rfi 2024-02-29 22:35:40



Europe

EU welcomes Poland back into the fold by unfreezing billions in funds

The European Union took a major step towards mending ties with member state Poland on Thursday by announcing it would begin releasing billions of euros in funding. The aid had been frozen over policies the bloc said amounted to backsliding on fundamental democratic principles.

The move is victory for Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has worked hard to overturn measures imposed by the previous conservative government since he became premier in December.

Beyond its political significance, the move opens the way for up to €135 billion in EU aid to go to Poland over the coming few years.

The decision cements a sea change in relations. Both sides had openly clashed after the stridently nationalist Law and Justice party came to power in 2015 and implemented reforms that critics said placed Poland’s judiciary under political control.

The EU threatened to suspend Poland’s EU voting rights and also blocked its access to EU funds.

  • Poland slams EU ‘aggression’ as Europe mulls daily fines over justice reforms

“Today is a landmark day for Poland,” said EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis.

Thanks to the country’s efforts to restore the rule of law, he said, “we are now able to unlock access” to a slew of funds designed to help EU nations recover from the Covid-19 crisis and assist their economies to rise to the standards of wealthier member nations.



Under complicated EU financial rules, Poland could receive over the next weeks the first €600 million in cash from a €75 billion aid pot that had been blocked.

More funds will be transferred once Poland sends in outstanding paperwork from projects. A €6.3 billion disbursement from a €60 billion programme to boost recovery from the Covid downturn should also be released soon.

‘Important strides’

Tusk’s election victory last October was essential in achieving the change. The Commission has now acknowledged that sufficient efforts to resolve the issues have been made for it to start releasing the funds.

But if Poland doesn’t follow through, restrictive measures could be reimposed.

EU Vice President Vera Jourova showed confidence in Tusk’s leadership, saying: “Today we turn a page on the rule of law issues with Poland as we recognise the important strides made by the government.”

A pro-European coalition of three centre-left parties, led by Tusk, won Poland’s parliamentary elections on 15 October and took over in December.

It succeeded the Law and Justice party that had ruled for eight years and introduced changes to the justice system, reproductive rights and the media that put Poland increasingly on a collision course with the EU.

The breakthrough in the standoff came after the new government presented an action plan to European officials which outlined draft legislation.

But EU officials stressed that some of the proposals in the Polish plan can’t become law without the approval of President Andrzej Duda, who is a staunch ally of the Law and Justice party. His term runs until 2025.

(with newswires)


FRANCE – TERRORISM

Strasbourg terror suspects in court over deadly 2018 Christmas attack

The trial of four men suspected of having played a key role in supplying weapons to the perpetrator of the December 2018 shootings at the Strasbourg Christmas markets began on Thursday, with court hearings set to continue for five weeks.

The men appeared in a special Paris court over the attack in the eastern French city, where a radical Islamist killed five people before being shot dead by police after a 48-hour manhunt.

The market was in full swing on 11 December when Cherif Chekatt – a convicted criminal on the list of possible extremist security risks – opened fire on the crowds, shouting “Allahu Akbar“, before escaping in a taxi.

The four are accused of crimes ranging from terrorism to helping to supply weapons, including the 19th-century revolver Chekatt used in the attack.

A fifth defendant, in his mid-80s, may be tried at a later date after a medical examination found his health was not compatible with taking part in the trial.

  • Five arrested in Strasbourg over Christmas market attack

One direct terrorism charge

Only one suspect, Audrey Mondjehi, faces the maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted on terrorism charges, while the others risk 10 years imprisonment.

Mondjehi, 42, has been directly charged with terrorism, while the three others – all in their 30s – face criminal conspiracy charges for their role in supplying weapons.

According to the court indictment, Mondjehi – once a former cellmate of the assailant – “could not have been unaware of, or may have even shared, all or part of Cherif Chekatt’s radical convictions”.

His lawyer, however, is concerned Mondjehi could be used as a scapegoat in Chekatt’s absence.

Defence lawyer Michael Wacquez said: “Audrey Mondjehi should not be an outlet for the grief of the victims and should not be condemned because Cherif Chekatt is not there.”

According to the investigation, there is no evidence that the other suspects had been aware of Chekatt’s plans to carry out the Christmas market attack.

  • French police shoot Strasbourg gunman dead

Taxi driver’s traumatic ordeal

While Chekatt cannot now be brought to justice – having been killed in a police raid in the Neudorf district of central Strasbourg – the trial marks a hugely important moment for survivors and victims’ relatives.

Speaking to FranceInfo, taxi driver Mostafa Salhane said the attack turned his “whole life upside down”.

“Everything I’d built up over the last few years collapsed like a house of cards,” recounted the 53-year-old former taxi driver, who spent 15 terrifying minutes with Chekatt as he climbed into his cab to flee the scene with a gun in hand. 

Salhane was told by the attacker: “If you get smart, I’ll light you on fire”.

The driver remembers Chekatt claimed responsibility for the attack because of what was happening in Syria and Iraq. “He wanted to make history,” he said.

Survivors need to ‘turn page’

But for Claude Lienhard, a lawyer for several dozen people, there is a perception the investigation has been dragging on.

“There’s a fear that this will be a low-cost trial compared with other terror trials, as many feel they have been forgotten,” he said.

One witness who saw Chekatt wound one of her friends said she plans to attend the trial. While the process was “distressing”, she said it was important to “turn the page”.

Another witness, a retired firefighter who was with one of the victims as they died, said he needed answers “to heal”.

“One question keeps coming back to me: how can you kill someone like that?”

  • Sole surviving member of Paris attacks terror squad Abdeslam sentenced to whole-life prison term

Latest in a series of terror trials

The trial is the latest legal process over the wave of Islamist attacks that has hit France since 2015. 

In December 2022, a Paris court convicted all eight suspects in the trial over the 2016 truck attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice that left 86 people dead. 

In the most high-profile case, 20 defendants were convicted in June 2022 over their roles in the November 2015 attack in the French capital, when 130 people were killed.

The Islamic State armed group laid claim to the Strasbourg attack, but the then French interior minister Christophe Castaner maintained the extremist group had not planned the assault and was just taking credit for the attack. 

A video pledging allegiance to the group was subsequently found at the assailant’s home.

The trial over the 2018 Strasbourg attacks is expected to last until early April.


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

Macron inaugurates Olympic Village for 2024 Paris Games

The keys to the Paris 2024 athletes’ village were officially handed to Olympics organisers as President Emmanuel Macron visited the site on Thursday.

The 52-hectare village, just north of Paris, will host some 14,500 athletes and staff before welcoming a further 9,000 for the Paralympics.

After the Games, the village will be transformed into an eco-friendly neighbourhood benefiting 6,000 residents and featuring two schools, a hotel, a public park, shops and offices plus planted areas for pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles.

“It will become, after the Games, a real neighbourhood for the inhabitants of Seine Saint Denis,” Macron said, referring to the name of the department.



Nicolas Ferrand, head of Solideo, the company in charge of delivering the Olympics infrastructure, added: “It is a masterpiece of what the French construction industry can do.”

Ferrand handed a symbolic key of the village to Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet, officially concluding a seven-year journey since Paris was awarded the Games.

  • Three delayed Paris Olympics sites being tracked, organisers say
  • Struggling to survive, Greece’s Olympic villagers ponder referendum choice

‘On time’

The inauguration was attended by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, locally elected representatives, region president Valerie Pecresse and Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera.

    “We are, I am, proud of the work you’ve done, within budget and on time,” Macron told workers on site.

    “Our athletes will be able to experience the Games in the best conditions and you contributed to changing the lives of the inhabitants of the area.

    “You are part of an adventure that will mark our century.”

    Macron went on to hail France as a “nation of builders”. He said: “What has been done on time and within budget as we finalise the reconstruction of Notre-Dame is nothing short remarkable.”

    Notre-Dame is set to reopen for religious services and to the public on 8 December this year, the cathedral having been renovated after being ravaged by fire in 2019.

    (with newswires)


    WOMEN’S RIGHTS

    French Senate approves bill making abortion a constitutional right

    France’s Senate has adopted a bill to enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion in the constitution – clearing a key hurdle for legislation promised by President Emmanuel Macron in response to a rollback in abortion rights in the United States.

    Wednesday’s vote came after the lower house, the National Assembly, overwhelmingly approved the proposal in January.

    The measure now goes before a joint session of parliament for its expected approval by a three-fifths majority on Monday.

    Following the vote, Macron said the government was committed to making women’s right to have an abortion irreversible.



    The government wants Article 34 of the constitution amended to guarantee the freedom of women to have access to an abortion.

    The Senate adopted the bill on a vote of 267 in favor and 50 against, with 22 abstentions.

    According to figures published by the Senate, most party groups voted as a bloc, but the right-wing Republicans was split: of the 132 senators, 72 voted in favor and 41 voted against, while six abstained.

    “This vote is historic,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said, adding the Senate had “written a new page in women’s rights”.

    • French parliament approves bill adding abortion rights to constitution
    • ‘Eighty percent’ of French want abortion rights enshrined in constitution

    Formality

    None of France’s major political parties represented in parliament has questioned the right to abortion, which was decriminalised in 1975.

    With both houses of parliament adopting the bill, Monday’s joint session at the Palace of Versailles is expected to be largely a formality.

    The government argued in its introduction to the bill that the right to abortion was threatened in the United States, where the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned a 50-year-old ruling that used to guarantee it.

    “Unfortunately this event is not isolated. In many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy,” the introduction to the French legislation says.

    Last year in Poland, a controversial tightening of the already restrictive abortion law led to protests in the country last year.

    The Polish constitutional court ruled in 2020 that women could no longer terminate pregnancies in cases of severe fetal deformities, including Down Syndrome.

    (with newswires)


    Digital rights

    EU consumers challenge Meta paid service as privacy ‘smokescreen’

    Brussels (AFP) – Consumer groups from eight EU countries lodged complaints against Meta on Thursday, accusing the Facebook and Instagram owner of illegally processing user data and using its “pay or consent” system as a “smokescreen” for privacy breaches.

     

    Meta has reaped rich financial rewards by selling user data to advertisers, but its business model has pitted the US tech giant against EU regulators over data privacy.

    In November, Meta launched a “pay or consent” system allowing users to withhold use of their data for ad targeting in exchange for a monthly fee – a model already facing two challenges from privacy and consumer advocates.

    Announcing the latest action, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) called the system “a smokescreen to obscure the real problem of massive, illegal data processing of users which goes on regardless of what users choose.”

    Meta dismissed the “general and unfounded accusations” regarding data use. “We strongly dispute these,” a spokesperson said.

    Eight consumer groups in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia and Spain are filing complaints with their local data protection authorities, the Brussels-based BEUC umbrella body said in a statement.

    The groups argue that Meta is still violating the European Union‘s mammoth general data protection regulation, which has been at the root of EU court cases against the online giant.

    “It’s time for data protection authorities to stop Meta’s unfair data processing and its infringing of people’s fundamental rights,” said Ursula Pachl, BEUC deputy director general.

    BEUC in a report said that Meta is violating the EU data law’s principles that demand transparency as well as limiting how much user data it processes and what it is used for.

    “Meta seems to be of the opinion that in order for the company to earn money with advertising, it is justified to collect any imaginable data on consumers’ activities, location, personalities, behaviour, attitudes and emotions,” the report said.

    “In reality, the massive exploitation of the private lives of hundreds of millions of European consumers for commercial gain fails to respect various fundamental principles of the GDPR.”

    • French cyber experts reveal vast network of Russian disinformation sites

    Flurry of complaints

    The Silicon Valley company allows users of Instagram and Facebook in Europe to pay between 10 and 13 euros (around $11 and $14) a month to opt out of data sharing.

    Under the GDPR law, consent must be freely given but BEUC argues that its model coerces consumers into accepting Meta’s processing of their personal data.

    “The company also fails to show that the fee it imposes on consumers who do not consent is indeed necessary, which is a requirement stipulated by” an EU top court.

    “Under these circumstances, the choice about how consumers want their data to be processed becomes meaningless and is therefore not free,” the report said.

    When Meta announced paid subscriptions in October, it stressed that it was in line with what regulators and courts wanted.

    “It conforms to direction given by the highest court in Europe: in July, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) endorsed the subscriptions model as a way for people to consent to data processing for personalised advertising,” it said.

    • EU opens probe into TikTok, YouTube and Google over child protection

    Watchdog decision looms

    The challenges are the latest in a cat-and-mouse game between the EU and Meta.

    The EU’s data watchdog, the EDPB, in December told Meta it could not use the personal data of users for targeted ads without their explicit consent.

    The EDPB is due to decide in the next few weeks whether a fee system like Meta’s violates the bloc’s data privacy laws.

    Thursday’s complaint is the third against Meta’s “pay or consent” scheme.

    BEUC in November said together with 19 of its members that they had launched a joint complaint with Europe’s network of consumer protection authorities against the system.

    Before that, a separate complaint was filed by privacy group NOYB, which has won countless victories against Meta and others.


    Aviation

    Air France-KLM posts record profit despite problematic 2023

    Franco-Dutch airline Air France-KLM on Thursday announced a record net profit of 934 million euros for 2023, despite a tough end to the year marked by operational difficulties and the Middle East conflict.

    The company also reported a record revenue of €30 billion and positive equity for the first time since 2019.

    Its profit result was a little below analysts’ expectations of more than a billion euros, according to forecasts compiled by Factset and Bloomberg.

    They contrast sharply with nightmare figures during the pandemic, when the group lost a cumulative 10.4 billion euros in 2020 and 2021 – forcing it to carry out two recapitalisations and request help from the French and Dutch governments.

    In a statement, Air France-KLM announced a solid operating margin of 5.7 percent for 2023, up 1.2 points on the previous year, which had seen it return to profit.

    “In 2023, we delivered on our commitment to strong operational and financial performance,” group CEO Benjamin Smith said in the results statement.

    The record results were achieved despite passenger numbers not yet returning to pre-Covid levels.



    Air France, KLM and subsidiary Transavia transported a total of 93.6 million passengers last year, up 10.3 million on 2022 but still 10.4 million fewer than in 2019.

    At the same time, Air France-KLM continued to deleverage, with its net debt falling from 6.33 billion euros at the end of 2022 to 5.04 billion at the end of 2023.

    The group also saw its net debt-to-gross operating margin ratio improve to 1.2 times, down from 1.8 times the previous year, which should make refinancing easier.

    In the fourth quarter, however, the group suffered a net loss of 256 million euros, a fall of 752 million compared with the equivalent period in 2022.

    • France reforms strike rules for air traffic controllers after year of turbulence

    ‘Geopolitical situation’ 

    Air France, and especially KLM, suffered from a shortage of spare parts – a recurring problem for the aviation sector since the pandemic – and also of qualified labour, which disrupted the availability of certain aircraft on the ground.

    In addition, the “geopolitical situation”, mainly the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, led Air France-KLM to suspend certain routes, including to Tel Aviv, from the start of October, and cooled demand for neighbouring countries.

    Transavia, the group’s “low-cost” carrier, suffered from this and failed to be profitable last year despite continuing its expansion.

    Freight rates fell sharply after surging in the wake of the pandemic.

    Despite its record profit, Air France-KLM did not mention a return to issuing dividends for its shareholders.

    Looking ahead, for 2024, its 20th anniversary, the group said it wants to increase passenger capacity by 5.0 percent compared to last year and limit the increase in its unit costs to between 1.0 and 2.0 percent, compared to 3.5 percent in 2023.

    It expects net capital expenditure of between 3.0 and 3.2 billion euros, in particular to invest in new-generation aircraft to cut its CO2 emissions.

    Despite air tickets still being expensive compared to pre-pandemic prices, Air France-KLM said it does not see a weakening in the sustained demand for travel that fuelled its 2023 results.

    It said the booking rates for the first half of 2024 are similar to those at the same time last year, despite an increase in capacity.

    (with newswires)


    France

    French newspaper takes long view of news, coming out every 29 February

    French administration has not always made it easy for those born on 29 February, but one entity has embraced – and lives for – the date: the Bougie du sapeur, a bissextile publication that takes a long view of the news, every four years.

    “For four years we read newspapers, we listen to the radio and watch television, and we take notes, and put ideas in a box and say perhaps this will be a good subject for the next Bougie du sapeur,” explains Jean d’Indy, the paper’s editor and self-described Jack-of-all-trades.

    He took over the publication in 1996, the fourth edition of the satirical paper that was started by two friends in 1980.

    It continues today as a labour of love every leap year for about a dozen writers headed by d’Indy, who spends most of his time promoting his first love, horse racing.



    But for six months every four years, he focuses on the paper, deciding what goes in and commissioning articles, which, above all, must be funny.

    Humour, satire

    “We have we have one point of view, a point of view of humour,” he told RFI. “All of us, we just want to laugh when we write our articles, and if we don’t take any pleasure to write, we think it won’t be a good article for the public.”

    Humour, he says, allows the paper to address “any subject”. If a topic is too touchy, it can go in the next edition, four years later.

    There is nothing in the 2024 edition, for example, about the war in Gaza; nor is there anything specifically about the Covid pandemic, which did occur four years ago, but is hard to laugh about.

    “We forget the Covid, that’s the past, it’s not funny,” says d’Indy.

    On the cover of the 2024 edition are two stories, one about artificial intelligence, which will soon make everyone smart, but not funny, and another about “what men must know before becoming women”.

    Decrying heavy breasts and annoying hair, the author also writes about the higher cost of services for women (the so-called “pink tax”, which another article elaborates on) and the contradictory expectations of heterosexual men, who are looking for women who are “soft, but strong”, “sexy but not vulgar”, “nice but not a victim”.

    No laughing matter

    La Bougie du sapeur, which means ‘The soldier’s candle’, is named after Sapeur Camember, a character from one of the first French comic strips from the late 19th century, who was born on 29 February 1844.

    A simple man, Sapeur Camember finds himself conscripted into the army after only five birthdays.

    And while the ‘youth’ of those born on 29 February can be something to laugh about, it can cause problems in pull-down menus on online tax forms and other administrative settings.

    Until 2013, it was not clear when those born in France on 29 February turned 18 – a birthday that does not fall on a leap year.

    A ministerial decree about voter registration clarified that when someone is born on 29 February, “it would be right to accept that they will become an adult the last day of February of the year of their 18th birthday that can be a 28th of February”.

    It is one of the few official references in France to those born on 29 February – a situation that in the past might have lead some parents to declare their child’s birth either the day before, on 28 February, or the day after, 1 March, to avoid administrative hassles.

    Today, as births are more closely monitored and recorded, statistics show that births in France on 29 February are within the average of any other day of the year.

    But it remains an “exceptional” day for Jean d’Indy, who is committed to the Bougie du sapeur remaining a paper-only publication, distributing 200,000 copies to newsstands in France, Belgium and Luxembourg to try to keep alive what he says is a dying industry.

    “We choose this day, the 29th of February, because it is the only day that is exceptional,” he says. “And we think that our newspaper is exceptional.”


    More about 29 February in France in the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 107, out Thursday 29 February, 2024.


    Farming

    France’s organic farmers ‘green with rage’ over lack of government support

    French farmers are showcasing their wears, and their woes, at the annual agricultural fair in Paris. And while each sector has its particular problems, organic farmers say they’re facing the double blow of a drop in sales and a reduction in government support.

    Jean-Maxime Buisson raises 3,000 laying hens on his organic farm in Bourdeaux in the southern Drôme region. An administrator with France’s Organic Farming Federation (FNAB) he says difficulties in the sector kicked in following the second Covid lockdown at the end of December 2020.

    “Lockdown turned the market upside down in terms of consumer habits, and at the same time the state withdrew finance,” he told RFI. “Our region lost the MAB – the bonus to help maintain organic agriculture. That was the first stab in the back.”

    Buisson has his own network for selling his eggs and some of his chicken feed is produced on the 30-hectare family farm, but he’s still felt the impact of inflation and the economic crisis.

    “Our charges have gone up a lot and I’ve scarcely drawn a salary to avoid having to lay staff off.  The €110 million emergency plan that the government put on the table in 2023 has helped me hang on to my employees, but we have no prospects.”

    He hopes that running a small farm means he can adapt more easily to the uncertainty of the market, but bigger organic farmers are more vulnerable.

    “People who are working in longer chains need strong support because distributors don’t play the game and soak up a big part of the profit margins.”

    Drop in sales

    After years of growth in France’s organic food market,  sales dropped by 5 percent (excluding inflation) in 2022.

    “50 percent of organic apples are not finding buyers,” says Vincent Delmas, a sheepfarmer and marketgardener, who is also a representative with the Farmers’ Confederation union (Confederation Paysanne).

    “Maybe a lot of people converted to organic and the market wasn’t sufficiently developed,” he told RFI.

    But he also blames the state’s failure to fully implement the 2018 Egalim law which aims to increase the protection of farmers in their trade relations with the large retail sector, allowing them to set selling prices based on their production costs.

    The law also set a target of 20 percent organic produce in public-subsidised canteens such as schools, by 2022.

    That hasn’t happened, says Delmas, “so the state has a responsibility, and so do the big supermarkets – their profit margins on organic foods are much bigger than on non-organic”.

    This has led to consumers with tights budgets “turning away from organic foods”, he says.

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

    Meanwhile, the amount of farmland converted to organic dropped by 24 percent in 2022, and the number of farmers giving up on organic farming has increased. 

    Delmas fears that the trend could continue.

    “When you see that organic grain is bought for the same price as non-organic, some people are asking themselves questions because they’ve got higher costs and lower yields.”

    ‘We feel abandoned’

    Organic farmers also feel let down by the government’s decision to pause a plan on reducing pesticide use following major protests by France’s leading farming unions.

    The government has notably abandoned a measure called Nodu which would have limited the quantity of pesticides farmers are allowed to use. Instead, they will use a measure based on the strength of pesticides used.

    • NGOs denounce France’s ‘pause’ on pesticide ban to placate farmers

    Buisson says France’s turnabout on reducing pesticides – which pose a significant risk to human health and the environment – didn’t begin just a few weeks back. 

    “It’s been going on for six years or so,” he said. “An organic farmer used to receive just over 200 euros per hectare to compensate for services rendered [by not using pesticides]. “It’s gone down to 92 euros.”

    And while the government put an additional €50mn on the table this month to help organic farmers get through the crisis, this is far from enough, Buisson told RFI.

    “Our network estimates a loss of €300 mn in 2023. We feel abandoned. And yet given what’s at stake regarding human health, we should be supported.”

    In April 2022, while campaigning for a second term, President Emmanuel Macron promised to make France “a great green nation“. But Buisson says the reality has simply made farmers like him “green with rage”.


    This article was based on reporting by Pauline Gleize, words by Alison Hird.


    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)


    HAITI CRISIS

    UN launches emergency appeal for Haiti as Benin mulls joining multinational security mission

    The United Nations has launched an urgent appeal for $674 million for humanitarian aid to Haiti, as violence in the country has lead to a severe food crisis and the deployment of a multinational security force has yet to be agreed. 

    On Tuesday, the UN made the call for emergency funds to address the worsening humanitarian situation in the Caribbean nation that has been grappling with escalating violence and a dire food crisis.

    With a population of over 10 million, Haiti has been entrenched in turmoil for years, marked by the dominance of armed gangs that have left both the economy and public health infrastructure in a shambles.

    In 2021, the assassination of Haiti’s president Jovenel Moise further exacerbated the chaos, plunging the nation into deeper disarray.

    According to the UN, the collapse of essential services, prolonged drought, and recurrent natural disasters has rendered 5.5 million Haitians highly vulnerable.

    The United Nations has also highlighted that 45 percent of the population is currently affected by extreme food insecurity, with 250,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition.

    • Hundreds protest government in Haiti despite police tear gas, demand PM resignation

    Benin and Haiti

    This comes as recent developments at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit in Guyana have shown some progress in tackling Haiti’s security predicament.

    On Monday, US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced at the summit that Benin “has offered up to 2,000 troops” for a multi-national security force meant to help overwhelmed Haitian police regain control.



    Emphasising the urgency of the situation, stakeholders at the CARICOM summit underlined the need for the swift deployment of a UN-authorised Multinational Security Support mission to facilitate the restoration of peace, ensure the conduct of free and fair elections, and alleviate the spiralling humanitarian crisis there.

    • Kenyan court says police cannot deploy to Haiti mission

    Although the UN Security Council has sanctioned the deployment of a multinational security force for Haiti to be headed by a military contingent from Kenya, logistical challenges, legal hurdles, and insufficient funding have delayed the mission to date.

    The potential involvement of French-speaking Benin would facilitate communication and collaboration in addressing the crisis in Haiti, with Cotonou having previously contributed to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti – Minustah.


    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)

    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 in a warehouse undeployed, 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


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    Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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    Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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