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Monday, 31 May 2010

Heroic teenagers save baby and mother from blaze

Majid Gotte, Yacine Chouidira and Samir Hamidi have become national heroes in France.

The media has been full of praise over the weekend for the calm heroics of the three teenagers who came to the rescue of a mother and her baby trapped inside a burning apartment.

But in spite of their new-found fame, the trio remain humble, according to the regional newspaper, Le Progrès, and are even somewhat reticent to admit they are heroes of any sort in interviews with local and national television, radio and press.

Majid Gotte reunited with two-year-old Assia, TF1 news screen shot


The drama occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning in the town of Tarare, 42 kilometres to the northwest of the city of Lyon.

As Le Progrès reports, Majid Gotte, Yacine Chouidira, both 18 years old and Samir Hamidi, 17 , were walking home after having attended a concert in the town, when they noticed smoke coming out of a third-floor window of a block of apartments.

The trio acted quickly, calling the emergency services before entering the building themselves to warn sleeping residents that there was the likelihood of a fire in one of the apartments and it might be a good idea get out as soon as possible.

When Majid, reached the third floor he knocked on the door of one of the apartments and encountered Khalida Zoubiri, who had been burnt while trying to put out the fire in her flat.

The 27-year-old told him that her two-year-old-daughter Assia was asleep in her bedroom and flames had prevented her from entering.

"I hesitated at first," he told TF1 prime time news. "But as soon as the mother told me that her daughter was in the other room, I knew that I had to do something."

And that "something" was to enter the room in spite of the flames and smoke, and carry the child out wrapped in a blanket.

Once Majid had brought Assia to safety, he then re-entered the apartment to help the mother.

By the time the fire service had arrived almost all the residents had been evacuated and there was no doubt as far as one of the police officers on duty was concerned that the quick thinking of Majid and his friends had been instrumental in making the job of the emergency services easier..

"They reacted very fast and the building was virtually evacuated by the time fire fighters arrived," Eric Denis, a police officer who was one of the first on the scene told Le Progres.

"Getting people out of the building was very important as it helped the fire fighters get on with the job of putting out the flames when they arrived," he continued.

"What they did was commendable, remarkable and courageous, especially as they didn't know any of the people," he added.

Assia and Majid were taken to a nearby hospital and kept in overnight for observations before being allowed home.

Zoubiri, is still in hospital being treated for second-degree burns.

While praise has been unanimous for what the trio did, and especially for their ability to remain calm and level-headed, they have remained rather modest.

"We did the same as we would do for our own families," Samir told Le Progrès.

"We just acted on instinct because there was nothing else to do."

For Majid, what happened also showed that France's youth is capable of more than the "delinquent" image it's often accorded.

"It shows that there's more to adolescents in France than hooliganism and petty crime," he said.

"They can also do things that help, and that's something we talk about less often."

Friday, 28 May 2010

Man's mammoth credit card debt wasn't fraud

A Frenchman on supplementary income has been cleared of fraud after running up debts of almost €180,000 with his bank.

The 35-year-old had been receiving Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA), a supplementary payment for those working but on low incomes, when he obtained a credit card and a cheque book from one of France's largest retail banks Crédit Agricole towards the end of 2008.

As the financial daily, Les Echos, reports he quickly totted up debts of €138,500 using his credit card for 1,351 operations.

He also wrote out €40,000-worth of cheques, all of them uncovered.

It took the bank two months to realise what had happened and it was only in February 2009 that it cancelled his card and filed a law suit accusing the man of fraud.

But as the national daily Aujourd'hui en France-Le Parisien reports, at Thursday's hearing in the eastern French town of Saint-Dié his lawyer Gérard Welzer argued that there had been no evidence of fraud.

"The case is once again evidence of an alarming failure by a bank," he said pointing out that Crédit Agricole had been slow to react to the quick accumulation of a debt by someone in a "precarious" financial situation.

"Did my client use another person's card or wear a false moustache or wig?" he asked.

"No. And in the eyes of the law using a credit card without having sufficient funds to cover transactions doesn't constitute fraud."

While the bank wasn't present at the hearing, it will be recovering the money, albeit in instalments, as the man has been ordered to make monthly payments of €150 for the next 77 years.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Father forces son to eat school report card

Parental responsibility in education is something of a political catchphrase at the moment here in France especially when it comes to tackling the problem of truancy.

But one man in the western central city of Poitiers took his "duties" a step further by hitting his son for obtaining bad grades and forcing him to eat his report card.

Students holding report card, Wikipedia, author Aaron Manning


It's one of those tales that surely makes you sit back and wonder what could have been going through the parent's mind.

As outlined in the regional daily La Nouvelle République du Centre-Ouest, the man wasn't happy with the grades his son had obtained on a recent report card, and as a punishment he sent the teenager to his room but not before "Giving him a wallop on the backside".

His anger didn't stop there though, as he apparently followed the boy upstairs, forced him to eat his report card and then slapped his son across the face.

When the boy appeared in school the next day with a swollen lip, teachers contacted social services and the police, who charged the father with assault.

"Overstepping the mark" was how the national daily Aujourd'hui en France-Le Parisien described the man's behaviour, and one with which many readers seemed to agree in the newspaper's comments section.

But judges were more lenient when the man appeared before a court on Tuesday, finding him guilty of assault but handing down just give a two-month suspended sentence and ordering him to pay his son the sum of €1 in damages.

The relationship between the two has "improved" according to the man, who said during the trial that "Since the event (of the report card) I have no longer hit my son."

Well that's all right then!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Kebab-selling couple scoop casino jackpot

For one French couple 13 wasn't such an unlucky number as they celebrated their wedding anniversary by scooping a €5.5 million jackpot at a casino.

But rather than let the win change their lives the pair fully intend to keep their jobs selling kebabs and chips.

On Monday afternoon Elhadi and Mahjouba decided that they would try their luck at a casino in the spa town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre in southwestern France.

The couple, both 38 years old, run a bar selling kebabs and chips and were in the town taking a break from the children and celebrating their Lily of the Valley (here in France) anniversary - marking 13 years of marriage.

As the wife said, when interviewed on the nationwide radio network RTL, they had gone along to the casino to have a drink and had "splashed out" €20 on playing a slot machine.

Luck clearly seemed to be on their side from the beginning as they had soon totted up €120 in winnings - all of it in small coins.

"We exchanged the coins for notes," she said.

"Except for the initial €20 which we traded in for 50-centime coins so that we could play another machine."

And that was when Lady Luck really struck because, even though at first they apparently thought the machine had jammed and wasn't working properly, it turned out that they had hit the jackpot and were €5.5 million richer.

Far from frittering away the money though, the couple fully intend not to let it change their lives in any way. So much so that they insist they'll keep their kebab and chip shop running.

"For us, we see the win as simply an improvement in our everyday lives, and it was just chance," said Mahjouba.

"We're not at all gamblers and it was pure luck," agreed her husband.

"We'll put some money aside for our children in case they want to study later," he added.

"Otherwise we're not really sure what we'll do, but we're certainly not going to squander it."

Friday, 21 May 2010

French automaker Renault faces opposition over new car name

Spare a thought for Zoé Renault.

The Parisian could be in for quite a ribbing if the French car manufacturer Renault (no relation apparently) goes ahead with rumoured plans to name its new electric zero emission car "Zoé".

She fears being the butt of many a cruel joke, and in an interview with the national daily Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France the 23-year-old student said she couldn't bear to hear constant referrals to "Zoé has broken down" or "Zoé needs to go in for a service" should the car manufacturer decide that's the name for the vehicle due be launched in 2012.

Renault (Zoé that is) has hired David Koubbi, a lawyer who, the BBC says "specialises in the protection of first names" and he has already sent a letter to the car giant's CEO Carlos Ghosn urging him and others to think again.

And in his letter Koubbi takes up the cause not just of the 23-year-old but also all the other Zoés throughout France - a growing number apparently as there are already more than 30,000 and it figured among the most popular girls names in 2009.

"My clients strongly oppose the intention of your company to use the name Zoé for a car," the letter says in an extract published in the newspaper.

"They see this as an infringement of their personal rights," it continues.

"You'll certainly understand that parents have carefully considered the name they give their child and it's intolerable to see it trivialised and exploited for purely commercial and marketing purposes."

For its part Renault seems to be taking the issue seriously with a spokesperson telling the newspaper that the name was only one given to a concept car and there had been no decision taken as to what it would be called.

"We completely understand the reaction of this young woman," the car manufacturer told the newspaper.

"At the moment it's a name given just to a concept car and one which was chosen because it sounded good, is short, dynamic and easy to use for sales abroad and just as importantly contains the letters 'Z' and 'E' for 'Zero Emissions'."

Not necessarily an explanation with which the 23-year-old is in happy.

"In Greek 'Zoé' means 'life'," she told the newspaper.

"And it's a name my parents gave me when I was born because they wanted me have one that was different from other girls and it was also a symbol because my father was ill at the time," she continued.

"I don't want my identity to be associated with a car for my whole life. It would be unbearable."

No baptism for Kenzo

More problems of a different sort for the Catholic church here in France. A priest has refused to baptise a two-and-a-half-year-old boy because the parents hadn't sent their two older children for religious education after they had been baptised.

The parents of little Kenzo had set July 3 as the date to have their son baptised.

But when the mother, Chrystèle Fernandez, went along to discuss the final arrangements with the priest in the parish of Saint-Jean-Lavérune in the south of France, things didn't quite go as she had hoped.

Instead she was told that Kenzo's baptism couldn't go ahead.

The reason she was given, according to the regional daily Midi Libre, was that the priest, Paul Roudier, wasn't happy that one of her other sons wasn't receiving religious instruction.

"The priest asked me whether my 10-year-old was attending catechism classes," she told the newspaper.

"When I said that we had offered him the opportunity to go but he had refused, he (Father Roudier) said that under such circumstances he couldn't go ahead with Kenzo's baptism," she continued.

Even though Fernandez explained that she had not wanted to force her eldest son to do something against his will but had left the choice up to him, Father Roudier remained resolute in turning down the request for Kenzo to be baptised.

He admitted that the decision has been an "unpleasant one" to take, but for him baptism represented the "starting point" and there was a responsibility afterwards "to educate".

"If you want a child to discover what the church has to offer then you have to give him a taste of it," he said.

"And sometimes that has to be an obligation," he continued.

A disappointment as far as Fernandez is concerned who had hoped that the Catholic church would be a little more flexible in its decision-making.

"We're not regular church-goers but we're still believers," she said.

"Now it'll just have to be up to Kenzo to decide what he wants to later."

The case is far from being an isolated one here in France.

In early February this year, according to the national daily Aujourd'hui en France, parents of a 10-month-old child in the town of Evry, just on the outskirts of the French capital, were told that their latest addition to the family couldn't be baptised because his three older siblings "hadn't been receiving religious instruction" and the parents "were not regular church-goers."

And just a couple of weeks later national radio reported the case of a baby girl in the small town of Saint-Jean-de-Boiseau in western France who was refused a baptism because her older sister once again hadn't been "enrolled in religious instruction classes."

Monday, 10 May 2010

Another geography lesson - French style

After a geographical faux pas less than a fortnight ago when it mixed up Wallonia and Flanders during a prime time news broadcast during a report on Belgium, France's main private television channel TF1 has "gone one better".

This time around though it moved the map, so-to-speak, of Scandinavia by placing a whole country - Sweden - a little further to the East - in place of neighbouring Finland to be exact.

It happened during a report on Sunday evening on the French government's planned pension reforms as the channel was making a comparison with other European countries and in particular retirement ages around the continent.

After citing an example from Germany (correctly placed on the map) the report switched to Sweden.

But rather than showing the country of just over nine million where it should be on the map, the report highlighted neighbouring Finland instead, before continuing its two-minute-and-14 second-journey in Italy.

screen shot of TF1's Sweden-Finland map

An error which Jean-Marc Pillas, the médiateur de la rédaction de TF1 or the person responsible for handling viewers complaints, admitted was more than embarrassing.

"I am just as appalled as you are by this gross error of computer graphics," he wrote in response to a comment on the channel's site.

"All steps are being taken to ensure that these geographic blunders don't happen again."

This being the age of the Internet all broadcasts are of course retransmitted in all their glory - warts 'n' all - shortly after going out live.

So if you want to see for yourselves what French viewers were treated to you can watch the clip. At one minute and six seconds you'll briefly see a misplaced Sweden



The irony of this latest mistake coming so quickly on the heels of the Wallonia-Flanders muddle was not lost on readers of the Belgian daily Le Soir, many of whom questioned whether TF1 journalists actually checked information before allowing it to be broadcast.

And one slightly less-than-generous comment suggested that perhaps "the French had become the Americans of Europe" in their lack of geographical knowledge.

Last time around it was left to stand-in anchor Harry Roselmack to apologise for the previous evening's "serious mistake".

Eyes will likely be peeled and ears well-tuned to see how regular host Laurence Ferrari responds to the latest confusion during Monday evening's broadcast.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Drunk in charge of a lawnmower

For one French man this year's May Day celebrations finished before they had begun after police pulled him over for being drunk in charge of a...motorised lawnmower.

May Day was last weekend - a day recognised in many countries as International Workers' Day or Labour Day if you will.

Here in France it's a public holiday even though this year of course May 1 fell on a Saturday.

And there's a tradition that unions take to the streets to demonstrate "solidarity".

There's also a much older and perhaps more quaint custom associated with the day, which dates back to the 16th century; that of offering and receiving a sprig lily of the valley, which is not only a symbol that Spring is well and truly here but is also supposed to be "lucky".

For one man though in the village of Le Pasquier in the eastern département of Jura, the celebrations never really got underway and fortune certainly wasn't on his side as the day before, after apparently having spent a couple of hours in the forest collecting flowers, he was stopped by police as he made his way home.

The 56-year-old was, according to the regional daily Le Progrès, happily driving along not in a car but aboard his motorised lawnmower when he was pulled over.

Hardly a chase reminiscent of those US action films probably as the thing barely goes faster than walking pace, but nonetheless, as the police reminded the newspaper, a motorised lawnmower is not a vehicle "authorised to circulate on public roads in France."

And it didn't take long for the two officers to realise that the man wasn't exactly fully in control of his "capacities".

"It was clear when we started questioning him that he wasn't in a 'normal' state," one of the officers told the newspaper.

"He was talking incoherently and smelled of alcohol."

Sure enough when breathylised, he was found to be well over the limit, and the police immediately impounded his unusual "mode of transport".

Not surprisingly perhaps he'll face charges on two counts when his case comes to court next month; driving an unregistered vehicle and doing so while drunk.

But although he's likely to face a hefty fine, he won't lose his licence, as he doesn't have one.
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