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In France, emotions rise with the mercury. Soccer defeat, hostage release, death of comedian stir up nation

Although Parisians associate the summer with vacations and quiet times, sunny weather this year has been accompanied by high emotion. First, two French hostages held in Lebanon were released. Then the country mourned the death of comedian Coluche. And finally, the national soccer team tested its limits in the World Cup.

Of all the events, one would have expected the liberation of Philippe Rochot and Georges Hansen to have the greatest impact. But for some it did not. When the exhausted but exhilarated television journalists were shown on TV arriving at Orly airport last Saturday evening, the viewers in at least one local caf'e became impatient.

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The news had preempted coverage of the soccer match between France and Brazil. In one caf'e, where a crowd had gathered to watch the game, one person cried, ``Get on with the game!'' Soccer coverage eventually resumed, with each team pushing up the field before France squeaked by on penalty kicks.

As soon as the game ended, Prime Minister Jacques Chirac tried to turn the attention back to the hostages. He welcomed their release as a victory for his new government. ``This liberation, represents a success for our diplomacy,'' said Mr. Chirac's aide Fran,cois Bujon de l'Estang.

Since coming to power earlier this year, the Chirac administration has shifted its Persian Gulf policy away from Iraq toward friendlier relations with Iran. Chirac thanked the Iranian government -- as well as Iran's ally Syria -- for arranging the release of Rochot and Hansen.

Even now, seven Frenchmen are held hostage or are missing in Lebanon, and no one knows when they will be released or what price will have to be paid to free them. Similarly, the ransom paid for Rochot and Hansen remains a mystery.

``Why were two liberated and not the others?,'' asks columnist Marc Kravetz in the daily Lib'eration. He concludes, ``There is no good answer.''

Compared with these geopolitical concerns, a more personal event seems to have had a greater impact on this nation. A round and rumpled comedian named Coluche was killed in a motorcycle accident on the Riviera. Huge crowds gathered for his funeral Tuesday.

Coluche's humor was aimed at the conscience of this often egocentric country. He reveled in loudmouthed and vulgar satire. His angry style often resembled that of Lenny Bruce. His goal, he sometimes said, was ``to bother everybody.''

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Politicians were his favorite targets. He accused them of being out of touch with the public. To prove his point, he ran for President in 1981 on a simple platform: Stop fighting futile ideological battles. He demanded that someone run the country who cared for the common person.

Coluche's candidacy tapped a strong feeling of protest. At first, opinion polls showed him capturing more than 10 percent of the vote. But as election day neared, he pulled out of the campaign, saying his point had been proved.

Born Michelle Colucci, son of Italian immigrants, he always sided with the poor, underprivileged, and racially oppressed. His latest achievement was the opening last winter of a nationwide chain of 500 restaurants to feed the poor. They served up to 60,000 free meals a day.

The loss of Coluche and his generosity struck a national chord. But there was a bit of irony as the politicians and show business stars saluted him. Coluche, who spent much of his time on stage insulting the establishment, might well have derided their words.

Coluche also would have had scathing words for France's most revered heroes these days -- its soccer stars. Before the World Cup began last month in Mexico City, sports analysts said the star-studded French team possessed the skill to win. The big question was whether they would crack under pressure as they did four years ago in the semi-finals against the West German team.

This year, the French held up at first. First, they dethroned defending champion Italy. Then they outscored the talented Brazilian team in a match which observers say will be remembered as one of the most exciting and well-played in World Cup history.

In the semi-finals Wednesday, the French found themselves once again pitted against the West German team. This time, the French were favored, and as the game time neared, excitement mounted.

There was only one problem: the French team played poorly and lost 2 to 0. After the victory over the Brazilian team, Paris exploded. Cars honked their horns, revelers clogged the boulevards.

This time, there was only silence.

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