rfi 2024-02-02 08:14:04



Caucasus crisis

Armenia joins International Criminal Court in sign of growing schism with Russia

Armenia formally joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday – signalling that it wants to move against Azerbaijan, which it accuses of “ethnic cleansing” in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. ICC membership also means a growing gap with Yerevan’s traditional ally, Moscow.

The ICC’s Rome Statute officially entered into force for Armenia on 1 February.

“Joining the ICC gives Armenia serious tools to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity on its territory,” according to Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Armenia’s Foreign Minister.

He said that Armenia’s integration into the court “first of all concerns Azerbaijan”, referring to two wars with the neighbouring country over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region – where Russia deploys peacekeepers.

Neither Azerbaijan nor Russia recognise the ICC, along with other countries including the United States, China and Israel.

How does the ICC relate to the Rome Statute?

The International Criminal Court was established by the Rome Statute, a treaty adopted at a diplomatic conference in the Italian capital on 17 July 1998 and that came into force on 1 July 2002. It outlines the court’s functions, jurisdiction and structure.

The statute identifies four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. No statute of limitations applies to these offences. According to the Rome Statute, the ICC is authorised to investigate and prosecute these crimes only in situations where states are unable or unwilling to do so themselves.

The court’s jurisdiction is complementary to that of domestic courts and extends to crimes committed within the territory of a state party or by a national of a state party. An exception is made for cases where the ICC’s jurisdiction is authorised by the United Nations Security Council.

As of November 2023, 124 states were parties to the statute.

Armenia becoming a full-fledged member of the court risks further complicating Yerevan’s relationship with Moscow.

‘Unfriendly step’

Last March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine and the alleged illegal deportation of children to Russia.

Yerevan is now obligated to arrest the Russian leader if he sets foot on Armenian territory.

But Armenia is also home to a permanent Russian military base and part of a Moscow-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which also counts other ex-Soviet republics Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as members.

Moscow called Armenia’s accession to the ICC an “absolutely unfriendly step”.

Russia’s state-owned Tass News Agency quotes Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin as saying that the ICC “has nothing to do with justice; rather, it is a highly politicised pro-Western structure that executes orders to prosecute figures who are undesirable to the West”.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has tried to reassure Russia that his country is only addressing what it says are war crimes committed by Azerbaijan in their long-running conflict, and is not aiming at Moscow.

But Western countries hailed the ratification, which marks the expansion of the court’s jurisdiction into what was long seen as Russia’s backyard.

“The world is getting smaller for the autocrat in the Kremlin,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after Armenia ratified the ICC statute in October, referring to Putin.

Deterrent effect

France also strongly backed Armenia’s membership of the ICC.

In November, when Armenia officially applied to join the court, France’s Foreign Ministry said it welcomed the move as an “important step towards fighting impunity”.

Observers say Armenia could use its membership as a form of deterrent against possible Azerbaijani aggression.

The threat of the court investigating crimes committed as part of any attack on Armenia would “serve as a sword of Damocles of sorts, making Azerbaijan more reluctant to perpetrate acts of aggression against Armenia”, legal researcher Mischa Gureghian Hall of the US-based Centre for Truth and Justice told JusticeInfo.net.

To give itself the option of pursuing Azerbaijani soldiers for war crimes allegedly committed during fighting along the border between the two countries in September 2022, the portal noted, Armenia backdated the ICC’s jurisdiction to May 2021.

Read also:

  • Armenians warn ethnic cleansing risks being forgotten – again
  • Spectre of 1915 Armenian genocide looms over Nagorno-Karabakh

Africa Cup of Nations 2023

DRC and Guinea revel in unexpected surge to last eight at Africa Cup of Nations

In a tournament of surprises that have run from acid trip translucence into the zany, Democratic Republic of Congo versus Guinea in the quarter-finals ranks as pure psychedelia.

Neither outfit were spectacular during the pool stages. Guinea drew with Cameroon, scraped past Gambia 1-0 and lost quite ploddingly to Senegal to muster four points and a place in the last-16 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

DRC drew all their three games in Group F to progress to the knockout stages as runners-up behind Morocco.

Their last-16 assignments posed very different questions. Guinea faced an Equatorial Guinea side bubbling with confidence after topping a pool containing Nigeria and hosts Cote d’Ivoire who they emasculated 4-0.

But the Guineans neutralised the verve and snatched a late win at the Alassane Outtara Stadium in Abidjan.

DRC skewered the Egyptians in a 20-minute penalty shoot-out of stomach curdling intensity which culminated with the goalkeepers taking kicks.

Gabaski’s shot for Egypt tonked the crossbar and boomed high into the San Pedro night sky. Less than a mintue later, the 35-year-old still had a chance to redeem his wretchedness.

But Lionel Mpasi stepped up and unfurled sleek technique to convert his kick.

 

It took the DRC into the last eight for the first time since the Cup of Nations added another elimination round following its expansion to 24 teams in 2019.

Debut

It’s also a debut for DRC coach Sébastien Desabre who led Uganda to the last-16 at the 2019 tournament in Egypt.

“The win against Egypt was a great moment for the team,” said the 47-year-old Frenchman on the eve of the game against Guinea.

“We know we can pay against the biggest teams but we have to show our ambition again. We know we’ll be in for a tough match.”

DRC will need more of that fortitude against Guinea who rode their luck against an Equatorial Guinea side which had been reduced to 10-men with the dismissal of Federico Bikoro in the 55th minute.

Luck

Emilio Nsue missed a penalty mid way through the second half for Equatorial Guinea who were only a few seconds away from taking the tie into extra-time before Mohamed Bayo headed the winner.

The goal also took Guinea coach Kaba Diawara and his squad into legend as the first team from the country to win a knockout tie at the Cup of Nations since 1976.

Back then the tournament was an eight-team affair with the the top two sides from each group going into a second phase round robin – the winner of which was designated champion.

“The victory against Equatorial Guinea means a lot,” said Diawara. “We knew the historic nature of the match so it’s a feeling of pride.

“We must look ahead. We will prepare better becaus We want to go as far as possible.”

Since the Confederaton of African Football – which organises the biennial tournament – expanded the competition from 16 to 24 teams i 2019, neither Guinea nor DRC have reached the semi-finals.

“When you go into a competition it is with the aim of going all the way, even if we have never been lucky enough to get to the semi-finals before,” Diawara told the news agency AFP.

“This time we can see that the path is opening up for us.”

The winner will take on Mali or Cote d’Ivoire on 7 February in Abidjan.

“It’s exciting to be here at this stage of the competition,” said DRC defender Gedeon Kalulu. “It’s going to be a new test for us but we’re calm.”


Agriculture

French farmers unions call off protest after PM unveils raft of concessions

France’s two major farmers unions on Thursday suspended protests and lifted road blockades across the country on the back of a set of new government measures they said amounted to “tangible progress”.

Farmers have been out in force for more than a week in protests triggered by an agricultural fuel duty hike, pay conditions, high taxes and onerous red tape.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal offered a slew of new concessions including an annual 150 million euros for livestock farmers and a ban on food imports treated with thiacloprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide already banned in France. 

Attal said he wanted to “better recognise the farming profession”, “protect (farmers) against unfair competition” and “give value back to our food”.

He also vowed to ensure a clear Europe-wide definition of lab-grown meat, a technology still in its infancy – apparently anticipating similar agricultural resistance to the product as has met plant-based milk and meat substitutes.

  • France seeks change to EU nature laws in bid to appease farmers

Easing of rules

France will also stop imposing stricter regulation on its farmers than European Union rules require, Attal said.

And he reiterated that France would remain opposed to the EU signing a free-trade deal with the Mercosur trade group of South American countries.

All major supermarkets will be audited for compliance with a law supposed to ensure fair prices for farmers’ produce, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau announced a €2 billion loan package for those who are setting up as farmers.

There will also be a “pause” in France’s national plan for reducing pesticide use, Fesneau said.

Thursday’s multiple offers follow a first round of concessions last week, including the withdrawal of the resented fuel tax hike. 

  • French PM seeks to prove legitimacy and douse fires in first policy speech

Protests lifted

The president of Young Farmers union, Arnaud Gaillot, said that in view of the announcements farmers needed to end their blockades and “enter into a new form of mobilisation”.

    Protests – whether roadblocks, lane closures or demonstrations – have affected more than 150 locations around France for the past week, with motorways around major cities including Paris and Lyon affected.

    There were tense scenes at some farmers’ roadblocks, as demonstrators demanded passing truck drivers open up their cargoes for them to check the origin of produce.

    Calm had however returned to the vast Rungis wholesale food market that serves the 12 million people in the Paris capital region.

    Gathering in front of parliament

    A group of 79 farmers were released after being held in custody for a Wednesday incursion into the food hub, with prosecutors saying they will investigate for property damage.

    France’s second-largest farmers’ union Coordination Rurale (CR) suggested members gather at the National Assembly parliament building in response to the arrests.

    “Given that a lot of farmers want to come to Paris, we’re telling them to go to the National Assembly so that all the MPs and senators can come and meet them,” CR’s president Veronique Le Floch told RMC radio.

    (with AFP)


    Ukraine crisis

    EU leaders seal €50bn Ukraine aid deal after Hungary lifts veto

    The European Union sealed a deal at a summit in Brussels on Thursday to provide Ukraine with a €50 billion support package to prop-up its war-ravaged economy. The surprise move came after Hungary’s Viktor Orban lifted his opposition.

    European Council President Charles Michel said the agreement was reached within the first hour of the summit.

    It “locks in steadfast, long-term, predictable funding for Ukraine” and demonstrates that the “EU is taking leadership and responsibility in support for Ukraine; we know what is at stake”, Michel said in a post on X.

    The package will plug holes in the Ukrainian government’s budget to allow it to pay salaries and services, as its soldiers battle to hold back Moscow’s forces.

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also welcomed the move, calling it a “very important decision”.

    Thursday’s abrupt about-face from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the four-year funding package for Kyiv came after EU leaders offered a possible review of the spending in two years.

    In December, Orban sparked fury from his 26 counterparts in the bloc by thwarting a deal on the aid.

     

    • Hungary blocks billion-euro EU aid deal for Ukraine

    Pressure

    Thursday’s talks were expected again to see hours of protracted political arm-wrestling but a deal was swiftly announced after Orban met first with the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and the EU institutions.

    “He gave some ground,” said one European diplomat. “He saw that people were growing irritated, that there was a line not to cross.”

    The Hungarian nationalist had been accused of holding Ukraine‘s future hostage in a bid to blackmail Brussels into releasing billions of euros in frozen EU funds for Budapest.

    While there was no suggestion of a direct quid-pro-quo, Orban did win assurances that Brussels would handle the question of Budapest’s blocked funds worth €20 billion with impartiality, the diplomat said.

    • Macron calls for ‘full and lasting support’ for Ukraine ahead of crucial EU summit

    Orban said Hungary had been worried that EU money intended for Hungary would go to Ukraine. “We finally negotiated a control mechanism to guarantee that the money would be used sensibly, and we received a guarantee that Hungary’s money would not end up in Ukraine” he said.

    Give and take

    “What Orban wants is not to be put in a corner,” said another European diplomat. “It was a case of give and take. This was not about strong-arming, or threats. Everyone behaved constructively.”

    But Orban had kept up the pressure on the bloc right up until the last minute.

    On the eve of the summit he posted a brash message on social media: “We will stand up for the voice of the people! Even if the bureaucrats in Brussels blackmail us”.

    A populist leader with the closest ties to Russia, Orban is angry at the European Commission’s decision to freeze his government’s access to some of the bloc’s funds over concerns about the alleged democratic backsliding.

    In response, Hungary has vetoed statements at the EU on a range of issues, including membership discussions for Sweden to join the NATO military alliance.

    Political games

    On the way into their meeting on Thursday, several EU leaders had lashed out at Orban, accusing him of playing political games that undermined support for Ukraine and the country’s economy.

    “There is no problem with the so-called Ukraine fatigue issue. We have Orban fatigue now in Brussels,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters Thursday. 

    Mounting frustration at Hungary’s role as spoiler had seen calls grow from other leaders to unleash the EU’s Article 7 and strip Budapest of its voting rights. 

    That would take unanimity from all other 26 leaders and few have been willing to push publicly for this “nuclear option” just yet.

    (with AFP)


    FRANCE – PROTESTS

    Striking French teachers pile pressure on embattled education minister

    Teachers were striking across France on Thursday to demand better pay and conditions, increasing pressure on an education minister already embroiled in a series of controversies.

    The walkout is a warning to the government about teachers’ “daily life, suffering at work and lack of recognition, especially in their pay”, said primary school teachers union FSU-Snuipp, predicting that hundreds of schools will be closed.

    The union said the situation has been inflamed by the appointment of a “part-time minister who has forfeited her credibility”.

    With former education minister Gabriel Attal promoted to prime minister, Amelie Oudéa-Castéra was given the key education brief alongside sports, including this year’s Paris Olympics, and youth.

    Thursday’s strike, which coincides with ongoing protests by agricultural workers, had been planned since before the government reshuffle that put Oudéa-Castéra in place.

    But she set teachers bristling from the moment of her nomination, claiming she had put her son into an exclusive Catholic private school because there was no proper replacement teacher at his state-run primary school.

    The former teacher of Oudéa-Castéra’s son then came forward to contest those claims.

    ‘Out of touch’

    Some 47 percent of middle and high school teachers were on strike Thursday, the leading Snes-FSU union said, while FSU-Snuipp tallied 40 percent in primary schools.

    Teachers had returned from the holidays to “yet another change of pilot and … the nomination of a minister who had a catastrophic start,” said Elisabeth Allain-Moreno, secretary-general of teachers’ union SE-Unsa.

    Marches were due to take place in major cities including Paris, Marseille, Rennes and Nantes.

    • French education minister wants to improve schools after Pisa shock

    “I’ll be on the street to express my profound disagreement with … what the minister said about public schools,” said Anne, a maths teacher from Nice, who did not give her surname.

    “I feel wounded and humiliated by a minister who’s completely out of touch.”

    Meanwhile Benjamin Marol, a middle school history-geography teacher from Montreuil, east of Paris, complained the government was toying with ideas like imposing school uniforms and dividing classes by ability, rather than tackling more fundamental issues.

    “For a long time I’ve had mixed feelings, but always anger, exasperation and incomprehension,” he said.

    (with AFP)


    CORRUPTION

    World faltering in battle against corruption, watchdog warns

    A worldwide erosion of justice and the rule of law is hindering efforts to combat corruption, a report by Transparency International has warned.

    A total of 23 countries hit their worst levels since the inception of the group’s Corruption Perceptions Index three decades ago. 

    Globally most countries made little to no progress, with over two-thirds scoring below 50 out of 100 on the CPI 2023 rankings. 

    High-scoring democracies such as Iceland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK, as well as authoritarian countries like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela, have seen a decline in their efforts against corruption.



    Democracy is suffering

    “When corruption is ignored democracy suffers,” Transparency International’s western Europe coordinator Flora Cresswell told RFI. 

    The report has identified weakening justice systems, declining rule of law, and political appointments skewing decision-making as contributing factors, as well as a rise in authoritarianism.

    • Far-right Le Pen to stand trial on EU embezzlement, fraud charges

    In Europe, the average score dropped for the first time in a decade. With upcoming elections, Cresswell says that “governments need to take fighting corruption and upholding the rule of law more seriously”. 

    The index warns that democratic European governments are adopting increasingly authoritarian behaviours.

    Poor accountability or political corruption, particularly in countries like Hungary and Poland, too often undermines the rule of law, Cresswell says.

    “There are also trends in countries such as Greece and Slovakia, with rollbacks in the rule of law opening the door to corruption and also damaging democratic institutions,” she adds.

    RFI · How does one measure corruption levels in place like North Korea? Flora Cresswell


    France and the Sahel

    Despite implementing strong measures against corruption over the last decade, France saw a one-point drop in its score.

    “There’s been stagnation over the past decades because there’s a lack of political will at the highest level to combat corruption, particularly when it comes to political integrity,” Cresswell says.

    “For example, the continuation of Eric Dupond-Moretti at the Ministry of Justice following a conflict of interest investigation … really doesn’t set a good example.”

    The CPI score for former French colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa has remained static at 33, although the overall African region itself has seen mixed results.

    • Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso quit ECOWAS regional block

    A spate of military takeovers in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad does not appear to have affected their albeit low ranking.

    “A CPI score drops several years after these bigger events take place,” Cresswell says.

    While the African region has shown varied scores for 2023, the US remains unchanged with a score of 69.

    With the upcoming US elections, the importance of an independant judiciary in the world’s biggest democracy adds a layer of uncertainty to the future of anti-corruption efforts worldwide.

    Full Interview: Global decline in fighting corruption highlighted by 2023 Transparency report – Flora Cresswell

    RFI · Transparency International 2023 Corruption Perception Index – Flora Cresswell



    Senegal

    Senegal to probe Constitutional Council’s handling of presidential polls

    Lawmakers in Senegal have opened an inquiry into why presidential candidate Karim Wade, son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, was excluded from running in this month’s elections. The probe will also look at accusations of corruption against certain Constitutional Council judges.

    The creation of an investigative committee into the candidate selection process was comfortably adopted, rousing cries of joy from parliament, RFI’s correspondent in Dakar reported.

    A prominent opponent, Wade served as a minister when his father was president. He was ruled inadmissible by the Constitutional Council because of his dual French and Senegalese nationality.

    Wade said he renounced the French citizenship in October 2023.

    The head of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) group in parliament, Mamadou Lamine Thiam, said the investigation was paramount.

    “Karim Wade was unfairly excluded from the electoral competition,” he told RFI.

    “There are 900,000 voters unknown to the electoral file, nine candidates excluded from the game … So we cannot go to elections in these conditions. We need to stop and look at things.”

    Wade’s supporters are hoping for a postponement of the vote to allow their candidate to return to the race.



    But the other parties disagree.

    The representative of the Yewwi Askan Wi opposition coalition, Ayib Dafe, voted against the commission of inquiry. He says that the demand for postponement is not in the voters’ interests.

    In the presidential camp, MPs want to avoid an institutional crisis.

    “We are in a state of law, Senegal is a major democracy. The institutions are functioning normally. We have not talking about postponement, we are talking about the search for peace to enlighten public opinion,” said Abdou MBow, president of the ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar group.

    The first round of the presidential election is set for 25 February, with an unprecedented 20 candidates in the running.

    It includes an imprisoned anti-establishment contender, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who is running in the name of popular mayor of Ziguinchor, Ousmane Sonko, also in prison, under the banner of his Pastef party.

    The European Union mission on Wednesday sent observers to Senegal. They are aiming to meet with all the candidates.


    Africa Cup of Nations 2023

    Angola coach Goncalves urges players to relish Nigeria clash at Cup of Nations

    Angola boss Pedro Gonçalves called on his players and staff on Thursday to embrace the opportunity of a career when they take on Nigeria for a place in the semi-finals at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

     

    Angola have never appeared in the last four in the 66-year history of the competition while a side from Nigeria has reached the semis in seven of their nine apperances since 2000.

    “Nigeria are one of African football’s most powerful teams,” said Gonçalves on the eve of the clash at the Stade Félix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan.

    “They have players who play in the big nations of football. They really are a power team.

    “But for all that, we have pride, responsibility and motivation for the match. It’s the opportunity of a career because we have shown we have the skills to compete.”

    Angola claimed Group D to advance to the last-16 where they overpowered Namibia 3-0 despite playing for 75 minutes with 10 men following the dismissal of goalkeeper Neblu for a professional foul.

    Chance

    “All the players have got this far,” added Gonçalves. “We are not afraid. We are proud and during the game we will look at creating opportunities for ourselves.”

    On paper, the Angolans go into the tie as underdogs. But the Nigeria boss José Peseiro refused to attach the tag of favourites to his team.

    “Either team can win,” said Peseiro. “It’s 50-50. You start at 0-0 and you go from there. It will be a tough match and we need to play with commitment and sacrifice.

    “Angola don’t have lots of big names but they are a good team.”

    Progress

    Peseiro’s squad advanced to the knockout stages from Group A following a 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea and respective 1-0 wins over Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau.

    The lack of goals from a front line containing the internationally prized striker Victor Osimhen led to a barrage of criticism from pundits and commentators back home that Peseiro was failing to exploit the gifts at his disposal.

    The 2-0 victory over Cameroon in the last-16 helped reduce the flak.

    “People speak bad and people speak well,” said the Portuguese. “I’m 63 years old and maybe 20 years ago, all the complaints would have affected me.

    “But I’ve learned that you need to keep balance whether they’re saying nice or bad things about you. I try to do my best every day.”

    The winner of the game will face either Cape Verde or South Africa in Bouaké on 7 February.

    “We’ve got two players who were in the side that claimed the trophy in 2013,” said Nigeria midfielder Alex Iwobi. 

    “They said that back then they didn’t listen to the outside noise. It’s true that many of the so-called big teams are out but we must remain focused.

    “We’re ready to fight for each other and we’re going to give 100 percent to win the trophy.”


    AGRICULTURE

    Angry farmers park tractors in Brussels as EU summit opens

    Protesting farmers clogged roads around Brussels on Thursday as they drove a convoy of around 1,000 tractors to the European Union headquarters, where leaders were gathering for talks. The move is part of a sustained push for better prices for agricultural produce and less red tape.

    Tractors were seen around the European Parliament, while police cordonned off the commission and council buildings.

    “There are 1,000 tractors or agricultural machinery” being kept away from the gathering of the European Union’s 27 leaders, a police spokesman told French news agency AFP. He added that the farmers were mainly from Belgium.

    Several hundred farmers have brought their grievances of the agriculture protest movement to the EU’s doorstep – with the flood of cheaper Ukrainian imports triggered by the conflict high on their list of complaints.

    The organisers explained that they wanted to denounce “the madness that threatens agriculture”.

    Distorted competition

    French and Belgian farmers had blocked a border crossing point together late Wednesday to condemn trade bargains they say “distort competition”.

    Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country holds the presidency of the EU agrees that something has to give.

    “We also need to make sure that they can get the right price for the high quality products that they provide. We also need to make sure that the administrative burden that they have remains reasonable,” De Croo said.

    Faced with the anger expressed throughout the continent, the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, announced plans Wednesday to grant a “partial” exemption from the fallow obligations imposed by the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) to promote biodiversity.

    The rules decreeing that four percent of land must be left unused – an ongoing gripe for European farmers – were suspended in 2023 after Russia invaded Ukraine, to help offset the loss of grain supplies.

    Farming groups and EU states including France had pushed for the exemptions to be extended when they expired in December.

    • France, Germany oppose extending Ukraine grain curbs

    “This is a partial exemption limited to this year,” European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said in announcing the new proposal, which will be put to a vote by member states in the coming days.

    The bloc is also considering a mechanism limiting imports from Ukraine such as poultry, eggs and sugar.

    The commission’s proposal on Ukraine imports has to be considered by the European Parliament and by member states, to be adopted by June when the current tariff exemption runs out.

    Blockades maintained

    But these initial gestures from the bloc have failed to calm demonstrations and road blockades that have dogged major agricultural powers, especially France.

    French President Emmanuel Macron was to meet with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on the subject of the “future of European agriculture”, his office said.

    • France seeks to quell protests as farmers unrest spreads across EU

    France has faced more than a week of protests by farmers who have blocked the major ringroads around the capital and other major cities.

    While the gatherings have been largely peaceful, police arrested 91 protesters who forced their way into Europe’s biggest food market in Rungis on Wednesday, according to the Paris police chief. 

    More than 150 gatherings including blockades or demonstrations were recorded on Wednesday across France.

    (with AFP)

    Spotlight on France

    Podcast: French farmers protest, battling the mathematics gender gap

    Issued on:

    No quick fix for French farmers who have been protesting by laying siege to Paris. And it’s just the latest in a long string of farmers’ demonstrations over the last 100 years. Plus, why French girls are faring worse at maths than boys, and what to do about it.

    Farmers from across France have been rolling their tractors towards Paris to protest against their high costs, low revenues and cheap food imports that undercut their business. The protest movement touches on several fundamental issues such as inflation and high costs, climate change policies, food sovereignty, and how France relates to the rest of the world. A farmer in Normandy talks about his soaring costs and why paperwork linked to environmental regulations is keeping him from doing his job. And economists weigh in on the underlying problem facing French farmers – how to keep their small, mostly individual farms afloat while satisfying consumer demand for cheaper food. (Listen @0′)

    These are by no means the first farmer protests in France. The country has seen many memorable demonstrations over the past century – including a winegrowers’ revolt that mobilised 800,000 people, and the hijacking of British lorries carrying imported meat that caused a diplomatic incident with the UK. (Listen @9’50”)

    France produces some of the world’s top mathematicians, but its elite is 80 percent male – hardly surprising given half of schoolgirls give up maths aged 17, compared to just one quarter of boys. As a recent study shows girls falling back in maths from the first year of primary, we look at what’s going wrong and what needs to change. Sociologist Clémence Perronnet, author of a new book on girls and maths, talks about the gender bias and how to help girls overcome it. We also hear from mathematician Colette Guillopé of the femmes et mathématiques association about the nonsensical idea that “maths is only for boys”.  (Listen @16’10”)

    Episode mixed by Cecile Pompeani. 

    Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).


    Society

    French priest’s 1954 appeal to fight homelessness still topical 70 years on

    On 1 February, 1954, Abbé Pierre made a passionate plea for France to help its homeless people. Seventy years on, the priest remains a popular figure and his fight to defend homeless and poorly housed people is as pertinent as ever.

    “My friends, your help is needed, a woman has just frozen to death tonight” announced the young Catholic priest Abbé Pierre on Radio Luxembourg on 1 February, 1954 “she died clutching [her] eviction order”.

    His cry for help provoked what would later be called an “uprising of kindness” as donations and items for the homeless flooded in.

    His appeal pushed the French government to take action – three days later it released 10 billion francs (€2.3 billion) to build 10,000 emergency homes, and approved a law forbidding evictions during the winter. 

    “His 1954 appeal was an appeal to humanity; it was blatantly true and remains blatantly topical,” Laurent Desmard, Honorary President of the Abbé Pierre Foundation, told France’s AFP news agency.

    “The people who listened to him had lived through exodus, the deprivations of war and were very sensitive to the pain of people living on the streets during that extremely cold period,” recalls Desmard – Abbé Pierre’s former private secretary.



    An inspiration

    Abbé Pierre,  whose real name was Father Henri-Antoine Grouès, founded the first Emmaus community to help homeless men in Paris, in 1949. He had been a member of the French Resistance during WWII and became an MP at the end of the war.

    He died in 2007, aged 94. But his fight to defend and help the most disadvantaged continues to inspire activists and artists alike.

    In 2023, a biopic, comic strip, and a reprinted biography were devoted to him.

    His speeches, meanwhile, are regularly shared on social media, including by younger people on the platform TikTok.

    French rapper Nekfeu included an extract of an Abbé Pierre speech from 1984 – in which the priest railed against “people empty the plates of others to fill up their own” – in the song Nique les clones (Screw the clones).

    “I know what I must say to those people: you are the first to be violent and provocative,” Abbé Pierre said.

    Still topical 

     In a 2021 survey,  Abbé Pierre topped the list of the most influential French figures of the last 40 years, ahead of Simone Veil, François Mitterrand and Johnny Hallyday.

    “He would get really fired up whenever there was a battle to be fought,” says Desmard, “that’s what made him a sort of icon; he speaks to today’s generation.”

    Abbé Pierre had the ability “to get people moving and that resonates in today’s society where people are looking to give meaning to what they do,” says Nicolas Sueur, President of Emmaüs France.

    For Nathalie Latour, head of a federation of some 900 solidarity groups (FAS), the films and tributes show above all that “the issues he was fighting for are, unfortunately, still very topical”.

    Shortly after becoming president in June 2017, Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to end homelessness in his first year of office, but it did not materialise.

    According to the latest figures from the Fondation Abbé Pierre, 330,000 people were homeless in France in 2022 – twice as many as in 2012. The charity registered a record number of homeless children – 2,822 – in November 2023. 686 of them were under the age of three. 

    Laurent Desmard believes that Abbé Pierre’s 1 February appeal is as meaningful as ever, given the “catastrophic situation” homeless people are in.


    FRENCH POLITICS

    French PM seeks to prove legitimacy and douse fires in first policy speech

    In his first policy speech since being appointed three weeks ago, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal spent 90 minutes on Tuesday seeking to convince lawmakers of his ability to handle national crises at a time when farmer protests, rising living costs and immigration policy are piling pressure on the government.

    It was a D-day of sorts for the 34-year-old head of government who rose to the top job in a cabinet reshuffle aimed at injecting new life into the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

    Seeking to prove himself amid concerns over his age and relative inexperience, Attal tackled a range of priority issues that included agriculture, education, employment, security, national identity and immigration.

    However the broad lines of the government’s policy were already rolled out by Macron himself during a press event on 16 January.

    Attal’s speech – coming at a time when farmer blockades around Paris are generating daily headlines – was a delicate balancing act in front of a parliament in which his party governs with a minority.

    The far left France Unbowed party accused Attal of delivering the “most reactionary speech in a century”, while the rightwing Republicans criticised what they called “a catalogue of small measures” that were disconnected from the country’s real needs.

    The main takeaways:

    ► The prime minister promised the government would respond “without ambiguity” to the agricultural crisis that has seen farmers take issue with EU environmental rules they argue are hindering their capacity to produce.

    Describing France’s farming industry as “our strength, and our pride”, Attal sought to calm anger as he vowed more agricultural  measures would be announced in the coming days.

    The industry, Europe’s largest, not only feeds French people in the “literal sense”, Attal went on to say, but it also constitutes “one of the foundations of our identity, of our traditions”.

    ► Placing his speech under the banner of “sovereignty” and “independence”, Attal told MPs that he would not stand by and watch French identity become “diluted or dissolved”.

    He said: “We are not just any country. France will not be, is not, has never been a nation that endures things. France is a landmark, an ideal, a moral heritage, a protective social model envied the world over.”

    • France seeks change to EU nature laws in bid to appease farmers
    • Reforms to address France’s ‘medical deserts’ pit doctors against nurses

    ► Concerning employment, Attal said he had asked his ministers to experiment with a four-day work week, with no reduction in working hours.

    Attal promised to lift the salaries of more French people above the minimum wage. “Starting with the next finance bill, we will begin to reform this system,” he said. He also reiterated a commitment to a new tax cut of €2 billion for France’s middle-class taxpayers.

    Other priorities included making payment of the social income conditional on working 15 hours a week, ending some benefits for the unemployed and simplifying standards for small companies.

    ► To tackle the problem of medical deserts, Attal confirmed that foreign doctors would be “regularised” and allowed to legally practice in France.

    ► As part of a “climate change adaptation plan”, the government intends to implementation an “ecological civic service” that will include 50,000 young people by 2027. Meanwhile a plastic pollution reduction plan will target the 50 sites in France that generate the most plastic packaging.

    ► Meanwhile an existing bill on assisted dying is to be examined before the summer, Attal said, promising to also boost the resources of palliative care units.


    PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

    Crowd numbers allowed attend Paris Olympics opening ceremony halved

    France’s government on Wednesday said it would halve the number of spectators allowed to attend the Paris Olympics opening ceremony – the first to be held outside the usual stadium setting – in order to account for organisational and security challenges.

    Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said some 300,000 ticketed spectators would be able to attend the mega show on the River Seine on 26 July.

    The traditional Olympics opening parade of athletes and sporting delegations is to take place in boats along a 6-kilometre route of the river. Both banks will be lined by spectators behind multiple security cordons.

    Speaking to TV channel France 2, Darmanin said plans would now allow for 100,000 paying spectators with a waterside view, and more than 220,000 people with free tickets on the river’s upper embankments.

    His announcement comes on the back of months of speculation about the size of the crowd permitted to watch the flotilla.

    Darmanin had earlier referred to around 600,000 spectators when speaking in the Senate. He did not give a reason for why those figures were revised.

    • Paris hoteliers under fire for massive mark-ups at Olympics opening gala
    • Paris transport plans recruitment blitz to ease Olympics concerns

    Widespread security

    The opening ceremony will involve a massive security operation, with tens of thousands of police officers and soldiers deployed.

    “I know that we have the best security forces in the world and that we will succeed in showing that not only that we can win medals, but that we can play host to the world without any problems,” Darmanin said.

    The idea of the open-air ceremony has been resisted by some senior figures in the security forces because of the difficulty of managing such large crowds and the risk of terror attacks.

    Authorities have also had difficulties in persuading the traditional booksellers who line the river from temporarily removing their kiosks in order to make space for spectators.

    In December, French president Emmanuel Macron said the ceremony could be moved for security reasons if France again hit in the run-up by extremist attacks.

    (with newswires)


    WOMEN’S RIGHTS

    French lawmakers vote to enshrine abortion rights in constitution

    France’s National Assembly has overwhelmingly approved an historic bill that would enshrine a woman’s right to abortion as a “guaranteed freedom” in the constitution.

    The measure became a priority for President Emmanuel Macron following a rollback of abortion rights in the United States in 2022.

    The bill passed by a vote of 493 to 30, with nearly all members of Macron’s minority centrist coalition and left-wing opposition parties in favour.

    “Tonight, the National Assembly and the government did not miss their rendezvous with women’s history,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said.

    Prime Minister Gabriel Attal hailed the vote as “a great victory for women’s rights,” while Gender Equality Minister Aurore Bergé said France was making history.

    “We have a duty to press on. For our mothers who fought. For our daughters, so that they never have to fight again,” Bergé wrote on X.

    Long road

    Abortion in France was decriminalised under a 1975 law, but there is nothing in the constitution that would guarantee abortion rights.

    Despite the bill’s passage in the lower house, it is not yet guaranteed to become law. It must now move to the Senate – where it faces resistance from the conservative Republicans and the far-right National Rally. 

    Senate president Gérard Lacher recently voiced his opposition to the legislation on the grounds that abortion was “not threatened” in France and therefore constitutionalisation was unnecessary.

    • Macron promises to enshrine abortion rights in French constitution
    • Number of abortions in France reaches highest level in 30 years

    The government chose the term “guaranteed freedom” to thread a needle between the lower house, which earlier voted to enshrine the “right” to an abortion, and the Senate, which so far has approved only “freedom” for abortion.

    If approved by the upper house, a special body composed of both chambers of the parliament will meet again for its adoption. For that to happen, the bill must win a three-fifths majority vote. 

    Changes to the French constitution require either a referendum or approval by three-fifths of a combined vote of both chambers of parliament.

    This is expected in time for International Women’s Day on March 8, 2024.

    The move would make France the first country in the world to include abortion rights in its constitution. 


    Brexit

    UK businesses on edge as post-Brexit customs checks come into effect

    The UK will finally roll out delayed post-Brexit border checks as of Wednesday on food, plant and animal products imported from the European Union – fanning fears of more price hikes and shortages.

    The long-awaited move will affect household staples from across the Channel such as ham, sausages and cured meat, as well as butter, cheese and cream. It will also affect cut flowers.

    The changes have been delayed five times because of fears about the knock-on effect on the sluggish UK economy and inflation, which remains elevated amid a broader cost-of-living crisis.

    From Wednesday, companies must present certificates for sanitary and phytosanitary imports at the UK border. Some goods from Northern Ireland will also face full customs controls.

    London had postponed the checks since leaving the EU’s customs union and single market in January 2021, but UK exports have faced controls for products heading in the opposite direction.

    Negative fallout

    Marco Forgione, director general at the Institute of Export and International Trade, which represents UK importers, says most companies are “very” worried about negative fallout.

    “Over 70 percent (of member firms) are very concerned about the impact of these changes,” Forgione told French news agency AFP, citing a survey by the organisation.

    This week’s changes will cost UK businesses approximately €385 million euros (£330 million) per year in additional charges, according to government estimates.

    UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak‘s Conservative administration insists that this will not have a significant impact on food inflation. But that has not allayed concerns.

    Fruit and flowers

    Not all companies will be affected in the same way, although there is increasing alarm among fruit and flower producers, which rely on imported plants from EU nations, particularly from the Netherlands.

    The UK’s National Farmers’ Union argues such horticultural businesses face an “existential threat” from the rule changes, The Guardian newspaper reported.

    Dutch flower-growing association VGB has also written to London to express concern.

    “Delays in transit times and insufficient care in handling these goods could result in substantial damages and losses,” the VGB wrote, according to part of the letter shared with AFP.

    The organisation also slammed the insufficient number of border control points and urged another postponement, while British MPs asked the government to guarantee that red tape will not mean no red roses for Valentine’s Day.

    “Roses from the EU are classed as a low-risk good so will be exempt from controls at the border and not affected by these changes,” the government said last week.

    More scrutiny in EU

    However, not all sectors have been critical of the new UK checks.

    The livestock sector complains that exports currently face far greater scrutiny heading into the European Union, than EU imports heading the other way.

    “For the past three years, British farmers have faced the full reach of EU controls on our exports while the EU has enjoyed continued easy access to the UK marketplace,” president of the National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales, Minette Batters, told AFP.

    “This is not just an issue for competitiveness, with our farmers faced with additional costs and paperwork, but also for our nation’s biosecurity.”

    Further down the line, the government plans physical UK border checks from late April.

    The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), an industry body, anticipates that “random” border checks will be carried out – but “consignments will not face rejection or be turned back” during an initial phase.

    However, it warns that there is a “significant likelihood of disruption to supply chains” from April, according to a BMPA spokesman, citing the need for more veterinary certificates.

    Additional costs

    “Every indication we have is that there is a lack of veterinary capacity amongst EU exporting countries,” the spokesman added.

    Almost half of the pork consumed in Britain comes from the EU, according to the BMPA.

    Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, expects costs will rise and smaller players might not be fully prepared.

    “Whilst we are not anticipating widespread problems … there will be some smaller suppliers who may still not be prepared for the changes,” said Opie.

    However, he also warned that “the checks will create additional costs for retailers” that have already ramped up prices due to elevated inflation.

    In the longer term, the UK government proposes a simplified border-control system to share data and harness new “smart” technology like GPS trackers.

    Those plans “will help reduce costs and friction for businesses, which in turn will help to grow the economy”, Forgione said.

    (with AFP)


    ECOWAS

    Ecowas’ future in jeopardy after Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso leave group

    The withdrawal of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso from the West African economic bloc triggered strong reactions among the group’s members, with some promising to reverse the Sahel countries’ decision before it is too late. But some are already questioning whether the organisation can survive the split.

    Mali and Burkina Faso sent “formal notice” of their withdrawal from the West African blocEcowas on Monday. Niger followed on Tuesday. 

    The notes came from the military regimes in all three countries, who had announced plans to withdraw from the bloc on Sunday, accusing it of posing a threat to their sovereignty.

    • Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso quit ECOWAS regional block

    The main reason for the withdrawal appears to have been the heavy sanctions imposed by the regional group on the three countries following the military coups that overthrew elected civilian governments.

    Ecowas officially replied in a statement that it was awaiting “formal and direct notification” from the countries.

    But most members are already trying to undo the withdrawal, especially Africa’s giant Nigeria, the most populated nation on the continent, which currently presides tthe bloc.

    A weaker Ecowas, a stronger AES?

    If the three juntas do leave Ecowas, the economic group would lose important contributors, notably in cattle and food, as former Benin’s prime minister Lionel Zinsou told RFI.

    Economically, most Ecowas countries “are interdependent” according to experts. 

    The trio had formed the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) in September to fight jihadist groups, which will now serve beyond a simple military framework.

    Their goal seems to reinforce their Alliance, not only militarily, but also politically and economically. 

    “The AES is based on a treaty for a collective security alliance, to support each other in case of aggression,” international law researcher Julien Antouly told RFI. “We can imagine it evolving into an economic cooperation, a diplomatic alliance, to form a real bloc and act as a counterweight to the other Ecowas states.”

    Captain Ibrahim Traoré, the current leader of the junta in Burkina Faso, also told journalists the countries were thinking of leaving the common currency of West Africa, Franc CFA, considered by many as a negative and detrimental legacy of colonialism.

    Challenges on all sides

    The three countries’ withdrawal will not come without challenges.

    First, under the bloc’s statutes, withdrawal can’t take effect for at least a year after official notification. 

    Then, if confirmed, it would affect the movement of goods and populations, citizens risking losing their right to travel freely without visas for 90 days within the rest of the bloc, and to trade without adding taxes.



    Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger were founding members of Ecowas in 1975, which also included Togo, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, as well as Nigeria.

    The three nations also lack access to the sea, and without cooperation from neighbouring Togo and Benin could lose their connection to any port, even though Morocco has offered to help on that matter.

    • Benin lifts suspension of imported goods transiting to Niger

    Some experts have described the withdrawal as evidence of the three juntas’ fragility.

    But according to the Timbuku Institute, it also “represents a clear regression in the security situation of the Ecowas region as a homogeneous area of collective security cooperation, where the risks and threats of inter-state conflict had been virtually eliminated.

    Mediation mission

    Sierra Leone has also reacted strongly. Timothy Kabba, its foreign affairs minister, is part of the Ecowas mediation mission in Niger. He told RFI this decision poses a threat to the peace, security and stability of the entire community.

    “Ecowas has to ensure that these important members of our community do not withdraw and leave the community, he said. “They are facing not only their political instability, but also terrorist groups like the al-Qaeda movement and Daesh,” Kabba added, “therefore it is a bit worrying if these countries go it alone.”

    Togo sent on Monday its Territorial Administration minister Hodabalo Awaté to Niamey, to meet Niger’s transitional authorities. He hasn’t communicated on the outcome yet.

    Heads of states are currently discussing two options: an extraordinary summit in Abuja, Nigeria, maybe even this weekend, or a meeting of Ecowas heads of state at the next African Union summit in Addis Ababa mid-February.

    But for Babacar Ndiaye of the Timbuku Institute, “France and Ecowas were at the receiving end of AES diplomatic slaps in the face. So, the question is now ‘who is next in the line’? Not if they can amend their relations with current West African regimes.


    French diplomacy

    EU must defend Ukraine Macron says during state visit to Sweden

    French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Europe’s leaders to make bold and “innovative” decisions in the coming months to “accelerate” and increase their aid to Ukraine.

    “We will, in the months to come, have to accelerate the scale of our support,” Macron said in a speech to Karlberg military academy during a visit to Sweden.

     The “costs… of a Russian victory are too high for all of us.”

    Macron on war in Ukraine

    He added: “There is no more security framework and architecture on our continent if there is a Russian victory.

    Macron praised Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who in early December called on the EU to find new ways of raising funds to finance Europe’s military purchases in response to Russia’s invasion.

    “I want to praise our colleague Kaja Kallas” for her “very bold decision for our defence industry strategy to have some sort of grant approach in order to raise more money to finance support.”

    EU leaders are to gather in Brussels on Thursday for a meeting of the European Council, where they will discuss aid to Ukraine as the war nears its second anniversary.

    Macron’s Swedish visit

    French President Emmanuel Macron began the  two-day state visit to Sweden Tuesday during which he is due to meet Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and the Scandinavian country’s monarch, King Carl XVI Gustaf.

     



    After more than a year of delays, Turkey earlier this month completed its ratification of Sweden’s bid to join NATO, meaning Hungary is now the last member of the military alliance not to have given its approval. All NATO countries must agree before a new member can join the alliance.

    • Turkey ratifies Sweden’s NATO membership after protracted delay

    Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Sweden and neighboring Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella. Finland joined the alliance last year.

    Sweden’s Sverige Radio reported today that Stockholm wil upgrade the 2018 brochure If Crisis or War Comes, and it will be mailed to all Swedish households this autumn. The contents will be “more aligned with Sweden’s prospective NATO membership, and the heightened security situation,” according to the station. 

    On Wednesday, Macron and his wife are to travel to Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city, in southern Sweden, where they will visit a European multidisciplinary research facility under construction and visit a company to discuss green technologies.

    At home, Macron’s government faces angry farmers who have camped out around Paris. They demand better pay, fewer constraints and lower costs. On Monday, they encircled Paris with traffic-snarling barricades, using hundreds of tractors and hay bales to block highways leading to the capital.

    The French president initially was to travel to Sweden in late October, but the visit was postponed due to the Gaza war that began with Hamas’ attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

    (With newswires)


    Paris Olympics 2024

    Rights body to probe Paris homeless ‘clean-up’ before Olympics

    France’s top state human rights body has said it is probing criticism of efforts to relocate the city’s homeless population ahead of the Paris Olympics this year.

    Some charities have accused local authorities of carrying out a “social cleansing” operation in the capital and surrounding region ahead of the games by clearing away the homeless, as well as migrant camps and slums.

    The transfer of people from Paris to temporary accommodation centres in provincial France has caused tensions and demonstrations in some towns and rural areas.

    French rights ombudswoman Claire Hedon said she had started an investigation into “the threat to rights and freedoms in the context of the Olympic Games”.

    • Homeless charities warn of ‘social cleansing’ ahead of Paris Olympics

    She said she would look into “the manner in which homeless people are sent outside of Paris to accommodation centres, the way in which living areas are being destroyed.”

    It posed the question of whether there was a policy “of making undesirable people invisible”, she added.

    The investigation would also look into the use of student accommodation in Paris to house members of the emergency services and other state employees during the Games, which will mean around 2,000 students will have to be re-housed.

    AI-crowd monitoring software scrutinised

    Hedon will also probe restrictions placed on demonstrations and the use of AI-assisted crowd monitoring software by the French police.

    Her findings are set to be published in April at the earliest.

    France’s Office for the Defence of Rights is an independent state institution, created in 2011, whose role is to investigate possible rights abuse and make recommendations to the government.

    The French government has denied having a “zero homeless” target for the Olympics, saying that additional accommodation for rough sleepers would be part of the legacy of the games.

    • Paris ‘not ready’ for Olympics amid transport and housing worries

    Authorities in China cleared an unknown number of beggars, hawkers and the homeless from the streets of China before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with many shipped back to their home regions, reports said at the time.

    Brazilian campaign groups also said Rio de Janeiro’s homeless were being forced out of tourist areas in the middle of the night as the city hosted the games in 2016.

    The Paris Olympics are set to run from 26 July to 11 August, followed by the Paralympics from 28 August to 8 September.

    (with AFP)


    Africa Cup of Nations 2023

    South Africa and Mali see off Morocco and Burkina Faso to reach Cup of Nations

    South Africa scored two second-half goals on Tuesday night in San Pedro to remove favourites Morocco from the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations after Mali beat Burkina Faso to reach the last eight for the first time in a decade.

     

    Evidence Makgopa opened the scoring in the 57th minute for South Africa at the Stade Laurent Pokou.

    The 23-year-old Orlando Pirates striker latched on to Themba Zwane’s defence-splitting pass and coolly slotted the ball under the Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.

    The shock spurred Morocco into a response but they could not break down the obdurate South Africa back line.

    However, they were offered a chance in the 83rd minute when Mothobi Mvala was penalised for stopping Ayoub El Kaabi’s shot with his arm in the penalty area.

    Achraf Hakimi stepped up but his spot kick hit the cross bar and went out for a goal-kick.

    As Africa’s top ranked team looked for an equaliser, they left themselves open to South African counters and their task was further complicated when midfielder Sofyan Amrabat was sent off in injury-time for a crude lunge on Teboho Mokoena as he tried to break through.

    From the resulting free-kick, Mokoena punished Amrabat’s belligerence with a sumptuous strike over the Moroccan wall and into the top right hand corner of Bounou’s goal.

    South Africa will play Cape Verde on Saturday in the quarter-final in Yamoussoukro.

    Mali success

    In the early evening game in Korhogo, Mali saw off a late fightback from Burkina Faso to move into the last eight for the first time since 2013 with a 2-1 victory.

     

    An own-goal from Edmond Tapsoba in the third minute and Lassine Sinayoko’s strike just after the pause offered Mali a two-goal cushion but in the 53rd minute Kiki Kouyaté was adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area.

    Burkina Faso skipper Bertrand Traoré scored from the resulting penalty to halve the deficit.

    Though they pressed for parity, Burkina Faso could not level.

    Burkina Faso coach Hubert Velud was munificent in defeat.

    “I honestly have no one to blame,” said the 64-year-old Frenchman.

    “We lost against a better side. I was not surprised by the quality of this Mali team and we credit them.

     

    “We will digest this defeat,” Velud added. “We have to review and analyze the good and the bad during our time here.”

     

    Mali will take on hosts Cote d’ivoire in Bouaké on Saturday for a place in the last four.

     

    “We need to be humble in our victory and continue with hard work,” said the Mali coach Eric Chelle.

    “I am very happy for the players. They deserve the victory because they are a group of hard workers. I think victory was well deserved but the lesson learnt is that 2-0 can be a dangerous score against a determined team.”


    Africa Cup of Nations 2023

    2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 18 – time for a rebrand

    Well, if the organisers can call it the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations when it is clearly happening in 2024, the review can jolly well inject some contemporary breeze and freshness and anoint it the 2024 Africa Cup of Surprises.

    Dream scenario

    The Morocco coach Walid Regragui was handed a four-game touchline ban for his part in a melee with the Democratic Republic of Congo skipper Chancel Mbemba at the end of their game in the group stages. Regragui was absent for the final pool game against Zambia in San Pedro on Day 12. The Moroccan football federation appealed and tournament organisers relented to allow him to be in the engine room on the sidelines for the game against South Africa. But what? The DRC federation says it will appeal against the appeal. They want Regragui to pay for his alleged insults to their skipper. And the teams won’t even be able to discuss the issues from the pool game anew as they won’t be meeting in the final following Morocco’s elimination. Curses.

    Continental gift

    Algeria? Possibly. Ghana? Probably. Tunisia? Unsurprising. They all went out in the first phase. But Morocco out in the last-16? Did not see that one coming. But that’s the joy of this Cup of Surprises, they just keep coming. The Moroccans went to pieces in the game against South Africa. OK. You miss a penalty but then have a man sent off when you’re chasing the game? No. No. No.

    Swift retribution

    There was something delightfully appropriate about South Africa’s second goal against Morocco. Sofyan Amrabat was shown a red card in stoppage-time for a lunge on the South Africa midfielder Teboho Mokoena as he tried to push through for goal. Mokoena picked himself up off the deck and curled the resulting free-kick into the goal. 2-0. Game over and time for Morocco to go. Just so just.

    Logical

    Mali scored early in each half to establish their ascendance over Burkina Faso. But the lead was halved in the 57th minute. Nevertheless, Mali held on to book a place in the last eight for the first time since 2013. They’ll have another west African derby in store against the revitalized hosts Cote d’Ivoire. That should be noisy.

    Business end of the Cup of Surprises

    And so the four days for the last-16 are over and we have an intriguing set of encounters in store for the quarter-finals: Angola v Nigeria; DRC v Guinea; Cote d’Ivoire v Mali and Cape Verde v South Africa. The days of saying Team X is favourite are long gone. “The Cup of Nations is very open for anyone to win,” said the Burkina Faso coach Hubert Velud after his side lost to Mali. A truly wonderful scenario.


    Migration

    Albania’s controversial migrant deal with Italy sparks anger on all sides

    Albania’s Constitutional Court on Monday approved a controversial deal signed with Italy to host two holding centres for migrants rescued in Italian waters. But the agreement has sparked anger among politicians in both countries and human rights groups who describe it as “dehumanising”.

    The agreement has been condemned by opposition parties in both countries, as well as rights groups, resulting in a legal challenge taken up by the top court in Tirana.

    “The agreement does not harm Albania’s territorial integrity,” the court said in a statement.

    The ruling comes just days after Italian MPs voted in favour of the agreement – with the lower chamber of parliament backing the protocol by 155 votes to 115, with two abstentions.

    During the parliamentary debate, opposition MPs accused Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of using migrants as “electoral propaganda”, saying the project would have little impact on numbers and was hugely costly.

    The text now goes to the Italian Senate, where it is also expected to be approved.

    The accord allows for two centres to be established near the Albanian port of Shengjin, where migrants would register for asylum, as well as a facility in the same region to house those awaiting a response to their applications.

    The two centres – to be managed by Italy – can hold a maximum of 3,000 people at any one time while they await a decision on their claims.

    They estimated the cost at more than €650 million over the five-year term of the accord.

    The Albanian right-wing opposition has lambasted Prime Minister Edi Rama for an alleged lack of transparency over the agreement, calling the deal an “irresponsible and dangerous act for national security”.

    ‘Illegal and unenforceable’

    The International Rescue Committee NGO has condemned the agreement as “dehumanising”, while Amnesty International described it as “illegal and unenforceable”.

    Albanian authorities have said the agreement is in line with previous treaties signed with Italy, with international law and the country’s constitution.

    “We are not selling a piece of land of Albania,” Interior Minister Taulant Balla told French news agency AFP during an interview last month.

    “We are offering this land to Italy like we usually do for example when we set up an embassy.”

    Jurisdiction inside the camp would be Italian, but the land would remain in Albanian hands, he added.

    Italy will pay to build the two centres and necessary infrastructure, as well as expenses relating to the security and medical care of asylum seekers, according to Albanian authorities.

    Stop the boats from Africa

    Meloni – leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party – was elected to office in 2022 promising to stop migrant boats arriving from North Africa.

    Numbers have risen however from around 105,000 migrant landings in 2022 to almost 158,000 in 2023, official figures show.

     

    • EU vows emergency plan for Italy after surge in migrant arrivals

    On Monday, Meloni hosted leaders of African countries at a summit at which she presented the so-called Mattei Plan.

    The idea is to position Italy as a key bridge between Africa and Europe, funnelling energy north while exchanging investment in the south for deals aimed at curbing migration.

    Meloni said the plan would initially be funded to the tune of €5.5 billion, some of which would be loans, with investments focused on energy, agriculture, water, health and education.

     

    (with AFP)

    Spotlight on France

    Podcast: French farmers protest, battling the mathematics gender gap

    Issued on:

    No quick fix for French farmers who have been protesting by laying siege to Paris. And it’s just the latest in a long string of farmers’ demonstrations over the last 100 years. Plus, why French girls are faring worse at maths than boys, and what to do about it.

    Farmers from across France have been rolling their tractors towards Paris to protest against their high costs, low revenues and cheap food imports that undercut their business. The protest movement touches on several fundamental issues such as inflation and high costs, climate change policies, food sovereignty, and how France relates to the rest of the world. A farmer in Normandy talks about his soaring costs and why paperwork linked to environmental regulations is keeping him from doing his job. And economists weigh in on the underlying problem facing French farmers – how to keep their small, mostly individual farms afloat while satisfying consumer demand for cheaper food. (Listen @0′)

    These are by no means the first farmer protests in France. The country has seen many memorable demonstrations over the past century – including a winegrowers’ revolt that mobilised 800,000 people, and the hijacking of British lorries carrying imported meat that caused a diplomatic incident with the UK. (Listen @9’50”)

    France produces some of the world’s top mathematicians, but its elite is 80 percent male – hardly surprising given half of schoolgirls give up maths aged 17, compared to just one quarter of boys. As a recent study shows girls falling back in maths from the first year of primary, we look at what’s going wrong and what needs to change. Sociologist Clémence Perronnet, author of a new book on girls and maths, talks about the gender bias and how to help girls overcome it. We also hear from mathematician Colette Guillopé of the femmes et mathématiques association about the nonsensical idea that “maths is only for boys”.  (Listen @16’10”)

    Episode mixed by Cecile Pompeani. 

    Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).

    International report

    Even with Turkish approval, Sweden’s wait to join NATO may not be over yet

    Issued on:

    Sweden’s bid to join NATO got a major boost when the Turkish parliament finally ratified its membership application this week. Yet with the Turkish president’s signature still needed, Sweden’s wait to join the military alliance may not be over.

    After ten long months, the Turkish parliament on Tuesday evening overwhelmingly voted to approve Sweden’s Nato membership.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been holding up the ratification with a long list of demands from his allies, and the vote came after intensive diplomatic lobbying led by Washington. 

    At the heart of the delay was Ankara’s demand that the US Congress approve the sale of American F-16 fighter jets to replace Turkey’s ageing airforce.

    “Neither the United States nor Turkey trust each other on any level,” said Asli Aydintasbas, an analyst with Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution.

    “There is also no trust here in Washington vis-a-vis the actions of the Turkish government,” she continued. “They don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they deliver on their end and the other side doesn’t.”

    Mutual mistrust

    That distrust was exacerbated by the apparent lack of personal chemistry between Erdogan and US President Joe Biden, who in the past has described the Turkish leader as a bully.

    But the impasse was broken by a rare phone call between the two leaders last month. Biden reportedly convinced Erdogan that he could only persuade Congress to allow the jet sale to Turkey if the Turkish parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO membership – a deal that goes back to last year, according to Sinan Ulgen of Edam, an Istanbul-based think tank.

    “There is an agreement that was essentially struck during the last NATO summit in Vilnius whereby the US side would essentially start the formal notification of the F-16 package once the Turkish parliament ratifies the accession of Sweden to NATO,” Ulgen said.

    But behind Turkey’s lengthy delay lies scepticism in Ankara whether Biden can deliver Congress.

    Lame duck?

    Hostility towards Erdogan over his authoritarianism and threats to neighbours, including Greece, is a rare issue that bridges the deep divide between US Democrats and Republicans.

    Erdogan’s strong backing of Hamas, which he calls a “liberation movement”, has only added to that hostility.

    Meanwhile, Biden is increasingly seen as a lame-duck president as 2024 elections approach.

    “Now [Donald] Trump is marching on the way to triumph once more, maybe, probably. Biden cannot be exerting pressure over the Senate and House of Representatives for the sake of Turkey,” predicts Sezin Oney, a commentator with Turkish news portal Duvar.

    Oney points out Biden’s failure to get Congress to sign off on funding for Ukraine can only add to Ankara’s unease.

    “I mean, he couldn’t do it in the case of Ukraine; he’s struggling with that. So how can he do it on behalf of Turkey, which doesn’t deliver anything and, on top of it, supports Hamas?” she questioned.

    • Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a ‘liberation’ group
    • Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey’s Western allies

    From Turkey to Hungary

    Such concerns could yet further delay Sweden’s membership.

    While the Turkish parliament ratified NATO’s expansion, Erdogan has to sign off on the legislation and send the document to the US State Department as per the military alliance’s rules.

    But political momentum is behind the deal.

    “Congressional approvals really rely on key party spokespeople on the committees,” said analyst Aydintasbas. “There is still overwhelming approval for the deal – enough numbers to make it past foreign relations committees in both houses, because it is so important for transatlantic unity, not because the US Congress approves of Turkey’s foreign policy direction.”

    But even if the hurdle of Turkey is finally overcome, Hungary is yet to ratify – and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after 20 months, is now demanding unspecified concessions from Sweden.

    With Erdogan a close ally of Orban, NATO may yet need Turkey’s assistance in finally bringing Sweden into the fold.

    Paris Perspective

    Paris Perspective #42: Young voters and the battle for Europe’s middle ground – Christine Verger

    Issued on:

    Paris Perspective looks at the battlefield of the upcoming European elections, where the centrist majority must navigate the rocky terrain of a younger electorate that’s being courted by the far right. 

    While the polls have been described as a time of reckoning for Europe given the rise of the far right, it’s unlikely the centrist conservative majority will be knocked off pole position.

    The main battle for EU seats will, nevertheless, be fought between centrists and populists.

    Turnout for European elections has waned since the first vote took place in 1979. The 2019 polls bucked this trend by breaking the 50 percent turnout threshold for the first time and 20 years.

    In a post-Covid, economically rattled EU with two wars on its doorstep, indicators point to a significant rise in interest among Europeans in the upcoming June ballot.

    The latest survey carried out by the European Parliament indicates that a record turnout of 68 percent could be expected.

    Christine Verger, vice president of the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris, acknowledges the heightened interest, attributing the 2019 surge to younger people’s engagement on environmental issues.

    “The protection of the environment and the fight against climate change resonated strongly with the youth, who viewed the European level as the appropriate platform for addressing such global challenges,” she told RFI.

    The EU’s environmental concerns – once seen as a strong point – are also now viewed with scepticism. Agricultural protesters, in particular, accuse the bloc of creating problems rather than solutions.

    Security in Europe

    Verger says wider global security issues may instil a sense of fear among EU citizens, potentially impacting voter turnout and sentiment.

    So how will young people react to these new challenges in June?

    “This is very difficult to say, now that there are other issues which may justify the rise of participation and some positive views [regarding] the European Union. It’s linked to the state of the world and the wars in Ukraine in the Middle East,” she explains.

    “This situation, and those new challenges, may lead many people in the EU towards a feeling of protection.”

    • Shaping the future: What’s at stake in the 2024 EU elections?

    National priorities

    Verger believes new challenges such as immigration and identity issues may reshape young people’s priorities as the battle between centrists and populists intensifies.

    There has a drive to encourage young voters using the Paris metro to take an interest in the workings of the European Union as a force for good.

    But could this backfire, with Eurosceptic and populist parties actually mobilising the youth vote in their favour?

    “The main problem with the European election is that it’s [actually] 27 national elections,” Verger says.

    Past efforts to enhance European unity, such as transnational lists and political families appointing pan-European candidates, hasn’t worked so well, says Verger.

    “This is because national governments and national parliaments are not inclined to accept European solutions for their campaigns,” she says.

    “They are still very attached to their national environment … So in each country each situation is different.”

    Verger cites France as an example: “You have the Rassemblement National, but in 2019 they got a very good score – they have 23 members in the European Parliament, they may get a few more – but this will not have an influence on the result of the European elections.”

    Populists or radicals?

    Concerns about the rise of far-right and populist parties has opened discussion on the political groups within the European Parliament.

    Given the complexities of alliances and compromises between the parties, even if the far-right groups gain more seats, their differing views and lack of unity mean it’s unlikely they will form a credible alternative.

    Then there is confusion, Verger says, between what are called “populist” parties and “radical” parties.

    “They are very different – and that’s why they have difficulties. They don’t share the same opinions on many issues, for instance, in relation to Russia and the position on the war in Ukraine,” she says.

    “You have the ID Group – Identity and Democracy – which is composed of two main parties, the French Rassemblement National and the German AfD [Alternative für Deutschland]

    “In Germany, an AfD representative declared last weekend that there could be a referendum in Germany on leaving the European Union – what they call the Dexit – and the Rassemblement National in France is not at all in favour of leaving the European Union.”

    • Is the EU facing a ‘New Right’ surge in Europe’s 2024 elections?

    Another right-wing political group, the ECR Group – European Conservatives and Reformists – was led by the British Conservatives before Brexit.

    Now the UK has left the EU, the main group driving the ECR is Poland’s PiS – the Law and Justice party – which recently lost elections in Poland.

    “We don’t know how they are going to evolve,” Verger says.

    “The far right and the populist radical parties have no chance to build a majority by themselves because in the European Parliament, everything is based on alliances and compromises.”

    While acknowledging the powerful emotional tactics employed by populists, Verger says that mainstream parties can effectively counter them through strategic communication.

    EU repercussions for France 2027

    Meanwhile, here in France, the 2024 European elections are seen by many as a precursor to the 2027 presidential elections, where a battle between President Emmanuel Macron’s successor and the National Rally’s Marine Le Pen looks almost certain.

    Past EU elections have impacted French politics, such as in 1994 when the poor EU election performance of the Socialists led by Michel Rocard ruled him out as a contender for the French presidency.

    The evolution of French national politics over the next three years – particularly the shift to the right in Macron’s party and the rise of the National Rally – adds another layer to the complex dynamics that lie ahead.

    Macron’s has recently appointed 34-year-old Gabriel Attal as prime minister, while the National Rally have 28 year-old Jordan Bardella at the helm to reach out to the younger generation.

    It’s the interplay between European and national dynamics that will shape the narrative of the elections in June, says Verger.

    “European issues will certainly play a role in the elections … but Bardella will try to make [the June polls] a 100 percent national election,” she says.

    “The other parties – Renaissance and the Socialist Party – will try to make it as European as possible, in order to deconstruct it from the national context and try to show the positive aspects of the European Union for ordinary citizens.”

    Full Interview: Young Voters And The Battle For Europe’s Middle Ground – Christine Verger

    RFI · Paris Perspective #42 – Young Guns And The Battle For Europe’s Middle Ground – Christine Verger


    The Sound Kitchen

    Words words words…

    Issued on:

    This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about COP 28. We’ll travel to a 250-year-old festival in Japan, hear your answers to the bonus question on “The Listener’s Corner”, and enjoy a twist on music by Chopin on “Music from Erwan”. All that and the new quiz question too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

    Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music… so be sure and listen every week.

    World Radio Day is just around the corner (13 February), and we’ll cook up a mighty fine banquet to celebrate. What’s the main course? Your greetings, of course! So get under your blanket with your phone – believe me, the blanket will make your recording broadcast quality – and record your World Radio Day greetings for us. Please, not too long, though. You must get it to us by 5 February. Send your recorded WRD greetings to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

    Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr  Tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

    Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

    In addition to the breaking news articles on our site, with in-depth analysis of current affairs in France and across the globe, we have several podcasts that will leave you hungry for more.

    There’s Paris Perspective, Spotlight on France, and of course, The Sound Kitchen. We have an award-winning bilingual series – an old-time radio show, with actors (!) to help you learn French, called Les voisins du 12 bis. And there is the excellent International Report, too.

    As you see, sound is still quite present in the RFI English service. Keep checking our website for updates on the latest from our team of journalists. You never know what we’ll surprise you with!

    To listen to our podcasts from your PC, go to our website; you’ll see “Podcasts” at the top of the page. You can either listen directly or subscribe and receive them directly on your mobile phone.

    To listen to our podcasts from your mobile phone, slide through the tabs just under the lead article (the first tab is “Headline News”) until you see “Podcasts”, and choose your show. 

    Teachers, take note! I save postcards and stamps from all over the world to send to you for your students. If you would like stamps and postcards for your students, just write and let me know. The address is english.service@rfi.fr  If you would like to donate stamps and postcards, feel free! Our address is listed below. 

    Another idea for your students: Br. Gerald Muller, my beloved music teacher from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has been writing books for young adults in his retirement – and they are free! There is a volume of biographies of painters and musicians called Gentle Giants, and an excellent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., too. They are also a good way to help you improve your English – that’s how I worked on my French, reading books which were meant for young readers – and I guarantee you, it’s a good method for improving your language skills. To get Br. Gerald’s free books, click here. 

    Independent RFI English Clubs: Be sure to always include Audrey Iattoni (audrey.iattoni@rfi.fr) from our Listener Relations department in all your RFI Club correspondence. Remember to copy me (thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr) when you write to her so that I know what is going on, too. NB: You do not need to send her your quiz answers! Email overload!

    And don’t forget, there is a Facebook page just for you, the independent RFI English Clubs. Only members of RFI English Clubs can belong to this group page, so when you apply to join, be sure you include the name of your RFI Club and your membership number. Everyone can look at it, but only members of the group can post on it. If you haven’t yet asked to join the group, and you are a member of an independent, officially recognised RFI English club, go to the Facebook link above, and fill out the questionnaire!!!!! If you do not answer the questions, I click “Decline”.

    There’s a Facebook page for members of the general RFI Listeners Club, too. Just click on the link and fill out the questionnaire, and you can connect with your fellow Club members around the world. Be sure you include your RFI Listeners Club membership number (most of them begin with an A, followed by a number) in the questionnaire, or I will have to click “Decline”, which I don’t like to do!

    We have new RFI Listeners Club members to welcome: Sami Malik from Northern Pakistan; Habib Ur Rehman Sehal, the president of the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan; Pradip Chandra Kundu and Ratan Kumar Paul, both from West Bengal, India, and Mahfuzur Rahman from Cumilla, Bangladesh.  

    Welcome one and all! So glad you have joined us!

    This week’s quiz: On 16 December I asked you a question about COP 28.  RFI English journalist Amanda Morrow was there, and in her article “Nations agree historic deal to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels”, she explained why the agreement had to use the words “transition away” instead of “phase-out” regarding fossil fuels.  Which country objected to the term “phase-out”?

    The answer is, to quote Amanda’s article: “The summit overran by a day, and the draft text put forward overnight Tuesday by the Emirati presidency was a last-minute bid to end a deadlock between crude oil producers, notably Saudi Arabia, and nations seeking a phase-out of oil, coal and gas.”

    In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “What incident changed your life?”

    Do you have a bonus question idea? Send it to us! 

    The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Rafiq Khondaker from Naogaon, Bangladesh. Rafiq is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Rafiq!

    Also on the list of lucky winners this week are RFI Listeners Club members Father Steven Wara, who lives in the Cistercian Abbey at Bamenda, Cameroon, and Hans Verner Lollike, from Hedehusene, Denmark.

    We have a new listener to congratulate: Miroslav Síleš from Košice, Slovakia – welcome Miroslav! Last but certainly not least, Arundhati Mukherjee, who lives in West Bengal, India.

    Congratulations winners!

    Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Seoto” by Michio Miyagi; “Winter” from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by the Italian Baroque Ensemble conducted by Jacques Bernard; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer; “Fantasia Impromptu” by Frédéric Chopin, arranged by Hilario Duran and performed by Hilario Duran and his Latin Jazz Big Band.

    This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, listen to Jessica Phelan’s story on Alison Hird and Sarah Elzas’ podcast Spotlight on France, or read her article “Françoise Giroud, a woman to be reckoned with in French media and politics” on our website to help you with the answer.

    You have until 19 February to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 24 February podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

    Send your answers to:

    english.service@rfi.fr

    or

    Susan Owensby

    RFI – The Sound Kitchen

    80, rue Camille Desmoulins

    92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

    France

    or

    By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

    To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

    To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here

    International report

    Turkey agrees deal to clear Black Sea of mines that threaten Ukrainian exports

    Issued on:

    Turkey is joining forces with Bulgaria and Romania to clear mines from the Black Sea, which have posed a danger to cargo ships since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. But Ankara, the gatekeeper to the crucial waterway, insists that it won’t allow any other Nato countries to send warships to assist.

    In a ceremony in Istanbul earlier this month, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania signed an agreement to clear mines that the war in Ukraine has left in the Black Sea.

    “With the start of the war, the threat of floating mines in the Black Sea has arisen,” said Turkish Defence Minister Yasar Guler, announcing that Ankara had formed a mine task force with its Bulgarian and Romanian allies.

    Guler said the tripartite agreement was the fruit of months of diplomacy.

    With several cargo ships already hit by mines, they are an increasing menace to one of the world’s most important waterways for exporting grain and energy.

    “These sea mines are floating on the water. They are not stationary, and there is no telling when or where they might strike a vessel,” explains Tayfun Ozberk, a former Turkish naval officer and now a defence analyst.

    “This is a serious problem in terms of navigational safety, because the merchant ships can’t detect these mines as they are semi-submerged in the water,” he says.

    “And when they do detect them, it might be too late for them to save themselves.”

    Black Sea grain deal

    Analysts say removing the threat of mines will significantly boost Ukraine’s efforts to export grain to world markets after the collapse of a deal with Russia brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.

    “Mine clearing is very supportive of maritime safety and navigation. I hope it is very beneficial for the Ukraine side in order to export their grain,” says Mesut Casin, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University and adviser to the Turkish president.

    Moscow is widely seen as threatening Ukrainian exports, saying it can’t guarantee the safety of ships carrying them.

    But Ankara hopes increasing security for Ukrainian vessels could provide an impetus for Moscow to return to the grain deal with Ukraine.

    Casin believes mine clearing could push Moscow to rethink its stance. “Perhaps Russia may come again to the table,” he suggests.

    • France slams Russia’s suspension of Black Sea grain deal as ‘blackmail’
    • Turkey may be key to salvaging Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports

    Turkey as gatekeeper

    Three mine-hunting ships from each of the coastal countries and one command ship will be assigned to the new task force, according to the Turkish defence ministry.

    While the Turkish navy has modern mine-clearing capabilities, which Romania and Bulgaria will support, experts say the challenge facing the Nato allies is considerable.

    “The locations and numbers of the sea mines are unknown, and you have to detect them first; you have to seek and destroy, and this will take time,” warns naval analyst Ozberk.

    • How one man’s ship-spotting hobby is helping thwart Russian sanction-busting

    With the Black Sea a key trade route, the United Kingdom also offered Ukraine two mine-clearing ships – but Ankara denied them permission to transit its waters.

    “There is some pressure by the Nato allies, such as the UK, to assist Ukraine militarily. But in accordance with the Montreux Convention, Turkey did not give permission,” explains presidential adviser Casin.

    Turkey has controlled access to the Black Sea since 1936 under the international convention and has been blocking entry to all warships since the start of the war in Ukraine. Casin says that stance won’t change, given its importance in containing the conflict.

    “If you give this permission to British or American allies, then Russia will compete, saying, ‘I am part of the Montreux regime, I will send new battleships’,” he argues. “And this is the beginning of warfare in the Black Sea between Nato and Russian ships.”

    While Turkey is a member of Nato, analysts say it is seeking to perform a balancing act between the two sides in the Ukrainian war in a bid to contain the conflict. Removing the danger of mines is seen as a small step towards that goal, albeit a vital one for world trade.

    The Sound Kitchen

    Olympics on the Seine

    Issued on:

    This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the Opening Ceremony for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. There’s “On This Day” and “The Listener’s Corner”, loads of great music, and of course, the new quiz question, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

    Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music … so be sure and listen every week.

    World Radio Day is just around the corner (13 February), and we’ll cook up a mighty fine banquet to celebrate. What’s the main course? Your greetings, of course! So get under your blanket with your phone – believe me, the blanket will make your recording broadcast quality – and record your World Radio Day greetings for us. Please, not too long, though. You must get it to us by 5 February. Send your recorded WRD greetings to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

    Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr  Tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

    Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

    In addition to the breaking news articles on our site, with in-depth analysis of current affairs in France and across the globe, we have several podcasts that will leave you hungry for more.

    There’s Paris Perspective, Spotlight on France, and of course, The Sound Kitchen. We have an award-winning bilingual series – an old-time radio show, with actors (!) to help you learn French, called Les voisins du 12 bis. And there is the excellent International Report, too.

    As you see, sound is still quite present in the RFI English service. Keep checking our website for updates on the latest from our team of journalists. You never know what we’ll surprise you with!

    To listen to our podcasts from your PC, go to our website; you’ll see “Podcasts” at the top of the page. You can either listen directly or subscribe and receive them directly on your mobile phone.

    To listen to our podcasts from your mobile phone, slide through the tabs just under the lead article (the first tab is “Headline News”) until you see “Podcasts”, and choose your show. 

    Teachers, take note! I save postcards and stamps from all over the world to send to you for your students. If you would like stamps and postcards for your students, just write and let me know. The address is english.service@rfi.fr  If you would like to donate stamps and postcards, feel free! Our address is listed below. 

    Another idea for your students: Br. Gerald Muller, my beloved music teacher from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has been writing books for young adults in his retirement – and they are free! There is a volume of biographies of painters and musicians called Gentle Giants, and an excellent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., too. They are also a good way to help you improve your English – that’s how I worked on my French, reading books which were meant for young readers – and I guarantee you, it’s a good method for improving your language skills. To get Br. Gerald’s free books, click here. 

    Independent RFI English Clubs: Be sure to always include Audrey Iattoni (audrey.iattoni@rfi.fr) from our Listener Relations department in all your RFI Club correspondence. Remember to copy me (thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr) when you write to her so that I know what is going on, too. NB: You do not need to send her your quiz answers! Email overload!

    And don’t forget, there is a Facebook page just for you, the independent RFI English Clubs. Only members of RFI English Clubs can belong to this group page, so when you apply to join, be sure you include the name of your RFI Club and your membership number. Everyone can look at it, but only members of the group can post on it. If you haven’t yet asked to join the group, and you are a member of an independent, officially recognised RFI English club, go to the Facebook link above, and fill out the questionnaire!!!!! If you do not answer the questions, I click “Decline”.

    There’s a Facebook page for members of the general RFI Listeners Club, too. Just click on the link and fill out the questionnaire, and you can connect with your fellow Club members around the world. Be sure you include your RFI Listeners Club membership number (most of them begin with an A, followed by a number) in the questionnaire, or I will have to click “Decline”, which I don’t like to do!

    We have new RFI Listeners Club members to welcome: Sami Malik from Northern Pakistan; Habib Ur Rehman Sehal, the president of the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan; Pradip Chandra Kundu and Ratan Kumar Paul, both from West Bengal, India, and Mahfuzur Rahman from Cumilla, Bangladesh.  

    Welcome one and all! So glad you have joined us!

    This week’s quiz: On 9 December I asked you a question about the opening ceremony for the Paris 2024 Olympic games.  It’s a security nightmare, but, as you read in our article “French sports minister says ‘no plan B’ for Olympics opening ceremony”, there is no plan B, and the committee is committed to making it work. 

    I asked you, as of 9 December and as written in our article, how many free tickets were planned to be given away, and how many paid tickets were planned to be sold.

    The answer is, to quote our article: “Authorities initially planned to offer 500,000 free tickets for the ceremony as well as 100,000 paid tickets closest to the action, creating a gargantuan event with a total of 600,000 ticket holders and one of the largest spectator events in human history.”

    That number has been walked back a bit: as of today, the number of paid tickets has not changed – it’s still at 100,000, but for the free tickets, it’s been moved down from 500,000 to 300,000.

    In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Khuki Jahanara Yesmin from Bogura, Bangladesh: “Who is your best friend, and why?”

    Do you have a bonus question idea? Send it to us! 

    The winners are: Razia Khalid, a member of the RFI Seven Stars Radio Listeners Club in District Chiniot, Pakistan. Razia is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Razia!

    Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Ras Franz Manko Ngogo, the president of the Kemogemba RFI Club in Tarime, Mara, Tanzania, and Alok Bain, a member of the very active Pariwer Bandhu RFI SW Club in Chhattisgarh, India. There’s RFI Listeners Club member Bidhan Chandra Sanyal from West Bengal, India, and last but certainly not least, RFI English listener Sheuly Khatun from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

    Congratulations winners!

    Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: Presto in B-Flat Major by Francis Poulenc, played by Olivier Cazal; “Blue Bayou” written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson, and played by Antonio de Almeida; The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “La Bicyclette” by Francis Lai and Pierre Barouh, sung by Yves Montand.

    This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, read Paul Myer’s article “2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 3 – Robust and reckless” to help you with the answer.

    You have until 12 February to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 17 February podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

    Send your answers to:

    english.service@rfi.fr

    or

    Susan Owensby

    RFI – The Sound Kitchen

    80, rue Camille Desmoulins

    92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

    France

    or

    By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

    To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

    To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here


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    Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

    From 20 to 22 September 2022, the IFTM trade show in Paris, connected thousands of tourism professionals across the world. Sheo Shekhar Shukla, director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, talked about the significance of sustainable tourism.

    Madhya Pradesh is often referred to as the Heart of India. Located right in the middle of the country, the Indian region shows everything India has to offer through its abundant diversity. The IFTM trade show, which took place in Paris at the end of September, presented the perfect opportunity for travel enthusiasts to discover the region.

    Sheo Shekhar Shukla, Managing Director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, sat down to explain his approach to sustainable tourism.

    “Post-covid the whole world has known a shift in their approach when it comes to tourism. And all those discerning travelers want to have different kinds of experiences: something offbeat, something new, something which has not been explored before.”

    Through its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Shukla wants to showcase the deep history Madhya Pradesh has to offer.

    “UNESCO is very actively supporting us and three of our sites are already World Heritage Sites. Sanchi is a very famous buddhist spiritual destination, Bhimbetka is a place where prehistoric rock shelters are still preserved, and Khajuraho is home to thousand year old temples with magnificent architecture.”

    All in all, Shukla believes that there’s only one way forward for the industry: “Travelers must take sustainable tourism as a paradigm in order to take tourism to the next level.”

    In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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    Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

    The IFTM trade show took place from 20 to 22 September 2022, in Paris, and gathered thousands of travel professionals from all over the world. In an interview, Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia discussed the importance of sustainable tourism in our fast-changing world.

    Also known as the Land of the Beautiful Islands, Malaysia’s landscape and cultural diversity is almost unmatched on the planet. Those qualities were all put on display at the Malaysian stand during the IFTM trade show.

    Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia, explained the appeal of the country as well as the importance of promoting sustainable tourism today: “Sustainable travel is a major trend now, with the changes that are happening post-covid. People want to get close to nature, to get close to people. So Malaysia being a multicultural and diverse [country] with a lot of natural environments, we felt that it’s a good thing for us to promote Malaysia.”

    Malaysia has also gained fame in recent years, through its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which include Kinabalu Park and the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley.

    Green mobility has also become an integral part of tourism in Malaysia, with an increasing number of people using bikes to discover the country: “If you are a little more adventurous, we have the mountain back trails where you can cut across gazetted trails to see the natural attractions and the wildlife that we have in Malaysia,” says Hanif. “If you are not that adventurous, you’ll be looking for relaxing cycling. We also have countryside spots, where you can see all the scenery in a relaxing session.”

    With more than 25,000 visitors at this IFTM trade show this year, Malaysia’s tourism board got to showcase the best the country and its people have to offer.

    In partnership with Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board. For more information about Malaysia, click here.