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France gets a new man at the top of Le Monde

Le Monde, one of Europe's leading newspapers, has chosen its new publisher.

He is Andre Laurens, assistant national editor, a dark horse who is not considered to be among the paper's journalistic ''aces.''

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He is, however, a dedicated, pragmatic man ''who has no enemies,'' they say at Rue des Italiens (the newspaper's home office).

Thus ends a crisis that lasted two years, split the paper into factions, and hurt the paper's quality.

''There were times when the staff spent more time discussing the pros and cons of the various candidates than doing their job,'' one Le Monde staffer says.

In recent months, the main contenders had been Claude Julien, the publisher of Le Monde Diplomatique, who holds strong left-of-center views, and Jacques Amalric, foreign editor, who is said to put professionalism ahead of political views. Claude Julien is known to have little love for the United States; Jacques Amalric does not conceal his deep distaste for the Soviet Union.

Political posturing by both men was mainly a smokescreen concealing two ferocious personal ambitions, according to sources close to them.

In the end, neither managed to convince the majority of the staff that he possessed a genuine fairness and impartiality, or that he was sufficiently hard-nosed to lead the paper through stormy times.

During the 1950s and '60s, Le Monde was considered by many observers to be the world's best daily paper. In recent years, it has gained in volume but thought by many to have declined in quality and accuracy.

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Its uncritical attitude vis-a-vis the government of Francois Mitterrand - as opposed to the independent, irreverent coverage of other left-of-center papers, such as Liberation - has left many readers uneasy.

The lack of leadership qualities of Jacques Fauvet, the outgoing publisher, and of Mr. Almaric, has contributed to the paper's decline in prestige, in the opinion of many Le Monde insiders.

Although Le Monde still benefits from the work of such first-rate reporters as Eric Rouleau in the Middle East, Michel Tatu (strategic problems), Manuel Lucbert in Peking and Charles Vanhecke in Latin America, it also uses a new generation of journalists of lesser stature. Its foreign news pages often contain serious errors in information.

Le Monde's sales have declined in recent times, even though the paper still sells half a million copies every day.

Le Monde is still France's most influential daily, but it is said to have lost many young readers to the Quotidien de Paris on the right or Liberation on the left - both of which are more lively in substance and tone than Le Monde.

Andre Laurens, who will take command of Le Monde in July (70 percent of Le Monde employees voted in his favor), is expected by many to ''grow in office'' and to lead the paper along a nonpartisan, moderate course. He will be assisted by Thomas Ferenczi, currently the Moscow correspondent.

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