rfi 2024-02-14 06:05:39



Senegal unrest

Senegal shuts down internet and bans protest over election delay

Senegalese authorities told mobile operators to suspend internet access on Tuesday and banned a silent march by activists against the postponement of this month’s presidential poll. France has urged Dakar to use a “proportionate use of force” after three protestors died in clashes with security forces.

The Aar Sunu Election (Let’s Protect Our Election) collective, which includes some 40 civil society and religious groups, had called for a peaceful rally in the capital Dakar on Tuesday at 1500 GMT. 

Senegalese authorities banned the march, citing logistical concerns.

“We will postpone the march because we want to remain within the law,” said Malick Diop, coordinator of the Aar Sunu Election collective.

Earlier on Tuesday, Senegal‘s government cut access to mobile internet services after “hateful and subversive” messages were circulating online, the communications ministry claimed.

Senegal has seen more than a week of protests after President Macky Sall abruptly postponed elections scheduled for 25 February.

Three young people have been killed in the violent clashes and many arrested.

  • Third death as Senegal braces for more protests against election delay

Amnesty International on Tuesday said the three people had been killed by security forces during a crackdown in Dakar, Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor on 9 and 10 February. One of the three, 16-year old Landing Camara, was shot in the head.

It urged Senegalese authorities to investigate the killings and police brutality against protesters.

Calls for ‘proportionate force’

The French foreign ministry on Tuesday said Senegal must hold a new presidential election “as soon as possible” and use proportionate force when dealing with protests.

“France offers its condolences to the relatives of those who died during the demonstrations in Senegal in recent days. It calls for the proportionate use of force,” the ministry said in a statement.

The UN human rights office said it was deeply concerned about the situation in Senegal and called for prompt, thorough and independent investigations into the violence.

At least 266 people have been arrested across the country, including journalists, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Liz Throssell said.

West Africa’s regional bloc, Ecowas, sent a parliamentary diplomatic mission to Senegal on Monday to discuss the political situation.

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

Sall said the election had to be postponed because of a dispute between parliament and the Constitutional Council over potential candidates barred from running and fears of a return to the unrest of 2021 and 2023.

Senegal’s parliament voted last week to hold the election on 15 December, after security forces stormed the National Assembly and detained some opposition lawmakers. 

The opposition has decried the delay as a “constitutional coup” – a bid by the presidential camp to extend Sall’s term in office, despite promises he would not stand again.

The Constitutional Council is expected to rule within days on whether it agrees with the new date.

(with newswires)


fake news

French cyber experts reveal vast network of Russian disinformation sites

French military and cybersecurity experts have uncovered an extensive network of Moscow-based fake news sites spreading Russian propaganda and disinformation across Western Europe.

Dubbed “Portal Kombat”, the campaign consists of 193 websites targeting audiences in Ukraine, the EU, Britain and the US.

It was exposed by investigators from Viginum, a French government agency that identifies foreign digital interference.

A report by Viginum warned the online manipulation surge by Russia was intended to influence crucial upcoming votes, including the European elections.

The network is mostly focused on shaping the narrative around the conflict in Ukraine, portraying the Russian invasion positively while denigrating Ukraine and its leaders as “corrupt”, “Nazis”, or “incompetent”, Viginum said.

However instead of producing original material, the sites flood the internet with content from Russian and pro-Russian figures on social media, Russian press agencies, and other accounts loyal to Moscow.

Viginum said the network used various channels – including a French Telegram mobile and desktop messaging app, where a pro-Russian channel publishes up to nine articles per hour.

Despite massive content distribution, automation and search engine optimisation, the network has achieved limited success, with an average traffic of 31,000 visits on the five portals in November 2023.

The French-targeted portal was the least visited, Viginum added.

  • France claims Russian interference over Star of David graffiti in Paris
  • Proliferation of fake news fuelling divisions, global tensions: RSF

Tip of iceberg

French officials describe Portal Kombat as the tip of the disinformation iceberg connected to the rise of digital platforms and the surge in social networks.

The network, Viginum said, underscored the complexity of the ecosystem used to disseminate pro-Russian narratives among Russian-speaking and European populations.

The continued dissemination of pro-Russian stories, it warned, creates a tangled network of news sites and sources that helps hide the identities of those behind disinformation and influence campaigns.

The European Commission, NATO, and UN agencies have said disinformation should be viewed as a significant threat to democracy in 2024. MEPs have called for “urgent protection” of the June polls.

The World Economic Forum, held in Davos in January, ranked disinformation and propaganda as “the second biggest risk the world is going to face this year”.

Presenting a recent EU report on disinformation, chief diplomat Josep Borrell described it as “one of the most significant threats of our time”.

Words and ideas were not “a bomb that can kill you”, he said, but “a poison that can colonise your mind”.

 


Agriculture

Leading French farmers’ union warns motorway blockades could resume

The head of France’s biggest farming union – the FNSEA – says farmers could resume protests that hit the sector last month if the government does not meet their demands for better pay and working conditions. 

The government is in talks with farmers over securing them higher selling prices to supermarkets and loosening regulation and red tape which farmers have said was a burden on their businesses.

However, FNSEA head Arnaud Rousseau said that, with 10 days to go until the start of the annual agricultural show in Paris, the government was not doing enough.

“We are not moving at the right pace,” Rousseau told French TV station TF1 on Tuesday morning.

Asked if farmers could restart the roadblocks that disrupted many motorways in January, Rousseau replied: “Very probably.”

Ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the FNSEA later today, Agriculture Minister Christophe Béchu told franceinfo public radio that he “understood farmers’ impatience but that we shouldn’t confuse speed and precipitation”.

France’s two major farmers unions suspended protests and lifted road nationwide blockades on 1 February following a raft of government concessions. They included an annual 150 million euros for livestock farmers, a pause on measures to restrict pesticide use and a halt in imposing stricter regulation on its farmers than EU rules require.

Farmers across Europe – in countries such as Poland, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands – have demonstrated over t over the last month for more money and better working conditions.

  • EU chief bows to protesting farmers on pesticide use

(with newswires)


NEW CALEDONIA

Blow for France as Glencore quits struggling New Caledonia nickel mine

The Swiss mining giant Glencore says it will halt production and divest its share in New Caledonia’s Koniambo nickel operations following a significant drop in the price of the metal – a vital component in stainless steel and electric car batteries.

On Monday Glencore said it was seeking a new industrial partner for the nickel mine and processing plant. The operations will be closed, with the possibility of resumption if a new financial supporter is found.

This decision deals a massive blow to the French government’s efforts to assemble a rescue package for New Caledonia’s nickel industry – a substantial employment sector that accounts for 7 percent of the territory’s economic output.

Glencore holds a 49 percent stake in Koniambo Nickel SAS (KNS.) The other partner is the local Société Minière du Sud Pacifique SA (SMSP.) It cited high operating costs and unfavorable market conditions as reasons for the unprofitability of operations. 

“Glencore will fund the operation according to an agreed budget as it begins an orderly transition to a state of care and maintenance,” it said in a press release.

“The furnaces will remain hot for six months, and the KNS team will support the critical activities required to maintain the integrity of the asset and keep the site secure.”

Apart from increasingly elevated operational costs, the nickel industry faces an influx of supply from Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of the industrial metal.



‘Unsustainable’

While expressing gratitude for the French government’s attempts to rejuvenate and rescue the nickel industry, Glencore said KNS remained unsustainable, adding it could not justify continuing to fund losses at the expense of shareholders.

Benchmark nickel prices have plummeted by 46 percent since the beginning of 2023 to some $16,000 per tonne, mainly caused by the upsurge in Indonesian supply. This downturn has rendered mines in New Caledonia, Australia, and other global regions unprofitable.

Last week, the French government offered €200 million in state aid for KNS, including €60 millon in subsidies for high energy prices and a €100 million loan. It also urged shareholders to contribute more to the rescue efforts.

  • France seeks deal to salvage New Caledonia’s nickel sector
  • Could nickel reserves be the key to independence for New Caledonia?

France is involved in helping KNS secure a new investor, stressing the strategic importance of the industry for New Caledonia and its potential role in Europe’s strategic supplies.

Paris is urging local politicians to endorse a “nickel pact”, relaxing export quotas and local restrictions on raw nickel ore. This move is meant to enhance profitability, with additional investments in energy infrastructure planned by the French state.

Commodity trader Trafigura and mining group Eramet, both stakeholders in nickel operations in New Caledonia, face similar financial challenges.

(with newswires)


Justice

Call to end to ‘inhumane’ solitary confinement in French prisons

Solitary confinement cells commonly used as punishment in French prisons should be abolished, a rights group has warned as it called out “serious and numerous infractions” to the dignity and fundamental rights of inmates.

The French chapter of the International Prison Observatory (OIP) said in a recent report that half of the punishments decided by prison disciplinary commissions in 2022 led to solitary confinement.

It calculated that prisoners had spent more than 100,000 days in cells that offered “inhuman” conditions with “furniture bolted to the floor, windows that barely allow light in, total isolation, one hour per day outside in a ‘walking courtyard’ with barely any view of the sky and no equipment” for exercise. 

The practice runs counter to recommendations from the Council of Europe, which says solitary isolation should be imposed as a punishment “only in exceptional cases, and for a specified period of time, which should be as short as possible”.

At the core of France’s penal system lies a multitude of offences, ranging from serious infractions to seemingly trivial matters like dress code violations or minor disturbances.

The vague nature of these offences often leads to arbitrary enforcement and a lack of due process for the accused, the NGO said.



Abuse of disciplinary rules

Investigations into alleged infractions are often fleeting, the OIP alleged, with little regard for gathering comprehensive evidence or considering mitigating factors.

It said the disciplinary process itself was marked by imbalances, with presiding prison guards often assuming the role of both judge and accuser, leaving little room for fair hearings or meaningful appeals.

The NGO also denounced “numerous cases of violence and bullying by prison guards” reported both to the OIP and official oversight bodies. 

Suicide attempts are 15 times more common in solitary than under regular detention conditions, the OIP has underlined, citing a 2018 academic study.  

  • Overcrowding in French prisons reaches all-time high

Rights defenders have acknowledged some progress, with judges able to check the decisions of prison authorities and lawyers allowed before disciplinary committees. 

But they also pointed to an ever-growing list of punishable offences in prison – some of which they called “arbitrary”, including language on “maintaining order” or “normal functioning” of the jail. 

Prisoners can be punished for minor offences including clothing judged improper, blocking peepholes into their cells or refusing to turn the volume down on their radio, the OIP highlighted.

The body called for measures including slashing the number of punishable behaviours in prison or offering an appeals process.

France’s prison population hit a new record of almost 76,000 people on 1 January 2024.



Punished for attempting suicide

The OIP brought to light the case of “Mr B” – an inmate who was punished for attempting suicide – in a move the NGO says exemplifies the inherent cruelty of France’s disciplinary system.

Despite his obvious mental health struggles, Mr B was reportedly subjected to further punishment.

The OIP said such cases underscore the urgent need for reform within the prison system to prioritise the wellbeing and dignity of inmates.

Its report describes systemic flaws in the disciplinary process, including a lack of consideration for individual circumstances and a disproportionate reliance on punitive measures.

  • European rights body ‘extremely concerned’ about treatment of French prisoners

Despite international guidelines that say the use of solitary confinement must be limited, French prisons continue to resort to the practice at alarming rates, the OIP said.

Rather than relying on punitive measures that perpetuate cycles of violence and despair, the OIP said authorities needed to adopt more rehabilitative approaches.

(with AFP)


Climate – Politics

COP hosts UAE, Azerbaijan, Brazil announce ‘troika’ to raise climate ambitions

The United Arab Emirates, host of last year’s COP28 climate summit, and Azerbaijan and Brazil, the hosts of the next two UN climate summits, say they will team up to push for more ambitious goals on cutting carbon emissions.

The three countries were mandated by 198 signatories to the Dubai agreement to work together on a roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5C – a key climate goal that has been seriously threatened by global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Troika helps ensure we have the collaboration and continuity required to keep the North Star of 1.5C in sight – from Baku to Belem and beyond,” COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber said in a statement. “We cannot afford to lose momentum.” 

The target of containing global temperatures to 1.5C above preindustrial levels was set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Taking into account current climate pledges, the world is still on track to warm between 2.5 and 2.9 degrees Celsius over this century, according to UN estimates.



Looking ahead to 2025

The main task for this year’s COP29 summit in November in Baku, Azerbaijan, is to agree a new global target for climate finance for developing countries.

But some climate diplomats are already looking ahead to Brazil’s summit in 2025 as the next major milestone for global climate diplomacy. Nearly 200 countries are required to submit updated national CO2-cutting pledges in time for COP30.

The next round of countries’ climate targets is seen as a crucial last chance to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5C, a target fast slipping out of reach, as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb.

  • Hottest January on record as 1.5C limit breached for 12 months straight
  • World’s carbon emissions could start to fall for first time in 2024

In a bumper year for elections, some politicians – from Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in the United States to far-right parties seeking gains in upcoming European elections – have pushed back on climate policies in a bid to court voters.

(with newswires)


Middle East

France proposes Hezbollah withdrawal, border talks for Israel-Lebanon truce

(Reuters) France has delivered a written proposal to Beirut aimed at ending hostilities with Israel and settling the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier, according to a document seen by Reuters that calls for fighters, including Hezbollah’s elite unit, to withdraw 10 km from the border.

The plan aims to end fighting between the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel at the border. The hostilities have run in parallel to the Gaza war and are fueling concern of a ruinous, all-out confrontation.

The document, the first written proposal brought to Beirut during weeks of Western mediation, was delivered to top Lebanese state officials including Prime Minister Najib Mikati by French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne last week, four senior Lebanese and three French officials said.

It declares the aim of preventing a conflict “that risks spiraling out of control” and enforcing “a potential ceasefire, when the conditions are right” and ultimately envisions negotiations on delineation of the contentious land border between Lebanon and Israel.

Hezbollah rejects formally negotiating a de-escalation until the war in Gaza ends, a position reiterated by a Hezbollah politician in response to questions for this story.

While some details of similar mediation efforts by US Middle East envoy Amos Hochstein have been circulating in recent weeks, the full details of the French written proposal delivered to Lebanon have not previously been reported.

Process of de-escalation

The three-step plan envisages a 10-day process of de-escalation ending with the border negotiations.

One French diplomatic source said the proposal had been put to the governments of Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah.

France has historical ties with Lebanon. It has 20,000 citizens in the country and some 800 troops as part of a UN peacekeeping force.

“We made proposals. We are in contact with the Americans and it’s important that we bring together all initiatives and build peace,” Sejourne told a news conference on Monday.

 

  • French foreign minister visits Lebanon in effort to contain Gaza conflict

The plan proposes Lebanese armed groups and Israel would cease military operations against each other, including Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon.

Several non-state groups, including Palestinian factions, have mounted attacks on Israel from south Lebanon during the latest hostilities, though Hezbollah is the dominant power in the area with a fighting force widely seen to outgun the Lebanese army.

The Lebanese armed groups would dismantle all premises and facilities close to the frontier, and withdraw combat forces – including Hezbollah’s elite Radwan fighters and military capabilities such as antitank systems – at least 10 km north of the frontier, the document proposes.

Any such withdrawal could still leave Hezbollah fighters much closer to the border than the 30 km withdrawal to Lebanon’s Litani River, stipulated in a UN resolution that ended a war with Israel in 2006.

The shorter withdrawal would help ensure rockets did not reach villages in northern Israel that have been targeted with anti-tank missiles and was a compromise seen as more palatable to Hezbollah than a retreat to the Litani, one Western diplomat with knowledge of the two-page proposal said.

Up to 15,000 Lebanese army troops would be deployed in the border region of south Lebanon, a Hezbollah political stronghold where the group’s fighters have long melted into society at times of calm.

Asked about the proposal, senior Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters that the group would not discuss “any matter related to the situation in the south before the halt of the aggression on Gaza“.

“The enemy is not in the position to impose conditions,” added Fadlallah, declining to comment on details of the proposal or whether Hezbollah had received it.

One of the Lebanese officials said the document brings together ideas discussed in contacts with Western envoys and had been passed on to Hezbollah. French officials told the Lebanese it was not a final paper, after Beirut raised objections to parts of it, the Lebanese official said.

An Israeli official said such a proposal had been received and was being discussed by the government.

  • French diplomacy in crosshairs as Middle East conflict unravels

Reuters reported last month that Hezbollah had rebuffed ideas suggested by Hochstein, who has been at the heart of the efforts, but that it had also kept the door ajar to diplomacy.

Asked for comment for this story, a State Department spokesperson said the United States “continues to explore all diplomatic options with our Israeli and Lebanese counterparts to restore calm and avoid escalation.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Lebanese official said several elements prompted concern in Beirut, including the demand armed groups dismantle premises and facilities close to the border, which the official said was vaguely worded and could be used to demand moves against Hezbollah-affiliated civilian institutions.

‘Unclear’ elements

Tens of thousands of people have fled homes on both sides of the border since the fighting began on Oct. 8.

Israeli strikes have killed nearly 200 people in Lebanon, 170 of them Hezbollah fighters. Attacks from Lebanon have killed 10 soldiers and five civilians in Israel.

But the strikes have mostly been contained to areas near the border and both sides have said they want to avoid all-out war.

Numerous Western envoys have visited Beirut to discuss ways to de-escalate the fighting, mostly meeting with Lebanese state officials rather than Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States.

 

  • ‘Nobody will win from regional conflict’ warns EU’s Borrell during Lebanon visit

One of the Lebanese officials said a French technical delegation returned to Beirut two days after Sejourne’s visit to discuss details, following the Lebanese objections.

Another of the Lebanese officials said Beirut had not responded to the proposal, adding that it was neither signed nor dated and was therefore not deemed official enough to warrant a response.

Three-step approach

The proposal recalls a ceasefire which ended a war between Hezbollah and Israel in 1996, and also UN Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war.

It maps out three steps over 10 days.

The two sides would cease military operations in step one. Within three days, step two would see Lebanese armed groups withdrawing combat forces at least 10 km north of the frontier and Lebanon would initiate the deployment of soldiers in the south. Israel would cease overflights into Lebanese territory.

As the third step, within 10 days, Lebanon and Israel would resume negotiations on delimiting the land border “in a gradual way” and with the support of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL.

They would also engage in negotiations on a roadmap to ensure the establishment of an area free of any non-state armed groups between the border and the Litani river.

Hezbollah has previously signalled it could support the state negotiating a deal with Israel to settle the status of disputed areas at the border to Lebanon’s benefit.

One of the issues to address is financing for the Lebanese army, severely weakened by a severe financial crisis in Lebanon.

The proposal calls for an international effort to support the deployment of the Lebanese army with “financing, equipment, training”. It also called for “the socio-economic development of southern Lebanon”.

(Reuters)


Democratic Republic of Congo

Fighting escalates in eastern DRC as evidence of Rwanda’s support to rebels emerges

In the eastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), fighting  between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army, supported by other militias, is getting worse.

The violence broke out around the town of Saké, thirty kilometres from Goma, the capital of the province of North Kivu, and in the territory of Masisi.

Major displacement

According to local groups more than 135,000 people have moved to the city of Goma.

In the territory of Masisi, nearly 700,000 people have been displaced by the clashes since last December.

“The problem prevents access to foodstuffs and all basic necessities coming from Goma,” Voltaire Batundi, a local civil society leader, told RFI.

Roads are blocked and supplying this territory has become very difficult.

“The problem is access to food and all the basic necessities coming from Goma,” he added, ” including corn flour, beans, cereals, fuel, medicines…These do not get up to the road that connects Goma to Walikale, through Masisi. The road is blocked because the M23 took Mushaki and now demands taxes.”



Rwandan support

The M23 rebels are supported by the Wazalendo militias.

These groups consist of local militiamen who have partnered with the Congolese military (FARDC), primarily to fight the M23 rebels who have terrorized North Kivu province for nearly two years.

A UN report also shows that they get supplies from the Rwandan army, including missiles.

M23 (for “March 23 Movement”) is an ethnic Tutsi-led movement composed of rebels from all over the region.

It has captured vast swathes of territory since 2021, and is one of several militias holding sway over much of the region, despite the presence of international peacekeepers.

United Nations document revealed that M23 rebels are using arms provided by neighbouring Rwanda, something President Paul Kagame has always denied.

Elements of Rwanda’s army supporting M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo have fired at least one surface-to-air missile, according to the internal UN document seen by French news agency AFP on Monday.

The document shows that “presumed surface-to-air missile from the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF)” targeted a UN observation drone on 6 February, without reaching it.

“French external military intelligence confirms that the WZ551 type armoured vehicle, equipped with a surface-to-air missile system, is Rwandan,” the document adds.

 (with newswires)


Ghana

After Britain, the US sends looted royal artefacts to Ghana’s Ashanti King

A California museum returned seven royal artefacts to Ghana’s traditional Ashanti king to commemorate his silver jubilee in the first planned handovers of Ashanti treasures looted during colonial times.

Ghana’s royal treasures from the Fowler Museum include a gold necklace, an ornamental chair and an elephant tail whisk.

They were presented during a ceremony of chiefs at the Manhyia Palace in the city of Kumasi in the Ashanti region.

Royal Ashanti gold objects are believed to be invested with the spirits of former rulers.

The Ashanti monarch Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, who holds an important ceremonial role in Ghana, said their return would help unite his people.

“What just happened confirms what occurred so many years ago when the British attacked us and looted our treasures,” he said. “Let’s remain united to bring about peace and development in the kingdom.”

Ivor Agyeman Duah, an advisor to the king, said the objects were sacred.

“Their homecoming signifies a pivotal moment of reconciliation and pride for our kingdom,” Duah told the AFP.

‘No conditions’

The ceremony was held close to the 150th anniversary of the 1874 Anglo-Asante war, gathering traditional leaders, politicians and diplomats, most adorned in red and black to symbolise mourning.

The returned items have been part of the Fowler Museum‘s collection since 1965, part of the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

Unlike other institutions negotiating with Ghana, the Museum imposed no conditions, leaving it to the discretion of their Ghanaian stewards to decide their use for museum displays, palace treasuries, or public celebrations.

Ghanaian royal historian Osei-Bonsu Safo-Kantanka said: “This is a special moment for the Asante people because it strengthens the bond between us and our ancestors.”

The Manhyia Palace Museum will hold a year-long celebration throughout 2024.

Traces of colonial looting

The move comes as pressure grows for European and US museums and institutions to restore African artefacts stolen during the rule of former colonial powers Britain, France, Germany and Belgium.

Late in January, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London announced they were to lend gold and silver treasures looted from the Asante kingdom back to Ghana in a six-year deal.

  • Britain to return looted crown jewels to Ghana, but only on loan

Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at University of Oxford Dan Hicks wrote the return to Ghana was “long overdue”.

Neighbouring Nigeria is also negotiating the return of thousands of 16th to 18th century metal objects looted from the ancient kingdom of Benin and currently held by museums and art collectors across the United States and Europe.

  • Repatriating artefacts taken from Nigeria by European colonialists
  • Outrage as statues allegedly looted from Nigeria sold in Paris

Two years ago, Benin received two dozen treasures and artworks stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces.

  • Benin opens exhibition of stolen art treasures returned by France

Egypt and Ethiopia also want the British Museum to return a number of items taken during colonial conquests, while Algeria expects artefacts and even human remains to be returned from France. 

 (with AFP)


BIODIVERSITY

One in five migratory species faces extinction, UN report warns

The world’s migratory species are under threat across the planet with their global risk of extinction increasing, a landmark UN report released Monday has warned. 

Until now there has been no comprehensive data on the conservation status or population trends of the billions of animals that make yearly migratory journeys across the world’s lands, seas and skies.

These species often rely on very specialised sites to feed and mate. Their journeys can cross international borders and even continents. 

Iconic species that make some of the most extraordinary journeys across the planet include the monarch butterfly, the humpback whale and the loggerhead turtle.

The first-ever State of the World’s Migratory Species report – which focuses on the 1,189 species covered by the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) – offers compelling evidence of the dangers they face.

It found that one in five species is threatened with extinction, and 44 percent are seeing their populations decline.

  • Why the Congo plays a critical role in saving the world’s biodiversity

‘Wake up call’

Humans are to blame for the threat to species by destroying or breaking up habitats, hunting, and polluting areas with plastics, chemicals, light and noise.

Climate change also threatens to interfere with migration routes and timings, by altering seasonal conditions.

“We are finding out the phenomenon of migration itself is under threat,” CMS chief Amy Fraenkel told the French news agency AFP – adding the report should serve as a “wake up call about what’s happening”.

Migratory animals act as indicators of environmental change while also playing an integral role in maintaining our planet’s complex ecosystems.

The report offers a global overview of the conservation status and population trends, combined with the latest information on the main threats and actions to save them. It found:

 

  • While some migratory species listed under CMS are improving, nearly half (44 percent) are showing population declines.
  • More than one in five are threatened with extinction.
  • Nearly all (97 percent) of CMS-listed fish are threatened with extinction.
  • The extinction risk is growing for migratory species globally, including those not listed under CMS.
  • Half of Key Biodiversity Areas identified as important for CMS-listed migratory animals do not have protected status, and 58 percent of the monitored sites recognised as being important are experiencing unsustainable levels of human-caused pressure.
  • The two greatest threats to both CMS-listed and all migratory species are overexploitation and habitat loss due to human activity. Three out of four CMS-listed species are impacted by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, and seven out of 10 are impacted by overexploitation (including intentional taking as well as incidental capture).
  • Climate change, pollution and invasive species also have profound impacts on migratory species.
  • Globally 399 migratory species that are threatened or near threatened with extinction are not listed under CMS.
  • UN biodiversity day turns 30, but is the world doing enough?

‘Unsustainable’

“Today’s report sets out the evidence that unsustainable human activities are jeopardising the future of migratory species,” said Inger Andersen, head of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Nearly all of the listed fish species including sharks and rays, face a high risk of extinction with their population having declined by 90 percent since the 1970s.

Over the past three decades, 70 species have become more endangered, including the steppe eagle, Egyptian vulture and the wild camel.

Of the 158 mammals listed under the convention, 40 percent are globally threatened.

The report, which is intended to feed into the Samarkand conference, includes a focus on species most at risk, highlighting the threats from fishing, farming and pollution.

They echo a major biodiversity agreement in 2022, when countries agreed to preserve 30 percent of the planet’s land and sea by 2030.


Pesticides

Beekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire help reduce dependence on glyphosate pesticide

While Europe wrangles over banning the use of glyphosate – the active ingredient in the Roundup weedkiller accused of damaging human health and biodiversity – farmers on the African continent remain heavily dependent on such herbicides. However, an Ivorian cocoa farmer is showing it’s possible to both drop glyphosate and promote beekeeping in the process.

Bayer’s glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup is widely used in Africa – from cotton fields in Benin, maize in South Africa to cocoa plantations in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

Since a 2015 study by the World Health Organization found that long-term exposure to glyphosate made it a “probable carcinogen”, and other studies have pointed to a dramatic increase in bee mortality, Europe has been working to reduce glyphosate use.

But despite the alleged risks to human health and the environment, farmers in Africa are having to rely increasingly on glyphosate to compensate for labour shortages as young people leave agricultural regions for cities.

In a 2019 documentary by French public television, people were shown spraying cocoa plants in Cote d’Ivoire wearing no protection whatsoever; many were underage.

‘Like your body is burning’

Ivorian farmer Yeo Yaya farms a three and a half hectare cocoa plantation near the coastal town of Grand-Bereby in south-western Cote d’Ivoire.

Faced with a shortage of manpower, he relied on glyphosate-based herbicides to help with weeding and keep his land free of pests.

But he started worrying the product was having a negative impact on his health.

“Often, after you’ve been spraying, it feels like your body is burning,” he told RFI.

“If I continue, won’t it end up killing me slowly but surely?” he wondered.

  • Glyphosate: where is it banned or restricted?

He also noticed glyphosate was having a negative impact on the soil.

“It destroys some insects, for example snakes, snails, centipedes,” he said.

“If it kills insects that help us fertilise the soil, then the land will no longer be fertile. When you treat the soil, it becomes hard; so hard you can’t do anything with it.”

Weeding by hand

In 2020, Yaya turned his back on glyphosate after meeting Cédric Konan – a member of a farming cooperative who shifted over to glyphosate-free farming after discussions with researchers from the higher education institute INPHB.

Konan uses natural repellents such as fermented cocoa juice or certain plants that repel pests.

To resolve the issue of labour shortages, he encouraged local farmers to allow young beekeepers to come and settle on their land free of charge, in exchange for helping with weeding.

“By putting beehives on the plots, we resolve two major problems,” says Konan.

“We manage to promote biodiversity, providing beekeepers with a livelihood through selling products from their hives. And then by cleaning up around the hives near the cocoa plants, the plants themselves get weeded.”

He believes this form of weeding by hand should allow them “to solve the glyphosate problem”.

‘Not that easy’

The initiative is, however, in its infancy.

Axel Kassarate, 25, has been beekeeping for four years. And while he’s happy to take part in the project, he still struggles to make a living from beekeeping.

“It’s not as easy as all that,” he told RFI, “we are also trying to find good markets and ways of expanding.”

Further down the line, Konan aims to develop bio-fertilisers on a much bigger scale – notably using snail shells.

In 2019, Malawi became the first country in Africa to suspend the importation of glyphosate, but later dropped the decision.

Read also: 

  • EU proposes 10-year extension for glyphosate herbicide linked to cancer
  • Hive thinking: Beekeeping makes a buzz in Cote d’Ivoire 

A version of this story in French was reported by François Hume-Ferkatadji. The English version was written by Alison Hird. 


French overseas departments

France to revoke birthright citizenship in overseas Mayotte to stem migration

Children born on the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte will no longer automatically qualify for citizenship of France, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced during a visit to the overseas department on Sunday.

The change is part of efforts to stem migration to Mayotte from neighbouring islands, amid flaring tensions between locals and immigrants. 

Once the reform takes effect, only children born to French parents in Mayotte will have the right to French nationality. 

Currently, children born in any part of France to two foreign parents are eligible to become French citizens as teenagers. 

Darmanin called it a “radical decision” that would make Mayotte significantly less attractive to would-be immigrants.

The change will mean revising France’s constitution to restrict the principle of “droit du sol” – the right to citizenship of a country by virtue of being born there – in the island territory.

No other part of France will adopt the new rule, Darmanin said.

Rising tensions

According to French national statistics office Insee, of 10,600 children born on Mayotte in 2021, close to half – 46.5 percent – had two parents who weren’t French.

The department saw its population increase fourfold between 1985 and 2017, according to Insee, in a combination of a high birth rate and waves of immigration.

An archipelago with some 310,000 inhabitants, Mayotte is the poorest part of France – but incomes remain higher than in nearby Comoros, an island country that has been independent of France for some 50 years.

Thousands of Comorans fleeing the poverty of their homeland make the trip to Mayotte every year in search of higher living standards.

The influx has caused major tensions, with many Mayotte residents complaining about crime, poverty and the strain on resources as the islands grapple with a severe drought.

For the past three weeks, activists have been staging strikes and erecting roadblocks to protest. Among their demands is the dismantling of a refugee camp as well as an end to residence permits that prevent their holders from leaving the territory.

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

Immigration reform

Such permits, which allowed bearers to stay in Mayotte but didn’t give them the right to reside in mainland France, will be scrapped, Darmanin announced on Sunday. 

A package of bills to address the unrest in Mayotte will go before parliament in the coming weeks, the interior minister promised.

Politicians on the left and centre expressed alarm over the changes to the citizenship rules, saying it set a dangerous precedent.

The government already subjected Mayotte to tougher citizenship laws than the rest of France, introducing a rule in 2018 that at least one parent had to reside there legally for more than three months before their child’s birth for the child to qualify for French nationality.

No such condition applies elsewhere in France. 

However, the government recently tightened its nationwide rules on the way children of foreign parents acquire French nationality as part of a broader reform of immigration law – ending the process of granting citizenship automatically at 18 and instead requiring children to formally request it.

  • Money from France will not help Comoros swallow the Wuambushu pill

Security surge

In April 2023, the government launched “Operation Wuambushu” – a months-long police surge targeting slums, criminal gangs and undocumented immigrants in Mayotte, many of whom were deported to Comoros.

The Comoran government refused to take them back in, however, ratcheting up tensions between the country and France. 

The interior minister’s latest visit comes as part of preparations for “Wuambushu Two”, he declared in a video posted to social media this weekend.  

Darmanin was accompanied by France’s newly appointed minister for overseas territories, Marie Guévenoux – as well some 15 officers from an elite police tactical unit sent to back up Mayotte’s forces. 

In Mayotte’s capital Mamoudzou, several hundred protesters greeted Darmanin and his entourage with boos and shouts of “Mayotte is angry”.

(with AFP)


Hamas Israel war

Israel frees two hostages in operation that killed at least 50 Palestinians

The Israeli military rescued two hostages in a dramatic raid under fire from the Gaza Strip early Monday

The hostages, Fernando Simon Marman (61) and Louis Norbeto Har (70), were kidnapped by Hamas  on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak.

The raid took place in Rafah, the city on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere in the Israel-Hamas war.



Army spokesman Daniel Hagari said the hostages had been held in a second-floor apartment in Rafah, under guard from Hamas gunmen, both in the apartment and nearby buildings.

Hagari said special forces broke into the apartment under fire at 1:49 a.m. Monday, accompanied a minute later by a series of airstrikes on surrounding areas. He said members of the rescue team shielded the hostages with their bodies as a heavy battle erupted in several places at once with many Hamas gunmen.

At least 50 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes that were part of the raid, according to Palestinian hospital officials.

The hostages were taken to a nearby “safe area” and given a quick medical check before being flown to a hospital in central Israel.

 

  • EU still divided over sanctions against Israeli settler violence

Senegal

Ecowas president postpones Senegal visit as political crisis deepens

The head of the West African organisation Ecowas has postponed his visit to Dakar where he was due to meet President Macky Sall.

Nigeria’s president and head of Ecowas, Bola Tinubu, was due to meet Sall today, Monday.

No new date for the visit has been set at this stage, according to sources talking to RFI.

During the meeting, the Nigerian leader was expected to call on Sall to respect the constitution of his country and to avoid plunging Senegal into a sustained crisis.

This follows protests over the weekend against the postponement of the presidential elections that were due to take place at the end of this month.

Violent clashes with the police resulted in the death of three students in the capital Dakar, and in Ziguinchor in the southern region of Casamance, a stronghold of ex-Pastef leader Ousmane Sonko. 

  • Third death as Senegal braces for more protests against election delay

Senegalese voters also protested in European capitals over the weekend.

“The Senegalese took to the streets as they suffer terrible repression from the defence and security forces,” Patrice Mendy, representing the Pastef party in France, told RFI.

“The Republic is in danger. This force must rise to establish order. They must serve the Republic, not serve a man or his regime.”

Protesters vowed to continue their ongoing actions that left Dakar a virtual ghost town as schools and offices remained closed Monday morning.

The civil society group Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s Protect Our Election”) will also organise door to door events and caravans.

Further protests across Senegal are expected on Tuesday.

Call for sanctions

An NGO which groups together nearly a thousand civil society organisations in West Africa, the West African Civil Society Forum (Foscao), criticised Ecowas and the African Union after President Sall’s decision to postpone the presidential elections.

In a press release, the Forum called on the two institutions to take a strong position against Macky Sall’s decision.

The regional executive director of Foscao, Komlan Messié, told RFI that the credibility of the two organisations is at stake.

“We must say it – it is a constitutional coup d’état. It must be treated as such. This is why we are calling on Ecowas and the African Union to act quickly and use the same energy that they use to condemn military coups to condemn this coup,” he said.

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

No going back

Meanwhile, Sall defended his decision to postpone elections in an interview with Associated Press (AP), his first since announcing the postponment of the elections.

Sall brushed off allegations that the decision was unconstitutional and that he had created a constitutional crisis.

The country needs more time to resolve controversies over the disqualification of some candidates, he said in the interview.



The European Union on Sunday urged Senegal’s authorities to “guarantee fundamental freedoms”.

 

 (with newswires)


European defence

EU’s Borrell dismisses Trump’s ‘silly idea’ that encourages Russian attacks on NATO

White House hopeful Donald Trump’s remark on Saturday that he would “encourage” Russia to attack members of NATO who had not met their financial obligations has drawn a fierce reaction from the EU.

Trump ignited a political firestorm and sent a chill through the United States’ European allies on Saturday when he said he would “encourage” Russia to attack any NATO country that does not meet financial obligations.

“Let’s be serious. NATO cannot be an a la carte military alliance, it cannot be a military alliance that works depending on the humour of the president of the US day to day”, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said.



“It exists or it does not exists,” he said, adding that he was not going to keep commenting on “any silly idea” emerging from the US presidential election campaign.

US President Joe Biden called Trump’s comments “appalling and dangerous”.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned Sunday that “any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US”.

Trump, 77, is all but assured of the Republican nomination for the White House in the November vote against Biden, 81.

EU’s ‘strategic autonomy’?

Trump’s remark may help strengthen Europe and push it to become more independent of the United States.

In a White Paper published in 2013, the European Commission proposed a “Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)” that stressed EU defence budgets “are constrained, limiting the ability to develop, deploy, and sustain military capabilities,” pointing out that “fragmented European defence markets jeopardise the sustainability and competitiveness of Europe’s defence and security industry.”

The paper argues for “enhance[d] Europe’s defence capabilities.”

In France, President Emmanuel Macron followed up with his idea on European “strategic autonomy” which he launched in 2017 in his “Plan for a Sovereign Europe.”

He did not get much support from other EU countries. Berlin was reluctant and other countries simply didn’t give it much thought. 

But after the Trump presidency (2017-2021) and, later on, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the plan entered the spotlight again. 

During a visit to the Netherlands in 2023, Macron reiterated his ideas for the future of the EU, elaborating on his 2017 “plan for Europe.”

  • Macron lays out his plan for Europe on visit to the Netherlands

The plan contains six “keys” to European sovereignty, including a common defence budget, streamlining immigration and asylum procedures, and developing a new partnerships with Africa. Europe should allign social and fiscal policies, and strengthen democracy by promoting national and local debate.

Weimar Triangle

Underpinning Macron’s ideas is the “Weimar Triangle,” which envisages cooperation between France, Germany and Poland and which was created in 1991, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Triangle aims at integrating European defence cooperation, but never really took off – until today.



Today, diplomats of France, Germany and Poland are launching a joint initiative to fight Russian disinformation attacks as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine enters a third year.

The trio will meet at a historic chateau outside Paris as Polish Prime Minister and former EU chief Donald Tusk visits France and Germany on Monday to tighten Warsaw’s cooperation with Paris and Berlin.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne will host German counterpart Annalena Baerbock and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland at the Chateau de La Celle-Saint-Cloud just outside Paris.

(With newswires)


Africa Cup of Nations 2023

Cote d’Ivoire neutralise Nigeria to claim third Africa Cup of Nations trophy

Cote d’Ivoire’s three-week odyssey to redemption culminated in a coolly taken 2-1 victory on a humid Sunday night in Abidjan over regional rivals Nigeria. It furnished the hosts with a third Africa Cup of Nations title as well as the love of a nation and a warm embrace from a president who had authorised the billion or so euros to sponsor the psychedelia.

The adoration was warranted.

Cote d’Ivoire went behind to William Ekong’s header just before half-time. It came against the run-of-play.

But most of what the Ivorians have proposed during the 34th Africa Cup of Nations has operated outside the realms of logic.

Two defeats in the pool stages left the side on the verge of elimination and as they waited to discover whether they would advance to the second phase as the fourth of the four best third-placed teams, football federation bosses replaced head coach Jean-Louis Gasset with one of his assistants Emerse Faé.

“I told the players to keep doing what they had been doing in the first-half,” said Faé less than a hour after his charges had been crowned continental champions.

Strategy

“The Nigerians were tiring and I said that if we could keep them chasing the ball then the spaces would open up for us to exploit.”

His clairvoyance was vindicated. Nigeria goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali pushed Odilon Kossounou’s long-range effort out for a corner just after the hour mark.

Simon Adingra whipped the resulting kick into the box and Franck Kessie rose to power a header over Nwabali for the equaliser.

Nigeria tried to respond but their opponents – nicknamed “the zombies” – had resurfaced and regrouped.

Nine minutes from time, more of Adingra’s trickery down the left gained him a yard to send in a cross and Sebastien Haller flicked the ball deftly past Nwabali to the delight of the 50,000 partisans in the Alassane Ouattara Stadium.

Reaction

Nigeria could not respond. Adingra – who was deemed man-of-the-match – continued to taunt down the wing.

“We did not show our level,” conceded the Nigeria boss José Peseiro.

“Congratulations to Cote d’Ivoire, they were better. My players did a fantastic tournament until today. They lost. I lost. We need to accept the result,” added the 63-year-old Portuguese.

“I’m sad. We wanted to win. But sometimes you want to win and you don’t.”

Peseiro admitted he was surprised that the Ivorians seemed to play freely despite the pressure on them as hosts.

“They did not look nervous,” he reflected. “My team looked nervous. We kept giving away the ball.” 

The normally savvy Alex Iwobi and his fellow midfielders appeared unable to distribute intelligently or carry it incisively. Star striker Victor Osimhen scurried and scowled to no effect.

Candidate

The 25-year-old Napoli forward, who entered the tournament as a feared spearhead, left with only one goal eclipsed by Equatorial Guinea’s Emilio Nsue – who won the golden boot for his five strikes – and Haller who started the competition injured but scored the winner in the semis and the final.

“I dreamed of winning the Cup of Nations when I was a player,” said Faé, a former Cote d’Ivoire international midfielder.

“And I didn’t do it. But it has come as a coach. I have to salute my predecessor. It was his team.”

President Ouattara was submerged in an embrace from the players before presenting them with the trophy.

“It’s been an extraordinary tournament,” added Faé. “There have been lots of surprises. It’s been beautiful and full of incidents for us. I’m happy for the country.

“When I think of what’s happened and all the times that we’ve been behind. We’ve gone out and sought the trophy.”

A national holiday is likely to be self-declared on Monday. 


Africa Cup of Nations 2023

2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 30 – Endgame

Endgame? Sounds like a James Bond film where our monotone-faced hero dispatches baddies as he seeks meaning to the nihilism that adorns his state-sponsored psychopathy. On the subject of investment, the Alassane Ouattara Stadium was in fulgent extravaganza mode as a closing ceremony started the  party.

Pyrotechnics

National treasure Alpha Blondy came onto the field and the response was, quite honestly, Pavlovian. They must teach this in schools. Every one rose and started singing and being happy. We found it quite unsettling. Fireworks went off too. Really. We also got several artists performing Coup de Marteau, which has become the unofficial song of the tournament mainly because you can dance and cavort to this one rather than the official one – Akwaba – which is still a lovely tune. Still, the question was with all the fireworks would the final be something of a damp squib?

Final session

Initially, yes. So all credit then to the Cote d’Ivoire team for displaying guts to come from behind and beat Nigeria 2-1 to claim a third continental crownI – the same number as Nigeria. Only Ghana with four, Cameroon with five and Egypt with seven are ahead in the charts. A third title seemed so unlikely a few weeks ago when the Ivorians were on the verge of elimination. And their passage through the knockout stages has been so fraught. Seeminly out in the last-16 and te quarter-final, they have not yielded. Back they have come like zombies – their nickname for this tournament. It makes what makes this victory so filmic.

Official love

Ennobling to see the politicians and self-basting administrators finding their way into the initial celebrations of the players with the trophy. It’s not like these guys have been running around for seven matches in the heat. Still, it was good for Patrice Motsepe – the boss of the tournament organisers – that Gianni Infantino was in town for the shindig. Infantino runs world football’s governing body Fifa. And the two lads have a few things to discuss. Top of the agenda? The dates for the 2025 Cup of Nations in Morocco. It is supposed to be in June and July of that year – the exact same time as Fifa’s new 32-team Club World Cup. A 2025 Cup of Nations in January and February 2026 with the 2025 moniker for marketing purposes? Has such a thing been done before?

Good times

And why not throw in a reference to Chic? My feet keep dancing.with all the Coup de Marteau beats going round. Both coaches were rather classy and elegant after the Cup of Nations final at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium. Nigeria boss José Peseiro didn’t grumble or gripe about dodgy refereeing. He admitted that Cote d’Ivoire were better. And Emerse Faé, who took over from Jean-Louis Gasset on 24 January, praised the ditched Frenchman for selecting the squad from which Faé could mould a trophy-winning team. It was also a nice touch to allow Max Gradel – the oldest player in the Cote d’Ivoire squad – the honour of being the first player to hoist the 2023 Cup of Nations trophy.

Time out

There is likely to be a national holiday in Cote d’Ivoire following the Cup of Nations victory. We predict this because for the past 30 days, volunteers have been prowling the media tribune in the stadiums around the country making sure that no pictures are taken of the action on the field during the match. Some have been sniffy about photos of the crowds. As the Cote d’Ivoire team celebrated on the field after their 2-1 victory over Nigeria, not a volunteer was to be seen stopping the hordes of journalists in the tribune filming the scenes of delight. The volunteers were probably too busy doing their Coup de Marteau. And we suspect the rest of the nation will be doing likewise throughout the next few days.


Africa Cup of Nations 2023

Hosts’ zany triumph caps feral month at Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire

Squillions of West African CFAs later, the partisans got their bread at the circus on a sultry Sunday night 20 or so kilometres to the north of central Abidjan.

Cote d’Ivoire added a third Africa Cup of Nations trophy to the conquests of 1992 and 2015 amid the delirium at the Stade Alassane Ouattara and joy transporting the rest of the land.

The 82-year-old president, who munificently gave his name to the whitening elephant just outside the metropolis, will receive the heroes of Cup of Nations 2023 at a lavish celebration following a parade of the trophy through Abidjan.

A one-day national holiday on Monday will likely test the contours of the space/time continuum.

And the players deserve such largesse for their mental fortitude alone.

Humiliated on 22 January following the 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea – the worst home defeat in the team’s 64-year history, the Elephants – as they are nicknamed – needed Morocco to beat Zambia on 24 January in order to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament. Morocco obliged.

Once there and with head coach Jean-Louis Gasset replaced in favour of one of his assistants Emerse Faé, Cote d’Ivoire’s unlikely lads scraped and fluked their way past Senegal and Mali who seemed intent on letting the inchoate mass survive despite ample opportunities to kill off the mess.

Structure

It was only in the semi-final against the Democratic Republic of Congo that Cote d’Ivoire exhibited the structure that had singled them out as one of the favourites for the crown along with Morocco, Nigeria and Algeria.

Sebastien Haller and Simon Adringra – who were both unavailable due to injuries for the early ties in the pool – were able to contribute from the start following game-changing cameo appearances.

“When we were given a second chance, we showed humility and fought hard to make sure we didn’t waste it,” said Faé soon after etching his name into Ivorian footballing as well as competition legend. Since the expansion to 24 teams in 2019, no team had lifted the trophy after losing two games during the pool stages.

“We’re relieved,” added the 40-year-old former Cote d’Ivoire midfielder. “Relieved because we’ve fought. After the matches in the group stages, it was very difficult to pick our heads up and get back on track.

“We’ve always had to chase the game so mentally and physically, we’ve always had to draw on our reserves. But we’re relieved because at least we know that all that effort wasn’t for nothing.”

Nigeria were vapid in the final. Coach José Peseiro conceded his players had faltered under the pressure.

In truth, their sheen of invincibility was scraped away in the semi-final when the South Africa coach Hugo Broos opted for three central defenders to neutralise their wingers.

The ploy worked and the South Africans – one of the real surprises of the tournament – enjoyed possession and the better chances during the first-half.

Chance

After levelling early in second-half stoppage time, the South Africans squandered two more good chances to claim the semi within normal time. Four days after coming through a shoot-out against Cape Verde, they were eliminated by the same process.

Third place was an achievement no one had considered for the South Africans who failed to qualify for the 2021 tournament in Cameroon following a run to the last eight in 2019.

But it was a Cup of Nations that raised eyebrows from the outset. In their opening game in Group B, Egypt needed a stoppage-time penalty from Mohamed Salah to salvage a 2-2 draw with Mozambique while Cape Verde beat Ghana 2-1.

In Group E, Namibia saw off Tunisia 1-0 for their first victory at the Cup of Nations in their fourth visit to the tournament. 

Ghana v Egypt in the second game in Group B was not about determining who would claim top spot but rather about who would survive.

“For me the most surprising thing is that so many big countries were out very soon in the tournament,” said Broos just before the semi-final.

“And for me, the reason is that those little countries have made a lot of progression in the last years.

Change

“So I see in the quarter-finals a team like – with all respect – Cape Verde. But they won the group stage with teams Ghana and Egypt in the group.

“I think several years ago it was impossible. And it’s not just them. Look at Equatorial Guinea, they came top of the group containing Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.

“And that means that it’s no longer only those big countries who dominate the Cup of Nations.

“So that means that it’s a good thing for African football. I think that the so-called little teams can go to the Cup of Nations with a mentality of saying: ‘Yes, maybe we can do something.’ And that was not possible several years ago.”

Cameroon, Algeria, Ghana and Egypt and even World Cup semi-finalists Morocco all failed to make the last eight.

In a purely parochial take, Broos, a non-believer in the bronze medal match,  said he hoped his squad’s run to third place would give them belief that they had the abilities to compete with the likes of Nigeria who are in the same qualifying group as them for the 2026 World Cup.

“We saw from the semi-final that we can beat them. But it is not just about Nigeria, it is about Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Benin.”

Chronologically, the 2025 Cup of Nations should take place before that World Cup in Mexico, Canada and the United States which will feature 48 teams for the first time.

Just before the end of the 34th Africa Cup of Nations, Patrice Motsepe who runs the Confederation of African Football, hinted number 35 might not be in July 2025 as it will clash with the new 32-team Fifa Club World Cup to take place in the United States between 15 June and 13 July.

“There’s a lot of competing events at the same time,” Motsepe said a day after meeting the Fifa supremo Gianni Infantino.

“I don’t want to make announcements because there’s a degree of comfort in terms of what the date looks like, but we’ve got to accommodate various other competing competitions.”

This 2023 tournament was due to be held last June but the Ivorian rainy season put paid to that idea just as similar meteorological verities forced a delay until January 2022 of Cameroon’s scheduled dates of June and July 2021.

“The Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco is going to be excellent. It’s going to be immensely successful,” Motsepe said in his inimitable way of offering information without heft.

When exactly the show rolls into Morocco will follow some arm-twisting and trade-offs. The Ivorians, though, should be there to defend their crown.

And even if they are not, the myriad tales around their rise from the edge of the abyss to Olympus will, unlike bread, never go stale.


Israel-Hamas war

EU still divided over sanctions against Israeli settler violence

More than a week after the US issued a presidential order sanctioning Israeli settlers who commit violence against Palestinians, the European Union is still hesitating. While France and other EU heavyweights have pushed for sanctions, smaller members are refusing to agree.

On 1 February, citing “high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction”, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order that blocks funds and imposes travel bans on people and organisations involved in settler violence.

Such violence, he argued, undermines the security of Israel and risks widening the conflict across the Middle East, threatening US personnel and interests.

The move drew mixed reactions. 

“It is a good step by Biden, but I think it should not mislead us,” Shawan Jabarin, director of West Bank human rights organisation Al Haq, told RFI. 

“Because settlements are the root cause of the problem, it is not just an extremist here or there, or individuals. The question is: who is behind it and why, and the crime is the transferring of Israelis to Palestine territory and building the settlements. That’s a war crime,” he argues.

Shawan Jabarin, director of Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq

“The question is: who is behind it and why, and the crime is the transferring of Israelis to Palestine territory and building the settlements. That’s a war crime.”

01:44

REACTION by Shawan Jabarin, Director of human rights organisation Al Haq, West Bank

Jan van der Made

But settlers are angry. “I am very disappointed,” says Yisrael Medad, who lives in the Shiloh settlement on the West Bank, 45 km north of Jerusalem.

“The whole issue of so-called settler violence has been completely blown out of proportion, has become a whip in order to blacken the name of 500,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank],” he told RFI.

“The numbers are all off.”

“The whole issue of so-called settler violence had been completely blown out of proportion, has become a whip in order to blacken the name of 500,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The numbers are all off.”

01:42

REACTION by settler activist Yisrael Medad, Shiloh settlement, West Bank

Jan van der Made

European position

Meanwhile, the European Union has not made up its mind about possible sanctions against the settlers.

The EU’s official stance on Israeli settlements is that “all settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law and the EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including in Jerusalem, other than those agreed by both sides”.

Occasionally, Brussels pointedly reiterates this position in protest – for instance in May 2021, when Israel announced their intention to construct 540 new housing units in East Jerusalem, a project that would lead to evictions of Palestinians and interrupt roads between Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But the EU has never taken any concrete action, then or now. 

Instead, Brussels seems to be waiting to see what the effects of Washington’s steps may be. 

Brussels drags its feet

In the days after the 7 October attacks by Hamas – which cost the lives of some 1,200 Israelis – both the EU and member states were quick to slam the Palestinian group.

There was also criticism of the Israeli onslaught that followed, killing more than 27,000 Palestinians and displacing hundreds of thousands. But sanctions did not follow. 

Settler violence in the West Bank that erupted after the October attacks was only addressed two months later. The US State Department first imposed visa restrictions on 5 December, targeting individuals “believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank”.

The EU followed up on 11 December, when the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that he would propose sanctions against “Jewish settlers responsible for violence against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank”.

He added, however, that EU foreign ministers had “not yet shown the unanimous support that would be necessary to pass such a measure”.

EU split

Four days later, selected EU countries, together with the UK, Switzerland, Canada and Australia, issued a joint statement on settler violence on the West Bank, expressing their “grave concern about the record number of attacks by extremist settlers against Palestinians”.

They noted that since Hamas’s terror attacks, settlers have committed “more than 287 violent attacks, killing eight Palestinian civilians, injuring more than 73, and forcing more than 1,149 Palestinians from their homes”.

But the statement revealed a split within the EU, as it singled out nine of the 27 EU member states – Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – as principal co-signees.

A majority of EU member states, including the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others, were not mentioned.

  • France to sanction some extremist Israeli settlers for ‘unacceptable violence’

On 19 December, then French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said that Paris had “decided to take measures … against certain extremist Israeli settlers”.

“I was able to see for myself the violence committed by certain of these extremist settlers. It’s unacceptable,” she said. 

But to date, no concrete steps have been taken by the EU as a whole. 

According to Politico, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call last week that the situation of Palestinians in Gaza was “very worrying” and better access to humanitarian aid was urgently needed.

But Hungary and the Czech Republic are not convinced. According to reports, the two Central European countries have consistently blocked any proposed EU sanctions against Israel, which the bloc’s diplomats discussed as recently as last week. 

“The EU has no external and foreign policy regarding Palestine,” says Jabarin.

“We have been asking the EU to take action against the settlements and against the settlers. Part of that is to ban products of the settlements entering the EU market. We have been saying this for decades. And they didn’t listen.

“All the time they try to justify the common market, et cetera. But even individual countries, they can do it. But they didn’t do it,” he says.

But Medad, the settler, thinks the EU should not intervene at all.

“The European Union has nothing to do with us in Judea and Samaria, except being an interfering force,” he says, accusing the EU of funding Palestinian construction and “anti-Jewish activities”.

“They are acting as if the [1920-1948 British] Mandate still exists, except now it is a French or German or a Norwegian Mandate, and really they have nothing to do either making peace or providing security for all the people living in Judea and Samaria,” he claims.


CULTURE

Bayeux Tapestry to come to life in ambitious museum revamp

Ahead of William the Conqueror’s 1,000th birthday, the home of the Bayeux Tapestry is prepping for major renovations. Thanks to a two-storey extension and restorations to its existing building, the Bayeux Museum plans to double its exhibition space while keeping conservation front and centre. 

The Bayeux Museum in Normandy, northern France, has housed the historic tapestry for the past four decades. 

It is getting a €38 million facelift led by British architects RSHP.

“In terms of economic and cultural influence, this is the most complex and ambitious project ever undertaken by the town of Bayeux,” says the commune’s mayor, Patrick Gomont. 

Thousand-year history

A one-of-a-kind historical item, the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry tells the tale of William the Conqueror’s 1066 conquest of England across nine embroidered panels, with scenes set in France and England.

RSHP partner Stephen Barrett highlighted the symbolism: “As a British practice with a long history of working in France, there’s poetry in being able to contribute to a project that symbolises the deep connections between our two countries,” he said. 

“[It’s] a unique embodiment of this shared past.” 



The tapestry survived fires in the Middle Ages and public condemnation during the French Revolution. It has been safely housed in Bayeux’s converted 17th-century seminary since 1983. 

Currently one of the only publicly displayed works on Unesco’s “Memory of the World” register, the tapestry’s 70-metre length equals the distance between the pillars of the Eiffel Tower.

Tapestry to be put in storage

RSHP says the renovation project’s primary challenge is preserving the priceless artefact. 

Its recently released designs include a new inclined stand for the millennia-old tapestry.

Antoine Verney, head curator of Bayeux Museums, said that the stand will allow them to safely move the tapestry within the museum during low-season closures as part of efforts to stabilise damage to the fragile fabric.

Currently, the tapestry is on display year-round behind glass and dim lighting to prevent fading.

During the year-long construction, the museum will move the artefact to purpose-designed storage. 



Panoramic view

Once work is completed, visitors can look forward to a 180-degree view of the canvas, which will be fully unfurled across two levels in the new extension. 

The architects say they hope to immerse visitors in the Medieval world. Their plans also include new facilities and promises better accessibility for disabled visitors. 

The museum is also eager to feature a life-size photographic replica from 1872 in the updated space. The recent acquisition from the late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts’s estate has been hailed as a major win for the institution. 

Bayeux Museum plans to shut its doors following the summer of 2025 before reopening in 2027 – approximately a thousand years since the birth of William the Conqueror. 


Senegal

Third death as Senegal braces for more protests against election delay

A third death was reported in Senegal on Sunday, where people have been protesting against the president’s decision to push back an election that would have chosen his successor. Sporadic demonstrations continued through the weekend, ahead of a call for nationwide protests early next week.

The latest casualty was 16-year-old Landing Camara, who died following clashes in the south-western city of Ziguinchor, according to reports.

The teenager “took a projectile to the head and died of his injuries in intensive care” on Saturday evening, a hospital source told French news agency AFP.

A member of the local branch of the popular Pastef opposition party, Abdou Sane, told AFP that several people had been seriously wounded in the protests.

It comes after two other young men were fatally injured in protests on Friday, the biggest day of national mobilisation since President Macky Sall called off the planned election last weekend. 

The vote, which he was not eligible to run in, was supposed to take place on 25 February but has now been postponed until 15 December.

  • Protests over Senegal’s delayed presidential election turn deadly

Hundreds of arrests

Demonstrations pitting young protesters against the security forces are turning increasingly violent.

One man died in the capital, Dakar, and another was killed on a university campus in the northern city of Saint-Louis.

The Senegal branch of Amnesty International said it had received reports of more than 200 arrests across the country during Friday’s protests, while several journalists’ associations reported violence against reporters covering the events.

Most Senegalese cities remained calm on Saturday but spontaneous demonstrations continued in Ziguinchor, a stronghold of jailed opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko.

  • Senegalese opposition groups join forces to denounce election delay

Sonko, the candidate for Pastef, is one of several prominent opposition candidates who had been disqualified before the election campaign.

The president, whose second term had been due to end at the beginning of April, claims he postponed the vote because of disputes over whether the exclusions were justified.

International concern

Sall’s decision has plunged Senegal into its worst crisis since independence from France in 1960, with West African bloc Ecowas, the European Union and other international bodies expressing serious concern.

 

The EU on Sunday urged Senegal’s authorities to “guarantee fundamental freedoms”.

“The EU presents its condolences to relatives of the dead and calls on the authorities to guarantee fundamental freedoms,” the bloc’s foreign affairs and security policy spokesperson Nabila Massrali posted on X.

 

The US State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs said it was “saddened” by the protest deaths.

“We urge all parties to act in a peaceful and measured manner, and we continue to call on President Sall to restore the electoral calendar, restore confidence, and bring calm to the situation,” it wrote in a social media post on Saturday.

Civil society movement Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s Protect Our Election”) has called for a new round of nationwide protests on Tuesday.

(with AFP)

International report

As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out?

Issued on:

Turkish military forces are carrying out an air assault on US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, and Ankara has warned that a land operation may follow. The crackdown comes amid reports that Washington may pull its forces out of Syria and Iraq.

Turkey’s government accuses Kurdish forces in north-eastern Syria of being linked to attacks on its army. 

Turkish drone strikes are bombarding oil refineries and electricity production in the Syrian border region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of ethnic militias and rebel groups.

“The targets are energy infrastructure and that sort of stuff. Obviously, the goal is to make that area not sustainable, as a sustainable haven for the SDF,” says Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat and now regional analyst for the Medyascope news portal.

The SDF’s ranks include the Kurdish People’s Defence Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), which Ankara accuses of being affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The armed movement is considered a terrorist organisation by both Ankara and Washington.

“The end game as defined by the Turkish authorities is to prevent a terrorist statelet [being created] beyond Turkish borders,” explains Selcen.

“This means allowing the PKK or its Syrian affiliates, the YPG and YPJ, to establish a local administration in that area. War on terror is perhaps the number one priority for this government.” 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month threatened a new land invasion into Syria.

Turkish forces already control a large swathe of Syrian territory from previous operations against Syrian Kurdish forces.

Possible US withdrawal

The SDF is backed by a US military force of around 900 soldiers in the war against the so-called Islamic State group, raising the possibility of a conflict between NATO and its allies.

Ankara’s ongoing assault comes amid reports that Washington is considering pulling its forces out of Syria and Iraq.

“Washington may be preparing to hand off SDF as a partner to the Syrian regime and saying: ‘you guys sort yourselves out, we are actually going to leave’,” said Turkey analyst Sinan Ciddi of the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“The administration is apparently toying with the idea that it’s no longer worth keeping US troops there because they are in harm’s way,” he said.

At least some in the US administration want to explore, if they pulled their troops from northern Syria, “the extent to which Turkey could sort out its problems with the Kurds via engaging with the Syrian regime”, Ciddi added.

US-Turkey reset

A US withdrawal from Syria would relieve years of tension between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.

“Unfortunately, this relationship with the United States and YPG creates a barrier between Turkey and the United States,” said Bilgehan Alagoz, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Marmara University. 

“A NATO ally should not act against other allies’ national concerns,” she said. “That’s the main reason why Turkey perceives US policy in Syria as a national security concern.”

  • Sweden deal unlikely to resolve bitter dispute between NATO and Turkey

With Ankara last month lifting its veto on Sweden’s NATO membership and the White House reciprocating by green-lighting the sale of military jets to Turkey, the NATO allies appear to be seeking to reset ties

Analyst Selcen warns time may be running out for the SDF.

“If the Americans leave, it will be very difficult for the SDF to survive unless they cut a deal with Damascus,” Selcen said. “But the timing is of the essence, of course – they cannot get the same terms that they will get once the Americans leave.”

Damascus compromise

But Selcen suggests if the SDF moves quickly, it could secure a deal with Damascus that ensures its survival – at least in the short term, given the weakness of the Syrian security forces.

“At the end of the day, they will have to come up with some kind of modus vivendi with [Syrian President Bashar Al] Assad. It does not mean that Assad will come to control this region again as he did. But they will have to come up with some sort of a solution with Damascus.”

There could equally be advantages for the Turkish government, he believes.

  • Turkey lays the ground for a smoothing of relations with Syria

“It will also be, in the end, a kind of a safe face-saving formula for Ankara, which can now take Damascus as the main interlocutor to deal with this [Kurdish problem],” Selcen said.

“All these sides will be very happy to see the American presence leave the region – with the exception of, of course, the Iraqi Kurds and the Syrian Kurds.”

Opposition to the US military presence in Syria is rare common ground between Ankara and Damascus.

If Damascus was to retake control of the predominantly Kurdish region, analysts say, it could be enough for Erdogan to claim victory over the SDF, end Turkey’s assault, and remove the main point of tension between Ankara and Washington.

The Sound Kitchen

France and the Academy Awards

Issued on:

Happy World Radio Day! Today we’ll celebrate WRD with your greetings and thoughts. There’s the answer to the question about France’s film submission to the Academy Awards, “The Listener’s Corner”, 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.

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 13 February, I asked you a question about our article “French film ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ wins best screenplay, foreign film at Golden Globes”. You were to read the article carefully and answer this question: what is the name of the film that will represent France in this year’s Academy Awards?

The answer is, to quote our article: “The Golden Globes traditionally serve as a preview of the Academy Awards, but Anatomy of a Fall, which won the top Palme d’Or award at Cannes, will not represent France for the best international film, with La Passion de Dodin Bouffant, a historical romance between two gastronomists, submitted instead.”

La Passion de Dodin Bouffant is translated into English as The Taste of Things. 

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “What do you remember about your first experience traveling?”, which was suggested by Khuki Jahanara Yesmin from Bogura, Bangladesh.

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

The winners are: Ras Franz Manko Ngogo, the president of the Kemogemba RFI Club in Tarime, Tanzania. Ras is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Ras!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Hari Madugula, the president of the Young Stars Radio Club in Hyderabad, India, and Muhammad Shamim, the president of the Golden Eagles RFI Club in Keralam State, India. Rounding out the list are RFI Listeners Club members Kashif Khalil from Faisalabad, Pakistan, and Zenon Teles, who is also the president of the Christian – Marxist – Leninist – Maoist Association of Listening DX-ers in Goa, India.

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: The traditional French accordion song “La Reine de Musette”, performed by Lucy Riddett; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; Claude Debussy’s “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner, written and performed by the composer, and “Roi Fayssal”, written and performed by Ali Toure Farka.  

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Melissa Chemam’s article “Senegalese lawmakers postpone presidential election to 15 December” to help you with the answer.

You have until 4 March to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 9 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

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

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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.


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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