rfi 2024-02-28 16:35:28



MIGRATION

EU risks becoming ‘complicit’ in migrant deaths, watchdog warns

The European Union may be complicit in migrant deaths unless the border agency Frontex withdraws from countries that fail to rescue migrants at sea or violate their fundamental right, a report on Wednesday warned.

The Ombudsman’s investigation comes after more than 600 people died in June 2023 when an overcrowded vessel, the Adriana, sank off the coast of Greece while traveling from Libya to Italy.

While it does not accuse Frontex of breaching rules, the report highlights Frontex’s dependence on national authorities for consent – limiting its ability to act independently, even in life-threatening situations.

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly called for a change to Europe’s search and rescue rules.

Frontex should pull out of countries that fail to rescue migrants at sea or violate fundamental rights. Otherwise, the EU risks becoming “complicit” in the deaths, the European Ombudsman has warned in the new report.

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

No May Day call

Human rights groups accused Greek authorities of failing to properly investigate the Adriana disaster. Italian authorities were also involved in the incident.

Just 104 people were rescued – mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt.

“We must ask ourselves why a boat so obviously in need of help never received that help despite an EU agency, two member states’ authorities, civil society, and private ships knowing of its existence,” O’Reilly said.

The report emphasised the tension between Frontex’s fundamental rights obligations and its duty to support member states in border management control.

It criticised Frontex’s lack of internal guidelines for issuing Mayday calls. Despite the agency’s detection of the Adriana through air surveillance, no Mayday relay was issued.

The blame was not entirely placed on the agency: Greek authorities reportedly did not respond to Frontex’s messages on “four separate occasions” during the tragedy.

They also refused the agency’s offer to send an additional aircraft to the area.

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

‘Changes needed’

The report warned that if Frontex continued working with frontline countries without undergoing “significant changes”, the EU’s commitment to protecting human lives will be put into question.

It urged the bloc to amend the agency’s legal mandate and to ensure a higher degree of independence.

“Frontex includes ‘coast guard’ in its name but its current mandate and mission clearly fall short of that,” O’Reilly said.

“If Frontex has a duty to help save lives at sea, but the tools for it are lacking, then this is clearly a matter for EU legislators.”


FRANCE – ANTI-SEMITISM

Hate content on social media fuels French rise in anti-Semitism reports

Reports of anti-Semisitm in France rose sharply in 2023, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin heaping criticism on social media sites whose owners do little to moderate hateful content.

Disclosing the worrying uptick on Tuesday before the Senate, Darmanin deplored a “particularly dramatic” year linked to the war between Israel and Hamas.

The government’s Pharos portal, which allows harmful content to be reported online, in 2023 received 211,543 reports compared to 175,924 th year prior.

This was 90 percent due to anti-Semitic content, Darmanin said – adding: “We cannot make the big platforms listen to reason.”

Speaking to the Senate’s Law Committee, Darmanin said the X platform (formerly Twitter) posed a significant problem – particularly because there was “much less moderation” under new owner Elon Musk.



Regulatory ‘failure’

He lamented the absence of an equivalent to the Arcom media regulator for social media, expressing the need for effective measures against propaganda dissemination.

Three-quarters of content that was either anti-Semitic or an “apology of terrorism” has been found on Twitter, Darmanin said.

More than 12,000 reports were in connection with the crisis in the Middle East – a number that is without prededent.

  • Anti-Semitism in France ‘quadrupled’ on back of Israel-Hamas war
  • Anti-Semitic and anti-French graffiti condemned in Corsica

Last year, anti-Christian acts fell by 7 percent to 854, while anti-Muslim acts increased by 29 percent to 242.

The protection of approximately 4,500 religious sites such as synagogues, schools and churches cost the state nearly €6 million last year – with Jewish and Christian sites receiving the majority of the funds.

In 2024, funding for the protection of Muslim sites is set to double to nearly €1.14 million.

Darmanin said 79 foreigners involved in promoting terrorism or inciting hatred had been expelled from France.


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

Paris Olympics security plans stolen from train

A bag containing a computer and two USB memory sticks holding police security plans for the Paris Olympic Games has been stolen from a train at the capital’s Gare du Nord station.

The bag belonged to an engineer from Paris’s town hall, a police said on Tuesday – confirming a report by BFM television. 

The man, 56, had put the bag in the luggage compartment above his seat when he was travelling on Monday about 7.30pm.

Because his train was delayed, he decided to change trains at which point he discovered the theft.

An investigation is being conducted by the regional transport police.

Paris authorities could not immediately comment when contacted by the French press agency, AFP.

Major police operation

Exceptional security measures will be put in place during the Paris Olympics – including the use of intelligent, algorithmic video surveillance.

Two thousand municipal police officers will be deployed, with a total of around 35,000 security forces expected to be on duty each day for the Games.

  • France to beef up Olympic security with deployment of 10,000 soldiers
  • ‘Not like usual’: Paris set for major Olympic restrictions

Meanwhile Paris’s military governor this month announced that a temporary camp of 10,000 military staff would be deployed in the Bois de Vincennes, in eastern Paris.

Residents have been told to expect to certain zones access via QR codes as well as other major security restrictions.

Thegovernment has urged Parisians to avoid ordering parcel deliveries during the Games, which will run from 26 July to 11 August, followed by the Paralympic Games from 28 August to 8 September.

(with AFP)


FRANCE – QATAR

Qatar to invest €10bn in key sectors of French economy by 2030

Qatar has agreed to channel €10 billion into French startups and investment funds over the next six years as the countries deepen their already close bilateral relationship.

The deal was announced as Qatar’s ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Tuesday started a two-day state visit to France – his first since he acceded the throne in 2013.

France and Qatar have long enjoyed close business and military ties.

The investments – “to the mutual benefit of both countries” – will target key sectors ranging from energy transition, semiconductor, aerospace, artificial intelligence, digital, health, hospitality and culture, the French presidency said.

  • US, Israel, Egypt, Qatar officials in Gaza talks in Paris
  • Blinken returns to Middle East as Gaza war escalates, regional tensions soar

Truce efforts

The meeting between Thani and French President Emmanuel Macron comes as negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar work to broker a six-week ceasefire deal bewteen Israel and Hamas.

France and Qatar mediated a deal in January for the shipment of medicine for dozens of hostages held by Hamas. Qatar authorities said last week that Hamas has started delivering the medication.

The start of Ramadan, which is expected to be around March 10, is seen as an unofficial deadline for a ceasefire.

Roughly 130 hostages remain in Gaza, but Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.

(with newswires)


France

France bans use of ‘meat’ labelling for vegetarian products

The French government issued a decree Tuesday banning the term “steak” on the label of vegetarian products, saying it was reserved for meat alone.

Other terms that can no longer be used for meat-free products include “escalope”, “ham”, “filet” and “prime rib”, according to the decree.

The ruling is a response to a long-standing complaint by the meat industry that terms like “vegetarian ham” or “vegan sausage” were confusing for consumers.

First law suspended in 2022

It is based on a 2020 law whose application was temporarily suspended by the State Council in June 2022 after a complaint from Proteines France, a consortium of French companies selling plant-based food.

  • France bans ‘steak’ and ‘sausage’ labels on vegetarian meats

According to the revised decree published Tuesday, some products containing a small amount of plant-based content can continue to use meaty names, such as merguez sausage, bacon or cordon bleu.

Producers elsewhere in the European Union can continue to sell vegetarian food with meat names in France.

Proteines France has been arguing that the French law is at odds with EU food rules.

Individuals breaking the labelling law can be fined up to 1,500 euros, rising to 7,500 euros for companies.

But producers have one year to sell their existing stock before any penalties are applied, the decree said.

(with AFP)


Senegal

Dakar’s university reopens after months of closure following Sonko protests

Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar had been closed since last June as a result of protests following the arrest of political opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. It has slowly started reopening this week.

The Academic Council of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar (CADU) decided on Saturday that face-to-face teaching could resume as of Monday, 26 February.

Students have responded – hundreds of them turned up to take classes in person after months of online teaching.

“We’re very happy to be back”, a young woman studying in the literature department told RFI English, “but we don’t know if we will be able to graduate yet, or even to attend exams on time.”

Politicised students

The university is a known centre for political unrest.

But its closure for almost six months has had a devastating impact on students and the entire education system.

However, everyone is not back. The campus still looks empty and most of the dorms are still empty.

Bara Ndiaye, dean of the faculty of medicine says the announcement is good news, even if not all students are present.

“It  caters for 100,000 students and it has been closed for almost ten months,” he told RFI.

“This certainly has many consequences on a social and educational level in particular, a lot of risks of demotivation, abandonment, dropping out from certain students,” Bara Ndiaye said.

Caution

On campus, few students wanted to speak about the reopening or the political situation.

“We’re worried and think this has everything to do with the political deadlock”, added another, studying Portuguese.

Off campus, Diomaye Yatt, a student and president of the science and technology association at UCAD, told RFI: “We truly appreciate this decision, because we went months without face-to-face classes. But there remain issues with the lack of accommodation and access to food on campus.

“And some timetables of classes are not even ready.”

Most academics also worry that the crisis will be difficult to overcome. 

Mamadou Bodian, of the Dakar-based West African think tank WATHI, raised the issue on Friday at a roundtable with other researchers.

“Our education system has already been through a series of crises since 1981, and under the presidency of Abdoulaye Wade. But the current crisis is acute. Our universities need reforms, and more practical teaching.”

He says that the closure has just added to a pile of deeper problems. 

“And now we risk training students with no future jobs,” he added. 

For the journalist Ayoba Faye, working on the issues of economic struggles and emigration with the WALF media group, there is a direct link between the current political crisis and the university crisis.

“It will be difficult to find the right rhythm again for CADU,” he told RFI English. Many students have now left the university, and some of them have joined the groups of young people trying to emigrate to Europe.” 

He thinks the solution will only come with a new regime and a new government, so he hopes first for the presidential election to take place as soon as possible.

“Only with the best and earnest political will could we solve such a deep crisis”, he concludes.


Environment

EU parliament adopts biodiversity and nature restoration bill

EU lawmakers have given the final green light to a milestone bill aimed at protecting nature in the bloc, overriding conservative attempts to shoot down a law that has angered European farmers.

The bill demands the European Union‘s 27 member states put in place measures to restore at least 20 percent of the bloc’s land and seas by 2030.

The rules are a central part of the EU’s ambitious environmental goals under the Green Deal – a set of laws aimed at helping the bloc meet its climate goals – but farmers say they threaten their livelihoods.

Farmers have a long list of grievances and have taken to the streets across Europe, clogging roads including in Brussels where EU institutions are based.

They lament what they say are excessively restrictive environmental rules, competition from cheap imports from outside the European Union and low incomes.

Conservative opposition

Heeding their call for less red tape and bureaucracy, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) said at the start of parliament’s session in Strasbourg that it would not approve the law, putting the future of the legislation in jeopardy.

Those attempts were in vain as the text passed with the support of 329 lawmakers while 275 voted against. It will enter into force after formal adoption by EU states.

“Today is an important day for Europe, as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it,” said Cesar Luena, the lawmaker who spearheaded the legislation through parliament.

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

“The new law will also help us to fulfil many of our international environmental commitments. The regulation will restore degraded ecosystems while respecting the agricultural sector by giving flexibility to member states,” he added.

Before the vote, EPP chief Manfred Weber said the law had been “badly drafted”.

“The EPP group is fully committed to climate change and also to the biodiversity goals, also agreed on an international level, but this law is not delivering on these issues,” he told journalists in Strasbourg.

‘Planet’s survival’

Liberal and socialist lawmakers as well as green activists hailed the move.

“The Nature Restoration Law has always been so much more than a law to bring back nature. It is a symbol that Europe can, and will, commit to fighting for the survival of our planet,” the Restore Nature coalition, consisting of BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, EEB and WWF EU, said in a statement.

Pascal Canfin, the French MEP who heads the parliament’s environment committee, thanked the EPP lawmakers who voted for the text.

  • One in five migratory species faces extinction, UN report warns

“If we have won the battle for the law on nature restoration, it is because part of the European right was able to resist allying with the anti-ecological populism of the far-right, against multiple false and misleading attacks on this text,” he said.

He said the law was committed to reversing the trend of nature’s regression in Europe.

Not everyone was happy. Right-wing ECR MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, who voted against the bill, described its approval as “very unfortunate”.

“The consequences will be enormous. Nature conservation will become more important than food security, housing needs or road safety,” he warned.   

(with AFP)


Ukraine crisis

EU leaders reject Macron’s suggestion that sending troops to Ukraine is possible

French President Emmanuel Macron faced uneasy reactions from European allies and a warning from the Kremlin on Tuesday after he refused to rule out the dispatch of Western ground troops to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Macron said after a conference of European leaders on Monday that “everything that is necessary” must be done to ensure the defeat of Russia, including deploying troops.

The Kremlin warned of the “inevitability” of confrontation between NATO and Russia if troops from the alliance were deployed in the conflict, which would break a major taboo the West has so far been reluctant to challenge.

Macron hosted the conference just over two years to the day after Russia invaded Ukraine seeking to rally greater support for Kyiv, which faces increasing battlefield challenges and dwindling munition stocks.

He painted a grim picture of Russia under President Vladimir Putin, arguing there had been a “change of posture” even in recent months that had seen a hardening of its stance both domestically and in Ukraine.

  • Ukraine’s allies must ‘jump-start’ their support, Macron tells Paris summit

While there was “no consensus” on the sending of Western ground troops to Ukraine, “nothing should be ruled out. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war,” Macron added.

‘Not at war with Russia’

Macron had refused to say more about France’s position, citing the need for “strategic ambiguity” but saying the issue was mentioned “among the options”.

“We are convinced that the defeat of Russia is indispensable to security and stability in Europe,” Macron said.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, accused by critics of being too cosy with Moscow, said after the meeting that there was disunity on the issue among European leaders.

“There are countries that are ready to send their own soldiers to Ukraine, there are countries that say never – Slovakia is among them – and there are countries that say that this proposal should be considered,” he said.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden, which is set to join NATO, poured cold water on the idea, saying “it’s not on the cards at all for the moment”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, meanwhile, said in a tetchy message on X: “We agreed that everyone must do more for Ukraine in Paris yesterday. Ukraine needs weapons, ammunition and air defence. We are working on it. It is clear: there will be no ground troops from European countries or NATO.”



Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that, if NATO troops appeared in Ukraine, “we (would) need to speak not about a possibility but of the inevitability” of confrontation.

“This is absolutely not in the interests of these countries, they should be aware of this,” he added.

A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, emphasised “there are no plans for NATO combat troops on the ground in Ukraine” despite the “unprecedented military support” from the alliance.

The Italian government said support for Ukraine did not include sending troops.

“When we talk about sending troops, we must be very cautious because we must not make people think we are at war with Russia,” said Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

“We are not at war with Russia,” he said.

But the United Kingdom issued a somewhat more circumspect reaction, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman saying there were no plans for a “large-scale” troop deployment to Ukraine.

(with AFP)


Senegal elections

Senegal’s president says he will call elections before end of July

Dakar, Senegal – Senegal’s President Macky Sall  has announced that he aims to fix a date before the end of July for the presidential elections. He also announced a general amnesty for political prisoners.

“My desire and my dearest wish is to hold the presidential election as soon as possible, and to do so before the coming winter [rainy season], and in peace,” he said.

“If we reach a consensus, I will set the date for the election,” Sall said late on Monday while concluding the first of two days of the national dialogue.

“Otherwise, I will ask the Constitutional Council to find me a replacement on April 2,” Sall added.

Voters have been waiting for the announcement of a new timeframe for the polls, which were postponed by Sall on 3 February.

Protests erupted across the country over the weekend with many people turning up at voting stations to post fake symbolic votes.

  • Symbolic votes replace real polls as Senegalese declare a day of ‘mourning’ for democracy
  • Senegalese demonstrate in Dakar both for and against President Sall

At least least four people have been killed in violence since the elections were cancelled

Amnesty and reconciliation

Sall also announced, in a gesture of appeasement, a general amnesty for prisoners.

“In a spirit of national reconciliation, I will put before the National Assembly this Wednesday in the council of ministers a bill for a general amnesty for acts relating to political demonstrations that took place between 2021 and 2024,” President Sall said.

“This will make it possible to pacify the political arena and further strengthen our national cohesion,” he added.

Up to one thousand opposition members have been arrested in Senegal since 2021 amid the power struggle between opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and the state.

The amnesty could see the release of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko who was excluded from the race, and his handpicked successor Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who are both in detention.

On Thursday last week, he had reiterated his commitment to stepping down when his term officially expires on 2 April.

“In convening this dialogue, I have only one concern — to find a consensus on the date of the next presidential election so that the ballot can take place under the best possible conditions,” Sall said.

‘Theatre’

The talks, organised as part of a reconciliation dialogue, set in Diamniadio, 30 km away from Dakar, were largely boycotted by the 19 presidential candidates with 17 refusing to attend.

Prime Minister, Amadou Ba,  the candidate of the majority was one of those that turned up

Participants also included political parties, civil society and traditional and religious organisations.

Constitutional judge Cheikh Tidiane Dieye described the “national dialogue” as “theatre” that the head of state “could have organised at the Grand Théâtre” in Dakar.

The gap between the end of his mandate and a potential July election would leave a vacuum of power that the Constitution does not permit, as all experts have told RFI.

The citizen collective Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s preserve our election”) is still calling for a “Day of Ghost Towns” across the country and a general strike tomorrow, Wednesday.

This front is concerned about the consequences of a vacancy in the presidency without an established succession.

(with newswires)


Ukraine crisis

Ukraine’s allies must ‘jump-start’ their support, Macron tells Paris summit

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced new steps to boost Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion, and has not ruled out sending Western ground troops. He said Europe’s security and stability depended on Russia’s defeat.

Hosting a meeting in Paris of two dozen European leaders, Macron painted a grim picture of a Russia whose positions he said were “hardening” both at home and on the battlefield.

Macron said that Ukraine’s allies needed to jump-start their support as the war entered its third year.

“We are convinced that the defeat of Russia is indispensable to security and stability in Europe,” he said.

Russia, he said, was showing a “more aggressive attitude not just in Ukraine but in general”.

  • France and EU support for Ukraine ‘will not waver’, Macron vows

He gave the example of the death of President Vladimir Putin’s top opponent Alexei Navalny earlier this month, but also in a hardening of Russia’s positions on the frontlines, where he said it was planning new attacks.

Macron refused to say more about France’s position, citing the need for “strategic ambiguity” but said the issue of Western troops in Ukraine was listed among the “options”.

While there was “no consensus” on the sending of Western ground troops to Ukraine, “nothing should be excluded. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that Russia cannot win this war,” he said.



Never say ‘never’

“Many people who say ‘never, ever’ today were the same people who said ‘never tanks, never planes, never long-range missiles’ two years ago” when Russia invaded, said Macron. “Let us have the humility to note that we have often been six to twelve months late.”

Macron said the new coalition would be set up to supply Ukraine with missiles and bombs of medium and long range to carry out deep strikes.

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

He added there was also a consensus to ramp up joint production of armaments with Ukraine and boost its own military industry.

Czech Premier Petr Fiala said there was “great support” for an initiative to help Ukraine buy munitions outside the EU. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his country would contribute and others would follow.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was quoted as saying some EU and NATO members were weighing the option of sending troops.

‘Imprudent’ commitment

The conference signalled Macron’s eagerness to present himself as a European champion of Ukraine’s cause, amid growing fears that American support could wane in the coming months.

Western officials acknowledge that Russia risks gaining the upper hand in the conflict this year as Ukraine runs out of weapons and ammunition.

“Together we must ensure that Putin cannot destroy our achievements and cannot expand his aggression to other nations,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a brief video message to the conference.

Zelensky complained Ukraine only received 30 percent of a million shells the EU had promised. “It is clear that we did not have this million,” Macron said, acknowledging an “imprudent commitment”.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said Sunday that half of the Western military aid pledged to Kyiv is delivered late, noting that “commitment does not constitute delivery”.

(with AFP)


Press freedom

French journalist arrested in Ethiopia ‘assault on press freedom’ says RSF

A French journalist has been arrested and detained in Ethiopia since 22 February on suspicion of conspiring “to create chaos” in the country, his employer announced on Monday.

Antoine Galindo had travelled to Ethiopia to cover the African Union summit earlier this month for the specialist publication Africa Intelligence.

According to a statement, by the publication, “plainclothes security officers” arrested Galindo on Thursday 22 February at 15.55 local time. He has since then been detained at the Addis Ababa Police Commission in the Bole district, according to the magazine.

Galinda is suspected of “conspiracy to create chaos in Ethiopia” and was brought before a judge on 24 February. “His detention has been extended until 1 March, when the next hearing of his case will take place,” Africa Intelligence said, condemning the “unjustified arrest”.



“These spurious accusations are not based on any tangible evidence that might justify this extended deprivation of liberty,” it said, pointing out that Galindo had informed the Ethiopian authorities of his assignment and had a visa authorising him to work there as a journalist.

“The arrest of French journalist Antoine Galindo in Ethiopia on 22 February is a serious attack on press freedom,” according to Christophe Deloire of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The accusations against the journalist of Africa Intelligence are baseless.” The Ethiopian authorities must end this arbitrary arrest immediately,” according to a statement posted on social media.

Meeting with opposition

The 36-year-old journalist, who heads the publication’s East Africa section, lived in Ethiopia between 2013 and 2017 and was “known to the Ethiopia Media Authority“, which oversees media accreditations in the country.

According to a source close to the case who spoke to French news agency AFP on condition of anonymity, Galindo was arrested at a hotel in Addis Ababa while meeting an official from the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) party.

An OLF spokesman told AFP that a party official was arrested in Addis Ababa on Thursday but could not confirm if Galindo had met the official.

Ethiopian authorities did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

According to RSF, as of January 1 this year, 15 journalists have been jailed in Ethiopia.

In 2023, Ethiopia ranked 130th in the world in terms of press freedom, down 16 places compared to 2022, according to the NGO.

(With newswires)


Technology

France’s Mistral AI signs partnership with Microsoft

Microsoft says it has sealed a “multi-year partnership” that would allow French company Mistral AI to use its platforms including Azure AI, which enables businesses to build apps using AI.

The US firm, which has already ploughed billions into ChatGPT maker OpenAI, called Mistral “an innovator and trailblazer” in a statement on Monday.

The deal comes just weeks after US authorities began to investigate whether Microsoft’s reported $13 billion investment in OpenAI broke antitrust laws.

The deal is one of three partnerships between big tech companies and AI startups being scrutinised by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The firm has denied any wrongdoing and has not stopped its forays into a sector that has so far been defined in the public’s imagination by OpenAI.

Field dominated by US firms

The Silicon Valley company has developed software that enables users to generate text, pictures and video from simple requests – with results generally regarded as superior to its competitors.

Mistral, formed last year by ex-Google and Meta researchers, is a rare European player in a field dominated by US firms.

The French company, which has already raised almost €500 million ($540 million), confirmed the partnership with Microsoft on Monday.

  • Macron promises to boost investment in French artificial intelligence

“We are thrilled to embark on this partnership with Microsoft,” said Mistral boss Arthur Mensch.

He said it would help propel his company’s products to customers across the world.

Some investors valued Mistral at more than $2.0 billion in December, leading to frenzied speculation about it becoming a future European tech champion.

‘Le Chat’

The firm, which has so far focused on back-end development for business clients, announced its first chatbot on Monday, which it dubbed “Le Chat”.

“Le Chat is natively multilingual and offers a pedagogical and fun way to explore Mistral AI’s technology,” the firm said in a statement in English.

  • French businessman announces mega investment in artificial intelligence

The company said it would let some of its customers test the bot before releasing it more widely.

Mistral also announced upgrades to its existing language models – the term used by AI firms to refer to the programs they develop with the help of public data.

 Among European AI firms, only Germany’s Aleph Alpha brought in as much funding as Mistral last year.

(with AFP)


Sailing

Sailor Charles Caudrelier wins first round-the-world multi-hull race, in 50 days

French sailor Charles Caudrelier crossed the line in Brest in the west of France on Tuesday to win the Arkea Ultim Challenge, the first solo round-the-world race for multi-hull boats.

Caudrelier, in the trimaran Gitana-Edmond de Rothschild, outdistanced the other survivors from the six-boat fleet as he covered more than 51,000 km (28,000 miles) in 50 days. He became just the eighth sailor to sail round the world in a multi-hull.

The boat, launched in 2017, was the first Ultim designed to ‘fly’ by rising out of the water on foils as the boats swept down the Atlantic and then circled the globe passing south of the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin in Australia and finally Cape Horn.

“I had the impression of becoming a machine, a robot connected to performance, a kind of killer who doesn’t give up a nautical mile,” Caudrelier told French news agency AFP during the race, saying he became “totally connected” to his boat.

The ‘Ultim’ multi-hulls are big and fast but can also be fragile. Edmond de Rothschild is 32 metres (105 feet) long by 23 metres wide.

Mind-boggling achievement

“To sail solo around the planet in a multi-hull at an average speed of 28 knots (51 km/h) is mind-boggling”, said Olivier de Kersauson, who was the third man to complete a solo circumnavigation on a multihull in 1988.

Tom Laperche, in SVR Lazartigue, retired after duelling at the front with Caudrelier for 20 days.

The two sailors closest to Caudrelier both lost time when their boats suffered damage forcing them to make stopovers.

  • Six French sailors undertake world’s first solo Ultim trimaran race

Thomas Coville, who was running second in Sodebo, the boat in which in 2016 he became one of four sailors to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation in a multi-hull. Armel Le Cleac’h in Banque Populaire was in third.

Eric Peron in Adagio and Anthony Marchand in Actual, the oldest Ultims in the fleet, quickly fell behind, but were still battling up the South Atlantic on Tuesday.

Only Caudrelier managed to complete the crossing without any major mishaps although he suffered a cut arm.



Close shave

He nearly flipped his boat in the South Atlantic in what he described as “a moment of inattention”.

“The boat went up on its edge, but the safety systems saved me and (the boat) fell flat again.”

Caudrelier had enough of a lead to take that he was able to play safe and delay his arrival in Brest. With a storm threatening as he neared home, Caudrelier took shelter for three days in the Azores, before sailing for home on Monday, his 50th birthday, and arriving on Tuesday morning.

“It was special, strange, but I always felt like I was in the race,” he said. “The weather has been on my mind a lot over the last few days…. I really wanted to find a hole to go home in.”

Colville was amused.

“It’s a funny race when the leader has the opportunity to go to a hotel while waiting for a good window to finish and, like a good sailor, leave at just the right time,” he said.

(with AFP)


Society

French town tests controversial school uniforms

In a first for the country, hundreds of pupils in southern France headed to school in uniforms for the first time on Monday as part of a national experiment to determine whether to make them compulsory.

Uniforms have never been required in state schools in mainland France.

But President Emmanuel Macron last month announced a uniform trial at around 100 schools, with a view to making them mandatory nationwide in 2026 if it is successful.

Towns run by the right wing make up the majority that signed up for the test, though some have met strong resistance from teachers, students and parents.

Critics say the money would be better spent in other areas of public education to improve learning.

The idea was first launched in January last year.



Around 700 students at four schools in the southern town of Beziers appeared to be the first to try it out in mainland France on Monday, after a school gave identical outfits a go in the overseas territory of La Reunion last month.

Pupils in Beziers, a town with a far-right mayor and a high unemployment rate, had been invited to come with their parents to pick up their outfit during half term.

‘Nowhere near creating equality

The city and national governments are sharing the €200 cost of each uniform, made up of a blazer with the school’s logo, two polo shirts and one pair of trousers, as well as a pair of shorts or a skirt depending on gender.

Schools have until June to sign up to the initiative.

First lady Brigitte Macron, a former drama teacher, has backed the introduction of school uniforms.

Far-right former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has also supported a compulsory dress code.

But French-Algerian writer Nabila Ramdani, author of the book Fixing France and who was interviewed earlier this year by the Spotlight on France team,  is not happy. When the debate on school uniforms started last year, she strongly rejected Brigitte Macron’s support for the measure, saying that it “…it goes nowhere near erasing any superficial or significant differences – concerning wealth, social status,or life chances – so as to create equality”.



(With newswires)


Guinea-Conakry

Two die in clashes in Guinea Conakry as unions begin general strike against junta

Two youths were shot dead and others injured Monday as Guinea’s capital was paralysed on the first day of an open-ended general strike to end media censorship. This is seen as a key test for the junta that seized power in 2021 and dissolved the transitional government last week.

A confederation of trade unions has urged public and private sector workers to strike for the release of a prominent media activist,.

The strike comes a week after the military junta unexpectedly dissolved the transitional government – which had been in office since July 2022 – without providing a reason.

The junta also ordered government members’ passports to be seized and their bank accounts frozen.

Schools, shops, markets and roads were empty early Monday in Conakry and hospitals only offered skeletal services as youths set up barricades on arterial thoroughfares.

Sporadic clashes broke out in some outskirts and two young men were shot dead. A dozen other people were injured.

“They killed our son, they targeted him and shot him in the neck,” Adama Keita, a relative of an 18-year-old who was caught up in clashes with security forces, told French news agency AFP.

This was confirmed by a witness and a police source.

Another young man died elsewhere in similar circumstances, a doctor at the hospital where he died told  AFP.

Crackdown

Protests have become rare under junta leader General Mamady Doumbouya, who stormed the presidential palace with soldiers and overthrew civilian president Alpha Conde in September 2021.

The military leaders banned all demonstrations in 2022 and have arrested a number of opposition leaders, civil society members and the press.

Television channels have been removed and radio frequencies disrupted in a crackdown on media outlets.

  • Gunshots reported as demonstrators defy ban to protest against Guinea’s junta

The unions have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Sekou Jamal Pendessa, secretary general of the Union of Press Professionals of Guinea (SPPG), who was arrested at the end of January for “participating in an unauthorised protest”.

Pendessa was sentenced Friday for six months in prison, three of which were suspended.

Internet restrictions imposed three months ago were lifted last week, a day after the unions announced plans for the strike.

The resumption of internet access surprised many in Guinea and sparked a flurry of social media comments.

Suffering

Some government officials have backed the protest.

“This strike is welcome, it will force the authorities to understand that they are not gods on earth,” a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

“I’m on strike because Guineans are sick of the artificially created suffering, maintained by our leaders.”

Amadou Diallo, Secretary General of the National Confederation of Workers of Guinea (CNTG) hopes that the authorities have received the message.

“I congratulate all the professional trade union centers which are affiliated with the Guinean trade union movement for observing this strike nationwide,” he told RFI’s correspondent.

  • Ecowas leaders to slap gradual sanctions on Guinea’s junta

Guinea, a West African country of about 14 million people, is among several countries in the region to have seen coups since 2020, along with Mali, Burkina Faso, and this year Niger and Gabon.

Mineral-rich Guinea has endured decades of dictatorial rule after independence from France in 1968. Fierce repression of union strikes in 2007 under former president Lansana Conte left 186 dead, according to NGOs.

Under international pressure, the junta has promised to hand the reins of government back to elected civilians by the end of 2024.

(with AFP)


Trafficking

French customs stop trafficking in ancient coins looted in Turkey

French customs have uncovered trafficking in ancient coins looted in Turkey. More than 8,000 items were seized from a private individual in central France suspected of having already sold thousands of them.

After a three-year investigation, the French customs intelligence service (DNRED) has dismantled a major network trafficking in ancient coins, according to a report published by France Inter.

In the spring of 2022, customs agents discovered 8,597 coins “in a dwelling in central France”, originating in the Anatolia region of Turkey, some of which dating back to the 6th century.

The coins were found all over the house: “In a television cabinet, in freezer bags, in boxes all over the flat”, says one of the investigators, expert in trafficking in cultural goods.

More than 7,000 items are already lost in the wilderness, according to customs, whose total haul is estimated at more than €1.5 million for 15,000 objects.

A magic incantation plate and an exemption plate to ensure that imperial animals were not subjected to drudgery, a rare and priceless item, were also seized in the flat.



The main suspects were arrested in Turkey by the Turkish authorities. According to customs officials, their organisation was “worthy of drug traffickers”.

An investigator specialising in trafficking of cultural goods described their methods in detail: “Generally, the pieces are looted in villages by people in fairly precarious situations.

The mafia will provide them with metal detectors so that they can search for treasures in their locality according to the stories they may have heard and which may have been passed down through the generations.

Once these materials have been recovered, collectors will go from village to village to buy these objects at a low price, and certainly not at the European market price”.

The man from whose home the treasure was found is described as “just another man”. He faces up to ten years’ imprisonment and a €15 million fine for smuggling prohibited goods and possessing goods subject to documentary evidence.

He will soon be heard by the courts.

The items will be returned to Turkey through diplomatic channels.


Diplomacy

France reiterates its support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara

France’s foreign minister Stephane Séjourne has reiterated Paris’ “clear and constant” support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, during a visit to Rabat.

French foreign minister Stéphane Séjourné, who arrived in Rabat on Sunday evening, said that he had been “personally” commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron to work towards closer relations with Morocco.

“This visit is a major step towards opening a new chapter in the relationship between our two countries”, a diplomatic source explained.

During a press conference on Monday, alongside his counterpart, Nasser Bourita, the French foreign minister said of the Western Sahara: “This is an existential issue for Morocco. We know that […]. It is now time to move forward. I will see to it personally”, also announcing his desire to build a partnership with Morocco for the next 30 years.



Diplomatic tensions

The last visit by a French foreign minister dates back more than a year. In December 2022, Catherine Colonna went to Rabat to announce the end of visa restrictions to France. But there was no significant improvement between the two countries in the following weeks.

A vote by the European Parliament in January 2023 condemning the deterioration in press freedom in Morocco added to the diplomatic tensions.

In response, Morocco terminated the mission of its ambassador in Paris.

  • Morocco names woman former journalist as ambassador to France

Relations seemed to have reached an dead end until the French ambassador to Morocco issued a public mea culpa in October. A new Moroccan ambassador to France was then appointed.

‘New political agenda’

On the French side, the revelations by the Forbidden Stories media group, according to which the phone numbers of Emmanuel Macron and ministers were targeted in 2019 by Morocco, were not much appreciated.

  • Morocco files French libel suit over Pegasus spyware claim

In September, a new controversy arose when France offered aid to Morocco, hit by an earthquake, which Rabat ignored.

Séjourné’s visit is therefore a first step “towards a new political agenda, in all areas, with shared priorities”, said a diplomatic source.

(with AFP)


UKRAINE CRISIS

Macron hosts summit seeking solutions for war-ravaged Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron is on Monday hosting an international conference in support of Ukraine as Russia’s invasion enters its third year.

European leaders and ministers have been invited to the meeting to “study the available means” of reinforcing cooperation in support of Ukraine, Macron’s office said.

“Two years after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, this working meeting will be an opportunity to study ways to boost the cooperation between partners in support to Ukraine.”

French officials say Macron is determined to send a message to Moscow that there is no “Ukraine fatigue” in Europe despite fears over continued US support.

  • EU leaders seal €50bn Ukraine aid deal after Hungary lifts veto

Search for solutions

Polish President Andrzej Duda told Polsat television that he would attend the conference “to discuss new propositions of solution and aid for Ukraine”.

Ukraine has faced intense pressure on its eastern front in recent months as it grapples with ammunition shortages and hold-ups to much-needed Western military aid.

Russia has for months been ramping up arms production and driving massive human resources into its offensive, at what Kyiv says is an enormous human toll.

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

This meeting comes 10 days after Emmanuel Macron and Volodymyr Zelensky signed bilateral security agreements at the Elysée Palace in Paris.

The French President pledged to provide “up to three billion euros” of “additional military aid” to Kyiv this year, also announcing his intention to visit Ukraine “before mid-March”.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday his country’s victory “depends” on Western support and that he was “sure” the United States would approve a critical package of military aid.

The US Congress has so far refused to approve new funding for military aid to Kyiv, even as President Joe Biden expressed confidence that it will eventually do so.

Zelensky also said 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in two years of war with Russia, in a rare admission of military losses.


    NATO

    Hungary’s parliament has ratified Sweden’s bid to join NATO

    Hungary’s parliament voted Monday to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO, bringing an end to more than 18 months of delays that have frustrated the alliance as it seeks to expand in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

    The vote, which passed with 188 votes for and six against, was the culmination of months of wrangling by Hungary’s allies to convince its nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden’s membership.

    The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán submitted the protocols for approving Sweden’s entry into NATO in July 2022, but the matter stalled in parliament over opposition by governing party lawmakers.

    Budapest also accused Swedish officials of being “keen to bash Hungary” on rule-of-law issues.

    But after a meeting last Friday between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson in Budapest, the nationalist leader announced progress.

    “We have managed to clarify our mutual good intentions,” Orban told journalists after signing a deal to acquire four Swedish-made fighter jets, expanding its existing fleet of 14 Jas-39 Gripen fighters.



    Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party, whose ruling coalition with the Christian Democratic KDNP holds a two-thirds majority in parliament, had already indicated it would support Sweden’s bid.

    All opposition parties except the far-right Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) movement were in favour of ratification.

    Lawmakers greenlighted the Nordic nation’s bid in the parliamentary vote on Monday afternoon.

    The President is now expected to sign it in the coming days.

    Sweden will then be invited to accede to the 1949 North Atlantic (“Washington”) Treaty and officially become a NATO member. Official entry into the alliance will then take place shortly: Finland entered the group on April 4, 2023, after Ankara had given the green light four days earlier.

    • EU leaders seal €50bn Ukraine aid deal after Hungary lifts veto

    (With newswires)


    French politics

    French far-right leader calls for ‘economic patriotism’ for agriculture

    After the chaotic visit of President Emmanel Macron at the Agriculture Show in Paris on Saturday, far-right National Rally leader Jordan Bardella was keen to show his support for farmers with a two-day visit starting Sunday.

    While French presidents have often been jeered at the annual fair, Saturday’s scenes were a first.

    It was a long day for Emmanuel Macron who was heckled by angry farmers who scuffled with police upon his arrival at 8am.

    Police arrested six people and eight officers were hurt in the violence.

    Farmers’ leaders had already warned Macron that his visit to the Salon de l’Agriculture – a fixture of the presidential calendar – would not go smoothly if the government had not delivered on their promises to meet their demands.

    • Paris Agriculture Show opens as angry farmers continue quarrel over costs

    Macron held a two-hour meeting with the leaders of the three main farmers unions, the FNSEA, Jeunes Agriculteurs and Coordination Rurale, over their concerns over prices, red tape and state aid.

    It was a step down from the major national debate he had originally planned before scrapping it after a row over who could be invited.

    Government proposals

    “I always prefer dialogue to confrontation,” Macron said. “I am telling you that work is being done on the ground, we are in the process of simplifying things.”

    Macron stressed that his government had made 62 commitments to meet farmers demands, including promises of minimum prices for some agricultural commodities.

    The protesting farmers were not all impressed.

    “Did you hear him? He doesn’t let us speak, he talks down to us. We want him to go,” farmer Eric Labarre, an FNSEA member, told French news agency AFP.

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

    FNSEA leader Arnaud Rousseau was more conciliatory. “There are a certain number of advances that we are happy about,” he told LCI television.

    Macron said he would meet again with farmers in three weeks, after the fair shuts on 3 March.

    ‘Distress’ of the agricultural industry

    On Sunday, it was Jordan Bardella’s turn to woo the attendees at the fair, escorted by around twenty deputies.

    The young head of the far-right National Rally party said he would one-up the President by spending two days at the fair to show his dedication to the ailing industry.

    Instead of scuffles, attendees queued up to take selfies with the young politician, who took over from Marine Le Pen in 2022.

    “Behind the distress of the agricultural sector, there is the distress of rural France, the distress of working France, which today is asphyxiated by standards, asphyxiated by taxes, and which is no longer able to live with dignity,” he told reporters.

    Bardella called in particular for “economic patriotism” for agriculture and “the end of inheritance taxes” for farmers.

    “Obviously, there is the question of income and work. But our farmers must be competitive. However, by being put in competition with products or sectors that do not respect any of the standards, it is very complicated,” he insisted.

    European elections on the horizon

    He pointed out that farmers protests in recent weeks were not only attended by National Rally supporters and accused Macron of being paranoid over “a form of conspiracy”.

    • Is the EU facing a ‘New Right’ surge in Europe’s 2024 elections?

    Accused by Macron of being the bearer of a “stupid project” which would consist of “leaving Europe”, Bardella claims to want to “change the rules of the EU” by “pushing it from within”. But “as long as we accept that rules decided in Brussels come to apply on French soil, that poses a problem,” he says.

    Recent polls suggest that the RN – lead by Bardella –will emerge as the big winner in the 9 June European election with around one-third of the French vote, some 10 points ahead of a coalition led by Macron’s Renaissance party.

    (with newswires)


    Senegal

    Symbolic votes replace real polls as Senegalese declare a day of ‘mourning’ for democracy

    Dakar, Senegal – Since 1978, presidential elections have always taken place in Senegal in February. This Sunday was the first time that this tradition was not observed. However, voters didn’t want to stay home. Instead they took part in symbolic voting by turning up at their polling stations.

    The civil society group ‘Senegal Vote‘  invited citizens to go to the polls… even though they couldn’t vote.

    “Deprived of their presidential election, the Senegalese people are organising their vote!” the group posted on social media.

    “This Sunday, February 25, 2024, go to your voting center, take a photo of yourself to demonstrate your presence and share this with all your networks.”



    And many answered the call, including candidates like Anta Babacar, and some journalists.



    Amy Ndao Fall and Awa Mbow Kane, both doctors, went to a simulated polling station  in Dakar organised by the citizen collective Aar Sunu Election (“Let’s preserve our election”) on the day the Senegalese were supposed to vote.

    They told RFI that “voting has always been part of their culture”.

    Others compared the political deadlock to the Covid crisis, which had had a masive negative impact on Senegal’s economy.

    Some candidates met at the headquarters of Taxaawu candidate, Khalifa Sall.

    “Today is a dark day for our democracy,” he told the guests. “Senegal is a cracked democracy because, for the first time, we are touching on this myth that was the presidential election.”



    According to a note from the Interior Ministry, talks to set a new date for Senegal’s presidential vote will start on Monday at 4pm.

    Sixteen presidential candidates have already said they are refusing to take part in this dialogue.

    The national dialogue should also determine how the country will be governed after Macky Sall steps down and until elections are held.

    “We want to vote,” a voter told AFP. “Before 2 April, it is obligatory. This endless campaign, these demonstrations, all these people killed for years… We must turn this page and get back to work.”

     (with AFP)

    International report

    Will Turkey ditch Russian missiles for US military jets?

    Issued on:

    As Turkey’s rapprochement with the United States gathers pace, the future of Turkish-purchased Russian S-400 missiles is increasingly in question. The missile deal is a potent symbol of Ankara’s close ties with Moscow, but Washington is offering to sell Turkey its advanced F35 military jet for the removal of the Russian weapons.

    Ankara was kicked out of the jet program after it purchased Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington said compromised the F-35’s stealth technology.

    Now Turkey’s purchase of the advanced F-35 military jet could be back on the agenda.

    Acting deputy of Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, during a visit to Istanbul last month, offered to revive the jet sale if the Russian missiles were removed.

    Along with the $2.5 billion (€2.3 billion) price tag for the Russian missiles, Ankara paid a heavy price militarily and economically by being expelled from the F-35 program.

    Founding partner

    Turkey was one of the founding partners of the jet program, with Turkish companies building numerous parts for the plane.

    Diplomatically the missile sale created a deep divide between Turkey and its NATO partners, raising questions over its allegiance to the Western military alliance.

    “After the purchase of the anti-aircraft missiles, which was unprecedented, some people in [President] Erdogan’s cabinet also admitted this was a big mistake,” says Onur Isci, a Russian affairs expert at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University told RFI.

    “Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s was a very costly endeavor.”

    • The escaping Russians finding a better life in Turkey

    The S-400 missile sale was a powerful symbol of deepening Russian Turkish ties and deteriorating relations with Washington.

    The sale came in the aftermath of Ankara’s accusations of Washington’s involvement in the 2016 failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first leaders to offer Erdogan support during the attempted putsch.

    Important symbol

    While the Russian missiles sit unused in a warehouse, they remain an important symbol of Erdogan’s close ties to Putin, making their removal difficult for the Turkish president.

    “The buying of the S-400 air defence system from Russia was a diplomatic catastrophe of historical magnitude,” says former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, now a regional analyst.

    “Unfortunately, it is not possible. I am led to believe that Erdogan will walk back from that mistake … It was an unforced error. It was an own goal, whichever metaphor you like.”

    • Turkey’s bid to join EU back on the table at upcoming summit

    However, US-Turkish ties are improving with Ankara’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership and Washington’s reciprocating by allowing the sale of F16 jets to Turkey.

    But the F16 is inferior to the F35, which neighbor and rival Greece is set to purchase as part of its military modernisation, causing alarm in Ankara.

    “When you read Turkey’s hawks, everybody is afraid that the air force balance over the Aegean is not tilting or is going to be tilting in favor of Greece,” warns Soli Ozel, who teaches international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. 

    Waiting game

    Whether Ankara takes up Washington’s offer of F-35 jets in exchange for removing the Russian-made missiles – possibly to a Turkish ally like Azerbaijan, Qatar, or even Libya – depends on the progress of improving relations with the United States.

    “It’s very important if we see any more moves from Washington,” says Yoruk Isik, a geopolitical analyst in Istanbul with the Washington-based Middle East Institute

    “The F35 was the first signal in years that that was a really positive signal from Washington. Ankara is waiting to hear the continuation of that message.”

    Erdogan’s close ties with Putin have benefited Turkey in deferments on energy payments for Russian energy. The Turkish leader is predicted to be looking to Washington to pay a high price to remove the Russian weapons. 

    “Turkey can easily renounce on S-400; it’s a political decision, it’s not a military necessity,” said Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute, a research organisation in Ankara.  

    “So far, the S-400 has helped Turkey to increase the level of negotiations with NATO and the United States of America.”

    Ankara’s purchase of Russian missiles was widely seen as a diplomatic triumph for Moscow, dividing Turkey from its NATO allies.

    Their removal would be a similarly significant victory for Washington.

    The Sound Kitchen

    A pioneering female French journalist

    Issued on:

    This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about Françoise Giraud. There’s “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, 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: RFI English journalist Jessica Phelan, our French history expert, was on Alison Hird and Sarah Elzas’ podcast, Spotlight on France Number 105 with a piece on a pioneering French female journalist, Françoise Giraud. You were to listen carefully to the podcast and send in the answers to these questions: What is the name of the news magazine Françoise Giraud co-founded, what is the name of the other founder, and in what year was the magazine first published?

    The answer is: L’Express is the name of the magazine, which was first published in 1953. The co-founder’s name is Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber.

    In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “What will you remember most about 2023?”

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

    The winners are: Fatematuj Zahra, the co-secretary of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh.  Fatematuj is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Fatematuj!

    Also on the list of lucky winners this week is Hari Madugula, the president of the RFI Young Stars Radio Club in Hyderabad, India; Sultan Mahmud, the president of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh; RFI Listeners Club member Alan Holder from the Isle of Wight, England, and RFI English listener Jibon Akhter Shammi from Bogura, Bangladesh.

    Congratulations winners!

    Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Piva” by Joan Ambrosio Dalza, performed by Paul O’Dette; “Respect” by Otis Redding; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Crosstown Traffic” by Jimi Hendrix, performed by Hendrix with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

    This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Alison Hird’s article “Why are girls in France flunking maths and how can the equation be changed?” or listen to her story on Spotlight on France Number 106, which will help you with the answer.

    You have until 25 March to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 30 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

    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


    Sponsored content

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

    Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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

    Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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