Hollande now 'chef de guerre'

2013-01-13 18:27
France's President Francois Hollande. (Bertrand Langois,AFP)

France's President Francois Hollande. (Bertrand Langois,AFP)

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Paris - Since he announced his decision on Friday to take his country to war against Islamist rebels in Mali, Hollande has won a reprieve from a relentless barrage of criticism both at home and internationally.

The organizers of a demonstration on Sunday in Paris over a government gay marriage bill watched with dismay as the biggest march in years had to compete for airtime with battle updates.

Since the summer Hollande had been under fire over his foot-dragging on the reforms needed to turn around the French economy and his flip-flopping on policy.

The images of hundreds of demonstrators protesting his "marriage for all" bill - a key campaign promise - had been expected to underscore his "embattled" status.

But "Flanby" as Hollande is nicknamed after a brand of wobbly custard has disappeared, replaced by a decisive "chef de guerre" who bit the bullet while the world wrung its hands to prevent Mali being overrun by Islamist fundamentalists.

It has not been all plain sailing for Hollande in these first few days of combat.

On Saturday he admitted that a concomitant raid to try free a hostage being held by Islamist radicals in Somalia, one of nine French hostages in Africa, had failed.

The botched raid killed one French soldier, wounded another who is believed to be in the rebels' hands and "no doubt" led the radical al-Shabaab group to kill hostage Denis Allex, according to Hollande.

It also heightened fears for the safety of the other eight hostages, six of whom are being held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. AQIM, one of the three groups that took control of northern Mali last year, began this week to push south.

Hollande, however, defended the Somali setback.

Terrorist blackmail

"This operation [in Somalia] confirms France's determination not to give in to terrorist blackmail," he said Saturday, in his second update to the nation in as many days.

For Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, a deputy from Hollande's Socialist Party, the Mali intervention marks "a turning point in [Hollande's] presidency."

"Francois Hollande is effectively taking the leadership in Europe in protecting Europe against terrorism," said Cambadelis, echoing the view in France that the establishment of a terrorist state in Mali threatens Europe, as well as Africa.

African and European leaders poured praise on Hollande.

Malian President Dioncounda Traore phoned his French counterpart on Saturday to "thank him," the Elysee said.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso saluted the "courageous action of the French troops" while British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to provide logistical support and West African bloc ECOWAS bloc promised to hurry along its own intervention force.

Within France, Hollande was also enjoying a rare moment in the sun, with even the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen saying the intervention was "legitimate."

Former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, who famously opposed the US-led war in Iraq at the UN Security Council in 2003, was among the few dissenters.

Wars against terrorism were a minefield, de Villepin warned in an opinion article in Le Journal du Dimanche. "In Mali, none of the conditions for success are there ... We will fight along, without a solid Malian partner."

Read more on:    francois hollande  |  dioncounda traore  |  france  |  mali  |  west africa

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