Women can run off and join the Legion

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The Independent Online

A lonely, beleaguered outpost has fallen. The French Foreign Legion, celebrated for rearguard actions for 170 years, will soon have to admit female, as well as male, romantics, misfits, runaways and petty criminals from all over the world.

A lonely, beleaguered outpost has fallen. The French Foreign Legion, celebrated for rearguard actions for 170 years, will soon have to admit female, as well as male, romantics, misfits, runaways and petty criminals from all over the world.

The French government overruled protests by légionnaires past and present and yesterday ordered that the Legion should open its barracks gates at Aubagne, near Marseilles, to women.

A year ago, the commandant of the Legion, General Christian Piquemal, snorted: "The presence of women is incompatible with the very nature of the Legion. Our founding principle is cohesion and camaraderie between men. Women would mean the end of the Legion. They have their place in the army, but not with us."

Within a few days of making that statement, he retired. His successor, General Bernard Grail, has been forced to bow to the increasing feminisation, and professionalisation, of the French armed forces.

Like General Piquemal, many légionnaires and former légionnaires fear the days of the Legion itself - 8,600 men from 139 nations - may be numbered. With the abolition of conscription in 2002, the Légion Etrangÿre will lose its status as the only fully professional force in the French army.

Other units of the French military have been pushing for the Legion to be more "integrated" - in other words, treated like any other part of the army; forced to admit women; and made to perform routine, unglamorous tours of duty.

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