fact have a chilling effect on a variety of unrelated developments, especially in free software. More than 160,000 people signed the anti-DADVSI petition from EUCD.info, a watchdog group fighting developments of the EU Copyright Directive.

Deputy Martine Billard (Greens, Paris), one of the main debaters when the bill was before the National Assembly, marched in opposition

The protest, uniting elected officials, representatives from computing and Internet organisations, political groups, and simple citizens, walked in a festive and peaceful atmosphere from the Place de la Bastille (site of the former royal prison) to the Ministry of Culture. It was organized by a variety of associations, including StopDRM,APRIL , the Odebi league, Audionautes, various free software and Linux user groups, and sponsored by the French Communist Party and its young adult affiliate organisation, the youngs of the French Socialist Party, the youngs of the centrist Union for French Democracy, the young Greens. All the sponsors of this march are listed here. Depending on estimates, between 300 and 800 people marched, a low number by French standards.

According to opponents of the bill, designers of DRM systems could have computer security experts prosecuted for publishing information about security lapses in DRM systems. The sign translates to “I explained a security flaw“.

The DADVSI law, among other issues, enacts an extensive protection of copyrighted content online and a protection of digital rights management techniques, including civil and criminal penalties for help in circumventing them. Opponents contend that the bill, depending on how it is amended in the French Senate, could in effect criminalise the writing of players compatible with new online distribution formats for music, video or even text, and thus make such content unplayable on systems such as Linux, thereby generating a monopoly for established suppliers.

Supporters of the bill, such as cinema and recording industry groups, contend that strong measures are needed to thwart online copying, which, according to them, is responsible for important losses of sales and revenue. They deny the risks for free software and other freedoms, claiming that, despite vague provisions, the law will be enforced wisely by the judiciary. They claim that new online legal commercial downloading platforms will flourish when peer-to-peer copying has stopped.

The bill is due to be examined in the Senate this week. Then, under the fast track procedure requested by the government, it may be signed into law by president Jacques Chirac after a mixed commission merges the text from the Senate and the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly. Opponents have already indicated they would mount a constitutional challenge before the Constitutional Council. The bill, when it was examined by the National Assembly, proved divisive; the ruling UMP party was split on the issue, some even sponsoring a “legal licence” which would enable French Internet users to copy copyrighted content legally, provided they would pay a flat fee which would be split between the rights holder.

File:Dsc07940.jpg
At the end of the march, some protesters sent balloons into the sky over the Palais Royal, where the Ministry of Culture is located

Protesters, as well as deputies from all parties, contend that major lobbies influenced the bill’s passage. Some amendments were nicknamed Vivendi Universal, from the name of a major record company that allegedly suggested it. Protesters recalled that Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres was convicted of money laundering in 2004.

References

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April 10, 2006

France to replace controversial youth worker law

France to replace controversial youth worker law

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Monday, April 10, 2006

French President Jacques Chirac has announced that the new youth job law that has fueled protests for the past few weeks is to be replaced by other measures to attack unemployment amongst young adults.

Students and unions protested the new law, which would have given employers the freedom to fire youth workers under the age of 26 without reason during a two-year “trial period”. The prospect had sparked somewhat violent protests across the country in the past two months.

Union leaders have given government officials until Easter to withdraw the existing law or face yet another general strike.

Related Stories

  • “Riots greet French government’s labor reform” — Wikinews, March 25, 2006
  • “100s of thousands take to the streets across France” — Wikinews, March 19, 2006

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March 20, 2006

French National assembly to approve copyright bill

French National assembly to approve copyright bill

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Monday, March 20, 2006

The French National Assembly is to adopt a bill, known as DADVSI (« Droits d’Auteurs et Droits Voisins de la Société de l’Information », “author’s right and related rights in the information society”), tomorrow. This bill reforms the French code of intellectual property (CPI) and other laws, mostly in order to implement the 2001 European directive on copyright.

The directive mandates legal protections of Digital rights management (DRM) measures against circumvention. DRMs are “digital locks” that prevent users from freely copying or playing contents, in order to enforce the copyright of the authors, artists, publishers and producers. The initial draft of the bill, proposed by Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, made circumvention of DRMs, or even facilitation thereof, a felony (délit), with a maximal penalty of 3 years in prison and/or a 300,000 fine as with counterfeiting. Since DRMs, circumvention and facilitations were not legally defined, it was feared that the law would effectively prevent competitors from creating players, especially based on free software, compatible with major systems such as Apple‘s iPod or Microsoft‘s Windows Media Player — or even to prevent the creation of any free software capable of loading files with DRM capabilities, that is, potentially most future text, audio or video file formats.

The initial draft also conserved the threat of a counterfeiting felony conviction for those exchanging copyrighted files on the Internet. This was judged to be unfairly repressive and unrealistic. In France, it is commonplace for Internet users to have broadband up to 16 megabits per second in cheaply priced (€30 a month or lower) ADSL packages, often comprising VoIP phone and television ; millions of users, especially the young, are believed to use peer-to-peer file sharing software. Lawmakers, from both the majority UMP party and the opposition, found it unwise to turn millions of citizens into potential felons. As a consequence, the Minister proposed a “gradual” scheme where mere downloading of one file would be punishable by a €38 fine, which was adopted as an amendment. It remains to be seen how the law will be enforced.

With respects to DRMs, lawmakers from both the majority UMP party, the centrist Union for French democracy and the opposition adopted amendments that make it compulsory for publishers of DRM-encumbered content to give the specifications to whomever would like to implement a compatible player. This proposal was decried by some US news sources as targeting Apple Computer’s iTunes system, tied to the iPod players. It is yet unknown, though, if these amendments would apply to companies that choose not to claim the new special protection awarded to DRMs by the law, which enable them to sue those who implement software meant to circumvent their protections.

Lawmakers also expressed concerns that the proposed law would weaken existing legal exceptions to copyright, especially the right for users to make copies of copyrighted files for private use (CPI L122-5).

The lawmaking process was quite a bumpy one. In December, lawmakers adopted a surprise amendment that would legalize peer-to-peer sharing as “private copy”, much to the dismay of the Minister of Culture. The amendment, proposed by a bipartisan coalition of majority UMP and opposition lawmakers, was the first in a series that would have established a system known as the “global license” through which Internet users would have paid a flat fee in exchange for an authorization to use peer-to-peer services. The fees collected would be redistributed to authors and performers. In March, the Minister tried to withdraw article 1 of the law, which was the one that was amended to his dislike, but the next day he had to reintroduce it because withdrawing it may have been unconstitutional. The Assembly then voted the article down and adopted an Article 1 “bis”, essentially an amended version of article 1 without the legalization of peer-to-peer sharing.

The law, initially presented as an uncontroversial, technical text, soon became a hot topic. Some lawmakers, both from the opposition and the majority, decried intense lobbying by the entertainment industry. Some amendments were nicknamed the “Vivendi Universal amendment”, from the name of a major entertainment company that some lawmakers and commentators claim has inspired them. UMP lawmakers such as Bernard Carayon denounced pressures and even blackmail from some powerful lobbies.

The Assembly will very probably adopt the bill on March 21, despite the opposition of some UMP, UDF and opposition lawmakers. The bill will then be sent to the French Senate for further amendment and approval. Since the government declared the bill to be urgent, it is probably that after examination by the Senate, the bill will be sent to a mixed Assembly/Senate commission for harmonization, then finally voted. Given that some UMP and opposition lawmakers have voiced concerns about the constitutionality of some episodes of the lawmaking process, it is likely that the bill will get sent to the Constitutional Council for constitutional review. Finally, president Jacques Chirac is likely to sign it into law.

References

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