rfi 2024-02-15 12:05:45



French media

French TV channel faces scrutiny over allegations of peddling opinion, not news

France’s highest administrative court has ordered the country’s media regulator to look into editorial balance and independence at CNews – dubbed by critics the French Fox News.

Hailed as a victory by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, which filed the complaint, critics claim it’s an attack on freedom of speech.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Council of State gave media regulator Arcom six months to examine whether CNews is complying with its obligations to ensure “balanced and independent” journalism.

Tuesday’s ruling expands what is currently considered editorial content for regulatory purposes, which will now include contributions from pundits as well politicians.

It is a victory for the press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has accused CNews of becoming “opinion media”. 

In April 2022 RSF appealed to the council arguing Arcom had repeatedly refused to remind CNews of its duty to to ensure “honesty, independence and pluralism of information”.

Last year, Arcom’s president, Roch-Olivier Maistre, said that CNews “strictly respected political pluralism” overall, but that it was “becoming an opinion channel” on the lines of conservative Fox News in the US.

Pluralism across the board

CNews belongs to the Canal+ group owned by billionaire industrialist Vincent Bolloré. 

It recently became France’s most popular news channel with its mix of heated debate and political commentary on subjects like immigration, security, religion and crime. 

Under French media regulations laid down in a 1986 law, all channels, whether public or private, must give equal airtime to people from different political parties during electoral periods.

But the court went further, ruling that the regulator had to take into account “all of those participating in broadcasts, including commentators, presenters and guests, and not only the time allotted to politicians”.

It also said that the regulator should assess news independence “in terms of the channel’s operating conditions and programming characteristics”.

All French media will have to comply with these broader rules.

Freedom of speech

Christophe Deloire, RSF’s secretary general, hailed an “historic decision… for democracy and journalism”.

He wrote on X: “Our aim in fighting for the pluralism and independence of information is simply to defend democracy. It’s not about such and such an editorial line, but the ability of citizens to get access to a range of opinions and facts. It’s a matter of urgency.”

However, a number of commentators on CNews say that, on the contrary, the court’s decision threatens freedom of speech.

  • French teen’s anti-Islam rant revives debate on free speech

Speaking on CNews on Wednesday morning, journalist Franz-Olivier Giesbert described the court’s decision as “very serious, unbelievable”, saying France was “heading, bit by bit, towards a government of judges”.

Eugenié Bastié, a regular contributor to CNews, questioned how the tighter controls would be applied.

“Will commentators have to declare who they vote for?” she wrote on X.

Meanwhile Eric Ciotti, head of the conservative Republicans party, spoke of an “inquisition” into the opinions of commentators and journalists. 

Mouthpiece for the far-right

Freedom of speech is “absolutely not threatened”, responded the Socialists’ Olivier Faure on Wednesday.

“Respecting pluralism of opinion does not mean banning anything… it’s the absence of pluralism that infringes on freedom,” the party chief said, describing CNews as a “far-right” media that “supports Marine Le Pen“.

“The least CNews can do is to come clean on that … to allow viewers to understand it’s not mainstream media.”

In 2021, Arcom fined CNews €200,000 for broadcasting comments by far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, which it deemed hate speech.

  • Former French presidential candidate Zemmour to pay fine over racist comments

Zemmour, who founded the far-right anti-immigration Reconquest party to run as a candidate in the 2022 presidential election, has been convicted for racial and religious hate speech. He continues to be a regular contributor to the channel.

Sovereignist politician Philippe de Villiers, a member of Reconquest, also hosts a programme on the channel. According to Les Jours website, CNews failed to mention de Villiers’ airtime in its declaration to Arcom.

CNews’ star presenter Pascal Praud dismissed criticism of the channel.

“The sucess of CNews irritates and upsets the right-minded, whose voice has dominated French media for years”, but “CNews will not give in to intimidation”, he insisted. 


ENVIRONMENT

Almost half of fish sold in France is ‘not from sustainable sources’

Nearly half of fish sold in France comes from unsustainable populations, a report from the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea has found – as it warned that overfishing remained a major environmental problem.

Published on Tuesday, Ifremer’s report underscores ongoing challenges as France falls well short of the European Union’s 100 percent sustainable fishing target.

This is despite minor progress over the past 12 months.

Of the 347,000 tons of fish unloaded in France in 2022, 56 percent was sustainably sourced. That figure is up from 54 percent the previous year.

The report also found that 20 percent of species in French markets – including mackerel and sardines – still comes from overfished populations.

  • French fishing ban great news for dolphins, less so for industry

Population ‘collapse’

Some species, such as pollack in the English Channel and hake in the Mediterranean, have experienced population collapses, the researchers said.

Even when fished at their highest sustainable yields, many fish populations remain fragile because their sustainability relies on successful reproduction each year.

Ifremer also noted regional disparities: in the Mediterranean only 36.5 percent of the 18,000 tons of fish caught were from sustainable sources.

The North Sea and the eastern English Channel performed better, with 63 percent of seafood volumes coming from healthy populations propped up by abundant herring and scallop resources.

  • French health chiefs ban Bordeaux oysters amid norovirus scare

Progress too slow

While progress has been made since the year 2000, when only 10 percent of fish was sustainably sourced, Ifremer says improvement has stagnated over the past five years.

Clara Ulrich, Ifremer’s fisheries expertise coordinator, said young fish were struggling to thrive in their natural environments – with only one egg in 100,000 making it to adulthood.

“To achieve sustainable fishing, we not only need to reach the goal of having 100 percent sustainable fish populations – but also maintain it in the long term,” she said.

“To achieve this, we need to better understand the factors influencing the development of fish eggs and larvae, especially with climate change.”

Rising water temperatures have impacted marine biodiversity, she added, leading to a drop in the availability of food resources.

(with newswires)


Justice

French court cuts Sarkozy prison time in campaign financing case

A French appeals court on Wednesday halved the prison time for former president Nicolas Sarkozy after his conviction for illegal campaign financing during his 2012 re-election bid.

In September 2021, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced Sarkozy to one year in prison after finding him guilty of illegally financing his campaign. 

Now the Paris Court of Appeal has ruled he should only serve six months behind bars, with another six months suspended. 

The courts have suggested his prison time could be served at home with an electronic bracelet.

String of charges

The 68-year-old has faced a litany of legal problems since his presidency. He’s been charged separately with corruption, bribery, influence-peddling and breaking campaign financing laws.

However Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, has remained an influential figure among conservatives.

He has long denied accusations that the Republicans Party, then known as the UMP, worked with a public relations firm named Bygmalion to hide the true cost of his campaign – marked by lavish events previously unseen in French politics.

France sets strict limits on campaign spending.

  • French court upholds Sarkozy’s prison term in wiretap graft case
  • Bygmalion, Libya, Bismuth: the trials and tribulations of Nicolas Sarkozy

Prosecutors said that Bygmalion invoiced the UMP rather than the campaign. They said Sarkozy spent nearly 43 million euros on his 2012 campaign – almost double the permitted amount of 22.5 million euros.

Thirteen other individuals were also convicted, with sentences ranging up to three and a half years in prison, including some suspended.

During a hearing, Sarkozy put the blame on some members of his campaign team: “I didn’t choose any supplier, I didn’t sign any quotation, any invoice,” he told the court.

(with Reuters)


FRANCE

France pays tribute to Badinter, minister who won fight to end death penalty

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday led a national tribute to former justice minister Robert Badinter, who played a pivotal role in abolishing the death penalty. Badinter is to be laid to rest in the Panthéon in Paris. 

Macron delivered Badinter’s funeral eulogy at Place Vendôme – home of the Justice Ministry – six days after his death at the age of 95.

Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 in A major Opus 92 was performed by Leonard Bernstein as the background to a film screening of photographs retracing Badinter’s life.

Badinter’s family had said the far-right National Rally (RN) and the far-left France Unbowed (LFI) parties were not welcome at the tribute.

Badinter was often the target of insults by the far right and the Le Pen family, who campaigned for the reinstatement of the death penalty until 2017.

While Marine Le Pen‘s RN agreed not to attend, LFI sent two of its MPs. “A national tribute that excludes a part of France is no longer a national tribute. The republic is indivisible,” LFI leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon posted on X.

Elisabeth Badinter, a philosopher and Badinter’s wife of 57 years, was accompanied by their children, Judith, Simon and Benjamin. They sat a few rows from the LFI lawmakers.



Panthéon entry

One of the country’s most influential figures, Badinter served as president of the Constitutional Council and as a member of the French Senate from 1995 to 2011.

Macron said he would be laid to rest in the Panthéon, which houses the remains of some of the country’s most celebrated men and women. 

“You are leaving us at a time when your old adversaries, forgetfulness and hatred, seem to be advancing again,” Macron added.

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

Retracing his journey fighting the death penalty, Macron praised Badinter as a force that “lives and snatches life from the hands of death”.

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

‘Lonely fight’

A lawyer, politician and author, Badinter saved many lives by dedicating his own to eliminating capital punishment, which was banned in France in 1981.

At that time most French people still supported the practice.

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

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

  • Fighting to end death penalty worldwide 40 years after its abolition in France

‘Fitting tribute’

Former justice minister Élisabeth Guigou told TV channel BFM the homage was a fitting tribute to Badinter, who had served as an inspiration.

“He always stayed true to his convictions. He was not content with repealing the death penalty just in France. He campaigned for universal repeal, even in the most repressive dictatorships,” she said.

Meanwhile National Assembly President Yaël Braun-Pivet said others could continue his legacy by carrying on fighting for the causes that Badinter believed in.


ENVIRONMENT

French ski resorts warned fake snow will only worsen climate impacts

France’s ski resorts this week kicked off their peak holiday period to stark warnings from the Court of Auditors that their operating model is “running out of steam” in the face of climate impacts, which are more pronounced in mountainous regions.

With almost 54 million skier visits annually, France ranks as the world’s second-most popular ski destination behind the United States. But diminishing snow poses a major threat to the sustainability of the country’s alpine holiday spots.

The Court of Auditors, a financial oversight body, predicted that only a few would survive beyond the year 2050 – mostly because of drawbacks linked to artificial snow production.

Faced with warmer conditions, ski resorts rely heavily on artificial snow. Figures from the National Agency for Territorial Cohesion showed that 39 percent of French slopes were covered with manufactured snow during the 2022 season.

The snow’s production has its own carbon footprint, bringing associated energy costs as well as potential conflicts over water allocation. Making the snow itself will also become harder as temperatures continue to rise.

Add to that recent criticism by environmental NGOs who say trucking snow from one location to another – in one case 70 tons was delivered to a ski resort in the Vosges – is unsustainable.

  • Snowy winter spells better skiing in French Alps, but for how long?

‘No magic solution’

Guillaume Dolques, from the Institute for Climate Economics, told RFI there was no one-size-fits-all magic formula that could serve as a solution for ski resorts facing an existential crisis.

“Each mountain region will have to ask itself the question of how it can reinvent itself by reappropriating its history, its know-how and its industrial knowledge,” Dolques said.

“It won’t just be a question of replacing the tourism model.”

Ski resorts in France – the only candidate to host the 2030 Winter Olympics – are already financially fragile and partly reliant on funding from the state.

  • Half of France’s ski slopes closed by warm weather and rain

Attempts by some areas to diversify have been criticised by the Court of Auditors for lacking coordination and risking potential competition between resorts.

Industry organisations and the mayors of mountain resorts, however, argue their adaptation efforts are being underestimated.

Concerns over the environment and of perpetuating an outdated ski tourism model have spurred some opposition to France hosting the Winter Games.

Dolques told RFI the Olympics could be used as a lever for transition, but that investments would need to be directed at real adaptation.

Investing in snowmaking machines, he said, would be a serious mistake.


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

Iconic Paris riverside booksellers can stay during Olympics, Macron rules

Paris (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron has intervened in a row over the removal of booksellers from the banks of the river Seine for the Paris Olympics, ruling that they should stay at their historic locations, his office said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of booksellers, who operate from little dark green boxes by the river, were set to be temporarily removed ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony on the Seine on 26 July.

The head of the Cultural Association of Booksellers of Paris had likened their relocation to a “tooth extraction” and the organisation announced last month that it would launch legal efforts to stop the process.

Macron “has asked the interior minister and the Paris prefect’s office that all of the booksellers are preserved and that none of them are forced to move,” a statement from the president’s office said.

The decision came after “no consensual and reassuring solution” could be found with the traders, who have been a feature of Parisian life for some 150 years.

Already struggling to bounce back from shutdowns during the Covid pandemic and a longer-run loss of interest from locals, the booksellers are desperate to profit from the arrival of an estimated 16 million tourists during the Games.

  • Paris unveils its only inner-city venue built specially for the Olympics

The sporting extravaganza is set to begin with national teams sailing down a 6.0-kilometre stretch of the Seine on more than 100 boats – the first time the traditional opening ceremony has been held outside of the main stadium.

The city’s police, overseen by the government-appointed prefect, had ordered the removal of around 600 of the 900 book kiosks over security concerns amid fears that they could be used to conceal explosive devices.

The format of the open-air ceremony is a huge challenge for security forces who will need to protect competitors, VIPs and spectators in a vast area of the capital at a time of heightened concern about terror attacks.

Moving the booksellers was also seen as a way of increasing the space for spectators on the banks of the river where around 300,000 ticketed fans are set to watch the show.

  • Paris Olympics medals to include metal from Eiffel Tower

‘Don’t leave’

The intervention from Macron reflects concern about the impact on public opinion of removing a fixture of Parisian life, as well as growing criticism of the disruption to everyday life caused by the Games.

Advance warnings about security and transport restrictions have led many locals to plan holidays during the 26 July to 11 August Olympics, sometimes in order to rent out their homes for high prices to foreign visitors.

Other complaints centre on the construction work that snares traffic daily around the capital, while resentment lingers over the handling of ticket sales last year that saw many Parisians priced out.

  • Crowd numbers allowed attend Paris Olympics opening ceremony halved

“Don’t leave this summer, don’t leave! That would be a mistake,” mayor Anne Hidalgo urged the city’s inhabitants on Sunday as she inaugurated the only new permanent Olympics sports arena to be built in inner Paris.

“It’s going to be incredible,” she said.

Surveys suggest a large majority of French people back the Olympics, with a poll in November indicating that 65 percent of respondents were in favour.

Most of the sporting and transport infrastructure existed before the Games, part of Paris’ pitch for a relatively low-budget event that organisers say will be 50 percent less polluting than previous editions measured by CO2 emissions.

The Olympics will be followed by the Paralympics from 28 August to 8 September.


Africa Cup of Nations 2023

Victorious interim Cote d’Ivoire coach Faé to consider future during holidays

Cote d’Ivoire interim head coach Emerse Faé set off on holiday on Wednesday to recover from leading his team to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations title and consider whether to take the job on a permanent basis. 

The former Cote d’Ivoire international midfielder was handed the role on 24 January as the side he had been coaching as an assistant to Jean-Louis Gasset waited to find out if it had qualified for the knockout stages of the tournament.

Three weeks and four enthralling matches later, the Ivorians were hoisting the trophy for the third time after beating Nigeria 2-1 in the final on 11 February at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan.

On Monday, tens of thousands of jubilant fans filled the streets of Abidjan for a victory parade.

After the four-hour love-in, the team arrived at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny for a lap of honour around the former national stadium.

Wearing ‘African champions’ T-shirts the squad and coaches hailed adoring fans who were mostly decked out in orange – the national colour. 

Honour

On Tuesday, Faé and his squad were given bonus payments and villas during a presidential ceremony to celebrate the triumph.

Each member of the squad was handed 50 million CFA francs (77,000) euros and a villa of the same value.

Coach Fae received 155,000 euros for masterminding the march to glory following Gasset’s departure in the wake of the 4-0 defeat against Equatorial Guinea on 22 January.

“You have brought happiness to all Ivorians, bravo, bravo,” said President Alassane Ouattara before awarding the players the national order – the highest public distinction in the country.

Faé, whose playing days ended in 2012 due to persistent injuries, started his coaching career with the Nice under-19 team soon after.

After nine years on the French riviera, he moved to the reserve team at Clermont before joining Gasset’s staff.

“It is greater than a fairytale,” said Faé of the Ivorian surge.

“When I think about all we have been through, the difficult moments, moments when we were behind, when we came back in the last minute of games. We are miracle survivors.”

 


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 fighting the local Wazalendo militias.

These groups consist of local militiamen who have partnered with the Congolese military (FARDC), primarily to fight the M23 rebels who have terrorised 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)

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

Issued on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mutual mistrust

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

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

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

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

Lame duck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Turkey to Hungary

Such concerns could yet further delay Sweden’s membership.

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

But political momentum is behind the deal.

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

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

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


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

Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


Sponsored content

Presented by

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

Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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