"Sahara mineral resources will be a direct and decisive factor in our attempts to raise living standards in the French Union." So said French Premier Maurice Bourges-Maunoury as he appointed the first Minister of the Sahara, Socialist Max Lejeune. The appointment gave a new fillip to excited talk in bars and bourses, where businessmen bubbled with highflying schemes for converting France's colonial wasteland into a new Ruhr and inexhaustible source of raw materials.

By camel, jeep and helicopter, thousands of French geologists have long been prospecting the Sahara's vast lunar landscapes, some 1,000 miles from north to south and 3,000 miles...

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