rfi 2024-02-07 12:12:38



ISRAEL – HAMAS WAR

Macron pays tribute to victims of ‘biggest anti-Semitic massacre of century’

At a ceremony paying national tribute to the French victims of the October attacks by Hamas against Israel, President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called the “greatest anti-Semitic massacre of our century”.

The families of the 42 French citizens people killed and those who remain missing attended the event at the Invalides memorial complex in Paris. 

Every French victim was represented by a photograph with his or her name. It’s believed that three French nationals are still being held in the Gaza Strip.

Some Israeli relatives were brought to France on a special flight. 

“We are a people who will never forget” the victims of October 7, Macron said during a speech as he promises “to work for the security of all in the Middle East”.

Macron said that for French people the Hamas atrocities brought echoes of terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice and Strasbourg.

  • ICJ orders Israel to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza

Anti-Semitism fight

Unprecedented outside Israel, the ceremony comes four months to the day after the attacks by Hamas.

It was broadcast on a giant screen on the “hostage square”, opposite the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv.

An unnamed presidential official told the French news agency AFP the tribute would serve as a time to remember the importance of the “fight against anti-Semitism and through it … all forms of hatred, racism and oppression of minorities”.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog was was unable to attend for scheduling reasons, though representatives of the Israeli embassy in Paris will be there.

  • French FM calls for end to Israeli settler violence in Occupied Territories

Strong emotion

There has been controversy over the ceremony, with many families saying they did not want figures from the hard left France Unbowed party (LFI) to attend because of its failure to sufficiently denounce Hamas as a terrorist group.

However the presidential official said that, according to protocol, all MPs were invited to the ceremony and it was up to individuals to determine the appropriateness of their presence “given families have spoken out and expressed strong emotion”.

Key figures from LFI – France’s biggest left-wing party in parliament – including coordinator Manuel Bompard and parliamentary chief Mathilde Panot, have expressed a desire to attend.

The LFI said it would also be appropriate for Macron to host a memorial event for the French citizens killed in Israel’s bombardments of Gaza.

Bloody war

Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also seized around 250 hostages, and Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, including at least 28 believed to have been killed.

Israel launched a massive military offensive that has killed at least 27,585 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.

(with AFP)


Caucasus conflict

Azerbaijan holds snap presidential election after Karabakh victory

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is seeking a fifth term in snap presidential elections on Wednesday. The vote follows his army’s victory over Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Aliyev described the military success as an “epochal event”, encouraging him to call a  presidential election across the entire territory for the first time.

The lightning operation in September saw the expulsion of more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians from the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Aliyev defied Western criticism, refusing peace talks proposed by France and accused Paris of pursuing an “anti-Azerbaijani policy”.

He threatened to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and refused a request by international observers to monitor the elections.

Tensions with France

The vote comes amid growing tensions between Azerbaijan and France.

In a lengthy declaration published on 18 January, Baku’s International and Inter-Parliamentary Relations Committee called for freezing of asset owned by French officials in Azerbaijan, as well as the suspension of economic relations.

If agreed upon, this would mean that all French companies “be removed” from Azerbaijan.

The document singles out TotalEnergies, the principal French investor in the country. It urges Baku’s Foreign Ministry to “take steps” to recognise the independence of Kanaky (New Caledonia) Maohi Nui (Tahiti) and Corsica.

The move follows a resolution by France’s Senate condemning Azerbaijan’s military offensive, which led to the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.

Baku accused France of “inciting new conflicts” in the Caucasus, while a French businessman was jailed on charges of espionage.

  • Armenians warn ethnic cleansing risks being forgotten – again

Aliyev’s position

The elections have been called a year ahead of schedule. Aliyev’s supporters credit him with transforming Azerbaijan from a Soviet backwater into a thriving energy supplier to Europe.

Azerbaijan’s main opposition party will boycott the elections. Opposition leader Ali Kerimli says there are “no conditions” for free and fair polls.

Independent analysts highlight the lack of competition and a significant advantage for Aliyev, coupled with the elimination of potential opponents through repression.

“The Azerbaijani government’s witch hunt against critics is one manifestation of its contempt for free speech and human rights protections”, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.

Media crackdown

Azerbaijan’s recent crackdown on independent media, including the arrest of journalists exposing corruption, has drawn international attention.

Critics argue that fundamental rights are being violated, with restrictions on freedom of assembly and suppression of political dissent.



Aliyev, first elected in 2003 and re-elected in 2008, 2013, and 2018, also faces allegations of rigging elections.

In 2009 he amended the constitution to allow an unlimited number of presidential terms, criticised by rights advocates as a move towards potential lifelong presidency.

Constitutional amendments in 2016 extended the presidential term to seven years.

“Azerbaijan is run like a textbook dictatorship,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, after the 2018 elections.

“The president incumbent and his old-guard clique have long prevented elections from being a real and viable route to power for the opposition.”

(with newswires)


Senegal

Senegal’s opposition denounces ‘constitutional coup’ after election postponement

Senegal’s opposition Tuesday denounced a “constitutional coup” after parliament voted to delay the presidential election by 10 months, plunging the country into its worst crisis in decades.

Lawmakers backed postponing this month’s polls until 15 December during a lengthy and heated debate, which at times descended into shoving and pushing.

  • Senegalese lawmakers postpone presidential election to 15 December

President Macky Sall should in consequence remain in office until his successor is installed, probably in 2025, while his second mandate was due to expire in early April.

As this decision unfolds, opposition members claim the country has been taken “hostage” and have decried the erosion of Senegal’s democratic norms.

‘Devastated’

“The situation is completely catastrophic, Senegal’s image is ruined, and I don’t think we’ll be recovering from this democratic bankruptcy, this tsunami in the rule of law, any time soon,” opposition deputy Ayib Daffe said after the vote.

“We are all devastated. It’s a blow to Senegalese democracy,” said Pape Djibril Fall, one of the 20 candidates who had been in the running for the presidency.

Aliou Mamadou Dia, another candidate, reiterated the phrase “constitutional coup”: “They have taken the country hostage,” he fumed.

A supporter of Prime minister Amadou Ba, the former director of the ‘Futurs Medias‘ group Mamoudou Ibra Kane told RFI that even Ba is frustrated, and feels that the president wants to “hang to power”.

Kane even called Macky Sall to quit.



Watershed moment

It is the first time in history that Senegalese voters, who were due to elect their fifth president on 25 February, have faced such a crisis.

Security forces earlier on Monday used tear gas to disperse opposition protesters outside parliament, where demonstrators chanted “Macky Sall dictator”.

The move also unleashed widespread outcry on social media, despite the suspension of mobile internet access by the government on Monday.

  • Concern, anger mount as internet and television signal cut in Senegal

More than 115 academics and personalities also teamed up to publish a column describing the president as the “gravedigger of the republic”.

“The real crisis is the one that will result from this unprecedented decision calling into question the electoral timetable, for which he is the sole initiator and ultimately responsible,” they wrote.



The researcher and writer Felwine Sarr, signatory of this column, told RFI‘s Guillaume Thibault: “The president claimed that there was an institutional crisis, a dispute between two institutions, which is not true.

He claims Sall created the crisis himself.

“An internal crisis in his party, with problems of legitimacy of the candidate they have chosen, with the fear of losing the elections. And he transfers this internal crisis to the entire country.”

 (with AFP)


ZIMBABWE DEMOCRACY

Zimbabwe’s democracy faces new challenges with Nelson Chamisa’s exit.

In the wake of Nelson Chamisa’s resignation from the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) recently, Zimbabwe’s is grappling with new political challenges, prompting concerns about the state of democracy in the country.

Miles Tendi , an author and expert on Zimbabwe’s politics, explains that the origin of the current political turbulence can be traced back to the early 2000s.

He specifically cites the period between 2004 – 2005, when the original Movement for Democratic Change under Morgan Tsvangirai experienced internal conflicts that led to the creation of the CCC.

“Where we are today is symptomatic of a long-standing problem within the party, around institutions and the transition of power,” Tendi says.

He added: “I want to emphasise his belief in God.Much of what Chamisa does…he believes he is told [to do] or has visions [from God] – that he has got some proper right to manage the party in this way.”

This, he says, makes it difficult for the opposition “to have an internal conversation, debate about logic, because here’s a figure who believes [God’s] authority ‘comes through me and I hear the voice of God’.

“And that’s been part of the cause of the breakdown today,” Tendi said.



Mission from God

Chamisa’s leadership style and his strong belief in divine guidance has set the stage for the current divisions within Zimbabwe’s opposition.

The ruling Zanu-PF has also  exploited opposition divisions for its own benefit, often buying off opposition figures or infiltrating their ranks.

The history of opposition splits and Zanu-PF’s opportunistic manoeuvres have contributed to the fragility of Zimbabwe’s political landscape.

In the aftermath of his departure from the CCC, Chamisa was quick to announce the launch of a new political group, declaring that he and his followers “are building a new church”.

So where now for Zimbabwe’s opposition? Tendi says the future success of the country’s opposition depends on reviving their founding principles.

Those prinicples, he adds, emphasise democratic internal structures and formalise a constitution that aims to foster transparency and unity, something that was  lacking in the CCC. 

  • Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa quits own party

 Coup or no?

In 2017, there were high hopes that Zimbabwe’s democracy would evolve following the departure of Robert Mugabe.

Tendi is critical of expectations at the time that Mugabe’s exit  would lead to immediate democratic reform.

“Robert Mugabe lost power in a military coup. Nobody in the West, including France, called it a coup. Nobody in the African Union or SADC called it a coup publicly,” Tendi said.

This begs the question as what actually happened. Is it possible to maintain, or build a democracy after a coup?

“The evidence for that is rather poor,” Tendi said. “To meet the expectation that Zimbabwe would somehow become more democratic, carry out all kinds of reform and be on a better footing on the back of a military coup is puzzling.

He says the French public are particularly engaged with what’s going on in the Sahel and how the coups are playing out there.

“A coup in Chad is not called a coup. But a coup in Niger is a coup,” he says, pointing out to the inconsistencies in labelling such events for what they are – and the consequences of not taking appropriate action at critical junctures – will have negative repercussions.

  • Zimbabwe’s president declared election winner, as opposition rejects results

Missed opportunity

Tendi contends that the missed opportunity following Mugabe’s ouster in 2017 allowed Zanu-PF to consolidate power, making any potential external intervention less effective.

Addressing the historical use of sanctions and limited success in political reform, Tendi maintains that interventions should occur at key moments when a regime is vulnerable.

“In my view, I think it’s about when these particular moments arise … if you miss that opportunity, you probably have another eight or ten years before that opportunity arises [again],”  Tendi concludes.

In this context, external actors – such as South Africa, France or the United States – won’t attempt any kind of effective intervention now that Zanu-PF has a reaffirmed its grip on power. 


Climate change

EU bows to protesting farmers on pesticides, plans massive emissions cuts

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday recommended the bloc bury a plan to cut pesticide use in agriculture as a concession to protesting European farmers.The EU has also said it wants to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2040.

The original proposal on pesticides, put forward by her European Commission as part of the European Union’s green transition, “has become a symbol of polarisation,” she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Noting that the plan – to halve chemical pesticide use in the EU by the end of the decade – had also stalled in discussions in the parliament and in the European Council representing EU member countries, von der Leyen said she would ask her commission “to withdraw this proposal”.

The pesticide issue is just one of a long list of grievances that have prompted a mass protest movement by EU farmers, who in recent weeks have used tractors to block key roads to complain of shrinking income and rising production costs.

With far-right and anti-establishment parties – which are predicted to make significant gains in June’s European elections – latching onto the farmers’ movement, the environment debate has turned politically explosive.

Last week, 1,300 tractors clogged the area around an EU summit in Brussels, forcing their revolt to the top of the leaders’ agenda and resulting in a number of other concessions, especially in France.

Protests were continuing on Tuesday, including in the Netherlands – and with demonstrations called for outside the parliament in Strasbourg.

“Many of them feel pushed into a corner,” von der Leyen acknowledged, adding: “Our farmers deserve to be listened to.”

At the same time, though, she emphasised that European agriculture “needs to move to a more sustainable model of production” that was more environmentally friendly and less harmful to soil quality.

Cutting greenhouse gas

Meanwhile, the EU has also urged a 90-percent cut to its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

“Based on the best available science, and a detailed impact assessment, we are recommending that the 2040 target should be a 90 percent emission cut” compared to 1990 levels, said the EU climate commissioner, Wopke Hoekstra.

He called for a “fair transition” that will still allow EU businesses to thrive and ensure “nobody is left behind” as the bloc seeks to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

There is a vocal backlash from some industries to the bloc’s climate policies and several national leaders are now calling for a “pause” in new environmental rules.

Eleven EU countries, including France, Germany and Spain had sent a joint letter to Brussels saying that the transition for an “ambitious” 2040 target needs to be “fair and just” and “leave no-one behind, especially the most vulnerable citizens”.

The recommended target given Tuesday was accompanied by new post-2030 climate projections the commission was required to produce in the wake of the COP28 UN climate negotiations that took place in December in Dubaï.

The next European Commission will be tasked with turning the outline into proposed legislation ahead of next year’s international climate summit (COP30).

The bloc’s 2040 targets are expected to rely in part on the capture and storage of ambitious volumes of carbon dioxide – incensing climate campaigners who criticise the technologies as untested and want to see gross emissions-cut pledges instead.

Even so, the plan would require a sizeable effort from every sector of the economy – from power generation to farming, which accounts for 11 percent of EU greenhouse gas emissions.

Even so, the plan would require a sizeable effort from every sector of the economy – from power generation to farming, which accounts for 11 percent of EU greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Hottest September on record, with 2023 on track for hottest year ever

(with AFP)


FGM

How France’s asylum system protects girls from genital mutilation

France has offered some 20,000 girls under the age of 18 refugee status to protect them from the risk of being genitally mutilated in their country of origin. On 6 February, the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), we look at the process and growing challenges of obtaining asylum in France in this way.

The UN estimates that 200 million girls have undergone some form of FGM in 31 countries around the world. And every six minutes another girl will be added to that list.

Carried out in the name of tradition, the practice involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora.

Apart from the pain and urinary and menstrual problems it can lead to, FGM complicates pregnancy and childbirth, reduces sexual pleasure and commonly leaves girls both physically and psychologically scarred.

FGM is a crime in France and in 2012 its highest court ruled that anyone fleeing the custom has a right to file for protection under the Geneva Convention.

Each year, thousands of women seek asylum in France – for themselves or more often their daughters – to escape the risk of being cut.

Isabelle Gillete-Faye, President of the National Federation of the Group for the Abolition of Genital Mutilation (GAMS), says France is most likely to grant a girl refugee status “if the mother has been cut, the daughter has not, and they come from a country where FGM is widespread”.

This favours applications from, for example, Guinea. “If I’m from Guinea – where 98 percent of girls are cut – there’s a high probability that my daughter will be cut if we return to the country of origin.”

Other high-risk countries on the African continent include Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Egypt. 

Asylum claims are dealt with by France’s asylum agency – OFPRA. If granted, the girl receives refugee status while the mother, or parents, can then obtain residency rights “on the grounds that the girl cannot be left alone”, Gillette-Faye explains.

Complicated procedure

But while the law protects girls from FGM, obtaining asylum on that basis is far from easy. 

“Getting an appointment at the prefecture has become increasingly complicated in the Paris-Ile-de-France region where demand is much greater than in the provinces,” Gillette-Faye stresses. 

OFPRA also requires a medical certificate from one of its designated medical-legal facilities to show the girl has not been cut.

“It’s the only case in all asylum applications where OFPRA pays for a medical examination,” Annalou Kleinschmidt, the agency’s specialist in violence against women, told InfoMigrants.

“The idea is for it to be done by doctors trained in that kind of examination because receiving a girl under 18 for a gynaecological examination isn’t like just any medical act.”

  • Activists hail criminalisation of female genital mutilation in Sudan

Once asylum has been granted, the examination has to be carried out every three to five years to check that the girl has still not been cut, says Kleinschmidt.

But there’s a shortage of centres and “those that are qualified to carry out the test are overwhelmed”, regrets Gillette-Faye.

“We’ve been waiting for years for a circular increasing the number of places, but this still hasn’t come out.”

Tougher for all asylum seekers

On 16 January this year, the European Court of Justice ​​​​​​ruled that women, as a whole, can be regarded as belonging to a social group and are therefore entitled to asylum if subjected to domestic or sexual violence, including FGM.

It will further protect women and girls seeking asylum in France.

And while France’s new immigration law, which seeks to make it easier to deport illegal immigrants, does not specifically target FGM-based asylum claims, there are concerns it will inevitably make things tougher.

“Nothing calls into question asylum for young girls at risk of FGM – it would be contrary to EU law anyway – but the procedure for asylum seekers, which was already difficult, will now be even more complicated,” says Gillette-Faye.

“And another thing that worries me hugely is unaccompanied girls – it’s going to be even harder for them. Nobody pays attention to them, we don’t even have figures on what percentage of unaccompanied minors are girls, but our fieldwork shows that there are more and more of them.”

  • France logged record number of asylum requests in 2023

She also draws attention to the need to consider asylum claims on the basis of region, not just nationality or ethnic group, as is currently the case.

Senegal, where FGM is banned, is not considered a high-risk area, “but a little girl on the border of Senegal and Guinea is as much in danger on the Senegalese side as the Guinean”.

The lack of objective, scientific data in some countries of origin is hampering efforts to expand the methodology on evaluating risk. “We’re not always able to provide the necessary elements for judges to make a decision on whether to grant asylum or not,” regrets Gillette-Faye.

  • Calls for France to recognise all Afghan women and girls as refugees

Diplomacy

France and Germany must ‘overcome difficulties’ to prevent rise of populism, Attal says

On his first trip abroad as Prime Minister, France’s Gabriel Attal called for a reboot of Franco-German relations, saying the two countries needed to rise above their disagreements and prevent the swing towards populism and extremism..

 

 

 

“The Franco-German friendship is one of the great opportunities in our history,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a joint press conference after meeting France’s Prime Minister Gabriel Attal in Berlin on Monday evening.

“Faced with uncertainties linked to wars, inflation, global warming, the two countries will need to work closely together to prevent momentum for far-right populist movements,” Scholz added.

 

A “sharp right turn” is likely to sweep European Union elections this year, with populists, eurosceptics and conservatives projected to collectively grab nearly half of the European Parliament’s seats in June, according to a study by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)  published last month

“We measure the strength of Europe by the solidity of Franco-German friendship, that our two nations move forward together and Europe can accelerate, develops and regain its power,” Attal added.

Attempts to scuttle Europe

 

Despite the show of diplomatic entente, however, there are many points of friction between Paris and Berlin and officials from both countries are keen show their determination to put the relationship back on track.

Any form of division between countries like Germany and France would risk making the rest of Europe hesitant, Attal said.

“It is what the populists are waiting for, something on which the extremes feast, watching for the slightest of our differences to flatter the baser instincts and try to scuttle Europe,” he underlined.

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

Anti-European populists will likely end up as the top EU vote picks in nine countries – including France, where Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Rally is polling well ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party; and Italy, with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party to consolidate its sway.

Populist parties were predicted to come second or third in another nine countries, among them Germany, where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to double its score, as well as in Spain, Finland and Sweden.

“The far-right parties “have one thing in common: they want to deconstruct Europe,” Attal said.

Ukraine military aid

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has exposed several fundamental differences over the historic alliance of the two countries, who represent the driving force behind European construction, energy and industrial cooperation programs on combat aircraft and the tank of the future.

On military aid to Ukraine, Olaf Scholz has called for more investment, to which Attal promised that Paris would “continue to invest financially and in technical and military means to support the Ukrainians”.

New promises of Western aid to Kyiv have fallen to their lowest level since the start of the Russian invasion, the German research institute Kiel Institute calculated in early December.

  • German and French marriage is still strong despite tensions over energy, defence

“There are always difficult moments in the relationship between France and Germany. But these moments must never make us go backwards” and “never make us give up,” Attal said.

On the agricultural crisis affecting their two countries, Olaf Scholz reaffirmed his support for the trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and the Latin American countries of Mercosur, which France opposes, highlighting the “prospects of growth” for Europe.

Attal admitted that they “agreed to disagree” on this subject and reiterated Paris’ concern that “the conditions have not been not met” for this agreement to be ratified.

Nevertheless, “2024 will be a special year for Franco-German relations”, underlined the Chancellor, notably with the state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Germany at the end of May.


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris Olympics chief faces legal probe over pay

French investigators have opened a legal probe into the pay of Paris Olympics chief organiser Tony Estanguet, according to reports Tuesday, in an embarrassing development six months before the Olympic Games begin. 

The enquiry by magistrates specialised in financial crimes began last week and will look into the manner in which Estanguet receives his pay as head of the organising committee, a source for  French news agency AFP said on condition of anonymity.

The triple gold medal-winning Olympic canoeist had so far been spared the legal problems that have embroiled other members of the Paris Olympics organising team.

His annual remuneration of €270,000 before tax and bonuses was made public in 2018 after a furore over reports that he would receive almost double that amount.

But according to revelations in the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchainé last October, Estanguet uses his own company to bill the organising committee monthly, instead of drawing a salary.

The arrangement is to avoid a salary cap imposed on charities with the same status as the organising committee.

Shock

A spokesperson for the committee said it was “astonished” by news of the investigation, given that Estanguet’s package had been approved by the board and officials in the economy ministry.

The probe is a major blow for the 45-year-old, the public face of the Paris Olympics, who is seeking to focus attention on preparations for the sporting events at the 26 July – 11 August Games.

The Paris organising committee was already the subject of three separate investigations into the possible misuse of public money and favouritism in the awarding of contracts.

  • French financial prosecutors raid Paris 2024 Olympics headquarters

The offices of the committee and Olympic Games infrastructure group Solideo have been searched by police, as have the homes of two other senior figures in the organising committee, Etienne Thobois and Edouard Donnelly.

Those cases revolve in part around sports management or events companies founded by senior Olympic Games staff before they started working for the Paris 2024 organising committee.

Around 20 different contracts are under the microscope, totalling tens of million of euros.

On track

France’s anti-corruption agency had flagged possible problems with Estanguet‘s pay arrangement in a report in 2021 because of the organising committee’s status as a charity.

The spokesperson said that his pay had been approved by the organisation’s pay committee, composed of independent experts, and approved by the Economic and Financial Controller General in the economy ministry.

Given that Estanguet usually chairs the board, it had met without him when discussing his remuneration, the spokesperson said.

  • Paris Olympics 2024 organisers raise cost estimates by 10 percent

Despite the legal problems, the Paris Games appear to be on track, with almost all of the main building work finished and the budget over-spend relatively small compared with previous games.

This week will see the committee unveil the medal designs, while a brand new venue which is set to host the basketball and rhythmic gymnastics will open its doors at the weekend.

The athletes’ village is set to be inaugurated by President Emmanuel Macron on 29 February.

(with AFP)


CYBER SECURITY

UK, France host cybersecurity conference to tackle ‘hackers for hire’ threat

The UK and France are hosting 35 nations as well as businesses and technology leaders at an inaugural conference in London to tackle “hackers for hire” and the expanding market for cyber attack tools.

Representatives from technology giants including Apple, BAE Systems, Google and Microsoft are attending the two-day event that got underway in the UK capital Tuesday.

The conference will look at ways of addressing the commercial market for cyber snooping and attack tools as well as “the threat they pose to international security, human rights and the stability of cyberspace”.

The governments and businesses taking part in the London conference are due to signµ a declaration dubbed the “Pall Mall process“, which commits to joint action to regulate the use of these potentially dangerous tools.

The participants are scheduled to meet again to discuss the evolution of the latest cyber security challenges in Paris in 2025.

This joint London-Paris initiative is based on observations that – in addition to risks identified in cyberspace from state actors, criminal groups and activists – legal threats from the private sector are also becoming an issue.



The two-day forum will also look into how professional hackers are deploying new technologies and how they use them for the benefit of hostile states or industrial espionage.

The organisers have stressed, however, that the aim is not to ban these tools – which can also be used to protect national security – but rather to combat their misuse for criminal purposes. 

According to Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the commercial market for cyber surveillance and attack tools is doubling every 10 years.

  • Paris public prosecutor’s office say 600 cyberattacks probes opened since January 2022
  • Hackers demand $10m to end cyber attack on Paris regional hospital

 ‘Hackers for hire’ 

NCSC director of operations Paul Chichester said the demand for the capability to conduct malicious cyber operations was “growing all the time”.

He added that a thriving global cyber security sector is needed to “maintain the integrity of our digital society”.

According to a UK government statement, “Where these tools are used maliciously, attacks can access victims’ devices, listen to calls, obtain photos and remotely operate a camera and microphone via ‘zero-click’ spyware.”

The threat of “hackers for hire” carrying out corporate espionage or services and of the tools being used by hostile states also threatens national security.

“As the threat from malicious use of cyber tools grows, working with like-minded partners is essential to tackle an issue which does not respect borders,” said Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, who is co-hosting the event with France.


Senegal

Senegalese lawmakers postpone presidential election to 15 December

Senegal’s parliament voted to hold a postponed presidential election on 15 December in the face of a public outcry over the decision by President Macky Sall to postpone the elections due later this month. 

The decision threatens to tarnish Senegal’s reputation as a bastion of democratic stability in a region swept by coups.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse protests outside parliament as lawmakers discussed the bill that initially proposed rescheduling the 25 February vote to 25 August. This would keep Sall in power until his successor is elected.

However, just before the final vote, the bill was amended to propose a later election date of 15 Dec., an amendment that was passed by 105 MPs in the 165-seat Assembly.

‘Institutional coup’

The last-minute amendment to postpone the election to December rather than August is likely to provoke further opposition backlash.

Analysts fear a repeat of violent protests that have broken out over the past three years partly over Sall’s alleged authoritarian overreach.

  • Human Rights Watch warns of Senegal repression ahead of elections

After hours of procedural discussions, lawmakers had been due to start the debate and vote on the bill, when around a dozen opposition members rushed the central dais and refused to leave, effectively halting parliamentary debates.

More than two hours later, security forces moved them off the central area, allowing the vote to proceed.

“What you are doing is not democratic, it’s not republican,” said opposition MP Guy Marius Sagna, who was one of several rebel MPs wearing a sash in the colours of the Senegalese flag.

The ex-Pastef party MP Ayib Daffé, told RFI that he believes the 15 December decision is unconstitutional.

“They managed to pass the amendment which extends the mandate of the president of the republic illegally, unconstitutionally until 15 December. We are not going to accept this.”

Other opposition and civil society groups have angrily rejected the decision, with some claiming Sall is trying to postpone his departure.

The F24 platform, a large group of organisations behind past demonstrations, and candidate Khalifa Sall, have called it an “institutional coup”.

Protests and more arrests

The postponement faces a strong pushback.

At least three of the 20 presidential candidates submitted legal challenges to the delay, Constitutional Council documents showed. Two more candidates have vowed to challenge it via the courts.

Around 100 people gathered outside parliament on Monday, after confrontations on Sunday, chanting “Macky Sall is a dictator”.

Police fired tear gas, chased them into side streets and made arrests.

Earlier, authorities also temporarily restricted mobile internet access since Sunday night, citing hate messages on social media and threats to public order. 

The private Walf television channel said it was taken off air on Sunday and had its licence revoked.

  • Concern, anger mount as internet and television signal cut in Senegal

Several schools sent pupils home early.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued warnings, calling on the government to respect the right to peaceful assembly and “ensure fundamental freedoms.” 

The deputy spokesperson for the US State Department, Vedant Patel, also told RFI that Washington is “deeply concerned about the situation in Senegal”, and has called on the Senegalese authorities to “immediately restore access to the internet and to respect freedom of expression, including for the press.”

 (with Reuters) 


African-French relations

Macron names Bockel envoy to African countries that have French military bases

Jean-Marie Bockel, the minister for cooperation under former president, Nicolas Sarkozy has been named special envoy to Africa.

According to a letter obtained by RFI, Jean-Marie Bockel’s mission will be to support Senegal, Côté d’Ivoire, Gabon and Chad as part of the evolution of the French military presence in these countries. 

These are the last remaining African countries where French still has a military presence. Djibouti in East Africa will not be part ofBockel’s mission. 

French President Emmanuel Macron appointed Bockel early on Tuesday.

According to the letter of appointment, Bockel is tasked with “changing the status, format and tasks of French bases in Africa.”

  • Macron vows era of French interference in Africa is over

Bockel is known for announcing the end of ‘Françafrique’ in 2008, a term used by historians to describe the relationship between Paris and its former colonies on the continent.

The annoucement cost him his position as minister for cooperation under Sarkozy.

On 25 November 2019, his son, Lieutenant Pierre Emmanuel Bockel, was killed in Mali during a helicopter crash as part of Operation Barkhane.

France has had to reduce its military presence in Africa  over the past three years following a falling-out with the new authorities of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

  • France calls for postponed Senegal vote to be held ‘as soon as possible’

Bockel  is expected to submit his first recommendations to the president in July.


Africa Cup of Nations 2023

Cote d’Ivoire face DRC with another chance to forget horrors at Cup of Nations

“The Elephants who forgot” would be an apt title for at least one of the feature-length films that will surely flow out to an adoring public should Cote d’Ivoire dispose of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Africa Cup of Nations semi-final on Wednesday evening at the Alassane Outtara Stadium and either South Africa or Nigeria on Sunday night at the same venue.

 

Two Wednesdays ago, Cote d’ivoire – who are nicknamed ‘The Elephants’ – had to wait until the end of the Group F game between Morocco and Zambia to find out whether they could advance as one of the four best third-placed teams.

A Zambia draw in San Pedro would mean elimination. But Morocco held on to their 1-0  lead and the Ivorian nation rejoiced.

On the blue Monday two days earlier, there had been wailing as the team and country processed a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Equatorial Guinea – the worst home defeat .

“We were at the bottom of a hole after losing to Equatorial Guinea,” said influential Ivorian midfielder Seko Fofana on the eve of the clash against DRC.

“We had to wait for the rest of the group matches to find out whether we qualified, which happened.

“After all that we endured, we are no longer afraid of anything,” he added.

Progress to the last four appears to have been aided by opponents refusing to go for the jugular. 

Escape

Senegal scored four minutes into the last-16 tie in Yamoussoukro to rake up  nerves.

But the defending champions sat back and allowed Cote d’Ivoire to stay in the match which they eventually claimed in a penalty shoot-out. 

Following the dismissal of Odilon Kossounou for two bookable offences, Mali played with an extra man for the entire second-half and all of extra-time but still lost 2-1.

“After the Equatorial Guinea match we were insulted and we felt alone,” added Fofana.

“But we managed to get through. Champions always manage to advance.”

The DRC – considered a group of journeymen – have admitted their initial ambition was to reach the last-16.

However, after three draws during the group stages, they showed guts to see off Egypt in a penalty shoot-out following a tense, stodgy tie.

Belief

They then displayed belief and resilience to come from behind to overwhelm Guinea 3-1 in the quarter-final in Abidjan.

The Congolese might not be as accommodating as previous adversaries in the knockout rounds.

“It would be stupid not to believe we can go on and get into the final,” said DRC coach Sebastien Desabre.

 

“But Cote d’Ivoire has an extremely good team. Even if they have four players suspended, they have quality replacements which is the same as us.”

Desabre, 47, is seeking to become the first coach for 50 years to lead a team from the country to the Cup of Nations trophy.

At the time of the last triumph, the land was known as Zaire. “The players will try and play a good game and defend the national jersey,” Desabre added.

Plea

On Monday, skipper Chancel Mbemba and striker Cédric Bakambu took to social media to highlight the armed violence in the east of their country

“Everyone sees the massacres in eastern Congo. But everyone is silent,” Bakambu wrote.

“Put the same energy that you use talking about the Africa Cup to highlight what is happening with us. There are no small gestures.”

Eastern Congo has struggled with armed violence for decades as more than 120 groups fight for power, land and valuable mineral resources.

“Thinking of all the all the victims of the atrocities in Goma and their families,” Mbemba wrote on X referring to the Congolese city bordering Rwanda.

“I pray with all my heart that my country regains its peace.”

Added Desabre: “The match will be special as it will not only be a semi-final but also a chance for the players to show that they care and that they’re thinking about everyone who is suffering in Congo.”


Africa Cup of Nations 2023

Nigeria and South Africa coaches play fast and loose with ‘favourite’ tag

Nigeria boss José Peseiro and his South Africa counterpart Hugo Broos on Tuesday toyed with the notion of which side was favourite to advance to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Peseiro’s squad – at 42 – are the highest ranked outfit left in the tournament in Cote d’Ivoire. Wenesday night’s opponents in Bouaké lie 24 places beneath them in the Fifa rankings.

“We’re happy and motivated to play in the semi-final,” said Broos. “For many people it is unexpected. It’s more than 20 years since South Africa was in the last four.

“I think Nigeria are the favourites but it’s not always the favourites that win.”

Broos’s side needed a penalty shoot-out to see off Cape Verde in the quarter-final. In the last-16, they outwitted the World Cup semi-finalists Morocco who imploded during 90 minutes with a missed penalty and a man sent off.

“We will be playing another very good team,” Broos added.

Peseiro, whose side has been hailed for conceding only one goal in its five matches, returned the compliment on the eve of the clash at the Stade de la Paix.

“We must play a high level match as we know the power of the opponent,” said the 63-year-old Portuguese.

“Everyone said Morocco will beat them because they have players in the top European leagues. What happened? Morocco lost.

“South Africa are well organised. They have let in one goal more than us. They play compact and they don’t allow space.”

Nigeria could be without striker Victor Osimhen for the match. The 25-year-old travelled separately from the rest of the team on Monday to continue his recovery from a muscle injury. A decision will be taken on his fitness on Wednesday.

Though the Napoli star has scored only once, his pressing and perpetual menace has opened up spaces for strike partner Ademola Lookman who has netted three of Nigeria’s six goals.

“It’s not only about Osimhen,” said Broos, who steered an unfancied Cameroon to Cup of Nations glory in 2017.

“Nigeria have become a very good team with very good players who play all over Europe. So it will be tough game even if Osimhen isn’t playing.

“But that is also a motivation for us to prove that we are as good as they are and that we can win it also.”

Should the tie go to a penalty shoot-out after extra-time, South Africa will be favourites after the heroics of goalkeeper Ronwen Williams in the last eight.

The 32-year-old set a tournament record by saving four of the five penalties.

“It was just for me to give back to the team for the hard work that they had done throughout the 120 plus minutes,” he said on Tuesday.

“You know the desire they had to run and to keep fighting, it was tough. Guys were cramping, but they kept fighting.

“So that was my time to step up. I’m just glad that I could do my job and that we are in the semi-finals.”

The winner of the clash will play either hosts Cote d’Ivoire or Democratic Republic of Congo in the final on Sunday at the Alassane Outtara Stadium in Abidjan.

The loser will contest the third place play-off match at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan on Saturday.


ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Rights group warns of potential abuse as EU reaches deal on AI Act

The European Union’s 27 member states have reached a deal on the bloc’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act. However, rights group Amnesty International has raised concerns over the export of the technology to some countries.

Amnesty International has been severely critical of what it calls double standards within the EU, accusing lawmakers of allowing the export of technologies to countries they say are openly violating human rights.

Digital surveillance

According to Mher Hakobyan, advocacy advisor on AI at Amnesty International, “Digital surveillance systems produced by French, Swedish and Dutch companies, have been used in China’s mass surveillance programmes against Uighurs and other Muslim-majority ethnic groups on its territory.

“Similarly, cameras manufactured by a Dutch company have been used by the police in occupied East Jerusalem to maintain Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians,” he says.

Despite Brussels’ move to regulate the development of AI and the impact it will have on society, Amnesty believes EU lawmakers must align their actions with a commitment to fundamental rights, pointing out instances of European technology contributing to human rights abuses globally.

  • EU nations reach landmark agreement on AI regulation

“This is not only the shortcoming of the European Parliament, but of EU legislators in general,” he adds.

“In the European Parliament’s position that was published in June last year, there was a provision that suggested putting a stop to the export of any technologies that will be prohibited in the EU. Unfortunately, it didn’t get through to the final text that was agreed.”

Amnesty International’s criticism is not only directed at the European Parliament for letting go of this stance, but also at member states that actively pushed to have it removed.

In response, the EU says that the AI Act aims to regulate artificial intelligence while allowing European tech companies to develop homegrown talent in the sector.

French position

Following months of opposition to the bill, France finally gave its backing to the regulation on Friday.

EU policymakers announced they had found a final compromise on the AI Act’s content in December.

At the time it was hailed as a pioneering step amidst the spread of AI tools like as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. 

However, the agreement was not welcomed everywhere. Over the past few weeks, Germany and France had indicated that they might oppose the text in any vote on the issue. 

France had been pushing for self-regulation rather than legislation. This, France argued, would allow EU companies more freedom to develop native AI technology inside Europe.

French AI start-up Mistral, founded by former Meta and Google AI researchers, and Germany’s Aleph Alpha have been actively lobbying their respective governments about the technology.

The deal that was finalised over the weekend is a major stepping stone towards regulation.

The next step is a vote by a key committee of EU lawmakers on 13 February followed by ratification by the European Parliament in March or April if the final text is ultimately approved.

To date, however, the European Parliament has rejected banning the export of AI systems, despite concerns over potential human rights violations.



‘Oppenheimer conundrum’

The technologies under scrutiny include facial and emotional recognition software, predictive power policing and social rating, which has taken hold in some Chinese cities. 

The question is whether it is better to enable European countries to develop AI platforms and export them to authoritarian regimes, or whether authoritarian regimes should depend on home-built AI technologies with all the problems that poses.

The conundrum is not dissimilar to J.Robert Oppenheimer’s race to build an atomic bomb before the Nazis could produce nuclear weapons, Hakobyan says.

  • Neurotech and AI together threaten ‘mental privacy’, says Unesco

“It would be, if the technologies produced in Europe…follow[ed] the same standards when a company wants to put them on the European market…

“[However] the same company producing the same system for the purpose of export [currently] does not need to go through the any of these safeguards or transparency measures to sell it abroad,” Hakobyan says.

“It would be beneficial if at least the legal and technical standards were followed, but they don’t have to do that [at the moment]”.

Hakobyan points out that in Europe it is possible to develop problematic or flawed AI models, but there are procedural and legal standards around AI development that safeguards against human rights infringement or discrimination.

“But that might not exist in the country that you’re exporting the technology to,” he concludes.

“Essentially, you’re just benefiting from potential human rights abuse … and that is something that Europe can’t afford, if it wants to be a credible voice”.


Crime

Paris knife attacker deliberately targeted French people: prosecutor

A Mali-born man suspected of injuring several people with a knife and hammer at a Paris railway station deliberately sought French people to attack, the Paris prosecutor said Tuesday.

The 32-year-old man went on a stabbing spree early Saturday, injuring at least three people at the Gare de Lyon station, which operates suburban, national and international routes to Switzerland and Italy.

The suspect’s statements and the content of his phone “have led us to suspect that he did what he did to target French people because they belong to the French nation”, prosecutor Laure Beccuau said in a statement.

French anti-terrorism prosecutors are not getting immediately involved.

Prosecutors are instead treating the case as attempted murder, suspecting that the man selected targets on the basis of their “race, ethnicity, nation or religion”, Beccuau said, adding that the charge can be punished with life imprisonment.

A psychiatric evaluation has not shown any diminished criminal responsibility, the prosecutor said.

  • Paris police says man who attacked three people with knife may suffer mental health issues

Prosecutors have said the suspect was to appear before an investigating magistrate Tuesday to potentially be charged with attempted murder.

One 66-year-old man remained in critical condition after the suspect stabbed him in the abdomen and hit him twice on the head with a hammer, Beccuau said.

Tiktok account

Two other people, one 57, the other in their 20s, were also injured when they intervened.

Officials said two other people were affected – a young woman whose bag was set on fire by the attacker and a security guard who also intervened.

The suspect had been a legal resident in Italy since 2016 and had travelled legally to France on 1 February, the prosecutor said.

According to Italian investigators, until 2021 the suspect lived in a centre run by a Catholic association in Montalto Dora, northeast of Turin.

The man had been monitored for psychiatric problems but never showed any violent tendencies, they told French news agency AFP.

Officials said a TikTok account had been opened in the name of the attacker. In a video dated 2 December, 2023, the author of the account wrote: “RIP in three months. May Allah welcome me into his paradise”.

In other videos, the author expressed hostility towards France, referring to the French military operation in Mali to fight jihadists that ended in 2022.

(with AFP)


ISRAEL – HAMAS CONFLICT

French FM calls for end to Israeli settler violence in Occupied Territories

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné has said that Israeli “settler violence must stop” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has doubled-down on Israel’s resolve to “deal a fatal blow” against Hamas and Iran-backed militant groups in the region. 

Speaking during the second day of a Middle East tour aimed at securing a truce between Israel and Hamas, Séjourné said: “Under no circumstances can there be forced displacement of Palestinians, neither out of Gaza nor out of the West Bank.”

While in Jerusalem, the French minister denounced anti-Palestinian rhetoric and “calls to commit war crimes” by Israeli officials, after some Netanyahu allies have appeared to endorse Jewish re-settlement of the Gaza Strip after the war.

Séjourné also called for support for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmud Abbas.

  • Cutting UN funds to Gaza puts ‘hundreds of thousands’ at risk, says EU

“The future of the Gaza Strip is inseparable from the future of the West Bank, we must prepare for this future by supporting the Palestinian Authority,” Séjourné said. 

“It must renew itself and redeploy as soon as possible in the Gaza Strip,” where Hamas seized power in 2007, he added.

“I repeat: Gaza is Palestinian land,” the foreign minister stressed, during what is his first tour of the region since being named as France’s top diplomat in January.

Political solution

Séjourné said it was France’s role as a “friend” to tell Israeli leaders some truths they “may have difficulties hearing”.

“For four months now, the people of Gaza have been living under bombs and an almost full siege. They are being deprived of the minimum aid they need to treat their wounds, protect against epidemics and feed themselves,” he said.

Séjourné also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of all the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Three French nationals are believed to be among them, he said. 

On Sunday, Séjourné met with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, and Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, in Amman, where he conveyed the message: “Without a political solution, there will be no just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”



‘Fatal blow’ to Hamas, Iran allies

The visit comes as Netanyahu underlined that an Israeli victory against Hamas will deal a “fatal blow” to the Palestinian militants and other Iran-backed groups in the region.

“A complete victory will deal a fatal blow to the axis of evil that is Iran, Hezbollah, the Huthis and of course Hamas,” Netanyahu said in an address to army commanders on Monday.

Netanyahu also added that Hamas has presented “demands that we will not accept” over hostages held in Gaza.

According to a statement from Netanhayu’s Likud party, the terms for the release of remaining captives “should be similar to the previous agreement”, which saw a ratio of hostages exchanged for Palestinian prisoners during a November truce.



Blinken on 5th diplomatic mission to Middle East

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, for the first stop on his latest Middle East tour, as Washington tries to advance negotiations on a normalisation deal between the kingdom and Israel, and make push for talks on a post-war solution for Gaza’s governance.

This is Blinken’s fifth trip to the region since Hamas’ deadly 7 October attacks and comes as tensions rise amid US strikes on Iran-backed militia across Syria, Iraq and Yemen in response to a drone strike last week in Jordan that killed three American troops and wounded dozens.

Blinken is also set to visit Egypt, Qatar and Israel this week and push to advance their mediation with Hamas to clinch a hostage deal.


ISRAEL – HAMAS CONFLICT

Cutting UN funds to Gaza puts ‘hundreds of thousands’ at risk, says EU

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned that moves to suspend the funding of UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA were extremely ill-advised.

Speaking on Sunday, Borrell said: “Defunding UNRWA would be both disproportionate and dangerous,” referring to the UN agency which is embroiled in controversy over the alleged involvement of employees in the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel.

“While some important donors suspended funding, there is a wide recognition that UNRWA is central to providing vital aid to more than 1.1 million people in Gaza suffering from catastrophic hunger and the outbreak of diseases.”

“Defunding the agency would put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk,” Borrell stressed.



Investigation into UNRWA underway

He added in a blog article that “the agency has taken immediate steps and launched an investigation,” calling the allegations serious and which should not go unpunished if true.

His comments come with more than a dozen countries – including major donors the United States, Germany, Britain and Sweden – having suspended funding to UNRWA over accusations that 12 staff members were involved in the 7 October attack.

The agency – which has received a Norwegian nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize – has warned it will have to cease operations by the end of the month should funding be significantly pulled.

  • UN chief calls on countries to resume funding Gaza aid agency after allegations of militant ties

Late last month, the EU requested an audit of UNRWA, and said will review future funding in light of a UN investigation already being carried out into the claims.

Borrell said he was convinced the inquiry would be completed before the launch of an independent external investigation ahead of the next payment from the European Commission due at month’s end.

Borrell added that the total of suspended funds currently amounts to “more than $440 million, or around half the agency’s expected funds for 2024.”

He warned such a shortfall called into danger the agency’s very existence.

  • US, Israel, Egypt, Qatar officials in Gaza talks in Paris

Spain, Portugal send emergency aid

Meanwhile, Spain has said it will send the UNRWA an additional €3.5 million in aid, despite the suspension of support for the UN agency.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said Monday: “UNRWA’s situation is desperate and there is a serious risk that its humanitarian activities will be paralysed in Gaza within a few weeks.”

Madrid contributed €18.5 million directly to UNRWA in 2023, including €10 million approved in December following the decision to triple development and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories.

On Friday, neighbouring Portugal announced additional aid to UNRWA worth one million euros. Foreign Minister Joao Cravinho wrote on social media it was essential “not to turn our backs on the Palestinian population at this difficult time”.


Senegal

Concern, anger mount as internet and television signal cut in Senegal

Access to mobile internet and a television signal were cut in Dakar on Monday, as Senegal grapples with the fallout after President Macky Sall postponed this month’s election. Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) says it is extremely concerned about the latest development.

Many users in the capital said they had been unable to access mobile data on their phones since the morning.

The Sonatel workers’ union, Senegal’s principal telephone operator, had on Sunday anticipated a possible blackout, saying it “disapproves of any idea by the Senegalese government to cut off or restrict the internet”.

The government already suspended mobile data last June amid high tensions in the country.

Authorities in Senegal also suspended the signal of a private television station after accusing it of inciting violence.

The station affected by the Communication Ministry’s decision is Walf TV, the television broadcast service of the privately owned media group Wal Fadjri.

Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) said it is concerned about the suspension of Internet access via mobile data by the authorities while the country is facing protests against postponement of the presidential election.

“The right to info must be guaranteed as well as the safety of journalists covering the news.

‘Very worried’

    Sadibou Marong, head of office for sub-Saharan Africa at RSF, told RFI that the media watchdog had recorded 18 incidents against the press between mid-2022 and mid-2023. 

    “Most of them were related to elections,” he added, saying that despite Senegal’s historic press freedom, Sall has pushed for the persecution of journalists. 

    “We are very, very worried,” Marong said.  

    Last month, Human Rights Watch denounced Senegal’s repression of opposition leaders, media and civil society, claiming that “the authorities have been filling prisons for the last three years with hundreds of political opponents”.

    • Human Rights Watch warns of Senegal repression ahead of elections

    In response Senegal’s government had insisted that “all freedoms are exercised without hindrance”.The Committed to Protect Journalists (CPJ) added that “Internet shutdowns leave journalists struggling to report the news in a timely manner, to fact check misinformation, and to contact sources safely,” the organisation said.

    The organisations called on Senegalese authorities to immediately restore access to mobile data. 

    Senegal’s parliament began debating a proposal to postpone the presidential poll for up to six months.

    • Senegalese parliament votes on new presidential election date amid protests

    The polls had been set for 25 February, until President Macky Sall gave a speech on Saturday to annoucement this postponement.

    Opposition figures have called for further demonstration outside the parliament.


    Finance

    Over 900 jobs cut at Société Générale as French unions cry foul

    French banking group Société Générale has unveiled plans to slash 947 jobs at its head office as part of a cost-cutting programme, a move unions have decried as “an earthquake” for workers. 

    Société Générale said Monday that five percent of its head office staff would be cut as part of organisational changes “to simplify its operations and structurally improve its operational efficiency”.

    In September, the group’s new chief executive, Slawomir Krupa, presented a strategic roadmap that included reducing costs by €1.7 billion by 2026 compared to 2022.

    The job reductions will be carried out “through internal transfers, end-of-year support or voluntary departures,” the bank says.

    In a message to staff see, the bank said structural costs had to be reined in to bolster competitiveness and profitability.

    One move in that direction is the bank merging its Credit Du Nord network under the SG brand.

    The group will cut its branches significantly with 1,450 planned for 2025 down from 2,100 five years earlier.



    Unions slam job cuts

    Several unions have expressed concern over cuts which had been leaked to the media without management reacting.

    “Where is the company’s social responsibility?” asked Michael Plessiet of the CFTC – the French Federation of Christian Workers.

    The CGT union has called the move an “earthquake among workers” while the hard left Force Ouvrière predicted further job losses to follow.

    • Societe Generale expects to pay €1.1 billion in US sanctions penalties

    Fifteen years under Krupa’s predecessor Frederic Oudea, Société Générale had seen its fair share of scandal, including the saga of rogue trader Jerome Kerviel, whose deals cost the bank almost €5 billion in 2008 after they turned sour.

    Oudea’s stewardship also included a €1 billion fine imposed in 2018 by the United States on charges the bank had violated US sanctions on Cuba, Iran and other countries.

    Société Générale employs 117,500 people worldwide, including 56,000 in France.


    Economy

    Faced with inflation, French households reduce food waste

    Inflation has driven less food waste in France, according to a new poll, which found that inflation remains a top concern across many European countries.

    As inflation hit 4.9 percent in France in 2023, households have made increased efforts to keep their food budgets under control, according to a poll conducted for the BNP Paribas-owned Cetelem consumer credit company, with 87 percent of households reducing food waste.

    “Food waste was, if you wish, a victim of the strong inflation of food products,” said BNP economist Flavien Neuvy of the poll that asked households from ten European countries, including France, how they are facing inflation.

    Overall, households paid more attention to their budgets in 2023, in particular to food expenses, with one out of three Europeans eating less than they did the previous year.

    In France, the number was higher: 41 percent of respondents said they ate less in 2023 than they did in 2022.  

    Less meat, fish

    Overall, 55 percent respondents across Europe said they bought less meat or fish to cut costs, and 49 percent said they reduced the amount of organic products they bought.

    The poll found that southern Europeans feel the effects of inflation more than northern Europeans, with 81 percent of respondents in Portugal saying the feel it, compared to 55 percent in France.

     

    • France seeks to force supermarkets to tackle ‘scandalous’ shrinkflation

    While the perception of inflation not the same thing as actual inflation, it affects consumer habits and how they spend their money.

    For 87 percent of respondents, across Europe, inflation is their main area of concern – more so than international conflicts or climate change.


    Ukraine war

    France summons Russian ambassador over aid worker deaths in Ukraine

    France has summoned the Russian ambassador over the deaths of two French humanitarian aid workers last week in a Russian strike in Ukraine – as well as what it says is a disinformation campaign targeting France.

    French terrorism prosecutors have opened a war crimes investigation into a strike last Thursday in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine that killed two French aid workers and injured three other citizens.

    Foreign Minister Stephane Séjourné said the strike, near the frontline on the Dnipro river, was an act of “barbarism”, and wrote on X that Russia would be made to answer for its “crimes”.

    Russian ambassador Alexey Meshkov is to be summoned to the ministry over the attack, and over what France has called a surge of disinformation about alleged French mercenaries fighting in Ukraine.

    Two days after France announced new arms deliveries to Ukraine, on 16 January, Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had killed some 60 French mercenaries in a strike on a building in Kharkiv.

    Disinformation attacks

    France has denied that it has mercenaries in Ukraine, while Russian lawmakers adopted a resolution condemning them.

    France has also accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of relaying false information after suggesting missiles that had downed a Russian plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war could have been from a French air defence system.

    The foreign ministry has warned of more disinformation attacks as French President Emmanuel Macron plans to visit Ukraine this month.

    Meshkov was summoned to the foreign ministry twice before, including soon after Russia’s 2022 invasion to answer for a tweet the embassy posted about atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

    (with newswires)

    International report

    Sweden deal unlikely to resolve bitter dispute between NATO and Turkey

    Issued on:

    Ankara’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership after a 10-month delay has spurred hopes of a reset in relations between Turkey and the alliance, but tensions still run deep.

    French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent state visit to Sweden focused heavily on defence amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

    While its NATO membership was seen as critical amid persisting concerns over border security, Turkey refused to ratify Sweden’s entry until a long list of demands from its partners were met.

    Sweden’s accession saw a lifting of restrictions by NATO countries on military hardware sales to Turkey, says Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who is now a regional analyst for Mediyacope, a Turkish news portal.

    “F-16s are being bought [from the US]. This will keep the Turkish air force up in the air for some time… Deals like this one will keep the relationship afloat,” he told RFI.

    F-16 deal

    For years, US President Joe Biden blocked the sale of American F-16 fighter jets amid concerns over rising tensions between Turkey and its neighbours over territorial disputes.

    With Ankara ratifying NATO’s expansion, the White House has authorised the sale, and Congress is expected to ratify the deal. However it may not be the diplomatic victory Ankara claims.

    “The last I heard was the State Department was drawing up a letter demanding the transfer of F-16s as a kind of a certification program,” says Turkey specialist Sinan Ciddi, of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

    “They could halt transfers if the Turks , for example, continue to antagonise Greek airspace or overflights.”

    Erdogan’s advantage?

    Erdogan may retain an advantage, though. Hungary has yet to ratify Sweden’s membership and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Oban is a close ally of the Turkish leader.

    Last week, acting US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland held two days of talks in Ankara. The talks were focused on enabling better cooperation between the US and Turkey.

    Analyst Selcen says Turkey’s is still as strategically important to NATO as it was when it joined in 1952 at the height of the Cold War.

    “The same geopolitical reasons to keep Turkey as a strong military ally remain valid,” said Selcen. “On the one hand against the north, Russia, and on the other Iran and other terrorist threats.”

    The war against the Islamic State jihadists remains a point of tension because of Washington’s support for Syrian Kurdish fighters.

    These include the YPG, which is affiliated with the PKK, and which has been fighting Turkey for decades and is designated by both the European Union and the US as a terrorist group.

    “The US relationship with YPG poisons almost all the potential collaborations,” political scientist Bilgehan Alagoz of Istanbul’s Marmara University says.

    So first [the] United States should check its policy towards the YPG, and then Turkey and the United States can start talking about other issues.”

    Erdogan, Alagoz adds, is holding NATO hostage to extract concessions over Sweden’s membership.

    Along with his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his refusal to impose sanctions against Moscow, this is raising questions over Ankara’s loyalties.

    With the threat posed by Russia expected to grow, and the danger of contagion from the Israel-Hamas conflict, resolving the trust deficit between Turkey and its NATO partners has never been more important.

    • French president urges Turkey to support Sweden’s bid to join NATO

    The Sound Kitchen

    Belgium’s full plate

    Issued on:

    This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about Belgium and the EU presidency. There’s “On This Day”, “The Listener’s Corner”, Ollia Horton’s “Happy Moment”, and Erwan Rome’s “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!

    Would you like to learn French? RFI is here to help you!

    Our website “Le Français facile avec RFI”  has news broadcasts in slow, simple French, as well as bi-lingual radio dramas (with real actors!) and exercises to practice what you have heard.

    Go to our website and get started! At the top of the page, click on “Test level”. According to your score, you’ll be counseled to the best-suited activities for your level.

    Do not give up! As Lidwien van Dixhoorn, the head of “Le Français facile” service told me: “Bathe your ears in the sound of the language, and eventually, you’ll get it”. She should know – Lidwien is Dutch and came to France hardly able to say “bonjour” and now she heads this key RFI department – so stick with it!

    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 6 January I asked you a question about Belgium, whose turn it is to hold the presidency of the European Union – each member state of the European Union holds the presidency for six months. You were to re-read our article “Belgium faces election juggling act as it takes over rotating EU presidency” because Belgium is tasked with organizing not only the European elections on 9 June but also their internal national elections, and no luck there, those elections are also on 9 June. All that and something else, quite important, falls during the time of Belgium’s presidency, and that was your question: what else is the Belgian presidency tasked with accomplishing during its six-month term? What is one of the biggest issues it also has to deal with?  

    The answer is, to quote our article: “One of the big issues it will still have to deal with is the revision of what is known as the ‘multiannual financial framework’, i.e., the European budget for the coming years, and also ensuring that aid to Ukraine does not wane.”

    In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “If you could resign from anything, what would it be?”

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

    The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Richard Wasajja from Masaka, Uganda. Richard is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Richard – and welcome back to The Sound Kitchen !

    Also on the list of lucky winners this week is Mrs. Anjona Parvin, the secretary of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh, and two RFI English Listeners Club members from India: Radhakrishna Pillai from Kerala State, and Samir Mukhopadhyay from Kolkata. Last but certainly not least, there’s RFI English listener Khondaker Shihab Uddin Khan from Bogura, Bangladesh.

    Congratulations winners!

    Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: The “Scherzo” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, op. 61 by Félix Mendelssohn, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa; “Quand on est bien amoureux”, a traditional folk song from Belgium performed by Wör; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer; “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and “Minha Terra” sung by Ruy Mingas.

    This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “France seeks change to EU nature laws in bid to appease farmers” to help you with your answer.

    You have until 26 February to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 3 March 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

    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


    Sponsored content

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    The editorial team did not contribute to this article in any way.

    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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    The editorial team did not contribute to this article in any way.

    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.