French government faces backlash over Nice attack

Hollande Valls Cazeneuve

Hollande Valls Cazeneuve

French President François Hollande’s Socialist government has come under fierce criticism over last week’s horrific truck attack in Nice, with former president Nicolas Sarkozy accusing it of failing to do enough to combat terrorism.

Less than a year before a presidential election, political opponents have abandoned the restraint that usually prevails immediately after such national tragedies to sharply criticise Hollande and his government.

Sarkozy, who is competing in a November primary for the ticket to run as presidential candidate for France’s mainstream centre-right parties, said overnight that Hollande’s government had failed to do all it could.

“I know there’s no zero risk, I know perfectly well that we don’t pull each other apart before the victims have even been buried,” Sarkozy told TF1 TV.

“But I want to say, because it’s the truth, that everything that should have been done over the last 18 months […] wasn’t done,” he said, without proposing what could have been done better.

“France cannot let its children be murdered,” he added, declaring the country to be in an “outright war”.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who was booed by mourners while in Nice on Monday, dismissed criticism of his government’s actions, calling instead for unity.

“The ‘Trumpification’ of the mind cannot be our response to IS,” he said referring to anti-migrant discourse of US Republican White House hopeful Donald Trump.

He told a news conference that plans to extend the state of emergency this week would give police renewed powers to conduct searches without getting judicial warrants and include new measures to exploit information from telephones and computers.

But he also sought to steel the country for further such attacks, warning “terrorism will be part of everyday life for a long time to come”.

In Thursday’s attack, delivery man Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ploughed a 19-tonne truck into crowds of Bastille Day revellers, killing 84, before being shot dead by police. It was the third major attack in France in less than two years, and has plunged the country back into a state of grief and fear.

Politics under scrutiny

The rapid and bitter political recriminations contrasted with the restraint seen in the immediate wake of the attacks on Paris last November and on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January 2015. Like them, the Nice attack was claimed by the IS group although no hard evidence linking Bouhlel to the militant group has been found.

The government has hit back by slamming its opponents for breaking ranks so fast.

Speaking ahead of the nationwide minute-of-silence on Monday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve accused the government’s opponents of unseemly behaviour.

“We’ve seen tirades emerge immediately and personally this is both shocking and sad […] it’s undignified in the current context,” he said.

Voters also denounced the lack of restraint among competing politicians while many of those killed in Thursday’s attack on the famed Promenade des Anglais have still to be identified or buried.

“I’d have liked the politicians to have the decency when the bodies were still on the Promenade not to start saying, it’s so-and-so’s fault,” said Stéphane Bébert, who was at the ceremony.

As tributes drew throngs of people back to the scene of the carnage, police continued to investigate. Four of the six people arrested after the attack were transferred early on Monday to the headquarters of France’s counter-terrorism department in the western edge of Paris, where they will be questioned.