rfi 2024-02-18 16:35:44



FRENCH POLITICS

Former head of Frontex to stand for far-right National Rally in European elections

The former director of the EU border agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, has announced that he has joined France’s far-right National Rally and will stand for the party in European elections in June.

Leggeri, who resigned from Frontex in 2022 while under investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, said he had joined the National Rally’s list for the European elections set to take place across the EU from 6 to 9 June.

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche Sunday newspaper, he said: “The RN has a concrete plan and the capacity to carry it out,” he told the Journal du Dimanche Sunday newspaper.

“We are determined to combat the migratory submersion, which the European Commission and the Eurocrats do not consider a problem, but rather a project: I can testify to this,” he told the paper.



Fraud allegations at Frontex

Leggeri, a 55-year-old French civil servant, led Frontex from 2015 to 2022 before resigning.

“Today, I am choosing to put my experience and expertise at the service of the French,” he wrote on X.

“Leading Frontex for almost seven years and working for the state for around 30 years – notably in security and immigration – makes this decision coherent,” he added.

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Opinion polls suggest that the European elections will bring major gains for the far right, and Leggeri is number three on the National Rally’s list.

During his tenure at the head of Frontex, Leggeri, a figurehead for impenetrable European frontiers, was frequently accused of tolerating illegal “pushbacks” of migrants.

French magazine Le Point reported that OLAF’s confidential report into Leggeri found he “did not follow procedures, was dishonest with the EU and managed staff badly”.


Gender inequality

Why are girls in France flunking maths and how can the equation be changed?

Girls in France are performing worse overall in maths and science than boys and they’re far less likely to go on to careers in the elite fields of mathematics and physics. And yet recent research shows that deep-rooted gender stereotyping, not ineptitude, is to blame.

Maths is a highly valued subject in France, which has succeeded in creating a maths elite. The country has won 13 Fields Medals since the prestigious prize was created in 1936, second only to the United States.

All 13 French medals were won by men.

Maths is a particularly male-dominated field and the higher up you go, the more gender imbalanced it gets.

Women make up around 12 percent of computer scientists in France, down from 35 percent in 1982, and less than 15 percent of mathematicians.

This comes as little surprise since 50 percent of girls drop maths in their last year of high school, compared to just one in four boys.

‘Not for girls’

“All their life, even when they’re very young, girls are being told that mathematics and science is not for them, it’s for boys,” says mathematician Colette Guillopé. “But it’s not innate, it’s all cultural.”

Now retired but still active as both an emeritus professor and member of the Women and Mathematics society, Guillopé was educated in an all-girls school in the 1960s – so grew up thinking that, on the contrary, maths was for girls.

Entering higher education was an eye-opener.

“I was in a competitive programme, there were mainly boys in the class. I knew how girls would do maths but I couldn’t believe that boys could do it too,” she says wryly over a coffee in her home town of Palisseau, south of Paris.

“Now, in mixed schools, public or private, girls believe they just can’t do maths.” 

Listen to a conversation with Colette Guillopé on the Spotlight in France podcast: 

Learned roles

The belief that maths is somehow “not for them” sets in early in France. A recent study showed that while girls and boys have a similar level when they begin primary school aged five or six, within a few months girls start slipping behind.

“Girls and boys learn gender roles extremely quickly”, both in the family and then at school, says sociologist Clémence Perronnet. She highlights another study, this time from the US, showing children around the age of six start to say that girls are less intelligent than boys.

She points to a “gendered division of the sciences”, with maths and physics seen as sciences of the mind requiring more abstract thinking, while medicine, biology and other life sciences are linked to the caring professions.

“We tend to teach girls that they should focus on taking care of others, and anchor more abstract thinking and more intellectual activities in boys,” says Perronnet, whose lengthy research into gender equality and science appears in the book “Matheuses: Les filles, avenir des mathématiques” (Girls, future of maths).

But early gender stereotyping doesn’t mean girls are unable to close the gap. On the contrary, those who continue with maths into higher education often perform better than their male counterparts.

The problem, Perronnet says, is that even when boys and girls perform equally well, it’s not perceived in the same way.

“For girls, good results are seen as the consequence of hard work whereas boys’ results are seen as the consequence of some kind of genius, rapidity and logical thinking.”

It means that even high-performing girls are less likely to go on and study through to a high level.

“It shapes aspirations. When your success is not described as genius, intelligence or high capacity you don’t really see yourself going into this kind of education later on.”

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Hostile space

Girls may end up losing confidence in their ability to do maths, but Perronnet says there’s nothing inevitable, let alone natural, about this. 

“Lack of self-esteem, of self-confidence, is never the cause, it’s always the consequence of what happens to girls in schools and in society more widely,” she says.

“So we have to stop blaming the girls… It’s not the girls we have to change, it’s the context,” she insists.

Gender bias exists even within the field of mathematics itself, says Guilloné, who chose applied rather than fundamental mathematics. 

“I thought there would be more room for me because it was a new discipline in France in the late ’70s. I could see that fundamental mathematics was blocked. And professors, who were all male, would actively encourage us as women to go there.”

She did well and still enjoys going into the lab, but says it’s a battle for women to advance in such a male-dominated field.

“It’s very tough being a woman in a place where there are very few women. There are a lot of male chauvinists around, a lot of sexism, and sexual harassment. I was a victim of that.”

Changing the equation

Perronnet says France has to tackle sexist and sexual violence head on if more girls are to continue in maths and science.

“About 10 percent of high school girls experience sexual aggression and the more they go into science, the more they’re exposed to violence,” she points out.

“In prestigious universities like Polytechnique or Centrale, 25 percent say they have experienced sexual agression, and a study last year showed half of female researchers have been sexually harassed in the workplace.”

Some of Perronnet’s research was conducted in single-sex maths workshops, where girls were able to speak more freely. 

But she points out: “Single-sex settings work because they provide safe spaces where girls can study and work together, but they don’t provide long-term solutions because they don’t create more gender equality.”

The sociologist gives conferences on gender bias in science, helping teachers become aware that their behaviour in the classroom may be problematic.

For the many, not the few

If girls are to project themselves more readily as future mathematicians and scientists, they also need more role models.

The recent film “Marguerite’s Theorem” featuring a brilliant young female mathematician – the only girl in a class of boys – is one of very few in the genre.



As a member of the Women and Maths group, Guilloné is involved in organising regular workshops for middle- and high-school girls “to show them about maths, about stereotypes, and also that maths can be fun”.  

Both Guilloné and Pérronnet agree that real change will only come by improving engagement with maths across the board – not by encouraging only the exceptional students.

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“Do you want to select a very small number of people and bring them to the top or do you want good and fair education for as many children and students as you can?” asks Perronnet.

“It’s an important political choice and for now it’s made in favour of picking a few researchers, mainly privileged, white men, to make their elite mathematicians.”

It’s like in football, says Guilloné. “If you want good players, competitive at an exceptional level, you need a lot of football players. It’s the same for maths. You need a big pool – of boys and girls.”


Listen to more on this story on the Spotlight in France podcast, episode 106.


ISRAEL – HAMAS CONFLICT

Macron says recognition of Palestinian state ‘not a taboo’ for France

French President Emmanuel Macron says recognising a Palestinian state is not a ‘taboo’ for France, as international frustration grows with Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories.

France and the EU have long supported a two-state solution in the Middle East, but as part of a negotiated settlement.

With talks long stalled and Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza deepening, some European countries are voicing support for recognizing a Palestinian state sooner.

‘’Recognising a Palestinian state is not a taboo for France,’’ Macron said Friday at a meeting in Paris with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

“We owe it to Palestinians, whose aspirations have been trampled on for too long. We owe it to Israelis, who lived through the worst antisemitic massacre of our time. We owe it to a region that is seeking to rise above those who promote chaos and seed revenge.”



Pressure on Israel

Macron did not elaborate on when and under what conditions France could recognise a Palestinian state, and France is unlikely to take such a decision unilaterally. But France holds important diplomatic weight, as one of just five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“Our partners in the region – notably Jordan – are working on it, we are working on it with them. We are ready to contribute to it, in Europe and in the Security Council,’’ Macron said.

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He also called for a cease-fire in Gaza and warned that an Israeli offensive in Rafah on the border with Egypt would lead to an “humanitarian disaster without any precedent.”

Britain’s Foreign Minister David Cameron said earlier this month that his country could officially recognise a Palestinian state after a cease-fire in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects Palestinian statehood, and there have been no substantive negotiations on a two-state solution since 2009.

A move by some of Israel’s key allies to recognise a Palestinian state could put pressure on Israel to resume negotiations.

(with wires)


ISRAEL – HAMAS CONFLICT

Russia to host Palestinian factions for reconciliation talks in Moscow

The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, has revealed that Russia has invited Palestinian factions to meet in Moscow on 26 February, adding that the administration in the West Bank is ready to engage with Hamas.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, Shtayyeh said: “We are ready to engage. If Hamas is not, then that’s a different story. We need Palestinian unity,” adding that to be part of that unity Hamas needed to meet certain prerequisites.

Set up as part of the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that raised hopes of Palestinian statehood, the PA has seen its legitimacy steadily undermined by Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Many Palestinians now regard it as corrupt, undemocratic and out of touch.

The militant Islamist group Hamas has ruled in the Gaza Strip for 17 years after ousting the PA loyalist security services from the enclave.



Western and some Arab states have made it clear that they want to see a revitalised Palestinian Authority – which President Mahmoud Abbas has run since 2005 – take charge in Gaza once the conflict is over, unifying its administration with the West Bank.

 

“Palestine is ready. We have the institutions, capabilities, but our serious problem is we are under occupation,” Shtayyeh said. “We are under Israeli occupation and we need it to end.”

When asked whether bringing Hamas into the broader PLO platform would alienate international partners, he said Hamas was an integral part of the Palestinian political arena.

“In order for Hamas to be a member of the PLO there has to be prerequisites that Hamas has to accept – the political platform of the PLO, an understanding on the issue of resistance and we are calling for popular resistance and nothing else,” he said.

  • Macron says recognition of Palestinian state ‘not a taboo’ for France

Moscow – Hamas relations

Hamas has always welcomed Russian reconciliation efforts.

Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist factions have repeatedly visited Moscow, which maintains good relations with Hamas.

Hamas and the PA have failed to end their power disputes since 2007. Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group demand to join the PLO but say it should be reformed as the two factions reject recognising Israel or abiding by the PLO commitment towards the signed peace accords.

Shtayyeh said there were currently no talks with Hamas.

“They need to come to our political agenda. Our ground is very clear. Two states on the borders of 1967, through peaceful means,” he said. “The Palestinians need to be under one umbrella.”

“We need a reformed PA because right now Hamas has too much legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinians,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said.

“We need to offer them a new generation of young Palestinian leaders who will be at the table to create this state.”


Kenya

Women in Kenya demand justice for femicide amid spate of killings

Nairobi, Kenya – A spate of femicides has spurred calls for justice for women across Kenya, where more than a dozen women have been killed since the start of the year.

In January alone, at least 14 women in Kenya were killed by their intimate partners.   

The high-profile murders of 26-year-old Starlet Wahu Mwangi and 20-year-old Rita Waeni in particular, both in Nairobi, has put pressure on the government to rapidly investigate, arrest and prosecute those responsible.

Thousands of women marched throughout the country last month to push the government to declare femicide a national emergency and a threat to national security.   

According to Africa Data Hub, which tracks public reports, more than 500 femicides were recorded in Kenya between 2016 and 2023, with other cases suspected to have gone unreported.

‘Our justice system cannot be relied upon’

 

In Malaa village, 42 kilometres from Kenya’s capital, Connie Muuru works with mothers who have lost their daughters to femicide and other forms of murder.

After several failed attempts of seeking justice for her daughter, Jully Sharon Muthonim, who was brutally murdered by her lover, Connie has set up a support group in Jully’s memory.

“What I do here at Team Compassion is walk with families that have lost loved ones through murder. I have walked the same path,” she says.

“I lost my daughter in 2016, and for two years I attempted to seek justice only for it to backfire and send me to severe depression.

“Our justice system cannot be relied upon, I experienced it and I see it even today.”

Barriers to justice

Activists say failings in the criminal justice system mean gender-based crimes end up unpunished.

“Women are afraid of reporting acts of violence simply because the system blames the victim instead of dispensing justice,” said Irungu Houghton, executive director of Amnesty International Kenya.

“Some judges take vexatious arguments to delay the cases,” he told RFI.

 

Human rights campaigner Boniface Mwangi blames police.

“They conduct shoddy investigations, take bribes from perpetrators, then claim they did their work,” he says, accusing law enforcement of not taking violence against women seriously.

“Femicide is homicide and all cases should be handled with the seriousness they deserve.”

Misogyny revealed

 

But the latest murders have also exposed misogyny in Kenyan society, which remains largely patriarchal.

On social media, the killings were greeted with comments blaming the victims for “being in the wrong place” and “dressing inappropriately”.

As thousands of women gathered in major cities at the end of January to protest against the deaths, a video shared online showed men angrily shouting at demonstrators and threatening violence.

  • Thousands march against femicide in Kenya

At the Nairobi march, wheelchair user Catherine Syokau, founder of Diverse Ability Initiative, said she came to send a message to the authorities on behalf of the most vulnerable women.

 

“More than half of persons living with disability in Kenya are poor, they cannot even hire a lawyer to represent them. To them, justice is an impossibility. It is like the society has approved murder and we are not aware,” she told RFI.

More than 30 percent of women in Kenya experience physical violence and 13 percent experience some form of sexual violence, according to a government report released last year. 

“This must end today and now!” says Syokau.


EU-China relations

China’s top diplomat to visit Germany, France and Spain to ease relations

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi will visit Germany for the Munich Security Conference then travel to Spain and France in the coming days, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

A spokesperson said in a statement that Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi will attend the 60th Munich Security Conference between 16 to 21 February to deliver a speech. 

He will then visit Spain and France, where he will “hold the China-France Strategic Dialogue,” they added.

The conference brings together military elite from around the world and is seen as a barometer of transatlantic relations. It starts on Friday.



Wang will use his speech there to “elaborate on China’s propositions on building a community with a shared future for mankind and advocating an equal and orderly multipolar world,” the foreign ministry said.

His visit to Spain will be the Chinese foreign minister’s first in six years, Beijing said.

China said the visit will “consolidate mutual trust, enhance friendship, promote cooperation and enrich the China-Spain comprehensive strategic partnership”.

Beijing also hopes to “deepen strategic communication, consolidate political mutual trust, advance practical cooperation and people-to-people and cultural exchanges” with France, it added.

According to the website of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi’s visit to France will be the “first important visit between the two countries this year”. Wang will also meet with Macron’s Diplomatic Adviser Emmanuel Bonne.

Last month, France and China marked 60 years of diplomatic relations, but apart from a friendly phone call and video speeches, no special events were scheduled.

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(with newswires)


GEOPOLITICS

Zelensky warns ammunition shortfall damaging Ukraine’s defence at Munich Security Conference

Ukraine’s fightback against Russian troops is being limited by a lack of long-range missiles and artillery shells, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday, making a fresh appeal for more weapons.

Zelensky’s call at the gathering of 180 leaders and defence chiefs at the Munich Security Conference comes at a critical juncture, with Ukraine’s troops forced to withdraw from the frontline city of Avdiivka to avoid being encircled.

“Ukrainians have proven that we can force Russia to retreat,” he said, adding that “our actions are limited only by the sufficiency and length of the range of our strength… the Avdiivka situation proves this,” said Zelensky.

“Keeping Ukraine in artificial deficits of weapons, particularly in deficits of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war.” 

With the war about to enter its third year, Ukraine is under mounting pressure over the ammunition shortfall.

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

The long-term future of billions of dollars of Western aid is also in doubt, with a possible $60-billion package of military aid held up in Washington since last year because of wrangling in Congress.

Seeking to allay fears over US stamina in helping Ukraine, Vice President Kamala Harris said after talks with Zelensky that her country would not allow political brinksmanship to stand in the way of support to Kyiv.

“As it relates to our support for Ukraine, we must be unwavering and we cannot play political games,” she said.



Israel-Hamas war in focus

On top of the war in Ukraine, the war between Israel and Hamas has added to the concerns for world leaders and diplomats gathered in Munich.

Speaking at the conference, Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani provided a gloomy assessment of talks to seek a ceasefire in the more than four-month-old Gaza conflict.

“The pattern in the last few days is not really very promising,” said Al-Thani, whose country has played a key role on mediating truce talks.

“Time is not in our favour”, he warned, with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan set to begin on 10 March. 



Failure to reach a deal could lead to a wider escalation in the region, he warned, as hundreds of thousands of Gazans faced a dire humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory.

Some 1.4 million Gazans are squeezed into the southern city of Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, as Israel prepares a new incursion in the area.

  • Macron says recognition of Palestinian state ‘not a taboo’ for France

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia also underlined in Munich the catastrophic situation facing civilians in Gaza. 

Diplomats seeking an end to the conflict said however that there may be a unique chance to end the cycle of violence in the next months.

Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel had an “extraordinary opportunity” to normalise relations with almost every Arab nation, if the Gaza conflict came to an end.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who held talks with Blinken, urged Saudi Arabia to normalise ties with his country, saying that would be a win against Hamas.


FRANCE – ALGERIA

France and Algeria revisit painful past in battle to mend colonial wounds

A commission of French and Algerian historians created to reconcile colonial difficulties has agreed proposals for the exchange of archives, remains and artefacts. It is hoped the 10-member body – set up in August 2022 by presidents Emmanuel Macron and Abdelmadjid Tebboune – will help the countries turn the page on a shared and painful past.

RFI spoke with commission co-chair Benjamin Stora, who hopes France will this year be able to return highly symbolic records to Algeria.

RFI: Algerian historians are demanding that France return its archives. You prefer to focus on allowing free access to those archives. Can you explain the difference? 

Benjamin Stora: There’s a new element in relation to the old problem of restitution and that is the digital revolution. These days requests for restitution are much less important than those for the digitisation, transfer and sharing of archives.

This does not prevent the restitution of authentic documents that have symbolic value – for example the Tafna treaty of 1836 to 1837. Handwritten documents from Emir Abdelkader recorded certain reflections relating to the Muslim religion in personal notebooks.

RFI: Should the question of returning symbolic goods that belonged to Algerian resistance leaders in the 19th century – such as Ahmed Bey and Emir Abdelkader – go through the French parliament?

BS: While waiting for French political parties to agree on the restitution of property – which is far from the case – we can still put forward proposals for restitution, and not just for Algeria. The problem of restitution concerns the whole of Africa.

RFI: During in your career you have been attacked several times by the French far right. Do you fear the restitution law (which has been partially passed) will cause controversy in the National Assembly?

BS: Obviously the French far-right has been opposed to any desire for rapprochement and reconciliation for a very long time. For them any work on colonial history is part of a so-called “question of repentance”. But it has absolutely nothing to do about repentance … it’s simply a matter of looking history in the face.

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When I submitted my report to the president in January 2021, there were very harsh attacks from the French far right, which wants no exchange with Algeria on any level. The policy of the extreme right – which does not recognise colonial history – can only harm France’s interests throughout Africa, particularly among young people.

RFI: For the past year you focused on the 19th century  a distant era. Is this because France and Algeria are learning to work together on a less sensitive period than that of the Algerian War of Independence?

BS: Don’t be fooled into thinking the 19th century was not a sensitive period. When we explore it, we realise the Algerian population was decreasing. You see what that implies in a war of conquest. It risks awakening discussion in France on the colonial question, which is very close to us. Identity and dispossession are burning questions.

RFI: When you tackle the 20th century  in particular the Algerian War and questions regarding the nuclear and chemical tests carried out by France in the Sahara – won’t the conversation become even harder?

BS: There will always be sticking points, but we must start this story from the beginning and not the end. If we do not know Algeria’s history in depth, it will be difficult to deal with the end of the story – and that is the time of the war of independence itself. We must not put the cart before the horse every time. I believe that historical work is a long-term job. We have to get on with it and we have to learn to work together.

RFI: So the 20th century will be tackled, even though it still brings a lot of pain and suffering today?

BS: Of course. I have written around 30 books on the history of the Algerian War, so I’ve been working on it for a very long time.


This interview has been translated from French and edited for clarity.


India

Indian farmers block motorways and besiege Delhi in crop price protest

With national elections just months away, India has become the latest country to experience farmers’ protests. Tens of thousands of growers marched towards the capital this week, blocking motorways and disrupting transport as they demanded higher crop prices.

Farmers wheeled trucks and tractors packed with food towards Delhi, meeting with tear gas from police.

The demonstrators said they were seeking guaranteed prices for crops, a doubling of farmers’ income, loan waivers and withdrawal of charges against those involved in 16 months of protests in 2020-21.

Their key demand is a new law to guarantee a minimum support price (MSP) – the price below which farmers cannot be compelled to sell.

Unions say it will act as a safety net for farmers in India, the world’s largest grower of pulses and cotton and the second biggest producer of rice and sugarcane.

But Information Minister Anurag Thakur said organisers were adding new conditions such as India’s withdrawal from the World Trade Organization.

“If new demands are being added, more time is also required,” he said as 200 unions kicked off their march on 12 February.

Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda described four rounds of inconclusive talks this week as “positive”, despite warning of efforts to sabotage the meetings.

But protest organisers say they suspected the meetings to be a ploy to wear out farmers camping out in the cold on highways.



Political promises

Analysts say farm protests in EU countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Poland and Spain will spook India, where agriculture accounts for 15 percent of a 3.4-trillion-euro economy.

The South Asian nation, where more than 600 million people depend on agriculture, is set to hold elections this summer. The ruling BJP party is hoping for a third straight win.

“But no political party should dream of coming to power without our goodwill,” declared Darshan Bansal, a protester from Punjab state.

Farm union leader Pushpendra Singh told a TV debate that the MSP must set the floor price of 23 staple crops. Below that price, he said, the government should commit to purchase from farmers and provide them with assured income amid market uncertainties.

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“The government will buy as much as it needs but the rest will not be sold in the market below that price, so there is no question of it impacting the economy,” argued fellow campaigner Rakesh Tikait.

Unions are demanding that the MSP be fixed 50 percent higher than production cost.

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has promised to make it a legal right of farmers if he returned to power after the elections.

“This step will change the lives of 150 million farming families,” Gandhi declared – though analysts pointed out his Congress party had trashed similar proposals when it was last in government.

Farmers united

In 2021, Modi repealed three new farm laws to end the protests by farmers who said the reforms would hurt their profits.

“A group of businesses are running governments. We must be alert,” said Tikait as farm unions pressed for a nationwide shutdown.

The unions are also seeking waivers for unpaid electricity bills, pensions for farm hands and justice and cash for families of farmers killed in the 2021 agitation.

“Farmers will vote for whichever parties they want but they are united on our agitation,” said Tikait.

“We will not budge.”

International report

Turkey and Egypt turn page on decade of friction with show of friendship

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Cairo this week formally ended more than a decade of animosity with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the two leaders committing their countries to a new era of cooperation.

A military band and gun salute welcomed Erdogan when he arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, as Sisi rolled out the red carpet for his Turkish counterpart.

Not long ago, the two leaders were more used to exchanging angry barbs. But now the talk is about cooperation to prevent Israel’s looming military offensive against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip and the growing humanitarian crisis there.

“We will continue the cooperation and solidarity with our Egyptian brothers for the bloodshed in Gaza to stop,” Erdogan declared at a joint press conference with Sisi.

“In the medium term, we are ready to work with Egypt for Gaza to recover and be rebuilt.”

Decade-long rift

Bilateral relations plunged into a deep freeze after Sisi ousted Erdogan’s close ally, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 coup.

Erdogan’s visit to Cairo resulted from intense and ultimately successful diplomatic efforts to end years of antagonism between the leaders.

“Reconciliation, an official visit by the Turkish president to Egypt, a meeting there is in and of itself significant,” observes international relations expert Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Given what transpired in the past, obviously, this is a major move on the part of both President Erdogan and President Sisi.”

Clampdown on critical media

For years, groups affiliated with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and critical of Sisi broadcast from Istanbul – further stoking tensions between Turkey and Egypt.

“These Political Islam-inspired narratives across the whole region are obviously something that is considered corrosive by the Egyptian government,” says political scientist Jalel Harchaoui, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

Harchaoui claims moves by Ankara to curtail opposition TV broadcasting in recent years facilitated the rapprochement with Cairo.

“It has always found a home in terms of being able to get broadcast across the region in Istanbul. But Erdogan was able to reduce these freedoms as part of his conversation with Cairo,” Harchaoui says.

Regional realignment

Turkey’s deployment of troops in the Middle East and North Africa is also a point of tension with Cairo. Turkey and Egypt backed rival sides in the Libyan civil war.

But Erdogan, speaking to the media with Sisi, pledged a new era of cooperation.

“We had the opportunity to evaluate the issues in Libya, Sudan and Somalia,” the Turkish president said. “We give full support to the unity, togetherness, territorial integrity and peace of these three brotherly countries.”

  • What are Turkish troops and Syrian militia fighters doing in Libya?

During his Cairo visit, Erdogan underlined that rapprochement with Sisi was part of a more comprehensive policy of repairing ties across the region.

“We never want to see conflict, tension, or crises in Africa, the Middle East or other places in our geography,” Erdogan said.

“With this aim, we are determined to increase our contacts with Egypt at every level for the establishment of peace and stability in our region.”

Libya breakthrough?

Turkey and Egypt are two of the region’s powerhouses, and rivalry between the countries has only exacerbated conflicts in the region, particularly in Libya, argues Libyan security analyst Aya Burweila.

“In general, I think this is good,” she said of their rapprochement. “I think it’s helpful for Libya as well because both sides support different factions in Libya. And the stalemate has gone on for such a long time.

“It’s about time that the existing powers figure out something that everybody can agree on, and there is a deal to be had.”

  • Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in Africa

Burweila believes Erdogan’s rapprochement with Sisi and the broader region is also born out of the realisation that cooperation is more productive than rivalry.

“I think both parties realised that the best way forward is to cooperate and discuss, and that Turkey has realised that without economic partners in the Middle East, it cannot move forward,” she said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, on a visit to Libya this month, stressed the importance of Erdogan’s meetings in Cairo to secure Libya’s long-term future.

Erdogan and Sisi also discussed the development of the region’s energy resources.

Such cooperation, observers suggest, could mark a new era in bilateral relations between these two regional heavyweights.


French football

Paris Saint-Germain to embrace new loves after Mbappé’s long kiss goodnight

There’s a scene in the film Life of Brian where the firebrand at a clandestine meeting of revolutionaries attempts to foment anti-Roman hatred.

But after his fellow revolutionaries offer up a plethora of the bounties from the imperialists, the subdued subversive adds: “Well, apart from the sanitation, medicines, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

The vignette might furnish disgruntled Paris Saint-Germain supporters with a modicum of comfort as they digest the news that their star forward Kylian Mbappé will leave at the end of the season.

The 25-year-old has not revealed his next destination but it is widely assumed that he will be kitted out in the all-white strip of Real Madrid for the next campaign.

Not a shock really. Madrid and Mbappé have been an affair in plain sight. Madrid has been panting heavily and widening its eyes for the past couple of seasons while Mbappé has been in Paris racking up the goals and piling up the silverware for his trophy cabinet. 

Since he joined PSG in August 2017, Mbappé has won five Ligue 1 titles, three Coupe de France crowns, three French Super Cups as well as the now defunct Coupe de la Ligue on two occasions.

On 4 March 2023, Mbappé overtook Edinson Cavani in the standings as PSG’s all-time top scorer with his 201st goal. 

It came in his 247th game for the side. “It is a historic moment for the club and for Kylian too of course,” said PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi.

“It is an incredible performance which highlights his consistency and his fantastic efficiency.”

There have been 42 more strikes since to take the tally up to 243 in 290 games.

Surpassing Cavani’s exploits came less than a year after it appeared that Mbappé was set to leave for Madrid.

Decision

During the entire 2021/22 season, the rumours swirled and Mbappé did nothing to quash them.

But before the final home game of the season, al-Khelaifi strode out onto the turf with a prize: Mbappé would remain at PSG.

“I’m going to stay in my hometown and do what I like doing … playing football and winning more trophies,” said Mbappé who promptly went on to score a hat trick against Metz before he and his teammates collected the 2022 Ligue 1 title.

It was a significant moment for the big money backers of PSG. It showed that they had the financial clout to match a Madrid offer as well as the lustre.

For the 2022/23 season, Christophe Galtier was drafted in from Nice to replace Mauriccio Pochettino and oversee a tougher line with the crop of stars that included Lionel Messi and Neymar.

“It’s a privilege to have this world-class team at PSG,” said Galtier.

“The first thing is to exchange, but also to impose, there will be no compromise on what must be the strength of the group.

Vision

“We must have a common project, without any compromise. From the moment a player is not in the project, he will be sidelined.”

Galtier has gone along with Messi and Neymar. 

With 13 games remaining of the 2023/24 Ligue 1 season, PSG are 11 points clear of second-placed Nice and well set to win the title for the ninth time in the 13 years since QSI started its backing of PSG. 

In that time, the executives have preferred to bring in well known names to add instant heft to the PSG project.

Primacy has come domestically but in the Champions League – European club football’s most prestigious competition – it has been a vale of tears.

Of the seven head coaches operating in the QSI times, only Thomas Tuchel has led the team to the Champions League final.

In August 2020 at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich. The gruesome irony? The winner was scored by Kingsley Coman who came up through the PSG academy.

“Paris is one of the great hotbeds of football talent,” said Jonathan Wilson, editor-in-chief of the British football magazine The Blizzard.

“If you look across Europe at the minute, the two places where young talent  emerges are the suburbs of Paris and around south London. 

“And yet how many are there from those suburbs in the PSG squad? They’re just not exploiting the local market that they should have access to.”

To be fair to the new PSG boss Luis Enrique, he has thrust local boy Warren Zaïre-Emery, to the fore during the current campaign.

And in the hours after Mbappé signalled his intention to depart, the PSG marketing machine was in full swing to highlight the future around the 17-year-old. 

Well-sourced football writer Fabrizio Romano said on social media that the club was likely to secure the services of Zaïre-Emery, beyond the initial deal of 2025.



Mbappé’s 17-year-old brother, Ethan, who made his PSG debut on his older sibling’s 25th birthday in December, is likely to be part of the environment as well as Senny Mayulu another 17-year-old who has also shone in his appearances with the first team.

On Friday, as his squad prepared for the Ligue 1 game at Nantes, Enrique refused to comment on Mbappé’s situation.

“When the interested parties talk about it then I will say something,” said the 53-year-old Spaniard.

“I am trying to make the team better and that’s what I will continue to do.

“As I said when I arrived last summer, the team is more important than any one player or any one individual.”

Inevitably, a power struggle will take place among the PSG executives who want the squad to boast glossy star names such as the Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah or Rafael Leão from AC Milan and those who want a more organically grown group to which fans can relate.

Mbappé was the nexus: very good and from just down the road. Bondy, the town where he grew up, lies some 20 km north-east of the Parc des Princes.

“If you are based in Paris and you are the biggest team in France by a million miles, then you should be able to have the pick of the talent in the area around you,” said Wilson.

“You probably want two or three players coming in from the academy to be first team players.

“I don’t think it should be a question of doing away with big stars,” Wilson added. “It is having big stars who are committed to the collective.”

Over the past two years, Mbappé’s prevarication has seemed self-serving. His departure would end a soap opera and terminate the tizzies.

Last July, Mbappé was not allowed to train with the first team squad nor go on a tour of Japan because PSG bosses wanted him to extend his contract until 2025 or accept to be sold immediately.

By the middle of August, Mbappé was back with the first team.

His announcement in February 2024 replicates his stance of July 2023.

It is understood neither PSG nor Real Madrid will make an official announcement until their 2024 Champions League campaigns are concluded. 

For PSG that has – to the chagrin of their fans – been in the last-16 of late.

But following a 2-0 first leg victory on 14 February over Real Sociedad courtesy of goals from Mbappé and Bradley Barcola, they might progress to the latter stages where they could meet Madrid. 

Ultimately, a Champions League final in which the boy from Bondy scores the winning goal would at least provide an instant response to the query: “What has Kylian Mbappéever done for us?”


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)


Europe

Will a watered-down EU law improve conditions for gig workers?

Negotiators have finally struck a deal after revisiting the European Union’s rules on platform work. But for Uber drivers, Deliveroo riders and others in the gig economy, concessions that diluted the reforms mean the future remains precarious – especially in France.

The draft law shifts the onus to each EU country to decide if gig workers count as employees – a status that grants them more rights. 

Over the last decade, apps that connect customers with services have taken cities by storm. Order food from Deliveroo or Uber Eats, grab a ride with Uber or Bolt. Click the app and off you go. For many, it’s become a way of life. 

But the 28 million app workers in Europe – expected to rise to 43 million in two years – working across 500 platforms are poorly protected and lack labour rights compared to people in traditional employment.

The provisional deal reached earlier this month between the European Parliament and European Council may oblige EU countries to establish a “presumption of employment” to correct the power imbalance between the worker and the app. 

But this deal – a watered-down version of an earlier proposal – has not made everyone happy. 

Downfalls of the digital transition

The economic power of these apps skyrocketed in 2020-22, when many daily tasks became difficult during the Covid pandemic. People resorted to online services and trade boomed. Income from digital platforms grew some 500 percent.

But workers sweating on their delivery bikes or behind the wheels of their Ubers didn’t share in the profits.

The EU’s Platform Work Directive, first presented in 2021, seeks basic protections for such workers.

“If they decide not to go to work one day or to shorten the working time, they will go lower on the ranking.”

01:03

REMARK by Livia Spera General Secretary of the European Transport Workers Federation in Brussels

Jan van der Made

“There are no rules on working conditions and social rights in standard labour law,” a parliamentary briefing stated.

Although most workers are “correctly classified”, up to 5.5 million risk misclassification as self-employed – when in fact they only work for one employer. This means they “face poor working conditions and inadequate access to social protection”, the parliament was told.

  • French food delivery workers to get minimum wage

“What we’d like to have is the presumption of employment,” Livia Spera, general secretary of the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF), told RFI.

“At the moment, workers of most platforms – Uber, Uber Eats, Deliveroo, etc – are considered ‘autonomous’ because the companies say they don’t do regular hours. 

“But they respond to their requests. They wear their clothes. And they’re not free to choose, because if they decide not to go to work one day or to shorten the working time, they will go lower on the ranking.”

With de-ranking, workers risk losing work or being disconnected from the app.

Some workers make claims in court, but trials are costly and the outcome isn’t guaranteed. Many cases involve people with immigrant backgrounds without full “access to their rights”, says Spera.

This type of system also opens doors for “gangmasters” to recruit people without papers to work under someone else’s name, she notes.

Gig auctions

Conditions for gig economy workers vary across EU member states.

“Some are acting more fairly than others, but some are using loopholes,” Spera says. In one case, ETF discovered that one Portuguese platform was deploying a dubious “auction” function. 

“They say: ‘I want this food delivered’. And then the riders have to respond to the auction to say: ‘I’m available at that price’,” Spera explains. 

She adds that some platforms experiment with employment models but “suffer from competition because their prices are higher”.

Reclassifying gig workers as employees would grant rights such as a minimum wage, collective bargaining and social protections, aligning them with conventional employees.

But the proposed reforms have faced scrutiny from all sides: platforms worry about potential costs, while governments are wary about new administrative burdens coming from the gig economy.

French opposition

Under last year’s original proposal, platform workers in Europe could be reclassified as employees if they met two of five criteria determining a platform’s control over remuneration, appearance, performance, organisation of work and the freedom to work for others.

But France objected, leading a pack of other countries opposing the deal. 

In December, French Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said that “massive reclassifications” would impact “self-employed workers who value their self-employed status”. 

  • Deliveroo in France ordered to pay substantial fine for not declaring ‘gig economy’ workers

After negotiations in early February, the rehashed proposal removed all criteria. Now it will be up to each member state to define what makes a worker an employee. 

Spera says the previous provisions were the “bare minimum”. 

According to her, of the initial five criteria, “just one would be enough: if you are an employee, you are an employee”. 

But the latest version of the directive risks fragmentation in the EU’s single market, since it does not set bloc-wide criteria.

EU member states now have to ratify the proposal before it can become law, a process Spera expects to begin shortly.

According to the Gig Economy Project, a media network for gig workers in Europe, even if approved, the new law won’t end the battle for better working conditions.

“Once countries’ establish their own presumptions of employment, expect it to be tested by unions if it’s weak and by platforms if it’s strong,” its co-ordinator Ben Wray warns.

“The same arguments… over the past three years over what criteria, how much criteria and whether to have criteria at all (or a general presumption) will now shift to all of the capitals of Europe.”


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)

International report

Turkey and Egypt turn page on decade of friction with show of friendship

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Cairo this week formally ended more than a decade of animosity with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the two leaders committing their countries to a new era of cooperation.

A military band and gun salute welcomed Erdogan when he arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, as Sisi rolled out the red carpet for his Turkish counterpart.

Not long ago, the two leaders were more used to exchanging angry barbs. But now the talk is about cooperation to prevent Israel’s looming military offensive against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip and the growing humanitarian crisis there.

“We will continue the cooperation and solidarity with our Egyptian brothers for the bloodshed in Gaza to stop,” Erdogan declared at a joint press conference with Sisi.

“In the medium term, we are ready to work with Egypt for Gaza to recover and be rebuilt.”

Decade-long rift

Bilateral relations plunged into a deep freeze after Sisi ousted Erdogan’s close ally, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 coup.

Erdogan’s visit to Cairo resulted from intense and ultimately successful diplomatic efforts to end years of antagonism between the leaders.

“Reconciliation, an official visit by the Turkish president to Egypt, a meeting there is in and of itself significant,” observes international relations expert Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Given what transpired in the past, obviously, this is a major move on the part of both President Erdogan and President Sisi.”

Clampdown on critical media

For years, groups affiliated with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and critical of Sisi broadcast from Istanbul – further stoking tensions between Turkey and Egypt.

“These Political Islam-inspired narratives across the whole region are obviously something that is considered corrosive by the Egyptian government,” says political scientist Jalel Harchaoui, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

Harchaoui claims moves by Ankara to curtail opposition TV broadcasting in recent years facilitated the rapprochement with Cairo.

“It has always found a home in terms of being able to get broadcast across the region in Istanbul. But Erdogan was able to reduce these freedoms as part of his conversation with Cairo,” Harchaoui says.

Regional realignment

Turkey’s deployment of troops in the Middle East and North Africa is also a point of tension with Cairo. Turkey and Egypt backed rival sides in the Libyan civil war.

But Erdogan, speaking to the media with Sisi, pledged a new era of cooperation.

“We had the opportunity to evaluate the issues in Libya, Sudan and Somalia,” the Turkish president said. “We give full support to the unity, togetherness, territorial integrity and peace of these three brotherly countries.”

  • What are Turkish troops and Syrian militia fighters doing in Libya?

During his Cairo visit, Erdogan underlined that rapprochement with Sisi was part of a more comprehensive policy of repairing ties across the region.

“We never want to see conflict, tension, or crises in Africa, the Middle East or other places in our geography,” Erdogan said.

“With this aim, we are determined to increase our contacts with Egypt at every level for the establishment of peace and stability in our region.”

Libya breakthrough?

Turkey and Egypt are two of the region’s powerhouses, and rivalry between the countries has only exacerbated conflicts in the region, particularly in Libya, argues Libyan security analyst Aya Burweila.

“In general, I think this is good,” she said of their rapprochement. “I think it’s helpful for Libya as well because both sides support different factions in Libya. And the stalemate has gone on for such a long time.

“It’s about time that the existing powers figure out something that everybody can agree on, and there is a deal to be had.”

  • Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in Africa

Burweila believes Erdogan’s rapprochement with Sisi and the broader region is also born out of the realisation that cooperation is more productive than rivalry.

“I think both parties realised that the best way forward is to cooperate and discuss, and that Turkey has realised that without economic partners in the Middle East, it cannot move forward,” she said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, on a visit to Libya this month, stressed the importance of Erdogan’s meetings in Cairo to secure Libya’s long-term future.

Erdogan and Sisi also discussed the development of the region’s energy resources.

Such cooperation, observers suggest, could mark a new era in bilateral relations between these two regional heavyweights.

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.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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