rfi 2024-03-01 16:36:20



LGBTQ+ Rights

Ghana activists denounce new bill that makes identifying as LGBTQ+ a crime

Ghana has joined Uganda and Kenya in passing harsh legislation that not only penalises LGBTQ+ people, but also those who defend them, with up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Activists have vowed to challenge the bill, which still needs the president’s signature to become law.

Ghana’s parliament unanimously approved the “Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values” bill on Wednesday. 

According to the constitution, President Nana Akufo-Addo has now seven days, up to 6 March, to sign the legislation.

“We will go to court to show how untenable this law is,” said Audrey Gadzekpo, a professor of communications at the University of Ghana and chairperson of the non-profit Ghana Center for Democratic Development.

“We are mobilising all our resources to fight it and show how it violates key fundamental human rights provisions in Ghana’s 1992 constitution.”



Advocacy criminalised

First proposed in 2021, the bill sets prison terms ranging from six months to three years for people who take part in LGBTQ+ sexual acts – which are already illegal in Ghana, though they rarely lead to prosecution. 

The new legislation also criminalises people who advocate in favour of LGBTQ+ rights, who could be imprisoned for up to 10 years if their campaigns are aimed at minors.

“This bill is very open to interpretation,” says Gadzekpo. “It is not clear at all. For example, what does that mean for the media in Ghana – will they not be able to talk about LGBTQ+ issues or invite people to discuss such matters?”

She believes the legislation will interfere with the ability of civil society groups or international organisations to carry out their programmes.

“You commit an offence even by expressing sympathy towards what is criminalised under this bill,” she says.

  • Gay rights activists fear for their safety as Ghana readies harsh anti-LGBTQ bill

Obligation to denounce

Clause 5 of the bill also imposes an obligation to report any person identifying as LGBTQ+ to “the police, or political leaders, opinion leaders or customary leaders in the community”.

Anyone convicted of identifying as LGBTQ+ faces up to three years in prison.

“This bill criminalises a person’s identity,” says Gadzekpo.

“How do I report my child or my student?”

The United States State Department said the legislation would threaten Ghanaians’ rights to freedoms of speech and assembly. It would also undermine public health and economic opportunities, it warned.

  • Ugandan leader defiant after World Bank cuts off loans over anti-LGBTQ law

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of United Nations Aids agency UNAids, said that the bill would affect everyone if it became law.

“If it becomes law, it will obstruct access to life-saving services, undercut social protection and jeopardise Ghana’s development success,” she said.

“Evidence shows that punitive laws like this bill are a barrier to ending Aids, and ultimately undermine everyone’s health.”

Regressive trend

The bill was promoted by a coalition comprising Christian, Muslim and Ghanaian traditional leaders who argue, on the contrary, that its measures contribute to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs).

“The bill aligns with Goal 3 of the SDGs in ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” wrote the sponsors of the bill.

Gadzekpo said the bill was passed by “the louder voices in parliament”.

“We noticed, while looking at the televised parliamentary session on 28 February, that it was not a full chamber,” she told RFI.

She believes that politicians misrepresented the bill by purporting it exists to protect the country’s traditional and religious values.

“The majority of the people in Ghana do not support homosexuality, but they are not at all aware of the various implications of this bill,” Gadzekpo said.

Homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment in 33 of 55 African countries, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

Ghana is one of six countries – alongside Kenya, Namibia, Niger, Tanzania and Uganda – to have taken steps to restrict LGBTQ+ rights still further in the past year, the institute notes.


FRANCE – AGRICULTURE

Dozens of French farmers arrested during protest at Arc de Triomphe

French police on Friday arrested 66 people at a farmers’ protest at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees in central Paris. The action comes amid anger in the French and European agriculture sectors over rising costs and falling revenues. 

Farmers used tractors and bales of hay to block traffic on the avenue, not far from President Emmanuel Macron’s office, the Elysée Palace.

Protest organisers, the Rural Coordination collective, said the demonstration was aimed “at saving French agriculture”.

It wants quick action, it added, to save 45 percent of French farms in financial distress.

The farmers arrived in the early hours of the morning and held up banners around the famous monument, which was also at the centre of Yellow Vest protests in 2018.

Farmer Axel Masson said about 100 of his peers had gathered at from 3am “in a peaceful and law-abiding manner”.



Masson said the farmers laid a wreath in memory of their colleagues who had been driven to suicide by financial woes, adding: “The state is not listening to us.”

The demonstration wrapped up around 9am when police intervened, according to journalists at the scene.

Among the 66 people taken into custody was Patrick Legras, one of the figures of Rural Coordination.

  • Farmers’ protests in France: a long and sometimes deadly history

‘Illegal’ action

Junior Minister for Agriculture Agnès Pannier-Runacher said the protest had not been declared and was therefore considered “illegal”.

“Everyone must respect the law,” she told Sud Radio.

“This does not mean that we should not listen to the anger of farmers and that is what we are doing by taking very concrete measures, emergency measures.”

Pannier-Runacher said financial aid was on its way directly to the farmyards.

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

‘Excessive rules’

Farmers across France and Europe have been protesting for weeks over what they say are excessively restrictive environmental rules, competition from cheap imports from outside the European Union, and low incomes.

Friday’s action came just ahead of the last weekend of France’s annual Agricultural Show, where politicians from across the spectrum have been attending in a show of support for the sector.

Macron’s visit on Saturday was met with angry whistles while protesters clashed with police.

Weeks of roadblocks and a potential “siege” of Paris were called off at the start of February after the government proposed certain measures, including a pause in the implementation of the Ecophyto plan to reduce pesticide use.

But farmer unions have continued to pressure the government for more concrete measures to address costs, while local groups have continued intermittant road and highway blockages.

(with AFP)


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Xavier Dolan to preside over Un Certain Regard jury at Cannes Film Festival

Canadian arthouse filmmaker and actor Xavier Dolan has been chosen to head up the jury of the Une Certain Regard category at the 77th Cannes Film Festival in May.

“I am humbled and delighted to return to Cannes as president of the Un Certain Regard jury,” Dolan told festival organisers on Thursday.

“Even more than making films myself, discovering the work of talented filmmakers has always been at the very heart of both my personal and professional journeys,” he said. 

Under Dolan’s presidency, the jury is expected to shine a light on stories that, in his own words, are “told truthfully”.

Dolan is no stranger to the Cannes Film Festival, where he received the Jury Prize for Mommy in 2014 and was member of the jury chaired by the Coen brothers at the 68th edition in 2015.

Close connection to Cannes

Originally from Montreal, in eastern Canada, Dolan came into the spotlight with I Killed My Mother, that he wrote, directed, produced and starred in at just 19 years of age.

It premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes in 2009 and won three awards. It was chosen to represent Canada for the Academy Awards the same year.   

Since 2009, he has written and directed eight feature films, all of which have premiered at Cannes, with the exception of Tom at the Farm – which premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival in 2013.

His first English-language film, The Death & Life of John F. Donovan, premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

In 2022, Xavier Dolan directed his first TV series, The Night Logan Woke Up.

Acting talent

As an actor, Dolan starred in films such as Boy Erased (2018) and It Chapter Two (2019) and dubbed dozens of films in the Quebecois French accent.

His role in Xavier Giannoli’s Lost Illusions (2021) earned him a nomination for the César Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Dolan has also directed music videos, notably with Adele for her singles Hello (2015), and Easy on Me (2021), for which he received a Grammy Award for Best Music Video nomination.

  • RFI’s coverage of the Cannes Film Festival 2023

But in July 2023, he shocked the cinema industry by announcing he would take a break from filmmaking, telling Spanish press that he was “tired”.

“I don’t need to make any more films…I’ve made a lot of them, and it’s enough. I don’t want to go through the process of post-production again…wondering if people are gonna watch my work.

‘I’ve been lucky’

“I had a very satisfying career. I’ve also expressed myself very freely. I’ve been lucky. I’ve never been told what to do or how to do it. I always kept my freedom.”

The announcement of Dolan’s presidency comes not long after news that Greta Gerwig, of Barbie fame will preside over the main competition jury.

“Let’s hold on to our dreams, because together we can change the world. Anything is possible for those who dare, work and never give up,” he said, looking forward to the challenge.

The official selection is due to be unveiled on 11 April and the festival runs from 14 – 25 May.


Senegal

Senegal opposition demands election to pick new president by April

Dakar, Senegal – Senegal’s President Macky Sall has again insisted he will leave power on 2 April, the day his mandate ends, despite postponing the election that would have picked his successor. The opposition has demanded that the vote be held before Sall’s term is up, but so far the president has only committed to calling an election before the end of July.

A “national dialogue”, which began earlier this week at Sall’s request, proposed holding the poll in June – and suggested that he should remain in power until a new president is elected, prompting an outcry from his opponents.

“The National Dialogue has called for the 2nd of June 2024 as the new date for presidential elections in Senegal,” Sall’s social media accounts posted on Thursday.

“I want to make it categorically clear that I will step down from office on the 2nd of April, as I have previously made clear,” the statement added. 

“My departure date is absolutely firm.”

In response, civil society group Aar Sunu Election (“Protect our Election”) said it was joining forces with opposition candidates and other activists to ensure the presidential election is held before Sall’s mandate runs out.

They have been organising under the name Fippu (“Resistance”) with a common objective: to hold the vote by April.

Activist Thieba Camara Sy told RFI: “Resistance is mobilising a massive popular front, ready to vigorously defend our constitution and guarantee the integrity of our electoral process.”

  • Senegalese presidential candidates unite in call for new election date

June vote?

But the political crisis talks that Sall called on Monday and Tuesday concluded that the presidential vote he postponed could not be held by the time his mandate ends.

Participants said there was a broad consensus that the election could not be held for at least three months from now.

The commission agreed that early June was the most feasible time for the vote, according to member Ndiawar Paye.

“The month of May has a number of religious festivals, so the elections could not be held then,” he said on Tuesday evening.

“Senegal’s national dialogue commission will recommend President Macky Sall remain in office until his successor is sworn in,” Paye added.

The participants also proposed keeping the list of 19 candidates already validated by the Constitutional Council, Senegal’s top election authority, before the original February election date. 

They suggested the possibility of re-examining whether the exclusion of a number of other opposition candidates was justified, a move that could see prominent challenger Karim Wade allowed back into the race.

The candidacy of another leading opponent, Ousmane Sonko, remains pending. Currently in prison, he is still waiting to learn if he will be released under an amnesty bill announced by Sall earlier this week.

Talks continue

Sall has said he wants to hold the election before the rainy season begins at the end of July. 

He had previously indicated he would ask the Constitutional Council to choose a temporary replacement to take over after his term ends in April.

Sall said he would speak with the national dialogue commission again on 4 March. 

The proposals discussed in the dialogue have to be submitted to the president, who must still issue a decree to convene the electoral body. The Constitutional Council also needs to validate the new election date. 

The council’s seven judges will also have to examine proposals concerning the inclusion of additional candidates and the extension of the current president’s term.

Most of the opposition and 15 of the 19 presidential candidates have refused to participate in the national dialogue, with some saying they believe the talks are only for show.

Read also:

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

(with newswires)

Spotlight on France

Podcast: #MeToo hits French cinema, mobile movie theatre, leap year paper

Issued on:

How a wave of #MeToo allegations against French directors is shaking up the cinema industry; the Cinémobile movie theatre bringing culture to the countryside; and the satirical news rag that appears just once every four years, on 29 February.

Seven years after the #MeToo movement shook Hollywood, Judith Godrèche and other actresses in France have broken the omertà around sexual abuse within the French movie industry, accusing several prominent directors of assault. Investigations are underway. Bérénice Hamidi, a specialist in the performing arts at Lyon University, talks about the extent to which this marks a turning point in French cinema culture, which for decades has fostered the idea that artists have “a free pass” to transgress the rules, and that the artist cannot be separated from his art. (Listen @0′)

With unrest still rumbling among farmers, France’s new culture minister says she wants people in rural areas to have more access to culture. A third of the French population lives in rural communities and Culture Minister Rachida Dati has launched a national consultation on schemes to serve them – schemes like the Cinémobile, a lorry that transforms into a cinema and visits small towns across central France. It’s been running for more than 40 years and despite entertainment being easier than ever to find online, something about the mobile movie theatre keeps audiences coming back. (Listen @18’08)

French administration has not always made it easy for people born on 29 February – a date that occurs just once every four years. But the satirical Bougie du sapeur newspaper has embraced and indeed lives for the date. Founded in 1980, its previous edition was on 29 February 2020. Editor Jean d’Indy talks about using humour to look at the news of the past four years in this year’s edition. (Listen @12′)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).


Israel – Hamas conflict

France calls for independent probe into Gaza aid delivery deaths

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday condemned the killing of dozens of Palestinians during an aid delivery in the northern Gaza Strip. Amid conflicting reports surrounding the incident, France has called for an independent probe.   

The Hamas-run health ministry condemned what it called a “massacre” in Gaza City in which 112 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.

The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of desperate Gazans surrounded a convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over by the lorries.

An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat”.

Writing on social media platform X, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “strongest condemnation” of the killings.

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

“Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers,” Macron wrote, calling for “truth, justice, and respect for international law.”

France’s foreign ministry said “the fire by Israeli soldiers against civilians trying to access food is unjustifiable”.

“We will ask for explanations, and there will have to be an independent probe to determine what happened,” France’s Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné told the France Inter broadcaster on Friday.

Thursday’s incident added to a Palestinian death toll from the Israel – Hamas conflict which the Gaza health ministry said had topped 30,000, mainly women and children.

Conflicting reports

 However, there were conflicting reports on what exactly unfolded in the hours before dawn on Thursday.

A witness in Gaza City, declining to be named for safety reasons, said the violence unfolded when thousands of people rushed towards aid trucks at the city’s western Nabulsi roundabout, with soldiers firing at the crowd “as people came too close” to tanks.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said the military had fired “a few warning shots” to try to disperse a crowd that had “ambushed” the aid trucks.

  • ICJ orders Israel to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza

When the crowd got too big, he said the convoy tried to retreat and “the unfortunate incident resulted in dozens of Gazans killed and injured”.

Aerial images released by the Israeli army showed what it said were scores of Gazans surrounding aid trucks in Gaza City.

Ali Awad Ashqir, who said he had gone to get some food for his starving family, told French news agency AFP he had been waiting for two hours when trucks began to arrive.

“The moment they arrived, the occupation army fired artillery shells and guns,” he said.

Army spokesman Hagari later denied Israeli forces carried out any shelling or strikes at the time.

Reactions worldwide

Meanwhile, reactions to the deaths have poured in from around the world.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell called the deaths of Palestinians “totally unacceptable”.

“I am horrified by news of yet another carnage among civilians in Gaza desperate for humanitarian aid,” he said on social media platform X. 

Many countries condemned the violence including Italy, Spain, Turkey, Qatar, Saudia Arabia and even China. 

“We express our grief for the victims and our sympathies for the injured,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.

  • EU still divided over sanctions against Israeli settler violence

US President Joe Biden said Washington was checking “two competing versions” of the incident, while a State Department spokesman said the United States had been in touch with Israel and was “pressing for answers” on what happened.

The shooting incident would complicate efforts to broker a truce, Biden said, later admitting that any deal was unlikely to happen by Monday – the timeline that he had predicted earlier this week.

The US president spoke with Qatari and Egyptian leaders in separate phone calls, the White House said, saying he discussed both the ceasefire and the “tragic and alarming” aid incident.

(with AFP)


PRESS FREEDOM

French journalist detained in Ethiopia released after a week

Addis Ababa (AFP) – A French journalist arrested last week in Ethiopia on suspicion of conspiring to create chaos was released on Thursday, his employer, the specialist publication Africa Intelligence, said.

 

Antoine Galindo was “freed after a week in prison and was able to leave Addis Ababa to return to Paris,” Paul Deutschmann, an editor-in-chief at the publication, told AFP.

Galindo, who heads the publication’s East Africa section, had travelled to Ethiopia to cover the African Union summit earlier this month and was arrested on February 22.

Authorities accused the 36-year-old reporter of conspiring “to create chaos” in the country.

“I’m well and I’m in good health,” he told AFP before leaving Addis Ababa.

“I’ve been treated well,” he added, despite what he described as difficult conditions in detention.

‘Real relief’

Deutschmann said Galindo’s release was a “real relief” to the entire staff of Africa Intelligence, who were eager to be reunited with him.

Galindo was arrested at a hotel in Addis Ababa while meeting an official from the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) party.

He was brought before a judge on Saturday, who ordered his detention be extended until March 1.

Media watchdogs urged the government to release Galindo, with the Committee to Protect Journalists saying Monday that his “unjust arrest highlights the atrocious environment for the press in general in Ethiopia”.

Ethiopia has expelled several foreign journalists since the end of 2020.

But prior to Galindo’s detention, authorities had not arrested a foreign journalist in more than three years.

In July 2020, a Kenyan journalist was detained for more than a month in Addis Ababa, despite an Ethiopian court ordering his release on bail.

Read also:

  • French journalist arrested in Ethiopia ‘assault on press freedom’ says RSF
  • Rights group Amnesty calls on Ethiopia to end social media blackout

OBESITY

More that 1 billion of world’s population is clinically obese, study shows

More than one billion people around the world are now suffering from obesity – with the number having more than quadrupled since 1990, according to a WHO study published by The Lancet medical journal.

The study – released Friday ahead of World Obesity Day on 4 March – estimates that there were about 226 million obese adults, adolescents and children in the world in 1990, and that figure rose to 1,038 million in 2022.

The “epidemic” is particularly hitting poorer countries and the rate is growing among children and adolescents faster than adults, according to the study carried out with the World Health Organization.

Francesco Branca, director of nutrition for health at the WHO, said the rise past one billion people has come “much earlier than we have anticipated”.

While doctors knew obesity numbers were rising fast, the symbolic figure had previously been expected in 2030.



According to The Lancet, researchers analysed the weight and height measurements of more than 220 million people in more than 190 countries to reach the estimates.

They estimated that 504 million adult women and 374 million men were obese in 2022, while the study said the obesity rate has nearly tripled for men (14 percent) since 1990 and more than doubled for women (18.5 percent).

Some 159 million children and adolescents were living with obesity in 2022, according to the study, up from about 31 million in 1990.

The chronic and complex illness is accompanied by a greater risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

Being overweight increased the risk of death during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Countries in Polynesia and Micronesia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa have suffered more from the rise.

“These countries now have higher obesity rates than many high-income industrialised countries, especially those in Europe,” the study said.

“In the past we have tended to think of obesity as a problem of the rich, now a problem of the world,” said Branca, who highlighted the fast lifestyle changes in low and middle-income countries.

  • Half of French population ‘either obese or overweight’
  • Tubby tourists force Venice gondoliers to slim down passenger numbers

Eating badly feeds obesity

The study’s lead author, Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, said there were signs that obesity was levelling out in some southern European countries such as France and Spain – “especially for women”.

But he said that in most countries there are more people suffering from obesity than being under-weight, which the study said has fallen since 1990.

While not eating enough is the main cause of being under-weight, eating badly is a prime factor for obesity.

Speaking on Irish national broadcaster RTE on Friday, Dr. Francis Finnucane, an endocrinologist at Galway University Hospital underlined that what has caused the obesity crisis “has undoubtedly been a change in how our diets have evolved over time.”

“We are overproducing and overmarketing very large quantities of very unhealthy foods … During and after World War II, governments around the world prioritised food security, and the availability of relatively cheap, long shelf life, energy dense food.

“We achieved that aim, and food security has gone up a great deal – and that’s a plus. But we’ve overshot the runway … and that has led to an overconsumption of these products.” 

The WHO has supported taxes on sugary drinks, limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and increasing subsidies for healthy foods. 

Experts say that new treatments against diabetes can also help combat obesity.


CLIMATE CHANGE

Energy-related CO2 emissions hit record levels in 2023, says IEA

Paris (AFP) – Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose to a record level in 2023, but the growth slowed from previous years thanks to continued expansion of clean technologies, the International Energy Agency said Friday.

CO2 emissions from energy rose by 1.1 percent in 2023, increasing by 410 million tonnes to a record 37.4 billion tonnes, slowing down from a gain of 490 million tonnes in 2022, the IEA said in its annual update on emissions.

The IEA said that without technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear power and electric cars, the global increase in energy-related CO2 emissions over the last five years would have been three times larger the 900 million tonnes registered.

‘Droughts to blame’

Over 40 percent of last year’s increase in carbon emissions from energy resulted from severe droughts in China, the United States, India and elsewhere which cut hydro-electric output and forced utilities to resort to fossil fuels.

Without the water shortfalls, global carbon emissions from power generation alone would have fallen last year.

Energy carbon emissions rose in China and India in 2023, while advanced economies saw a record fall even as their economies grew. Their emissions dropped to a 50-year low as coal demand fell back to levels not seen since the early 1900s.

  • France could meet climate goals if meat consumption is ‘halved’
  • Renewables to overtake coal as world’s main electricity source by 2025

For the first time last year, at least half the power generated in advanced economies came from low-emissions sources like renewables and nuclear.

Even as China’s emissions grew, it added as much solar PV capacity in 2023 as the entire world did in 2022.

“The clean energy transition has undergone a series of stress tests in the last five years -– and it has demonstrated its resilience,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

“A pandemic, an energy crisis and geopolitical instability all had the potential to derail efforts to build cleaner and more secure energy systems. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite in many economies.”


SWEDEN – NATO

The picturesque Swedish town being turned into a strategic military hub

By the end of this week Sweden could be a member of NATO, ending 200 years of neutrality and military non-alignment. But even before it cleared the final hurdle, the Nordic nation was already busy reordering its defences – transforming the central town of Ostersund into a military hub.

An important junction by rail and road, Ostersund is a picturesque old garrison town on the shores of the idyllic Storsjon Lake. Just over the other side of the mountains is Trondheim, a strategic harbour in Norway.

“Trondheim’s ice-free port is a gateway to the Nordic region for NATO,” explains Erik Essen, Ostersund’s military coordinator – a recently created post.

“It houses huge NATO warehouses, the US Navy and the headquarters of the Norwegian Air Force.”

Strategic role

Sweden is preparing to become a central logistics link in the defence of NATO’s north-eastern front, having applied to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

While it’s not worried about a direct strike, it can’t risk the chance that Moscow might one day test the strength of NATO in the neighbourhood.

“Five years ago, no one would have believed that Sweden could be drawn into a war,” Ostersund mayor Niklas Daoson told RFI.

  • EU must defend Ukraine, Macron says during state visit to Sweden

“Now it’s become a possibility … So we need to use the time we have left to rebuild a credible defence – both for the country and as a NATO member.”

The biggest challenge is to rapidly modernise the country’s infrastructure to allow for the transport of tanks and hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the Arctic, Finland and the Baltic states.

Sweden earlier signed a deal giving the US access to 17 of its military bases. The first agreement of its kind between the two countries, it came as Sweden waited a year and half for Turkey and Hungary to ratify its accession to NATO.

  • Sweden deal unlikely to resolve bitter dispute between NATO and Turkey

Peaceful history

While Swedes have historically viewed themselves as a peaceful nation, some 60 percent threw their support behind the choice to join NATO.

The move marks a major shift in national identity, with Sweden this year also restarting compulsory civic conscription – a type of national service that ended after the Cold War.

The country reintroduced military conscription in 2018 after an eight-year pause, and is stepping up the numbers of men and women called up for duty.

According to Bloomberg, Sweden wants to almost double the number of conscripts to 10,000 by 2030 – including a small percentage who will be called up for military service whether or not they agree.

Meanwhile membership of NATO also means increased defence spending. A 2024 defence law increases spending by 27 billion kronor (€2.4 billion). Of that amount, some €58 million will be spent on NATO.

Now that all NATO allies have ratified Sweden’s membership, a flag-raising ceremony is expected at its headquarters in Brussels as early as this week.


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)

    Spotlight on France

    Podcast: #MeToo hits French cinema, mobile movie theatre, leap year paper

    Issued on:

    How a wave of #MeToo allegations against French directors is shaking up the cinema industry; the Cinémobile movie theatre bringing culture to the countryside; and the satirical news rag that appears just once every four years, on 29 February.

    Seven years after the #MeToo movement shook Hollywood, Judith Godrèche and other actresses in France have broken the omertà around sexual abuse within the French movie industry, accusing several prominent directors of assault. Investigations are underway. Bérénice Hamidi, a specialist in the performing arts at Lyon University, talks about the extent to which this marks a turning point in French cinema culture, which for decades has fostered the idea that artists have “a free pass” to transgress the rules, and that the artist cannot be separated from his art. (Listen @0′)

    With unrest still rumbling among farmers, France’s new culture minister says she wants people in rural areas to have more access to culture. A third of the French population lives in rural communities and Culture Minister Rachida Dati has launched a national consultation on schemes to serve them – schemes like the Cinémobile, a lorry that transforms into a cinema and visits small towns across central France. It’s been running for more than 40 years and despite entertainment being easier than ever to find online, something about the mobile movie theatre keeps audiences coming back. (Listen @18’08)

    French administration has not always made it easy for people born on 29 February – a date that occurs just once every four years. But the satirical Bougie du sapeur newspaper has embraced and indeed lives for the date. Founded in 1980, its previous edition was on 29 February 2020. Editor Jean d’Indy talks about using humour to look at the news of the past four years in this year’s edition. (Listen @12′)

    Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

    Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).

    International report

    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.


    Sponsored content

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

    Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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    Presented by

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

    Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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