World / Europe

Mali action presents Hollande in new light

By Li Xiang (China Daily) Updated: 2013-01-19 01:14

The swift French military intervention in Mali appears to have transformed the soft image of French President Francois Hollande into that of a wartime commander-in-chief who is decisive in fighting terrorism in the West African country.

Hollande has gained unprecedented unanimous support from across the political spectrum at home since being elected in May. French politicians from the right and left have voiced support for the Mali intervention, calling it a legitimate action by France.

Public opinion is also backing Hollande — who would otherwise face plunging popularity at home over domestic economic policies — with 75 percent of French people polled saying they back the president's decision.

The unfolding hostage crisis in Algeria has also helped rally international support for Hollande, with the European Union deciding to send military training missions to Mali, and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also promising to offer help.

This overwhelming support is quite typical, especially in the early days of a military intervention. But as the battle continues, it is highly possible the popularity Hollande is enjoying could soon turn into a question mark over the role of French forces in Africa.

Hollande promised on beginning his presidency to put an end to "Francafrique", the French term to describe the neocolonial relationship France has with its former African colonies.

But the French intervention in Mali reminded many of a return to past French actions. It also evoked memories of its military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin warned in the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that the intervention risked dragging the country into an interminable conflict.

"None of the conditions for success are met in Mali," he wrote. "And this unanimous enthusiasm for war, the haste with which we're doing it and the déjà vu of 'war on terror', worries me."

Some experts said France is faced with the risk of the military intervention turning into a prolonged and difficult deadlock.

Paris has promised the operation in Mali will be brief, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saying earlier the intervention will only last a matter of weeks.

But analysts said the operation will last much longer and be more difficult than anticipated, given the unpredictable and uncertain situation in Mali. France may also face the risk that public support may run out, with people gradually losing patience and confidence if the conflict lasts too long.

Fabius said it is not France's intention to continue to act alone in Mali. So one of the biggest challenges going forward for France is whether it can gain continuing international support for its mission in Mali.

It is also crucial for Hollande to clearly define the role of the French forces in Africa instead of simply launching a general war against terrorism that may drag the country into a possible deadlock.

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