French offer Gallic shrug

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The Independent Online
Anyone looking for evidence of the cultural chasm that still divides the French and the British had only to scan the front pages of yesterday's newspapers at either end of the stricken Channel Tunnel.

While the people of Folkestone were reading with horror of the Eurotunnel fire, the "panic" in the passenger carriage and the recriminations of the lorry drivers, the people of Calais would have been hard put to it to find much about the fire at all, beyond congratulating themselves on a rescue operation that had run like clockwork.

Yesterday's front pages in France offered plenty to worry a Frenchman: plans for a clampdown on private cars in Paris, "leaked" details of the scheme that will replace conscription, a government project to make convicted sex offenders take treatment, the third day of a lorry drivers' strike that is blockading several big cities, and more snow.

But only the staid Figaro offered any front page report at all about the Eurotunnel fire, and this was tucked inconspicuously half way down the right hand side with a headline that said: "Eurotunnel - a drama averted." The summary of an article inside the paper suggested the paper's line: The fire started "for an unknown reason" in a lorry leaving from the French terminal ... the rescue services arrived quickly on the scene ... SNCF (French railways) cannot say exactly when services will resume."

Only inside was there any talk of "panic" and evident "gaps" in safety arrangements.

It was a similar story on the airwaves. While the British media were leaving no lorry driver and no official un-interviewed in their quest to find out what had gone wrong and who was responsible, the French were being treated to accounts of how fast the coordinated French-British rescue services had arrived and forecasts of how soon the tunnel would reopen. Even on the morning after the fire, it was the unfortunate fall in Eurotunnel share values that headed French news bulletins.

not reports of the fire itself.

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