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Hollande's Approval Soars After Terror Attacks


Charlie Hebdo has sold out. The satirical magazine that usually sells barely 60,000 copies has had to print 7 million to meet the demand for this week's issue, the first since the terrorist attacks that killed 17 people at the offices of that magazine and at a kosher grocer in Paris.

French troops now guard synagogues and Jewish schools, as the French government and French people contemplate what's ahead amid reports that terrorist cells are actively plotting further attacks. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. Eleanor, thanks for being with us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: It doesn't take long for politics to follow up on tragedy. How's President Hollande seen as handling this crisis?

BEARDSLEY: It may seem cynical to talk of popularity ratings, you know, amid such a tragedy, but you can't help but notice, Scott, because President Hollande was the most unpopular president in 50 years. He had, like, 10 percent approval. Today, 88 percent of the French approve of how he's handling this. Even conservative newspaper Le Figaro has heaped praise on him, saying he's had all the right words, his hands didn't tremble.

And, you know, there's been a lot of moving stuff going on. For example, there was a ceremony this week for the three policemen who were killed. And the nation watched as Hollande comforted the mother of one of the slain officers, and she was just crying to him. He pinned the Legion of Honor medal onto their uniforms. And so it's very powerful, very strong.

You know, I've talked to people - you know, will it last? And people say no, it won't last. They say, you know, the country wanted to be united. It came together, so it would have happened around any leader, so they say that Hollande will still be unpopular when it's all over.

SIMON: The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been quoted a lot in this country. I wonder if his profile has increased, too.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. Valls has - he's been on the front lines, he's been, you know, at every site, he's gone to funerals. He gave a powerful speech in the French Parliament, you know, where he said France is home to Jews and Muslims. He said I don't want French Jews to be scared, and I don't want French Muslims to live in shame. So he is taking a very strong stance, and his popularity rating has also gone up.

SIMON: What about the far right? I'm thinking specifically of Marine Le Pen.

BEARDSLEY: Analysts say if any politician has something to gain from this tragedy long-term it would be Marine Le Pen, who is head of the far right National Front Party. They're against immigration. They're seen as anti-foreigner. There's been a lot of talk of her wanting to capitalize on this. But I would have to say so far her response seems to have been somewhat measured.

She does say that these radical jihadists are linked to massive immigration that needs to be controlled. She spoke yesterday, and she came up with a lot of proposals. And one of them was to take away French nationality from suspected jihadists. This is hugely controversial, Scott, because the last time this was done was after World War II, when Nazi collaborators were stripped of their French nationality.

But I want to say that all politicians and parties - the whole country is in a mood of deep introspection about why this happened, how it happened. You know, is it the fault of the schools, the prisons? Is France not integrating its minorities? You know, does France need a Patriot Act like the U.S.? So everything is being examined right now.

SIMON: There's been a lot of talk about the sanctity of free speech in the French Republic. And yet, in recent days, the French government has made some decisions about speech.

BEARDSLEY: They're toughening hate laws, which are very strong. After the Holocaust, you cannot deny the Holocaust, you cannot make hate speech. They're toughening that. And I have to say, a lot of Muslims feel that there's a double standard when it comes to hate speech. They say anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic talk is treated as a crime, where you can say anything about Muslims - Islamophobia, such as these cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, they're taken very lightly, so they see that as a double standard.

SIMON: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.