France Ex-President Sarkozy Goes On Trial For Corruption

This file photo taken on February 14, 2016 in Paris shows French right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party President, Nicolas Sarkozy during the LR National Council on February 14, 2016 in Paris. LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP


France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy went on trial Monday on charges of corruption, becoming the first French ex-head of state in the dock and risking a humiliating end to a career tainted by legal woes.

Dressed in a suit and wearing a face mask, Sarkozy waved to his lawyers as he entered the Paris courtroom but made no statement to the throng of journalists, an AFP correspondent said.

Presiding judges quickly suspended the trial until Thursday to allow for a medical exam of a co-defendant, 73-year-old judge Gilbert Azibert, whose lawyers said he was not present because of health reasons.

Prosecutors say Sarkozy promised Azibert a plush job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on a separate inquiry into claims he had accepted illicit payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign.

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Only one other president, Sarkozy’s political mentor Jacques Chirac, has faced trial after leaving office — but because of ill health, Chirac never appeared in court for his conviction in a fake-jobs scandal.

Sarkozy has denied the accusations and fought furiously to have the case thrown out, calling it “a scandal that will go down in history.”

“I am not a crook,” the 65-year-old, whose combative style has made him one of France’s most popular politicians, told BFM TV this month.

Part of the evidence comes from wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog, authorised as part of a third probe into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.

That inquiry is still going on, though Sarkozy caught a break this month when his main accuser retracted a central claim of having delivered millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Charged with bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of one million euros ($1.2 million).

Herzog faces the same charges and a further allegation of violating professional secrecy. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

– Like a ‘seasoned offender’ –
Investigators discovered that Sarkozy used an alias — Paul Bismuth — to buy a phone for secret talks with his lawyer.

The pair discussed reaching out to Azibert, a top judge who prosecutors say was tasked with getting information trying to sway the Bettencourt inquiry in Sarkozy’s favour.

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In exchange, Sarkozy would use his contacts to try to secure a cushy Monaco post for Azibert.

“I’ll make him move up,” Sarkozy told Herzog, according to prosecutors, who compared his actions to those of a “seasoned offender”.

File photo: France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy waves as he leaves The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris on September 30, 2019, following a luncheon after a church service for former French President Jacques Chirac. Former French President Jacques Chirac died on September 26, 2019 at the age of 86. Bertrand GUAY / AFP


But later, Sarkozy appeared to back away from the Monaco plan — a sign, according to prosecutors, that the two men had been tipped off about the wiretaps.

“All this is nothing more than sentence fragments taken out of context,” Herzog’s lawyer Paul-Albert Iweins told France Info radio on Monday, calling them “conversations between very old friends”.

– Still in limelight –
Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, says the judiciary have been waging a vendetta because he attempted to limit judges’ powers and accused many of being too soft on delinquents.

He is due back in court in March 2021 along with 13 other people over claims of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

Prosecutors accuse Sarkozy’s team of using a fake-invoices scheme orchestrated by the public relations firm Bygmalion to spend nearly 43 million euros on the lavish run — nearly twice the legal limit.

His long-running legal travails helped sink his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, but Sarkozy has surfed on a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018, pressing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at public appearances.

Lines of fans queued over the summer to have him sign his latest memoir “The Time of Storms”, which topped best-seller lists for weeks.


Frenchman Gets 25-Year Jail Term For Killing Wife, Burning Body

Jonathann Daval is accused of having killed his wife Alexia in October 2017.


A French court Saturday sentenced Jonathann Daval to 25 years in prison for killing his wife and then burning her body in a case that shocked the country.

The 36-year-old was impassive as the verdict was read out. Daval finally confessed to beating his wife to death and burning her body in the woods after initially reporting her missing.

The accused with his deceased wife’s parents. On trial for the murder of Alexia, Jonathann Daval apologizes “It’s not excusable what I did”.





Macron Criticizes Media Over Coverage Of Islamic Extremism

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US

Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron has called The New York Times media correspondent to criticize English-language coverage of France’s stance on Islamic extremism after recent attacks, arguing it amounts to “legitimizing” violence.

“When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us,” Macron told Ben Smith in comments published in the latter’s Sunday column.

“So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values… when I see them legitimizing this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.”

In his column about their exchange, Smith said the French president had argued “foreign media failed to understand ‘laicite,'” or secularism, a pillar of French policy and society.

Domestic support for a firm line on the need for immigrants to embrace French values is stronger than ever since the grisly beheading last month of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson on free speech.

While paying tribute to the slain man, Macron defended France’s strict brand of secularism and its long tradition of satire.

“We will not give up cartoons,” he vowed.

He reiterated his point in an interview with Le Grand Continent in which he stated that, despite his respect for different cultures, “I am not going to change our laws because they shock elsewhere.”

“The fight of our generation in Europe will be a combat for our freedoms,” Macron said, adding that he believed they were being “overturned”.

His views have been called into question not just in angry protests across Islamic countries — many of which have called for boycotts of French products — but also by English-language newspapers and even international political allies.

The Financial Times published a piece by a correspondent that was titled “Macron’s war on ‘Islamic separatism’ only divides France further.”

The paper later took down the column, citing factual errors.

Defending France’s stance in a letter to the FT in which he denied stigmatizing Muslims, Macron wrote: “France — we are attacked for this — is as secular for Muslims as for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and all believers


Thousands Protest In Senegal Over Mohammed Cartoons

Men gesture and hold flags during a protest against French President at the Place de l'obelisque, in Dakar, on November 7, 2020. Seyllou / AFP
Men gesture and hold flags during a protest against French President at the Place de l’obelisque, in Dakar, on November 7, 2020. Seyllou / AFP


Thousands of people demonstrated on  Saturday in the  Senegalese capital Dakar against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and French President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of the right to satirise religion.

AFP reporters saw some demonstrators burn French flags and pictures of Macron as well as back the calls for a boycott of French products that have circulated in the Muslim world in recent weeks.

“Macron wounded the whole Muslim world. If the world is at peace it’s thanks to the Muslim religion. I myself hate Macron,” said demonstrator Youssoupha Sow.

Demonstrations erupted in a number of majority Muslim countries following Macron’s impassioned defence of freedom of expression last month, delivered at a memorial for a teacher who was beheaded by a suspected Islamist after showing Mohammed cartoons in a civics class.

The French leader’s words were taken by some as an attack on their faith, and he has since tried to calm the tensions by saying he understands Muslims’ reaction to the drawings.

With a population that is around 95 percent Muslim, Senegal has close ties with former colonial power France.

Four brotherhoods of the religion’s Sufi branch play a dominant role in the country’s public life, and it is famous for religious tolerance.

Saturday’s protest “isn’t to say that we’re against France or whoever else,” said marcher Awa Thiam.

Women hold their fist in the air during a protest against French President at the Place de l'obelisque, in Dakar, on November 7, 2020.
Women hold their fist in the air during a protest against French President at the Place de l’obelisque, in Dakar, on November 7, 2020. Seyllou / AFP


“We just want our fellow citizens, Muslims like us, to be able to practise their faith in peace.

“People shouldn’t make others afraid, make them believe that (Islam) is a religion of terror, of evil… actually you can’t get more peaceful than Islam.”

Another demonstrator, Kara Sow, said he and others were “really angry that people are saying bad things about the prophet Mohammed and drawing cartoons of him. We love the prophet more than our own parents.”

Strict interpretations of Islam forbid making any images of Mohammed.



French PM Says ‘Radical Islamism’ The ‘Enemy’ After Nice Attack

French Prime Minister Jean Castex delivers a speech during a ceremony in Nice, on November 7, 2020, in homage to the three victims of an attack at Notre-Dame de Nice Basilica on October 29, 2020.  Valery HACHE / AFP / POOL


French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Saturday lamented the killings of three people killed by a knife attacker in the Mediterranean city Nice and named “radical Islamism” as an “enemy” for the country.

“We know the enemy, it has not only been identified but has a name, it’s radical Islamism,” Castex told a memorial service in Nice, recalling that the city had already paid a “heavy toll” when 86 people were killed in a 2016 truck ramming attack against a crowd on France’s July 14 national day.

Radical Islamism is “a political ideology which distorts the Muslim religion by twisting its scriptures,” he added.

“Every time it’s France that’s in the sights, is the target of terrorism,” Castex said.

In response to the Nice attack, believed to have been carried out by a recently-arrived Tunisian migrant, French President Emmanuel Macron has begun pushing for tighter security at the external borders of Europe’s Schengen free-travel zone.

With the continent also stunned after a gunman killed four in the Austrian capital Vienna on Monday, France has already doubled the number of guards on borders with its EU neighbours, to 4,800, and raised its terror alert level to the highest setting.

Ministers are also pressing North African former colonies Tunisia and Algeria to take back their citizens convicted in France of terrorism offences.

The Nice attack echoed the killing two weeks earlier of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee after showing his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson on freedom of speech.

In September, a man had attacked people outside the former offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which originally published the caricatures.

In a country on edge, 200 investigations were opened last week alone for supporting terrorism, death threats, insults or hate speech related to Paty’s killing.

Numbers were “exploding”, a judicial source said. “We have many threats targeting politicians, the president, the prime minister, several ministers, MPs, teachers,” with many referring to “decapitation”.

But Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz noted that the probe’s target “all kinds of people, radicalised people but also people with mental health problems or who send a message without realising how serious it is”.

A number of schoolchildren have been targeted in probes over support for terrorism, some after joking about or sharing pictures of Paty’s death.


Frustration And Resignation As Weary French Begin New Lockdown

Moderna's COVID-19 Vaccine Set For Final Trial Stage After 'Promising' Results
In this file photo taken on May 18, 2020, a syringe is pictured on an illustration representation of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in Paris. JOEL SAGET / AFP


An authorisation that needs to be filled out just to take a breath of air. Long traffic jams as Parisians tried to leave the French capital before it was too late. Pressure on supermarket shelves for key goods.

After enduring two months of lockdown between March and May in a bid to squeeze the coronavirus, there was a weary sense of deja-vu in France on Friday as people contemplated going through it all again for at least a month — and maybe even to Christmas and beyond.

The new lockdown added to an already grim mood in France after three attacks in recent weeks blamed on Islamist extremists, the latest the killing of three people inside a church in Nice on Thursday.

There are crucial differences to the spring this time, most crucially that children will be returning to school after the autumn break, rather than staying home as in the previous lockdown.

And while nonessential businesses are to close, some were still open on Friday.

At least four shops — a shoe store, a dry cleaners, a mobile phone store and a Nespresso boutique — welcomed clients at midday on a busy pedestrian street in the Passy neighbourhood of western Paris.

There was also a steady flow of traffic around central Paris, even if public transport was less clogged than usual, raising concern among medics over whether the public would take this round of the lockdown seriously.

“Crossing Paris this morning looks more like an ordinary day than the first day of a lockdown,” the director of Paris hospitals Martin Hirsch wrote on Twitter.

“Lots is at stake now if we are to avoid being overwhelmed.”

– ‘Tolerance of police’ –
Trains from the provinces back to Paris were busy after President Emmanuel Macron made clear that there would be a period of grace to allow families to return home after the autumn break.


Covid-19- vaccine
In this file photo taken on July 10, 2020 A photo shows vaccines in prefilled, single-use syringes before the inspection and packaging phase at the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi’s world distribution centre in Val de Reuil, France. JOEL SAGET / AFP


But in the other direction, hundreds of kilometres of traffic jams formed in Paris late Thursday as worried residents of the capital sought to flee in the hours before the lockdown took effect.

The Sytadin traffic site said that there were over 700 kilometres of traffic jams in the Paris region late Thursday, when electronic signs on the Paris ring road bore grim warnings for drivers of had an hour to go before the next exit.

The train station in the northern city of Lille was bustling quietly in the morning as travellers hurried back to Paris. Police looked on but without making overt controls.

“I had planned for a long time to spend some days in Lille then the weekend in Paris,” said Serge, a 62-year-old pensioner who plans to return home to Avignon on Monday.

“I am counting on the tolerance of the police,” he said.

– ‘No hysteria’ –
Yet the reality remained that within a space of months France has gone from “confinement” (lockdown), to “deconfinement” as the measures were relaxed over the summer, to “reconfinement.”

As previously, the basic rules are simple and strict. People can go out only on essential business or for exercise, for no more than one hour and within a one-kilometre radius of their homes, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

And like in spring, every movement outside needs to be justified by filling out an authorisation form, either by hand or online.

Worried social media users posted pictures of supermarket shelves empty of the essentials, but executives insisted there would be no shortages.

The president of the Intermarche chain, Thierry Cotillard, said his supermarkets had been busier than normal but denied there had been any “hysteria.”

Home entertainment and electrical goods giant Fnac-Darty said it was keeping stores open by benefitting from an exemption that allows people to buy goods for home-working.

People at its Paris store were buying more than just office chairs.

“I bought two pairs of headphones, for my mom and me,” said Fabrice Angelique, 18, at the multi-storey Fnac store near the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris.

“I am happy. We don’t have the choice, we are obliged to live, do our shopping and behave as if it is normal even if there are some safety measures,” he said.

According to a poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting for France Info and daily Le Figaro, seven out of 10 in France are in favour of the new lockdown.

But some angry French took to the streets of Paris late Thursday for an unauthorised protest to condemn the new measures as overly drastic.

“We shouldn’t overdo it. From midnight tonight we must all be at home, it’s too much,” said one protester, who gave her name as Laura.


UN Official Expresses ‘Deep Concern’ Over Mohammed Cartoon Tensions

An Iranian woman holds a placard with a cartoon drawing of the French president with a snake tongue during a protest against his comments on the latest cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed outside the French embassy in Tehran on October 28, 2020.  (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)


The head of a UN anti-extremism body expressed “deep concern” Wednesday about growing tensions over satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, urging “mutual respect” between people of different faiths and political views.

The statement by Miguel Angel Moratinos — who heads the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations — follows growing anger in the Muslim world over France’s response to the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils the images as part of a class on free speech.

President Emmanuel Macron has vigorously defended the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed on free speech grounds, sparking angry protests across swathes of the Muslim world and campaigns to boycott French products.

The UN High Representative “is following with deep concern the growing tensions and instances of intolerance triggered by the publication of the satirical caricatures depicting Prophet Mohammed,” according to the statement.

“The inflammatory caricatures have also provoked acts of violence against innocent civilians who were attacked for their sheer religion, belief or ethnicity,” Moratinos said in the statement, without explicitly referring to Macron’s defense of the images.

“Insulting religions and sacred religious symbols provoke hatred and violent extremism leading to polarization and fragmentation of the society,” he warned.

Macron Announces New Coronavirus Lockdown For France

FiFrench President Emmanuel Macron (C) and French Prime Minister Jean Castex both wearing a protective facemask react at the end of the annual Bastille Day military ceremony on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, on July 14, 2020. Ludovic Marin / POOL / AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday a new lockdown aimed at halting an alarming acceleration of COVID-19 cases, to take effect from Thursday night until “at least December 1.”

Bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses will be forced to close, but unlike during the two-month lockdown imposed last spring, students will continue to go to school, Macron said during a televised address.

Factories and farms will also be allowed to operate, Macron said, and some public services will function, to limit the economic damage that would come from shutting down the country completely.

“The virus is being transmitted across France at a speed that even the most pessimistic did not predict,” he said.

“Like last spring, you will be able to leave your home only for work, for a doctor’s visit, to help a relative, do essential shopping or go out shortly for air,” Macron said.

Written statements justifying being outside will be required, he said, suggesting that fines will again be issued for offenders.

“If in two weeks, we have the situation under better control, we will be able to re-evaluate things and hopefully open some businesses, in particular for the Christmas holiday,” he said.

“I hope we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with family,” he said.

Like other European countries, France has seen a surge in coronavirus cases that could soon overwhelm the country’s hospitals.

More than 3,000 intensive care beds now hold Covid-19 patients, a number that Macron said is poised to reach around 9,000 in November.

He said France would scramble to increase the number of available intensive care beds to 10,000, up from around 5,800 currently.

France Braces For Tougher Restrictions As COVID-19 Cases Soar

French Prime Minister Jean Castex (C), flanked by French Health Minister Olivier Veran (L), speaks to medical staff during a visit to Marseille, southern France, on October 24, 2020.  AFP


France could announce tougher measures later this week to bring the coronavirus under control after the number of daily cases topped 50,000 for the first time, government sources suggested on Monday.

President Emmanuel Macron will gather his top ministers Tuesday to review efforts to curtail the outbreak, his office said.

Prime minister, Jean Castex, will then hold talks with political chiefs and labour union officials before ministers gather for another meeting with Macron on Wednesday.

The meetings will focus on “the tougher measures under consideration to manage the health crisis,” an official in Castex’s office told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

Macron has also called off a visit to a nuclear power plant in eastern France on Wednesday because of the spiralling number of Covid-19 cases, his office said.

Tighter restrictions announced in several European countries have fuelled speculation that France will also have to clamp down further on an outbreak that is again filling hospitals to the brim.

On October 17, a nighttime curfew came into effect for Paris and several other cities where virus cases are soaring, affecting some 46 million people, and bars nationwide have been ordered to close.

The government has said it wants to avoid another outright lockdown like the one imposed for two months last spring when intensive care units were overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

Yet the exponential rise in new cases could force authorities to take more drastic action to ensure social distancing, the head of the government’s medical advisory panel said Monday.

“We knew that we would have this second wave, but we are surprised at the severity of what we’ve seen over the past 10 days,” Jean-Francois Delfraissy told RTL radio.

He said there were two options for getting the new outbreak under control — make the curfew come into effect before the current time of 9:00 pm and extend its reach, or else impose a lockdown but allow schools to remain open.

“This second wave will probably be worse than the first one,” Delfraissy said, adding that “many of our fellow citizens don’t yet realise what’s coming.”

On Sunday, the national health agency said 17 per cent of people being tested for the virus are now positive, up from 4.5 per cent in early September.

It said 52,010 Covid-19 cases were recorded in the previous 24 hours, and 116 deaths, bringing the total to 34,761 since the start of the outbreak.


Pogba To Take Legal Action After ‘Fake News’ France Retirement Rumours

File photo: Manchester United and France midfielder Paul Pogba gives a press conference after a gala football match between All Star France and Guinea at the Vallee du Cher Stadium in Tours, central France, on December 29, 2019, as part of the “48h for Guinea” charity event. GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP.


Manchester United’s Paul Pogba said on Monday he will be “taking legal action” after reports claimed he had retired from international duty in protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments about radical Islam.

According to reports in the Middle East picked up by British tabloid The Sun, World Cup winner Pogba wanted to end his international career after Macron vowed to take the fight to Islamic radicals after the October 16 beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty.

“I am appalled, angry, shocked and frustrated some ‘media’ sources use me to make total fake headlines in the sensible subject of French current events and adding my religion and the French National Team to the pot,” Pogba posted on Instagram.

“I am taking legal action against the publishers and spreaders of these 100% Fake News,” he added.

Paty had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed to pupils in a class discussion on free speech in a school near Paris.

Macron’s comments triggered protests in Muslim-majority countries at the weekend, with people burning pictures of Macron in Syria and setting fire to French flags in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Pogba won the World Cup in Russia in 2018, with Les Bleus’ next fixture a friendly with Finland on November 11 ahead of Nations League meetings with Portugal and Sweden.

United’s next match is Wednesday’s Champions League group game against RB Leipzig at Old Trafford.


Anthony Martial: The Down-To-Earth Kid From Paris Suburbs Who Became A Man Utd Star

Manchester United’s French striker Anthony Martial celebrates after scoring their third goal during the English FA Cup fourth / AFP

Anthony Martial became the world’s most expensive teenager when he joined Manchester United from Monaco in 2015, but as the forward returns to his native France for Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain, the residents of his hometown speak not of an international star but of a young man who has never let fame go to his head.

“Anthony comes back often when he has days off, but when he does come back he’s not ‘Martial’, he’s ‘Anthony’. He has never become big-headed,” his childhood friend Baptiste Tenin tells AFP.

His parents have moved, but the 24-year-old Martial still returns often to Les Ulis, the working-class town of 25,000 inhabitants in the suburbs 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) south-west of central Paris.

Last year, on one trip home, Martial coached a team in a mini “World Cup” organised in the Bergeres neighbourhood where he grew up. He also prepared for his return to Old Trafford by training on the pitches of his first club, CO Les Ulis.

When he comes home, ‘Toto’ still frequents the same fast-food joints and devours ‘pains au chocolat’ with his old neighbours, the Tenins.

All the locals AFP met in Les Ulis describe Martial as down to earth, even the youngest ones who were born after he moved away to join the academy at Lyon in 2009. From there he joined Monaco, who sold him to United when he was 19 for an initial 36 million pounds.

“You don’t get the impression he’s a big star. He is a bit like one of the neighbours,” says nine-year-old Sirine.

– In footsteps of Henry, Evra –

Martial has never played for PSG, against whom United start their European campaign this week. But he is one of the many brilliant footballers to have come out of the suburbs of the French capital, including Thierry Henry and Patrice Evra, the latter another ex-United star.

Henry and Evra also played youth football in Les Ulis.

From his window in the apartment block where he grew up, Martial had a view of the neighbourhood football pitch, where he and his friends Baptiste Tenin and Amine Ratel played in their spare time until, the latter recalls, “our parents called out of the window for us to go home”.

But Martial was a class apart on the pitch.

“When Dorian (Martial’s elder brother) came to play with his mates, we would politely get out of the way and go to play table-tennis. Only Anthony was allowed to play with the big boys,” Amine says.

He joined his local club and was already playing with older age groups as a seven-year-old. “Everyone could see very early on that he was a prodigy,” remembers Wally Bagou, a former coach.

– ‘Magic portion’ –

Once Martial missed the start of a semi-final with his Under-13 team because he was having a trial at Clairefontaine, France’s national training centre.

“It was 0-0 in the 60th minute when he arrived, jumped over the barrier and came on without warming up. The first time the ball came to him he scored, and then he went off again. We won 1-0,” says Baptiste.

Martial was brought up with football in the family — his father played at amateur level while his two elder brothers, Dorian and Johan, “always had a ball at their feet” according to Bagou.

While Dorian has been a long-time servant of the local club, who currently play in France’s fifth tier, defender Johan played in Ligue 1 for Brest and Troyes. He now plays second-tier football for Sochaux.

Man United’s Anthony Martial (c) scoring against Crystal Palace in a Premier League game on Thursday, July 16th 2020. Photo: [email protected] United.


On the walls of the clubhouse at Les Ulis, there is a shirt with Martial’s name on the back alongside a handful of other names, including those of Evra and World Cup winner Henry.

“What do you want me to say? It’s like we have a magic potion here,” smiles Mahamadou Niakate, the club’s technical director.

Martial, who has 23 caps for France but didn’t feature in the 2018 World Cup, gives hope to the kids of the less-affluent “banlieues” on the outskirts of Paris.

“It proves that just because you come from the ‘banlieues’ you can still go on to have success,” says Fabrice Tenin, another of Martial’s old pals. “It offers a glimmer of hope.”


France Prepares For Wider COVID-19 Restrictions

A man walks past the closed famous bar Au Chat Noir in Paris on October 6, 2020, on the implementation day of new sanitary measures aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak in the French capital. -(Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)


France was preparing Thursday for tighter coronavirus restrictions in several major cities, two days after a maximum alert protocol went into force in Paris that included bar closures.

The number of daily coronavirus infections came in at 18,746 in France on Wednesday, health authorities reported, a record since widespread testing began.

The rate of positive test results rose to 9.1 percent from around 4.5 percent a month ago.

“The virus has been spreading faster in recent weeks,” President Emmanuel Macron said late Wednesday.

“In places where it is spreading too fast, especially where it is spreading among the elderly who are most at risk, and where there are more and more intensive care beds being occupied, we must proceed to more restrictions,” he said on French TV.

He said new measures would be similar to protocols put in place in and around the capital, as well as the region around Marseille in the south.

“We are not in a normal situation, and we won’t be for several months,” Macron said.

Health Minister Olivier Veran is set to hold a news briefing on the virus situation later Thursday.

Last week, Veran singled out five large cities — Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse — as possibly requiring more restrictions, saying their health situations were “very worrying”.


This photograph taken on October 6, 2020 shows the interior of a closed bar in Paris, on the implementation day of new sanitary measures aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak in the French capital. (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)


– Intensive care climbing –

On Thursday, the ARS regional health authority for the Paris region told hospitals to put themselves on an emergency footing, mobilising extra doctors and postponing some surgical operations as coronavirus cases climb.

As of Wednesday, 455 intensive care beds in Paris and its suburbs were occupied by COVID patients, more than 40 percent of the total, a rate the agency expects to climb rapidly in coming weeks.

Le Canard Enchaine newspaper, citing a confidential report to Macron’s office, said intensive care cases in Paris could surge to 85 percent by mid-November.

That could prompt authorities to impose even tougher restrictions for the capital, which already requires people to wear face masks in all public spaces.

Since Tuesday, bars and cafes have been shuttered to slow the spread of the virus, just over a week after new restrictions were imposed on Marseille and the overseas department of Guadeloupe.

Nationwide, the number of coronavirus patients in hospital care rose to 7,514 across France on Wednesday from 7,377 a day earlier, with 1,406 in intensive care, out of some 5,000 intensive care beds nationwide.

The same day, authorities reported 80 new coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, taking the total number in France to 32,445.

The government has said it will do everything possible to avoid another lockdown like last spring when schools and non-essential businesses were shut for two months as hospitals were overwhelmed with virus cases.