rfi 2024-02-09 00:05:34



FRANCE – SECURITY

Rights court faults France for police ‘kettling’ tactic at 2010 protest

Strasbourg (AFP) – The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday found France guilty of unlawfully employing a controversial police tactic to encircle protesters during a 2010 demonstration.

The method, known as “kettling”, consists of police cordoning off areas to contain groups of protesters in a small space – sometimes for hours – until in the police’s view, they can no longer cause trouble.

Police used the tactic at a 2010 demonstration in Lyon, southeastern France, against pension reform under then-president Nicolas Sarkozy – which sparked violent clashes between protesters at police in several French cities.

While acknowledging that there were good reasons to cordon off the city’s Place Bellecour square to stop unrest spreading, the court also said there was no legal basis at the time for doing so.

France therefore violated two key provisions of the European human rights convention – freedom of movement and freedom of assembly and association, it ruled.

“The court concluded that the police’s use of the kettling technique had not, at the relevant time, been ‘prescribed by law'”, it said in a statement.

France’s interior ministry has since issued national instructions for maintaining public order which make the kettling practice legal, the court said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Patrice Spinosi, called the verdict “a victory” because it showed that kettling was “illicit” at the time.

  • French police officers given suspended jail terms for brutal arrest
  • France denies police racism is widespread, but evidence tells another story

No blank cheque

He said the subsequently established legal basis for the practice was “not a blank cheque for police”, who could still be challenged if they used the tactic “indiscriminately”.

The case was filed by around a dozen participants at the demonstration on October 21, 2010, one of a series of sometimes violent protests against the pensions reform bill.

Up to 600 people gathered at Place Bellecour for the demonstration, for which the authorities had been given notice.

Two hours into the protest, police put in place kettling measures which were called off only more than three hours later, making it impossible for people inside the cordon to join the demonstration.

A number of demonstrators filed a complaint with the French judiciary, which threw out their case.

They then took their complaint to the ECHR in December 2021, saying the kettling measure had violated their freedom of movement in a way that was not regulated by law.

Kettling, also known as “corralling”, is often criticised for indiscriminately affecting both protesters and non-demonstrating bystanders who happen to be in the same location, often depriving them of access to water, food and toilets for hours.

It is in widespread use across the world and has been challenged legally in several cases, sometimes successfully.


Paris 2024 Olympics

Paris Olympics medals to include metal from Eiffel Tower

The medals for the 2024 Paris summer Olympic and Paralympic Games will include a piece of iron from the original Eiffel Tower.

The 5,084 gold, silver and bronze medals for the Olympic and Paralympic games will have a hexagon-shaped piece of iron from the original Eiffel tower set in the middle, like a gemstone.

“We wanted to offer to all medal winners at the Paris Olympics and Paralympics a piece of the Eiffel Tower from 1889,” said Tony Estanguet, the head of the local organising committee, unveiling the design on Thursday.

Designed by the elite French jewellery house Chaumet, the medals will combine “the most precious metals from the medals – gold, silver and bronze – with the most precious metal in our country, from this treasure that is the Eiffel Tower,” Estanguet explained.

The iron pieces come from maintenance over the years, as some of the original structure was replaced during renovations.

The medals will be manufactured by the French national mint, using recycled gold, silver and bronze.

The medals’ ridged edges are intended to catch the light and evoke the sun’s rays. The iron hexagon, which evokes the shape of mainland France, is held in place with spurs that look like the rivets on the Eiffel Tower.

Since 2004, the back of all medals show the Greek goddess Nike flying into the historic Panathinaikos stadium in Athens, the site of the original Olympic Games of antiquity.

(with AFP)


FRANCE – RELIGION

Vatican opposes inclusion of abortion rights in French constitution

The Vatican has stated its opposition to France inscribing the right to abortion in its constitution, as debate continues over an amendment in a country that retains a strong Catholic tradition despite its official secularism.

France is “moving towards a constitution against life,” reads an editorial published by the Vatican, signed by Massimiliano Menichetti, head of Radio Vatican and Vatican News.

The Pope has not officially commented on the proposed constitutional amendment, but the editorial can be considered an official position of the Vatican, which remains staunchly against abortion.

“How is it possible to enshrine a norm that allows the death of a person in the fundamental charter of a state while at the same time protecting the human person?” asks the editorial, recalling Pope Francis’s statements against abortion in September 2021, in which he called it murder.

Menichetti wrote that embryos continue to be treated as “materials and not people”.

French bishops concerned

In an address to the faithful in Marseille in September 2023, Pope Francis spoke generally about the “tragedy of discarding human life”, whether it’s ignoring the plight of migrants or protecting unborn children.

The editorial calls for policies to support women “economically, legally, psychologically, religiously, and socially at the dramatic moment when abortion seems to be the only solution.”

  • French lawmakers vote to enshrine abortion rights in constitution

In November, the French bishops’ conference reiterated its concern about the right to abortion being included in the constitution.

The latest version of the constitutional amendment was approved by the National Assembly at the end of January, and will now be debated and voted on in the Senate at the end of February.

If the two chambers can agree on a text, it will be put to a vote at a special gathering of both chambers of parliament, who would need to approve it with a three-fifths majority.


West Africa

Mali to quit regional Ecowas bloc without respecting notice period

Mali has reaffirmed its exit “without delay” from the West African bloc Ecowas, saying it is not bound by the organisation’s one-year timeframe for withdrawal. Burkina Faso and Niger also said they intend to follow suit.

Bamako’s military government announced its withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) on 28 January, along with neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Article 91 of the bloc’s treaty stipulates that member countries remain bound by their obligations for a period of one year after notification of their withdrawal.

But in a letter to Ecowas on Wednesday, Mali’s Foreign Ministry said the country was “no longer bound” by the time constraints.

The letter said that Ecowas had rendered the treaty “inoperative” when it failed to meet its obligations by closing member states’ borders with Mali in 2022, denying it access to the sea. 

Mali is also upset over heavy sanctions imposed by Ecowas as it tried to push for the early return of civilian government with elections.  

Late Wednesday, Burkina Faso and Niger said they too intended to leave immediately, despite the bloc’s one-year rule.

  • Sahel countries Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso sign mutual defence pact

Emergency talks

West African foreign ministers are to hold emergency talks on Thursday.

Ecowas’s Mediation and Security Council said ministers would gather in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday to “discuss current security and political issues in the region”.

It was unclear whether any Senegalese minister would attend.

Ecowas has urged Senegal – one of its most stable member states – to return to its election timetable, but critics have already questioned the group’s sway over increasingly defiant member states.  

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

Senegal’s troubles are a “new crisis Ecowas doesn’t need”, Beninese political consultant Djidenou Steve Kpoton told AFP. 

“Its powerlessness in the face of the situation is self-evident.”

The turmoil has also brought the almost 50-year-old bloc’s broader role into doubt.

Other analysts said they had confidence in the bloc’s long-term ability to deal with regional problems through mediation. 

But with its reputation at stake, Ecowas’ handling of the latest political upheaval is being closely watched.


Health

France moves closer to banning disposable e-cigarettes with Senate vote

The French Senate has approved a draft bill passed by the National Assembly that would ban single-use electronic cigarettes, which are seen as leading to addiction by young people and harmful to the environment. 

The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to ban pre-filled, single-use e-cigarettes, called “puffs”, which include nicotine, and are popular with young people because of their attractive colours and flavours and their low price.

“The marketing of these products is intended to attract young people with colours, fruit [flavours] and aromas, and low price,” Labour and Health Minister Catherine Vautrin told the chamber.

They are detrimental for health, society and the environment, she said.

While the Senators approved the law, they modified the National Assembly’s text, to clarify the ban.

The text would ban the “manufacturing, marketing, sale, distribution or offering for free” of the products, as well as prohibiting owning them with the intent to sell or distribute them, with a fine of up to €100,000.

International health debate

The two chambers will now need to combine their text, and approve that version before it is sent to the European Commission, which will have six months to hand down an opinion.

The government has said it hopes the ban will come into effect in September.

Elsewhere, the UK on Monday announced it will introduce legislation to ban disposable e-cigarettes in order to tackle a rise in youth vaping,

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government also plans to introduce fines for shops in England and Wales that sell vapes illegally to children.

Meanwhile, vaping and other recent smoking innovations are expected to be high on the agenda as country representatives gather in Panama City on Monday, tasked with revising a  World Health Organization WHO treaty on tobacco control.

(with AFP)


EU – WOMEN’S RIGHTS

EU agrees first law on violence against women, fails to find consensus on rape

European Union member states and lawmakers have reached an agreement on the bloc’s first laws to tackle violence against women. However, they failed to agree on a definition of rape.

The new law seeks to protect women in the 27-nation EU bloc from gender-based violence, forced marriages, female genital mutilation and online harassment.

“It’s a clear message across the union that we take violence against women seriously,” Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald told reporters at the European parliament in Strasbourg, two years after the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – first proposed the legislation.

“For the first time ever, we criminalise widespread forms of cyber violence, such as non-consensual sharing of intimate images,” Vera Jourova, European Commission vice president for values and transparency, said on social media.



The text criminalises cyber stalking, cyber harassment and cyber incitement to hatred or violence across the European Union.

It does not, however, include a common definition of rape, which proved to be the most controversial point in negotiations.

“We could not get consent-based definition of rape into this directive. So that is a very big disappointment,” Fitzgerald said.

  • France targets public transport in campaign to stamp out violence against women

Definition disputed

France was one of a dozen countries – along with Germany and Hungary – that opposed including a definition of rape, arguing the EU had no competence in the matter.

The argued that rape does not have the cross-border dimension necessary for it to be considered a crime that comes with common penalties in the bloc.

    The parliament and the commission strongly disputed that position, insisting that rape could fall within the framework of “sexual exploitation of women”, for which there is already a joint set of penalties. 

    France’s position has controversy, as President Emmanuel Macron has promised to tackle violence against women during his second mandate.

    He had elicited criticism after defending the presumption of innocence for French actor Gérard Dépardieu, who has been charged with rape and sexual harassment.

    • Anger over Macron’s defence of French actor Depardieu, accused of rape

    Although the text does not contain a definition of rape, member states will aim to raise awareness that non-consensual sex is considered a criminal offence, the parliament said in a statement.

    The commission will have to report every five years on whether the rules need to be updated, it added.


    Climate change

    Hottest January on record as 1.5C limit breached for 12 months straight

    The past month was the hottest January on record, according to Europe’s climate monitor, which also said the world had experienced 12 straight months of temperatures 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times for the first time.

    Last month surpassed the previous warmest January, in 2020, said the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), marking the eighth month in a row of historic high monthly temperatures.

    “Not only is it the warmest January on record but we have also just experienced a 12-month period of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial reference period,” said C3S Deputy Director Samantha Burgess.

    The warming is caused by carbon emissions, supercharged by the El Nino phenomenon, which warms the surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

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

    Emissions reductions

    “Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures increasing,” Burgess said.

    Despite exceeding 1.5C in a 12-month period, the world has not yet breached the 2015 Paris Agreement target, which is measured over decades, not months.

    The UN’s IPCC climate panel has warned that the world will likely heat beyond 1.5C in the early 2030s as planet-heating emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have continued to rise.

    Variations

    Copernicus reported January temperatures were well above average in southern Europe as well as western Africa, the Middle East central Asia and eastern Canada.

    But they were below average in parts of northern Europe, western Canada and the central region of the United States.

    And while parts of the world experienced an unusually wet January, parts the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and of North America saw drier conditions.

    (with newswires)


    EU – HUNGARY

    EU launches punative measures against Hungary over ‘anti-democratic’ laws

    The European Union says it has launched action against Hungary after Budapest passed laws it says are intended to “protect Hungary’s sovereignty” and curb foreign influence.

    The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, on Tuesday said it had sent a letter of formal notice to Hungary for violations of EU law. 

    Critics say the laws are the latest bid by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government to silence opponents ahead of crucial EU and Hungarian municipal elections in June.

    The move is known in EU jargon as an infringement procedure and gives Hungary two months to reply to the letter.



    Hungary laws counter ‘outside influence’

    The move will likely further exacerbate tensions between the European Union and Orban.

    Brussels already has placed a hold on €22 billion in EU funds for Budapest over rule-of-law concerns.

    Budapest regularly claims the European Union and other countries – especially the United States – back the opposition with funding to influence voters in Hungary.

    • Hungary blocks billion-euro EU aid deal for Ukraine
    • EU parliament threatens legal action amid row over Ukraine aid

    Hungary’s laws, passed last year, criminalise foreign funding of election campaigns and establish a new Sovereignty Protection Office with broad investigative powers.

    Brussels maintains that Hungary’s legislations violate several elements of EU law, “in particular when it comes to the principle of democracy and the electoral rights of EU citizens,” commission spokeswoman Anitta Hipper said.

    “The set-up of a new authority with wide-ranging powers and a strict regime of monitoring, enforcement and sanctioning also risks to seriously harm the democracy in Hungary,” Hipper told a press conference in Brussels.



    Risk to human rights

    Orban’s ruling Fidesz party has argued that the law will end “electoral trickery” following accusations against opposition parties that they received funds from a US-based NGO in the run-up to the 2022 elections.

    Pan-European rights body the Council of Europe has urged Hungary to abandon the laws, arguing it posed a significant risk to human rights. 

    Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have also voiced alarm, while the United States said it was concerned the laws would be used to intimidate critics.

    US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in December that the law was “inconsistent with our shared values of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”.


    ENERGY

    TotalEnergies posts biggest ever annual profit of almost €20bn

    French power giant TotalEnergies on Wednesday reported its highest ever annual profit – €19.9 billion – for 2023, underpinned by performances in its liquefied natural gas and electricity divisions.

    The company’s profit, up 4 percent on the year before, comes despite a decline in oil and gas prices that affected the fourth quarter.

    Its bottom line puts TotalEnergies ahead of competitors Shell, BP, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, which all reported lower earnings in the face of weaker energy prices.

    TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné said the profit was thanks to “growth in hydrocarbons“, in particular liquefied natural gas and electricity.

    • French company to coordinate carbon capture project in Brazil
    • Green groups sue TotalEnergies over ‘devastating’ East Africa oil pipeline

    Higher expectations

    The results, however, fall short of expectations, with its share price dropping around 1.5 percent in early trading on the Paris stock exchange.

    Financial analysts had been looking for a figure of up to €22 billion.

    Pouyanné called the results “robust”, saying in a statement they had been achieved in “an uncertain environment”.

    TotalEnergies has pursued its diversification towards low-carbon electricity production amid criticisism by environmental groups for its ongoing investment in fossil fuels.

    In September the group said it would increase hydrocarbon production by 2-3 percent a year over the next five years. 

    (with newswires)


    FRANCE – Justice

    Paris attacks jihadist Abdeslam transferred from Belgium to France

    Salah Abdeslam – sentenced to life in prison over the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks – was on Wednesday transferred from Belgium to France in a move his lawyer said was a “flagrant violation of the rule of law”.

    Abdeslam is the only surviving member of the Islamic State cell that killed 130 people in the French capital in November 2015.

    The 34-year-old has been detained in Belgium since his trial for the subsequent 2016 attacks in Brussels, for which he was also found guilty in September.

    “Salah Adbeslam has just been incarcerated in a prison in the Paris region,” French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said.

    “In accordance with the decision of the French justice system and the wishes of victims’ associations, he will serve his irreducible life sentence there.”

    Months in hiding

    After fleeing to Brussels following the Paris attacks, Abdeslam hid for four months in an apartment hosting members of a local jihadist cell.

    He was arrested days before suicide attacks that killed 32 people and injured hundreds at Brussels airport and a metro station in March 2016.

    A Belgian jury decided he was one of the co-planners of those attacks.

    • Seven to face court over 2018 terror attacks in south of France
    • Paris to build memorial garden for victims of 2015 terror attacks

    His transfer back to France had been blocked by a Brussels court over concerns it contravened the European Convention of Human Rights.

    Abdeslam’s lawyer, Delphine Paci, told the French news agency AFP on Wednesday: “They came to get him in his cell at 9am this morning … There was clearly collusion between the Belgian state and the French state to violate a court decision.”

    Abdeslam‘s lawyers have argued he should be allowed to serve his sentence in Belgium, where he grew up and has family ties despite holding French citizenship.

    “This is clearly about a kind of thirst for revenge that has taken precedence over the rule of law,” Paci said.

    (with AFP)


    FRANCE – MAYOTTE

    Mayotte, France’s poorest overseas territory, hit by crippling social crisis

    Two weeks of protests against ongoing insecurity on the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte have reportedly “paralysed the entire economy” as blockades prevent the movement of goods, disrupt travel and force school closures.

    Road blocks “almost every kilometre” were clogging traffic on Mayotte – with violent youths throwing stones in a situation described as “chaos on top of chaos” by president of the local Medef employer federation, Carla Baltus.

    Residents of the archipelago – which has long been hit by water shortages, a housing crisis and illegal immigration from neighboring Comoros – “no longer have a life” because social activities are too dangerous, and people are forced to be home by 6pm, Baltus told FranceInfo.

    “We fear for our lives every day,” she said, adding the road blocks were also holding up health workers and preventing the delivery of medicines to pharmacies.

    Rally in the capital

    Mayotte’s Forces Vives (Living Forces) collective is behind the blockades, which were temporarily lifted on Tuesday to allow for a rally in multiple areas of the capital, Mamoudzou.

    Protesters gathered outside the Place de la Republique before marching to the High Court, where security forces used tear gas to prevent crowds from entering.

    • French island Mayotte survives on bottled water in century’s worst drought
    • Unicef sounds alarm over child poverty in French overseas departments

    Among their demands is the dismantling of a refugee camp set up in a local football stadium as well as an end to resident permits that prevent their holders from leaving the territory. Locals also complain of lower social benefits and a lower minimum wage than in mainland France.

    “Mayotte has been a French department since 2011 but many people say it is an empty shell,” Zakia, a local mother, told RFI.

    “We do not have the same votes as the French departments. This is precisely what the Mahorais are demanding, the same social rights as the other French departments.”

    Water shortages

    An archipelago of 310,000 inhabitants, Mayotte is facing its most crippling drought since 1997 – made worse by a lack of infrastructure and investment.

    Residents have access to clean water one day in three and are now receiving bottled water shipped in from mainland France.

    The government has said that the free distribution of bottled water will continue for “as long as necessary”, and bills will be paid by the state.


    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 “biggest anti-Semitic massacre of our century”.

    The families of the 42 French citizens 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 promised “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 “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 unable to attend for scheduling reasons, though representatives of the Israeli embassy in Paris were 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, had 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)


    Africa Cup of Nations 2023

    2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 26 – twins and a déjà vu

    And finally Cote d’Ivoire won a game without imploding while Nigeria’s Super Eagles were far from soaring. Over in Cairo, the Egyptians are banking on some brotherly love.

    Hurrah for the Hassans

    Kudos to the Hassan twins for their ascent to the top jobs with the Egypt national team. Hossam – who is Egypt’s record marksman with 68 goals –  has taken over as head coach from Rui Vitoria who was consciously uncoupled from the post after the poor showing of the Pharoahs at the tournament. Ibrahim will be the team director. And their identical goal will be to lead Egypt to a record-extending eighth trophy. The last triumph was in 2010.

    Rui’s rue

    What might have been, Rui Vitoria must be wondering as he surveys new prospects. The Portuguese former Egypt head coach lost star striker Mohamed Salah to a hamstring injury in the second group stage game against Ghana on Day 6 and first choice goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy dislocated a shoulder in the subsequent game against Cape Verde. Still, the back-up keeper Gabaski wasn’t exactly a slouch. He played brilliantly in the Cameroon tournament in 2022 on the way to the runners-up spot. But that was then and in the here and now of the 2023 extravaganza, his penalty struck the crossbar in the shoot-out in the last-16 against Democratic Republic of Congo. Vitoria must have known the reign would be over as DRC goalkeeper Lionel Mpasi stylishly converted his penalty to take his team into the quarter-finals.

    Holler Haller

    Ooh, what really might have been. In all the glee over Cote d’Ivoire’s ascent to the final of the delayed 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, spare a thought for Jean-Louis Gasset – the coach who got them into the last-16 but nevertheless left because – as we were told by the Ivorian football federation – he didn’t take them there in the way that had been contractually agreed. Red tape, eh? In the run-up to the 34th Cup of Nations, Gasset insisted that it was correct to allow Sebastien Haller and Simon Adringra time to recover from injuries as they were key players who were worth that risk. “Haller is a leader,” said the 70-year-old Frenchman in the days when he was Haller’s boss. “He is Cote d’Ivoire’s main striker and I’m willing to do my utmost for a man like him.” Hooray for Gasset. His derring-do and subsequent loss of employment due to Haller’s unavailability has helped the new man Emerse Faé look good with a fit Haller back in the fold and scoring the winner which took Cote d’Ivoire into the final against Nigeria – a repeat of the second game in Group A which is where it all started to go wrong for Gasset. An Ivorian victory would be such succulent symmetry.

    Broos bruised but not bowed

    South Africa coach Hugo Broos oozed contentment despite his side’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Nigeria. “What they did today … you have to be proud as a coach.” The review wholeheartedly agrees. The South Africans led the Nigerians a merry dance in the first-half and should have scored a couple. South Africa had opportunities to clinch a place in a Cup of Nations final for the first time since 1998 in second-half stoppage time but missed three good chances. Penalties, admitted Broos, are a lottery. “The way we play we don’t need to have fear,” insisted the 71-year-old Belgian. “The players are good and they have to believe that. It is something that I have said to them.” South Africa play Democratic Republic of Congo on Day 29 for the third place medal. We shall see if they are heeding the boss.

    Favourite hair shirt

    It’s been rather endearing the way no one wants to be considered ‘the favourite’. It’s like passing a ticking time bomb with the wonky piano music about to stop. Nigeria coach José Peseiro went out of his way to repudiate the very concept of favourite before the semi-final against South Africa. With good reason. His lads looked like chumps at the start of the game in Bouaké and at the end of normal time rode their luck. “Compliments to South Africa players and coach, they did a fantastic job,” said a still queasy Peseiro less than 30 minutes after the final whistle. “Nigeria deserved the win and so did South Africa. Our team was stronger in the penalties.” Says it all really.


    Africa Cup of Nations 2023

    Nigeria edge past South Africa and into Cup of Nations final

    Nigeria advanced to the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday night following a penalty shoot-out victory over South Africa in Bouaké.

    The match ended 1-1 after extra-time and Nigeria claimed the penalty session 4-2. Extra-time substitute Kelechi Iheanacho drove home the decisive kick.

    The 27-year-old Leicester City forward – once touted to become an illustrious international marksman – has been eclipsed by Victor Osimhen and had not featured in the tournament before his introduction after 102 minutes of the semi-final.

    He ripped his shirt off and sprinted to the Nigeria fans at the other end of the stadium as he revelled in his moment as his nation’s saviour.

    But for Ademola Lookman’s clumsiness, Iheanacho would not have had the chance to shine.

    Lookman could have wrapped up the tie in the 85th minute as South Africa sought an equaliser. But the Atalanta striker tried to take the ball round the South Africa goalkeeper Ronwen Williams and was thwarted.

    In the prelude to the game at the Stade de la Paix, the Nigeria boss José Peseiro cracked down on the idea that his side would be favourites for the tie.

    And the 63-year-old’s caution was vindicated during an opening half in which his charges were forced to run after the ball and South Africa monopolised the chances.

    Themba Zwane forced Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali into action in the 16th minute and Percy Tau should have put South Africa ahead 11 minjutes later.

    A ricochet took the ball to him 15 metres from goal but the Al Ahly striker snatched at his shot and it trickled tamely to Nwabali

    A heavy touch betrayed Tau a few minutes later as he outsprinted Ajayi Adesewo down the left and bore down on goal.

    Tau then turned provider setting up Evidence Makgopa whose side-footed shot was arcing into the left hand corner before Nwabali’s flying save prevented the opener.

    “Tactically I think we neutralised Nigeria by using three defenders,” said South Africa head coach Hugo Broos.

    “We knew there was a danger with their two wingers and we thought the best solution was another central defender.”

    Revamp

    Unsurprisingly, Nigeria started the second-half with more urgency but could not carve out any openings in the tournament’s second best defence.

    But midway through the second-half Victor Osimhen picked up the ball and drove towards goal down the right hand side of the South Africa penalty area. Mothobi Mvala tripped him and referee Amin Mohamed Omar pointed to the penalty spot.

    Skipper William Ekong stepped up against Williams who had saved four penalties during the shoot-out victory against Cape Verde.

    For his strike against Cote d’Ivoire in the second game of the group stages on 18 January, Ekong opted for power down the middle. Nearly three weeks later, he went in the same direction but scuffed the shot.

    Fortunately for the 30-year-old, Williams had committed himself to the left and could not recover rapidly enough to stop the ball rolling tauntingly over the line.

    Makgopa flashed a shot past Nwabali’s left hand post as South Africa sought parity

    Chance

    With two minutes remaining, Osimhen thought he had sealed the victory when he finished off a counterattack.

    But the video assistant referees spotted Alhassan Yusuf’s foul on Tau before the attack and Omar awarded a penalty.

    Tebono Mokoena thrashed home and in the six minutes of stoppage-time South Africa went for blood.

    Nwabali saved a free kick and Khuliso Mudau blazed the rebound over the bar for what would been the winner.

    “We could have killed Nigeria before the end of normal time,” lamented Broos

    “But we didn’t do it. Penalties are a lottery. Four days ago, we didn’t play that well and came through on penalties against Cape Verde. Today we played well and lost.”

    South Africa will play the third place play-off on Saturday against Democratic Republic of Congo who lost 1-0 to Cote d’Ivoire in Abidjan on Wednesday ngiht.

    “South Africa did a fantastic job,” Peseiro reflected. “Congratulatons to them and their coach. It was a very good victory against a very good team. Together they created more problems for us than all the other teams.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    s


    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)


    Sudan crisis

    UN appeals for $4.1bn in aid to alleviate Sudan’s ‘epic suffering’

    The United Nations appealed Wednesday for $4.1 billion in aid to provide for civilians caught-up in the conflict in Sudan 

    “Ten months of conflict have robbed the people of Sudan of nearly everything – their safety, their homes and their livelihoods,” United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths said in a statement.

    Brutal Conflict

    The brutal conflict that erupted in Sudan in April last year has caused a humanitarian collapse and left over half of the country’s population – around 25 million people – in need of assistance and protection.   

    • Fighting in Sudan’s El Gezira state threatens aid, displaces thousands

    The UN and its partners said they need $2.7 billion this year to reach 14.7 million people with desperately-needed aid inside the country.

    “The generosity of donors helps us provide food and nutrition, shelter, clean water, and education for children, and to fight the scourge of gender-based violence and care for the survivors,” Griffiths added.

    “But last year’s appeal was less than half funded. This year, we must do better and with a heightened sense of urgency.”

    Help for neighbouring countries

    The UN refugee agency UNHCR meanwhile said it needs another $1.4 billion to help nearly 2.7 million people — refugees and members of their host communities — across five of Sudan’s neighbouring countries.

    The World Food Programme (WFP) also sent its reagional director to Sudan this week,  Michael Dunford, to assess the impact of the conflict on the people.



    The war between Sudan‘s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has resulted in the death of thousands of citizens, including  more than 10,000 in a single city in the western Darfur region, according to UN experts.

    Nearly eight million people have fled their homes, including more than 1.5 million who have crossed into neighbouring countries, according to UN figures.

    • Over 7.5 million displaced people in Sudan after nine months of war

    And the expanding fighting in Sudan has sparked rampant hunger with nearly 18 million people facing acute food insecurity.   

    A new report from the UN Security Council Panel of Experts of Sudan also describes waves of devastating attacks by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allied militias in West Darfur’s capital of El Geneina.

     (with newswires) 


    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 seeks to protect girls from genital mutilation

    France has granted refugee status to 20,000 girls under the age of 18 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 the national 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 prove 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 been issued.”

    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 the law will 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.”

    • 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,” she concludes.

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

    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


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    Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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    Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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