rfi 2024-02-10 00:05:30



Obituary

Robert Badinter, French minister who ended the guillotine, dies at 95

Robert Badinter, the former justice minister who played a key role in abolishing the death penalty in France in 1981, has died at the age of 95.  

Badinter saved many lives by dedicating his own to the fight against capital punishment.

The soft-spoken human rights lawyer, who said he could not abide by a “killer justice system”, was widely vilified for pushing through legislation banning the death penalty at a time when a majority of French people still supported it.

“We entered the court by the front door, and once the verdict had been read and the accused’s head was safe, we often had to leave by a hidden stairway,” he recalled.

Badinter said later he had “never felt so lonely” in fighting capital punishment, which in France was carried out by beheading with the guillotine – a practice dating back to the French Revolution of 1789.

In years to come, however, he would be hailed for his integrity and statesmanship.

“Robert Badinter never stopped pleading for enlightenment,” President Emmanuel Macron wrote on social media platform X. 

“He was a person of the century, a man with a republican conscience and a spirit that was French.”

‘Cut in two’   

The son of a Jewish fur trader who died in a Nazi death camp during World War II, Badinter built a reputation as a lawyer for defending – often successfully – notorious cases that his peers didn’t dare touch.

His career took a decisive turn in 1972 after one of his clients, Roger Bontems, was beheaded for his secondary role in the murder of a nurse and a guard during a prison escape.

Badinter was haunted by his failure to win a stay on Bontem’s execution. In 2005 he told RFI that the case changed his stance on the death penalty – from an “intellectual belief” as a lawyer on the left into a militant.

“It’s one thing to have an intellectual belief and another thing is injustice – to have the jury decide that [Bontems] hadn’t killed anybody … but that both of them should be sent to the guillotine?” he said.

“I saw a man, in the name of justice, cut in pieces. I couldn’t accept this idea of justice. It’s the contrary of justice. And from then on I became a militant.”

“I saw a man cut into pieces… with no blood on his hands. I couldn’t accept this idea of justice. Justice cannot kill.”

02:41

Robert Badinter talks to RFI’s Imogen Lamb in 2005

Imogen Lamb

Five years later he helped convince a jury not to execute Patrick Henry for the murder of a seven-year-old boy, becoming a hate figure for many French people.

Badinter turned the case into a trial of the death penalty, calling in experts to describe in grisly detail the workings of the guillotine.

“Guillotining is nothing less than taking a living man and cutting him in two,” he argued.

He saved six men from execution during his career, eliciting death threats in the process.

No deterrent effect

Badinter was appointed justice minister in president François Mitterrand‘s Socialist government in June 1981. He made ending the death penalty an immediate priority.

France’s last execution had been in 1977 with the death of Hamida Djandoubi – a Tunisian immigrant convicted of torturing and murdering a young woman.

Just four months after taking office, Badinter ushered an abolition through parliament with a landmark speech denouncing the “stealthy executions at dawn” that were France’s “collective shame”.

Demolishing myths about the supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty, he argued: “If fear of death stopped men in their tracks, we would have no great soldiers or sporting figures.”



Badinter continued to make history in 1983 when he succeeded in getting Bolivia to extradite Klaus Barbie, a former chief of the Nazis’ secret police, the Gestapo, to France.

Notorious during the German occupation of France as the “butcher of Lyon”, Barbie was put on trial for crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment in a landmark case that saw Holocaust victims take the stand for the first time in France.

During his five years as minister, Badinter also scrapped a law discriminating against gays on the age of sexual consent and worked to improve conditions in French prisons.

He served as president of the Constitutional Council and as a member of the French Senate from 1995 to 2011.

He worked tirelessly on trying to get a global ban on the death penalty, campaigning against executions in China and the United States.

Speaking to RFI in 2005 he expressed satisfaction that some 116 countries worldwide had abolished the death penalty.

“The trend is towards world abolition and it will come I am sure of that,” he said. “I’m afraid I will not see it, but it will come.”

According to Amnesty International 144 countries are abolitionist in law or practice.

 

(with newswires)


Culture

Why France is so fascinated by exhibitions on Ancient Egypt?

An immersive exhibition about Egyptian pharaohs opened on Friday at the Ateliers des Lumières in Paris. It’s the fourth expo on Ancient Egypt to be shown in the French capital since 2019, when artefacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun attracted a record number of visitors.

Projections of art pieces from the Louvre and the Egyptian museum in Cairo (EMC) adorn the walls of the 2,000 square metre Atelier des Lumières. They’re accompanied by classical and contemporary music, some from the soundtrack of films.

“The selection is based on art pieces that have been remarkably conserved despite the millennia that separates us from this civilisation,” the exhibition’s artistic director, Virginie Martin, told RFI.

She also uses new technology based on the 3D reconstitution of temples. Sme of the projections come from the original Assassin’s Creed video game, which was set in Egypt.

“There really is a love, a passion for the Orient and especially for Egypt,” French egyptologist Jean-Guillaume Olette-Pelletier told RFI. He was exhibition’s scientific advisor. 

“Because Egypt is a land of mysteries, it’s still very much part of our collective imagination, especially in France.”

There’s been a longstanding relationship between Egypt and France since Bonaparte’s Egyptian Expedition from 1798 to 1801.

  • How French linguist Champollion unlocked the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt

“It’s also thanks to [French egyptologist] Champollion, who discovered the key to hieroglyphic texts and ensured these hieroglyphs were no longer just images,” says Olette-Pelletier.

Several museums used the anniversary of deciphering the hieroglyphs (in 1822) to put on commemorative exhibitions highlighting the scientific and cultural relationship between France and Egypt.

Egyptologist Jean-Guillaume Olette-Pelletier

Record visitors

In 1967, an exhibition dedicated to Tutankhamun at the Petit Palais in Paris was the first to exceed one million visitors.

In 2019, the works dedicated to Tutankhamun were once again shown, this time at the Grande Halle de la Villette, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the famous pharaoh’s tomb.

A new record was set with 1.4 million visitors.

  • King Tut’s treasures come to Paris, record visitors expected

These exhibitions top the list of the most visited shows in French museum history –  trumping those devoted to Leonardo da Vinci, in 2020, Monet, in 2010, Dali, in 1979 and Renoir, in 1985. 

Ancient Egypt exhibitions in Paris since 1967

1967: The first exhibition on Ancient Egypt called Tutankhamun and his time was shown at the Petit Palais.
1976: Ramses II’s sarcophagus displayed at the Grand Palais.
2019: Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh at the Grande Halle de La Villette.
With 1,423,170 visitors, it is the most visited exhibition in France so far.
2023: Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs at the Grande Halle de La Villette.
3 February 2024: Tutankhamun the pharaonic immersive experience at the Galeries Montparnasse.
9 February 2024: The Egypt of Pharaohs. From Kheops to Ramses II at the Ateliers des Lumières.
 

Scientific, cultural cooperation

A significant number of French archaeologists and egyptologists work in Egypt, says Olette-Pelletier.

“There are three French centres in Egypt – in Alexandria, Cairo and Karnak – and they work all year round in collaboration with the Egyptians to bring certain works to the fore and to uncover temples or tombs,” he says.

Olette-Pelletier himself was trained at the French-Egyptian Centre for the Study of the Temples of Karnak (Cfeetk).

“Egypt loaning us some of Tutankhamun’s ancient artefacts is also a great way for Egypt to promote its own tourism,” he says.


Egyptian Pharaohs. From Cheops to Ramses II is at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris from 9 February 2024 to 5 January 2025.


French politics

Embattled French education minister replaced in reshuffle

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has finally completed his government nearly a month after being nominated – with a total of 35 ministers and secretaries of state. Most notably, a new education minister will take over from Amélie Oudea-Castera after a series of controversies.

President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his government in January with a tilt to the right, naming a small team of just 14 ministers under Attal, its youngest ever prime minister.

Attal late Thursday announced a second batch of ministerial nominations to complete a team aimed at injecting momentum for the final phase of the Macron presidency.

While Oudéa-Castera has lost the education portfolio, the former high-flying tennis plays stays on as Sports and Olympic Games Minister.

Nicole Belloubet – justice minister between 2017 and 2020 and former member of the Socialist Party – was the safe bet chosen to handle one of the most delicate posts in French politics.

The 68-year-old has held several high-level posts in education.

Oudéa-Castera came under fire since her nomination to a mammoth ministry combining education, sports and the Olympics for the way she handled a controversy over her children being privately schooled.

She irritated teachers early on by claiming absenteeism had prompted her decision to school her children in the private system.

Media headlines depicting her as out of touch and part of a privileged and aloof elite overshadowed the first days of Attal’s government.

Speaking on television on Thursday, Attal acknowledged Oudéa-Castera has provoked a sense of “discomfort”, but defended her record. 

  • French education minister says she is staying in post despite criticism

Four posts for centrist MoDem

There had been speculation that Francois Bayrou, head of the centrist MoDem that is allied to Macron’s party, could return to the government.

Bayrou was acquitted on Wednesday in a seven-year case over the fraudulent employment of parliamentary assistants by his party after the judge ruled he was owed the “benefit of the doubt”.

  • French centrist leader Francois Bayrou cleared of misusing public funds

But on Wednesday Bayrou said he would not enter the government, blaming a lack of “profound agreement on policy to follow”.

Bayrou has publicly criticised the appointment of Attal as PM, suggesting he lacked experience. But Attal has denied there are tensions. 

“Francois Bayrou is a pillar of French political life,” Attal told France 2. “We agreed together that [he] was not necessarily the best solution for the ministry of national education.”

MoDem has, however, kept four posts in the new line-up, including Jean-Noel Barrot who takes the post of Europe minister at the foreign ministry.


Migration

EU pledges €200m to help Mauritania clamp down on illegal migration

The European Union has unveiled €210 million in aid to help Mauritania crack down on people smugglers and deter migrant boats. The move comes amid a spike in the number of people attempting the dangerous Atlantic crossing from West Africa to Europe.

On a visit to the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Spain’s Pedro Sanchez met President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani for talks focused on border controls and economic development.

“To help Mauritania face challenges in the areas of migration management, forced displacement, as well as security and development, the EU intends to strengthen its financial support,” they said in a statement, adding the EU’s Frontex border agency would play a role.

Sanchez also announced €200 million of financial support from Spain over the next five years to facilitate the development of green hydrogen projects in collaboration with Spanish companies.

European elections

Migration is set to dominate debate in June’s European Parliament elections amid growing anti-immigration rhetoric from right-wing parties.

Mauritania‘s strategic importance is growing due to the increased migration pressures and instability in the Sahel region.

The number of migrants entering Spain irregularly by sea jumped nearly 300% in January, with the vast majority arriving in the Canary Islands.

  • Migrant arrivals to Spain nearly doubled in 2023
  • Italy targets energy, migration with ‘non-predatory’ plan for Africa

About 83 percent of the dinghy boats making it to the archipelago departed from Mauritania, say Spanish officials.

That followed a record number last year who attempted to reach Europe via the Spanish archipelago, which is located off the African coast.

Spain has deployed police officers in Mauritania since 2006, when a large inflow prompted an overhaul of migration policy to put the focus on giving financial and security aid to the boats’ countries of departure.

Mauritania, home to fewer than five million people, suffers from widespread poverty and since 2012 has been dealing with the influx of tens of thousands people from neighbouring Mali.

(with Reuters) 


Senegal

Senegalese opposition groups join forces to denounce election delay

Opposition parties and civil society groups in Senegal are calling for mass protests against a decision to postpone presidential elections until 15 December.

Thirteen of Senegal’s 20 presidential candidates have formed a collective to respond to the political crisis, in which incumbent leader Macky Sall is accused of circumventing democracy in order to stay in power.

Named Aar Sunu Election, the collective has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to overturn the presidential decree cancelling the 25 February vote.

It denounces a “constitutional coup” by Sall, whose mandate expired on 2 April.

“After this deadline, Macky Sall will no longer be recognised as president of the republic,” said former minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, a member of the collective.

Aar Sunu Election says it’s planning to file an appeal to the Constitutional Council to challenge the law passed on Monday to delay the election.

Its members are planing a protest and a strike.  

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

Seeking ‘calm’

In response to protests in the capital Dakar on Sunday, Sall told a cabinet meeting he wanted to initiate a process of “calm and reconciliation”.

He did not detail what measures he wanted the authorities – particularly the justice ministry – to implement, stating only “his desire to bring peace to the public arena”.   

Sall also reaffirmed his decision not to contest the election and “renewed his confidence in Prime Minister Amadou Ba“.

Ba has so far kept silent on the crisis, but has expressed his support for the postponement of the election.

The United States has said the election delay “cannot be considered legitimate”.

Regional bloc Ecowas called Senegal to reconsider sticking to the original date in February, which now seems unlikely.

(with newswires)


Africa Cup of Nations 2023

DRC and South Africa bosses talk up motivation for third place at Cup of Nations

South Africa head coach Hugo Broos and his Democratic Republic of Congo counterpart Sebastien Desabre on Friday urged their players to make one last push for relative glory and claim third place at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

South Africa lost in a penalty shoot-out to Nigeria at the Stade de la Paix in Bouaké in the first semi-final on Wednesday while DRC went down 1-0 to Cote d’Ivoire a few hours later at the Alassane Outtara Stadium in Abidjan.

They will play on Saturday night at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan.

“The result will depend a little bit on which team has recovered mentally from what happened in the semi-finals,” said Broos. “It was also a disappointing evening from the DRC.

“I hope that the players who start the game four South Africa willl be mentally ready to go 100 percent like they did in the six previous games,” added the 71-year-old Belgian who admitted he was not a fan of the play-off match.

“Of course, the game comes after a big disappointment but we are professionals and we have to make the most of this Cup of Nations by finishing third,” Desabre said as his side prepared for the match.

“We’re extremely motivated to play for third place,” the 47-year-old Frenchman added. “It’s an international match in which we’ll be defending our country’s colours.”

DRC were beaten in the semis in 2015 by Cote d’Ivoire who went on to win the Cup of Nations for the second time. DRC claimed third place at the expense of Equatorial Guinea.

“We should be proud of what we’ve done so far,” said DRC defender Dylan Batubinsika.

“We had a good run and we would have liked to have gone all the way but that wasn’t the case.

“Our ambition is to go and get this medal,” he insisted. “We need to stay focused to at least finish in third place.”

DRC had been trying to reach the Cup of Nations final for the first time since their victory in 1974 when the country was called Zaire and the two-week tournament consisted of eight teams.

South Africa had not contested a final since losing to Egypt in 1998 by which time the competition had expanded to 16 sides. 

“We know very well our quality as a team,” said South Africa defender Siyander Xulu on the eve of the game.

“But it’s something that we had to prove to ourselves. To reach the semi-final was a dream for us as a team.

Step

“And it was a massive step for us looking at where we’re coming from over the past few years. So the game against the DRC is going to be very special to us as we continue with the dream.

“We really never thought that we would be in this position at this major tournament.”

Broos claimed his team’s unexpectedly strong showing at the 34th Cup of Nations would add fibre to their self-belief in the country’s quest to qualify for the 2026 World Cup from a group containing Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Benin.

“After Wednesday, we know that we can beat Nigeria,” Broos insisted. “So this Cup of Nations has made us stronger.

“The six games we played here on this level helped us a lot and may make our chances bigger to be qualified for World Cup. And this is now where we have to focus.

“It will not be easy because there is Nigeria. But there is always Zimbabwe. there is always also Benin.

“We lost in Rwanda and this Cup of Nations has shown us that the so-called little countries have made a lot of progression especially when you see how many big countries were very soon out of this tournament.”


Agriculture

French farmers have ended their blockades, but the protest isn’t over

French farmers may have called off their protests in response to last week’s government concessions, but some remain mobilised – arguing the fundamental reasons behind their action have still not been addressed.

“It’s always good if you have less of an administrative burden,” says farmer Genevieve Savigny about the government’s promises of better pay and less red tape.

The government also said it would delay France’s plan to phase out pesticides – a move the European Union took as well.

“It makes you believe you’ll be on a level playing field with other countries that use these chemicals,” Savigny adds.

“But it does not address the root of the problem, which is to ensure a decent income for all farmers and to give a long-term vision to farming.”

More on the farmers’ protest in the Spotlight on France podcast

Small-scale farming

Savigny has a small free-range chicken farm in the southern Alps, and her son grows lavender and wheat.

A self-described “peasant farmer”, she’s a member of the Confederation Paysanne – a union representing small-scale farmers that supports sustainable farming practices, including the phasing out of pesticides.

While Savigny did not join the farmers heading to Paris, she did participate in local actions to highlight the problems with imported honey and its impact on local production.

The Confederation Paysanne disagreed with the main FNSEA union when it called off the blockades after the government delayed the pesticide plan and offered €400 million in aid to farmers.

“The leaders of the FNSEA obtained from the government responses linked to thir personal interest as speculative agri-managers,” the union wrote in a statement.

“This also allowed the government to absolve itself from addressing the central question of this uprising: income.”

  • Why are French farmers angry and who will reap the rewards?

Low income, low prices

Because of variations between types of farmers – winegrowers versus livestock versus larger grain farms – it is difficult to calculate exact incomes.

Figures from the Insee national statistics agency show the average household income for farmers in 2021 was 1,910 euros a month.

However many farmers earned much less than that, with 15 percent declaring no income and 18 percent declaring incomes below the poverty line.

Income comes from selling products, and there has been a long-standing tension between farmers looking to cover their production costs and supermarket chains negotiating lower prices.

“The supermarkets always try to push prices down,” says Savigny, who has always sold directly to consumers at markets, but recognises this is not a model for everyone.

Retailers need to be pushed to pay farmers correctly. The EGalim law – intended to ensure fair practices during annual negotiations between producers and distributors – is a first step, but the law can go farther and is also not fully implemented.

“We are asking for laws that would make it impossible for retailers or processors to pay below production costs,” Savigny says, pointing to the example of Spain, which she says has adapted a European law in a stricter way than other countries to move in this direction.

  • French farmers say EU/Mercosur trade deal will put them out of business

Free trade

Another issue is international trade agreements that affect small farmers all over the world.

Last week France said it would pull out of the Mercosur trade agreement that has been negotiated for nearly two decades between the European Union and Latin American countries.

The agreement would allow Europe to export things like cars and biotechnology and, in return, it would allow in agricultural products such as dairy and beef.

“The Mercosur agreement risks weakening some sectors, notably sheep and cattle farmers,” economist Antoine Bouët, who has written about globalisation, told RFI.

Free trade agreements by necessity must balance the needs of different sectors.

“You cannot separate out farming from other sectors,” he says. “It’s difficult to impose a treaty on South Americans that would open their borders to industry, and we would concede nothing on agriculture.”

What kind of farming?

Ultimately, the crisis for French – and European – farmers, is made up of many parts, that have to do with trade, environmental regulations and food sovereignty.

“We’ve respond to the crisis with emergency measures,” Herve Guyomard, economist with the French national institute for agricultural research, INRA, told RFI.

But the emergency measures “do not resolve the structural problem, which is the transition of our farming and food systems, particularly their decarbonisation, like in all sectors, which needs resources”.

Underlying all of these issues is a fundamental question of what form farming should take in France and in Europe.

Most French farms are small; nearly 60 percent are individually owned with an average surface of 69 hectares.

But the world is moving towards a more industrial, consolidated system.

“Europe and France are pushing for the industrial model, or at least a model that is linked to the industrialisation of the food system,” says Savigny.

Those who are fighting against this move are facing an uphill battle.

“We are not trying to be competitive for an international market,” she says.

“What we want is to be able to feed local people at decent prices in the long term and to do this using sustainable methods.”


For more on the farmers’ protest, listen to the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 106


France – Justice

French film directors probed over alleged sexual abuse and rape

The MeToo movement continues to shake French cinema with fresh accusations of sexual abuse levelled against directors Benoît Jacquot and Jacques Doillon, while prosecutors demand director Christophe Ruggia go on trial. 

French actress Judith Godreche, 51, on Thursday accused Doillon of sexually abusing her when she was 15.

It follows a formal complaint she filed on Tuesday against Jacquot, another director, alleging he raped her when she was 14 and starting out in her career.

The Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating the claims, the French news agency AFP reported.

French cinema has been reeling from accusations it has shrugged off sexism and sexual abuse for decades.

Neither Doillon, 79, nor Jacquot, 77, replied to a request from AFP for comment.

Jacquot, one of France’s most prominent directors, firmly rejected the allegations against him in the daily Le Monde.

Godreche accuses Jacquot of raping her during a six-year-long relationship that started when she was 14. He is 25 years her senior.

  • ‘No consent at 14’: French actor fuels #MeToo movement

She said she remained “in his grip” for those six years, and decided to speak out after he boasted about their relationship being a “transgression”, and cinema providing a “cover” for it, in a 2011 documentary.

Jacquot’s alleged crime is punishable by 20 years’ in prison, though the statute of limitations has probably expired, Le Monde reported.

Repeated love scene

In the case of Doillon, Godrèche said he took advantage while directing her in the 1989 film “La fille de 15 ans” (The 15-year-old Girl). She was 15 at the time; he was 44.

“He decided there would be a love scene, a sex scene, between him and me,” she told France Inter radio. “And we did 45 takes. I’m bare chested, he’s fondling me and French kissing me.”

Asked by France Inter if she was abused by the director, she said he was.

Doillon was in a relationship with actress and singer Jane Birkin at the time, and she was on set as an assistant.

“What happened in Jane’s house, in Doillon’s office, nobody saw and I didn’t tell anyone,” Godreche said.

“But then on set, it was unbelievable,” she said of the sex scene and the fact that no adult stood up for her.

“Jane was there behind the monitor and it was an extremely painful situation for her,” Godreche added.

Birkin, who died last year, mentioned the incident in her 2019 memoir Post-Scriptum.

“He’d kiss Judith Godreche 20 times in a row asking me what the best take was. A real agony,” she wrote.

  • Jane Birkin, an English chanteuse who left her mark on French pop

Admission of errors

Meanwhile French prosecutors have requested a trial for film director Christophe Ruggia, who was charged in 2020 over accusations he sexually assaulted actor Adele Haenel, now 34, from the age of 12 to 15.

Her accusations at the time stunned the French film industry, which has been slower than Hollywood to react to the MeToo movement that revealed sexual abuse in the arts.

According to sources close to Haenel’s case, her young age at the time of the alleged facts and Ruggia’s position of authority are considered aggravating circumstances. 

Ruggia at first strongly denied he had done anything wrong, but after being expelled from the French directors’ guild he once led, he admitted to having made “errors”.

  • French actress Adèle Haenel criticises judiciary over sexual abuse

In December, footage of film star Gérard Depardieu making obscene comments sparked an outcry in France.

The uproar intensified after President Emmanuel Macron said the actor had become the target of a “manhunt”.

(with newswires)


SUDAN – DARFUR

Two decades on, Sudan’s Darfuris fear world has abandoned them

Cairo (AFP) – More than two decades after the outbreak of war in Darfur, fears are growing that the world has abandoned its people as a new conflict ravages Sudan and the perpetrators of atrocities act with impunity.

The vast western region of Sudan was still suffering from the carnage that started in 2003 when a new war erupted last April between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

With the conflict has come a fresh litany of horrors including rampant sexual violence, ethnically motivated massacres and mass displacement.

According to a report by United Nations experts, seen by AFP, the RSF and allied militias have killed between 10,000 and 15,000 people in the West Darfur city of El Geneina alone – at least five percent of its pre-war population.

Fighters “targeted the Massalit community” in what “may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”, the report said.

The RSF, which emerged from the Janjaweed militia that former president Omar al-Bashir unleashed in Darfur, now controls four out of five state capitals in the vast region.

Civilians have been left to face what one Sudanese researcher called “their worst nightmare”.

“The marauders who terrorised them for decades – raped them, pillaged their lands and murdered them en masse for their ethnicity – now rule,” she told AFP from another country, requesting anonymity to protect family members still in Sudan.

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

Refugee camp massacres

On October 31, the RSF took the Central Darfur state capital of Zalingei, allegedly committing atrocities including “mass murder, summary executions, arbitrary detention, sexual assault, torture and looting”, human rights defender Mohamed Bera told AFP from another country where he has sought refuge.

“The same thing that happened to the Massalit in Geneina happened in Zalingei to the Fur,” the ethnic group for which Darfur is named.

With a months-long communications blackout ongoing, the world has relied on local monitors like Bera’s Awafy organisation, whose volunteers risk their lives to get news out.

According to an Awafy tally, at least 180 people were killed in a single attack on the Hasaheisa camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) near Zalingei, which the RSF said was “sheltering army soldiers”.

UN experts who investigated the attack said at least 16,250 camp residents had again been “violently displaced”.

Across Darfur, “many of the already existent three million IDPs” have been uprooted for a second or third time, according to the UN.

One tribal leader told AFP at least four camps in western Darfur had been “burned to the ground”.

“These are the same memories, the same crimes as 2003, only more violent in some areas now,” said Bera.

Two decades after Bashir mobilised the notorious Janjaweed in Darfur, the region’s civilians have become trapped in the crossfire between the former allies, with the Sudanese army no saviour.

According to leading Sudan expert Alex de Waal, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has been “no less venal and brutal” than his erstwhile deputy, RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

Sudanese monitors, experts and the United Nations say the people of Darfur have been either directly targeted by the army or abandoned as troops retreat.

In at least three state capitals – El Fasher, Nyala and El Daein – UN experts determined the army was “not only unable to protect civilians but also used aerial bombing and heavy shelling in urban areas”.

  • EU ‘appalled’ by reports of 1,000 killed in Darfur, fearing ethnic cleansing

‘Age of impunity’

In December, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held both the RSF and the army responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, referring to “haunting echoes of the genocide that began almost 20 years ago”.

Yet while foreign capitals have paid lip service to Darfur’s bloody history, analysts say they lack the political will to stop it from being repeated.

“We occasionally hear words of ‘isn’t this terrible,’ but nothing more,” veteran Darfur expert Eric Reeves told AFP, adding “Darfur was ignored for so long” that even a “re-acceleration of the genocide” has failed to trigger international action.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told AFP “we are living in an age of impunity” that will last as long as “Sudan is not seen as a strategic interest”.

The International Criminal Court launched an investigation, but ousted autocrat Bashir has never been brought to justice, despite being indicted on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in 2009 and genocide a year later.

Both Reeves and de Waal say a UN or African Union protection force would almost certainly be vetoed, in light of competing global interests and the failure of past Darfur peacekeeping missions.

In El Fasher, the last state capital not under RSF control, civilians are paying the price, said veteran pro-democracy activist Amani Hamid Hassabo.

“There’s no one here: the international community, regional actors, they’re nowhere to be found, while thousands waste away in shelters with close to nothing coming in,” she told AFP.

The United Nations – which has limited its presence to day-long missions from neighbouring Chad – says 80,000 people have flocked to El Fasher’s makeshift shelters, while over half of Darfur faces “acute hunger”.

NRC country director William Carter describes the current response as “a drop in the ocean”, with “famine-like conditions” rapidly worsening.

In Zamzam camp, near El Fasher, at least one child dies every two hours, Doctors Without Borders said this week.

People “have been almost completely abandoned”, the charity added.

El Fasher itself teems with competing militias, in what the UN calls “a fragile status quo”.

Despite the lack of international action, Hassabo continues to brave “stray bullets everywhere” to get an hour of internet connection, determined to get news to the outside world.


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)

    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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    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.