rfi 2024-02-17 10:35:39



Geopolitics

Ukraine, Gaza set to dominate Munich Security Conference

The annual Munich Security Conference, nicknamed the “Davos of Defence”, is underway. Over the next three days, more than 60 heads of state and 85 government officials will convene in southern Germany to discuss the world’s most pressing security concerns.

Ukraine, Gaza and dozens of topics that threaten global security are packed into a dense agenda, details of which were released just hours before the opening of the conference on Friday.

Global hotspots, such as Israel’s war with Hamas and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will be tackled extensively.

Gaza will features during several discussions on the “de-escalation challenge” in the Middle East, featuring speakers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, followed by a conversation with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

This is followed on Sunday by a town-hall meeting on the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, where the Palestine Authority’s Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh will lock horns with Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli minister of foreign affairs.

‘Ukraine in the world’

Ukraine will feature prominently during a panel on the country’s recovery plans and a conversation on “Ukraine in the world” featuring its President Volodymy Zelynsky, followed by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s thoughts on Ukraine’s future.

A roundtable on filling Europe’s defence production gap will likely tackle the EU’s military help to Ukraine, and the knock-on effects on member states’ domestic military stockpiles.

Other panel discussions will cover global power blocs, the US, China, Russia and the EU.

Two sessions will highlight the place of the world’s two most powerful countries: “The role of the US in the world”, with US Vice-President Kamala Harris as speaker, and “China’s global ambitions”, featuring China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Remembering Navalny

A talk by Russian dissidents Irina Shcherbakova – founder of Memorial, a human rights organisation banned in Moscow – and Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, is likely to focus on the death of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, reported on Friday by Russian prison authorities.

  • France says Navalny paid with his life for resisting ‘oppression’

His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was already in Munich for the conference and received a standing ovation as she made a defiant appearance despite the announcement.

A possible European “defence union” will be discussed with EU president Ursula von der Leyen and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is also a candidate for NATO’s next secretary general.

Possible EU expansion will be tackled in a separate panel with speakers from Georgia and Ukraine as well as Emmanuel Bonne, diplomatic adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron.

  • Shaping the future: What’s at stake in the 2024 EU elections?

Other topics on the agenda include food insecurity, disinformation (with Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa), climate change, water security, corruption and artificial intelligence.

Fears of climate change, migration, terrorism

Ahead of the conference, organisers published the latest Munich Security Index, which aims to gauge the public’s mood on security issues in several countries.

According to this year’s index, people seem to be worrying less about the war in Ukraine. “The threat from Russia and related risks still rank considerably higher than in 2021, but compared to last year, they have dropped in the risk index,” according to the report.



“Meanwhile, perceptions of non-traditional risks remain high,” it says. 

“People around the world continue to be most concerned about environmental threats, while risk perceptions of mass migration as a result of war or climate change, Islamic terrorism, and organised crimes have heightened,” according to the poll.

Security surrounding the venue of this weekend’s conference is high, with Munich city police expecting some 20 different demonstrations protesting the meeting and its participants.


Russia

France says Navalny paid with his life for resisting ‘oppression’

France said Friday that Alexei Navalny had paid with his life for resisting “oppression” under President Vladimir Putin. 

“Alexei Navalny paid with his life for his resistance to a system of oppression,” French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on X.

“His death at a penal colony reminds us of the reality of Vladimir Putin’s regime,” Sejourne said, expressing condolences to Navalny’s family and the Russian people.

Navalny’s death

Navalny died Friday at the Arctic prison colony where he was serving a 19-year-term, Russia’s federal penitentiary service said in a statement.

According to the statement, Navalny lost consciousness after going for a walk and could not be revived by medics, the prison service said.

“Navalny felt bad after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness. Medical staff arrived immediately and an ambulance team was called,” the statement said.

“Resuscitation measures were carried out which did not yield positive results. Paramedics confirmed the death of the convict. The causes of death are being established.”

Russia‘s Investigative Committee said it had opened an investigation into his death.

Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh said his team had not been informed of his death. “Alexei’s lawyer is now flying to Kharp,” where his prison colony is, she said in a post on social media.



Opposition leader

Navalny, 47, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, won a huge following with his criticism of corruption in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

  • France expresses concern over ‘missing’ Russian dissident Navalny

His criticisms, posted on his YouTube channel , racked up millions of views and brought tens of thousands of Russians to the streets, despite Russia’s harsh anti-protests laws.

He was jailed in early 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was recuperating from a near-fatal poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

  • EU ministers meet to discuss Navalny crisis, US warns Russia of ‘consequences’

In a string of cases he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges widely condemned by independent rights groups and in the West as retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

Late last year he was moved to a remote Arctic prison colony in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region in northern Siberia.

The last post on Navalny’s Telegram channel, which he managed through his lawyers and team in exile, was a tribute to his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, posted on Valentine’s Day.

(with AFP)


Senegal

Senegal’s President Macky Sall commits to ‘consultations’ on elections

Senegalese President Macky Sall has said he is committed to carrying out “without delay the necessary consultations for the organisation of the presidential election [in Senegal] as soon as possible”.

18:06: This story has been updated to include details of a statement from President Macky Sall

***

In a statement, which was published on ‘X’ he said he “took note of this  decision [of the Constitutional Council], which falls within the framework of normal jurisdictional mechanisms”.

Court ruling

It follows the decision of Senegal’s top election authority to void the president’s postponement of a presidential election scheduled for February 25.

It ruled that the decision to do so is unconstitutional. 

The decision of the Constitutional Council has been widely welcomed across the political spectrum.

Over the past two weeks, critics have accused Sall, who has been in power since 2012, of tampering with the election calendar to avoid defeat.

Seydou Gueye, a spokesman for the APR party to which Macky Sall belongs, told RFI this Friday morning that it would now be very difficult to schedule another election before the end of Sall’s mandate, on 2 April.

Apart from the organisational issues, Ramadan is in March this year, which would make organising a poll difficult.

  • Senegal’s Constitutional council overturns delay of presidential vote

However, members of the what used to be the Pastef party insist on a vote as soon as possible.

The party members, which also belong to the Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s protect our election”) collective say they will be staging protests over the weekend.

Election date 

Former prime minister Aminata Touré, who was arrested during the protests on 4 February, said the decision underlines the strength of democracy in Senegal.

“This decision restores the image of democracy in Senegal,” she told RFI. “The violations were so flagrant that the Constitutional Council put an end to all of that.”

The decision was also welcomed by the leader of the former Pastef party, led by Ousmane Sonko, through the voice of his senior collaborator Amadou Ba.

“It’s a great satisfaction,” he said. “The Council was not fooled by the manoeuvre which consisted of postponing the presidential election and, surreptitiously, extending the mandate of the president of the Republic.”

Almost all Senegalese newspapers and news sites published the 5 pages of the Constitutional Council’s decision.

Most politicians and political organisations  in Senegal  said they wanted the election to take place before the end of Sall’s mandate.

Some proposed  mid-March with room for an eventual second round, if the leading candidate doesn’t obtain 51% of the vote in the first round.

International relief

In the wider region, the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) urged “compliance with Senegal’s Constitutional Council decision to postpone the presidential election”, emphasising “the importance of inclusive dialogue and adherence to the rule of law for a transparent election process.”

The African Union, which will be holding its annual summit on 17-18 February in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, hasn’t reacted yet. 

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, also wrote on social media that “the judges have spoken: the Constitutional Court invalidates the postponement of the presidential election decided by Macky Sall. This is an important democratic upsurge. The decision must now be fully respected.”

Finally, the European Union on Friday urged all parties in Senegal to respect the latest decision.

Elsewhere, more than 130 political prisoners have  been released from prison since Thursday, in a move by President Macky Sall to appease public opinion.

Sall, who has been in power since 2012, said he postponed the votebecause of disputeds about the disqualification of potential candidates.

 (with newswires)

The Sound Kitchen

Senegal’s ‘slick goal’

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the Africa Cup of Nations. There’s “The Listener’s Corner”, Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan”, and of course, the new quiz question, 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!

Facebook news: As you know, there are two different Facebook pages for you – one is the RFI English Clubs page, reserved for members of the official RFI English Clubs, and the other is the RFI Listeners Club page, open to all RFI Listener Club members.

It is confusing, and every day I must decline membership to listeners who mistakenly go to the English Clubs page instead of the Listener Club page.

So we’ve decided to merge the two pages into one: The RFI English Service Listener Forum. You will need to re-apply to the page by answering some questions (which if you don’t, I will decline your membership request). Soon, the RFI English Clubs and the RFI Listeners Club pages will be closed.

It will be less confusing and there will be more radio lovers to interact with, so don’t be sad!

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!

We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Masahiro Kobayashi from Kawaguchi-City in Japan.

Welcome Masahiro! So glad you have joined us!

This week’s quiz: On 20 January, I asked you a question about one of Paul Myers’ articles on the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament: “2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 3 – Robust and reckless”. You were to send in the answers to these three questions: What is the name of the 20-year-old player for Senegal who, as Paul wrote, “scored a slick goal”? Which team was Senegal playing, and, finally, the name of the goalkeeper who could not keep out the young man’s “slick goal”?

The answer is: Lamine Camara is the name of the “slick goal” doer, Senegal was playing The Gambia, and Baboucarr Gaye is the name of The Gambia’s goalkeeper who wasn’t able to repel Camara’s play.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Sultan Mahmud: “Who is your favorite footballer, and why?”

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Habib ur Rehman Sehal from Kanhewal, Pakistan. Habib is also this week’s bonus quiz winner. Congratulations, Habib !

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Sazdeur Rahman, a member of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh, and Debjani Biswas, a member of the RFI Pariwer Bandhu SWL Club in Chhattisgarh, India.

Finally, there are RFI Listeners Club members Ranjit Darnal from Gandaki, Nepal, and our brand-new RFI Listeners Club member Masahiro Kobayashi from Saitama, Japan.

 Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: Traditional music from Mali for the kora, played by Djelimoussa Sissoko; “Akwaba” written and performed by Dany Synthé, Magic System, Yemi Alade, and Mohamed Ramadan; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “We Came Through the Storm”, written by Jonathan Scales and performed by the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra.

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Paul Myers’ article “2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 30 – Endgame” to help you with the answer. 

You have until 11 March to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 14 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


French football

Mbappé tells PSG he plans to leave the club as football saga draws to a close

France striker Kylian Mbappé has told Paris Saint-Germain he plans to leave the club at the end of the season when his contract expires, according to a number of reports. 

The 25-year-old, who arrived in Paris from Monaco in 2017, had extended his contract until 2024 but last summer declined to activate a clause allowing him to stay another year at Ligue 1 champions PSG.

According to The Athletic, Mbappe has informed the club of his decision – although the terms of his exit are “yet to be fully agreed”.

The club and Mbappé are to make an official statement “when everything is finalised in the next few months”. 

PSG has yet to comment publicly. 

Mbappé will leave PSG on a free transfer but the blow to the club will be softened by an agreement they reached last summer which will see the player waive bonuses amounting to around 60 to 70 million euros.



  • Mbappé’s future at PSG dominates prelude to France’s Euro 2024 game in Gibraltar

After seven seasons at PSG, Mbappé, the club’s all-time top scorer, is tipped to seal a move to Real Madrid.

Real have made no secret of their desire to sign him. In 2019, 2021 and 2022, club president Florentino Perez considered signing him, only to be rebuffed each time. 

For PSG, the departure of their main star, a year after the exits of Neymar and Lionel Messi, marks the beginning of a new era of uncertainty. 

Mbappe, a member of France’s 2018 World Cup-winning team, signed for PSG in 2017 for 180 million euros, becoming the second most expensive player ever after Brazilian Neymar.

The striker helped the club win five Ligue 1 titles and three French Cups. He is PSG’s all-time leading scorer with 243 goals in 290 games.

(with newswires)


Justice

Court rejects Benzema complaint against French interior minister

A French court has thrown out a defamation case brought by top football player Karim Benzema against Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who claimed the Al-Ittihad forward had well-known ties with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Benzema – winner of the French 2022 Ballon d’Or – posted on social media on 15 October that Palestinian civilians in Gaza were in his prayers over what he called Israel’s “unjust bombardments” of the territory, following the 7 October attacks on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Darmanin, a tough-talking right-winger, alleged on the CNews channel the following day that the 36-year-old player for Saudi side Al-Ittihad had “well-known” ties with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group, which he described as a “hydra”.

Last month, Benzema filed a complaint saying the accusations “undermined” his honour and reputation.

He denied he had ever had the “slightest link with the Muslim Brotherhood organisation”.

His complaint was heard by a committee at the country’s only court empowered to prosecute politicians for alleged offences committed while in government.

On Thursday top prosecutor Remy Heitz said it had found no grounds for any attack on Benzema’s honour or reputation.

  • Benzema files defamation complaint against French minister

Hamas, founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, is considered a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.

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

Palestinian militants also took about 250 people hostage. Around 130 of them remain captive in Gaza, including 29 believed dead, according to Israeli officials.

Relentless Israeli bombardment and fighting in Gaza has since killed at least 28,663 people, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the territory.

Last month,  French basketball star Emilie Gomis was forced to quit her role as an ambassador for the Paris 2024 Olympics after a social media post she made denouncing the situation in Gaza was deemed anti-Semitic.

(with newswires)


War in Ukraine

France and Ukraine to sign security agreement during Zelensky’s Paris visit

French President Emmanuel Macron will sign a bilateral security agreement with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris on Friday, the French presidency said in a statement.

It did not release details of the agreement to be signed at the Elysée presidential palace.

Macron said earlier this year that France was negotiating a bilateral deal similar to the one Ukraine recently agreed with the United Kingdom, which increased the UK’s military funding for Ukraine to the equivalent of €2.92 billion over the next financial year.

The French presidency said the visit would be an opportunity for Macron “to reaffirm France’s determination to continue to provide unwavering support to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people over the long term and with all its partners”.

  • France and allies launch ‘artillery coalition’ to bring more weapons to Ukraine
  • EU leaders seal €50bn Ukraine aid deal after Hungary lifts veto

European tour

This will be Zelensky’s third visit to Paris since Russia invaded Ukraine almost two years ago, the Elysée said, following trips in February and May 2023.

The presidents will discuss the situation on the front line, Ukraine’s military, economic and humanitarian needs, as well as negotiations on the country’s efforts to join the European Union, which France fully supports, the statement added.

Ukraine’s presidential office on Thursday said Zelensky would also visit Germany, where he will meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Zelensky will also attend the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, where he is expected to hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines with US Vice President Kamala Harris, Czech President Petr Pavel, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and the Netherland’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

(with newswires)


LGBTQ rights

Greece legalises same-sex civil marriage and adoption

Greece has become the first Christian Orthodox country to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption, despite opposition from the church. 

The bill was approved in parliament on Thursday by a majority of MPs – 176 in favour and 76 against – following two days of debates.

It was backed by the centre-right New Democracy party of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

“This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today’s Greece – a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values,” Mitsotakis said on social media platform X.

When the result was announced, dozens of people waving rainbow flags celebrated in front of the parliament building in central Athens.

But the issue of same-sex marriage has divided the country with the powerful Orthodox Church leading a movement of fierce resistance.

Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens, the head of the church, said the measure sought only to “corrupt the homeland’s social cohesion”.

Supporters of the church gathered in protest in Athens, many holding crosses and reading prayers in the capital’s Syntagma Square.

‘Day of joy’

Dozens of ruling New Democracy party legislators were opposed to the bill,  but support from opposition parties – notably the main opposition leftist Syriza party whose leader, Stefanos Kasselakis, is gay – meant it was certain to reach the simple majority needed to pass.

LGBTQ+ organisations had argued that same-sex families faced a labyrinth of administrative challenges amounting to discrimination under present family law.

When their children fall ill in Greece, non-biological parents currently have no right to decide what medical procedures are necessary for them, and children do not automatically inherit from their non-biological parents.

“This is a historic moment,” Stella Belia, the head of same-sex parents’ group Rainbow Families Greece, told Reuters news agency. “This is a day of joy.”

Once the law is promulgated, Greece will become the 16th member of the EU and the 37th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. 

Read also:

  • Gay marriage brought equality to France while giving rise to homophobia
  • EU Commission takes Hungary to court in effort to overturn LGBTQ law

(with newswires)


Industrial Relations

Winter holiday disruption likely as French train conductors go on strike

As railway workers prepare to walk off the job, France is preparing for major travel disruptions on Friday and over the weekend. The CEO of train operator SNCF has warned that the strikes will target winter break destinations as many families head to the Alps for the school holidays.

The SNCF announced that only half of high-speed TGVs would run over the weekend as up to 90 percent of ticket inspectors go on strike.

In addition to inspectors, who are the main point of contact for passengers, the ‘Junior et Compagnie’ service is disrupted as well, as workers who look after unaccompanied children also take part in the walkout. 

Trade unions CGT and Sud-Rail are taking action over what they say is slow progress by SNCF’s management a year after agreeing better benefits and pay for workers following their Christmas 2022 strikes.

Bad timing? 

Management, however, claims that they have increased wages, introduced additional jobs, and the promised bonuses.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, in response to the strike threat, said that he respects “the right to strike” but criticised the timing during busy holiday periods.

“Every vacation, there is a strike,” he said. 

SNCF’s CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou added that he saw no reason to “disrupt the lives of French people who want to go on holiday”.

He added: “We will try to run all the trains that head to the Alps and the Pyrénées for the winter holidays.”

Trip postponement

Despite Farandou’s promise to minimise disruption, SNCF is advising travellers to postpone their trips.

The strike in 2022 ended on 23 December when unions signed an agreement with SNCF after the action led to the cancellation of one in three trains. 

Unions say that SNCF, despite its lip service, has yet to deliver on its promises.

As state-owned operators, SNCF trains and RATP urban services are the most common targets for strike action compared to other operators like Thalys, Eurostar, or Deutsche Bahn. 

According to the SNCF website, “rail workers cannot call a strike at random or on the spur of the moment”, and must follow a specific procedure under French law.

Union representatives must first bring their demands to company management. Strikes are triggered if disputes are not resolved.

If terms aren’t reached between SNCF and its workers soon, the Olympics, now only months away, might bear the brunt of another strike.

Public response 

A poll by BFMTV revealed that 52 percent of French people oppose this weekend’s strike. With less than 10 percent showing support, it’s the least popular strike of recent years, especially compared to the widely supported farmers and pension reform protests. 

Families ready to hit the slopes will not know whether to stay or go, with train cancellations only confirmed the afternoon before departure.

SNCF claims they cannot publish details of modified transport plans until 17:00 the day before as they don’t receive details until 48 hours before the strike begins, and it takes a day to draft their modified transport plans.

Travellers will receive a text message or email if the strike impacts their route. Ticket-holders are entitled to a 100 percent refund or rescheduling free of charge for cancelled services due to strike action. 


Gaza

Macron tells Netanyahu Gaza operations must ‘cease’, death toll ‘unacceptable’

French President Emmanuel Macron warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that Israeli operations in Gaza “must cease” as the human toll and humanitarian situation are deemed “unacceptable”.

In a telephone call Macron appears to have toughened his tone. The French leader expressed France’s “firm opposition” to an Israeli offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, saying it “could only lead to a humanitarian disaster of a new magnitude” and aggravate the risk of regional escalation, according to a statement from the presidential Elysee palace.



Ceasefire agreement

The French leader stressed that a ceasefire agreement should be reached “without further delay”, adding that such a deal should “guarantee the protection of all civilians and the massive inflow of emergency aid”.

Macron said that the lack of sufficient access to “a population in an absolute humanitarian emergency was unjustifiable,” his office said.

He said it was “imperative to open the port of Ashdod” in Israel north of the Gaza strip, “a direct land route from Jordan and all the crossing points.”

The French president also urged “the prime minister and all Israeli leaders to have the courage to offer their fellow citizens a future of peace”, which he believes only the “creation of a Palestinian state” can achieve, the statement said.

On Tuesday, France said it was imposing sanctions against 28 “extremist Israeli settlers” whom it accuses of committing human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank.

  • EU still divided over sanctions against Israeli settler violence

France will also be seeking sanctions at European level, the foreign ministry said.

Gaza violence

The latest Gaza war began after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to a tally by French news agency AFP based on official Israeli figures.

Militants also took about 250 people hostage, around 130 of whom are still in Gaza, according to Israeli figures. Israel says 29 of the remaining captives are presumed dead.

Israel’s relentless bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza has killed at least 28,576 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Palestinian territory.

(with newswires)


Espionage

French centre-right magazine L’Express reveals former boss worked for KGB

The centre-right French l’Express magazine this week disclosed that its former director, Philippe Grumbach, served as a KGB agent from 1946 to 1981. But he may not have been the only one.

Revelations published by French weekly L’Express show that one of its founders and former editor, Philippe Grumbach, who died in 2003, worked for the Soviet spy agency for 35 years.

L’Express based its information on documents found in the archives of Russian defector Vasili Mitrokhin, which are housed at the University of Cambridge.

Mitrokhin was a disillusioned senior archivist in the KGB’s foreign intelligence archive who smuggled thousands of files out of Russia, which were later compiled in the book “The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West”.

The archives contain thousands of files and handwritten notes, and led to many spies being exposed – including Robert Lipka, an agent of the American NSA, and the British official Melita Norwood, who spied for Moscow over 40 years.

‘No doubt’

In 2018, French PhD student Cyril Gelibter went to Cambridge to consult the Mitrokhin archives and stumbled across the name of the former L’Express editor, with the mention: “Grumbach, Philippe, born in 1924, Jewish, editor of the newspaper L’Express in Paris, journalist, close to Giscard d’Estaing, recruited in 1946.”

In another document, he found information about an agent code-named Brok: “born in 1924, Jewish, French citizen, director of the newspaper L’Express, collaborates since 1946″.

The file stated that Brok had “good personal relations” with a strong of prominent French figures, including then Prime Minister Edgar Faure, President François Mitterand and the co-founder of L’Express, Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber.

“The latter entrusts him with the mission of settling delicate issues,” according to the notes cited by L’Express, “liaising with representatives and leaders of political parties, and groups”.

According to the magazine: “The description leaves no doubt: Grumbach is Brok.”

Top spy

In fact, much of the information was already there for everyone to see with the publication of the first volume of “The Mitrokhin Archive” in 1999.

On page 615, the massive book recounts that “one of the residency’s most highly rated and longest-serving agents, ‘Brok,’ then a well-connected journalist” played a leading role in measures against then President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

“Originally recruited as an ideological agent in 1946, ‘Brok’ had begun working for money within a few years to supplement his income as a journalist and to purchase a Paris apartment,” according to the book.

“In the mid-1970s he was paid over 100,000 francs a year,” it says (the equivalent of about €125,000 today).

The agent was highly regarded, with at least ten case officers, according to Mitrokhin.

“During the 1974 presidential election campaign, ‘Brok’ was provided, on [USSR leader Yuri] Andropov’s personal instructions, with a fabricated copy of supposedly secret campaign advice given to Giscard d’Estaing by the Americans on ways to defeat Mitterrand and Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Giscard’s unsuccessful Gaullist rival for the right-wing vote during the first round of the election.

“The forged document was then shown to Chaban-Delmas and others, doubtless to try to make collaboration between him and Giscard more difficult at the second round, when Giscard was the sole candidate of the right,” the book states.

More French spies?

Further inspection of “The Mitrokhin Archives” by RFI found that L’Express was not the only French media outlet the defector said had been infiltrated by the Russians.

The documents mention Le Monde‘s reporting about the Vietnam War, saying that in July 1975, the paper used a “distorted account” of a speech by Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the United States to “smear him as a Nazi sympathiser”.

Although there was “no proof” that the account was planted by the KGB, it was “entirely in line with disinformation which the KGB was seeking to plant in the Western press”, the book says.

Mitrokhin also claimed that French news agency Agence France-Presse was successfully penetrated both in Paris and abroad. His notes identify six agents and two confidential contacts at AFP recruited between 1956 and 1980.

“The most senior, code name ‘Lan’, was recruited under false flag by a businessman, code named ‘Dragun’ in 1969 and paid 1,500 francs a month, which he was told came from the Italian company Olivetti, supposedly anxious to have inside information on French government policy,” the records state.

The Mitrokhin archives have, over the years, proven correct. But the real identities of the other French journalists mentioned in the massive collection of documents remain unclear.

Read also:

  • Big Brother may be watching, but it is not too late
  • French military spy agency celebrates 30th birthday as war rages on

DRC violence

Women protest against fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Faced with a recent surge in fighting between the army and rebel forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, several hundred women dressed in black took to the streets of the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday to demand a halt to the violence.

The women held banners reading “12 million victims since 1994”, “Pity the women and families of eastern DRC” and “The Congo will remain whole and indivisible”.

The march, called by the Minister for Gender, Family and Children Mireille Masangu, brought together mainly politicians and civil servants.

It went off peacefully, unlike demonstrations by dozens of youths last week in Kinshasa where protestors targetted foreign embassies and UN installations they accuse of supporting M23 rebels in the conflict-wracked east. 

The march ended at the president’s office, where the minister handed over a statement condemning the “expansionist wishes of Rwanda and the exploitation of the natural resources” of the DRC.   

Masangu hit out at what she said was the “silence, the complicity of the international community represented by the United States, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Poland”.   

She also criticised the community’s “immoral policy of supporting the aggressors (of the DRC) on the one hand, and an inappropriate humanitarian aid response on the other”.    

Forgotten war

Clashes have intensified in recent days around the strategic town of Sake, about 20 kilometres from Goma – the capital of North Kivu province.   

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

Two South African soldiers were killed in a mortar strike in the region on Thursday, the first South African casualties since its force was deployed to help quell an insurgency.

Announcing the deaths, the South African military said three more soldiers had been wounded in an incident Wednesday near the eastern city of Goma.

Aid workers with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) say the humanitarian situation is dire.

“In the structures we support, we’re treating an average of 60 cases of sexual violence per day,” Stephen Goetghebuer, head of missions with MSF told RFI

“They’re from the IDP camps and are survivors of this violence. But it’s probably just a small proportion of the victims.”



Rwandan involvement

The DRC, the United Nations and Western countries say Rwanda is supporting the rebels in a bid to control vast mineral resources, an allegation Kigali denies. 

Dada Kasele, whose father died at the front during the second Congo war from 1998-2003, took part in Wednesday’s protest.

“Why does the international community not put an end to this interminable war?” she asked.

“They all know that the main killer is called Paul Kagame,” Rwanda‘s president, she told French news agency AFP.

“We want peace – peace for our families, our parents.”

The mostly-Tutsi M23 group has seized vast swathes of North Kivu since late 2021.

The UN Security Council on Monday voiced concern over “escalating violence” in eastern DRC and condemned the rebel offensive launched near Goma on 7 February.

(with AFP)


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)


Senegal unrest

Senegal shuts down internet and bans election delay protest

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

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

Senegalese authorities banned the march, citing logistical concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calls for ‘proportionate force’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(with newswires)


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”.

 

The Sound Kitchen

Senegal’s ‘slick goal’

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the Africa Cup of Nations. There’s “The Listener’s Corner”, Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan”, and of course, the new quiz question, 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!

Facebook news: As you know, there are two different Facebook pages for you – one is the RFI English Clubs page, reserved for members of the official RFI English Clubs, and the other is the RFI Listeners Club page, open to all RFI Listener Club members.

It is confusing, and every day I must decline membership to listeners who mistakenly go to the English Clubs page instead of the Listener Club page.

So we’ve decided to merge the two pages into one: The RFI English Service Listener Forum. You will need to re-apply to the page by answering some questions (which if you don’t, I will decline your membership request). Soon, the RFI English Clubs and the RFI Listeners Club pages will be closed.

It will be less confusing and there will be more radio lovers to interact with, so don’t be sad!

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!

We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Masahiro Kobayashi from Kawaguchi-City in Japan.

Welcome Masahiro! So glad you have joined us!

This week’s quiz: On 20 January, I asked you a question about one of Paul Myers’ articles on the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament: “2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 3 – Robust and reckless”. You were to send in the answers to these three questions: What is the name of the 20-year-old player for Senegal who, as Paul wrote, “scored a slick goal”? Which team was Senegal playing, and, finally, the name of the goalkeeper who could not keep out the young man’s “slick goal”?

The answer is: Lamine Camara is the name of the “slick goal” doer, Senegal was playing The Gambia, and Baboucarr Gaye is the name of The Gambia’s goalkeeper who wasn’t able to repel Camara’s play.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Sultan Mahmud: “Who is your favorite footballer, and why?”

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Habib ur Rehman Sehal from Kanhewal, Pakistan. Habib is also this week’s bonus quiz winner. Congratulations, Habib !

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Sazdeur Rahman, a member of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh, and Debjani Biswas, a member of the RFI Pariwer Bandhu SWL Club in Chhattisgarh, India.

Finally, there are RFI Listeners Club members Ranjit Darnal from Gandaki, Nepal, and our brand-new RFI Listeners Club member Masahiro Kobayashi from Saitama, Japan.

 Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: Traditional music from Mali for the kora, played by Djelimoussa Sissoko; “Akwaba” written and performed by Dany Synthé, Magic System, Yemi Alade, and Mohamed Ramadan; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “We Came Through the Storm”, written by Jonathan Scales and performed by the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra.

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Paul Myers’ article “2023 Africa Cup of Nations: 5 things we learned on Day 30 – Endgame” to help you with the answer. 

You have until 11 March to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 14 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

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.

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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).


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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