rfi 2024-03-03 04:41:09



FRANCE – AGRICULTURE

Imported honey lands French beekeepers in sticky situation

French beekeepers showing off their gooey goodies at the Agriculture Fair in Paris say that selling their honey has become increasingly difficult because the market is saturated with imports. A rollback on pesticide rules is also causing worry for the welfare of bees. 

French people are very fond of honey and of other beehive products.

Around 45,000 tonnes of honey is consumed in France every year. This makes France one of Europe’s top honey-consuming countries, with the average person consuming 600 grams of honey. 

In France more and more honey is eaten each year, with at least 75 percent of people consuming the golden nectar on a regular basis.

But over the last 20 years, the amount of honey produced in France has fallen dramatically.

Imported honey

“A recent study shows that over 46 percent of honey in supermarkets is imported,” Mélanie, a beekeeper based in Seine et Marne near Paris, told RFI.

“France doesn’t produce enough honey for its consumers, so importing honey is fair enough. But perhaps it’s also time for supermarkets to promote French honey.”

France imports an average of 35,000 tonnes of honey every year. Most of this comes from Ukraine and Spain, but also Germany, Argentina and China.

Earlier this month, more than 50 beekeepers removed “non-French honey” from the shelves of a supermarket near Nantes, in western France, while also denouncing the use of pesticides in agriculture.

French beekeeping professionals say the sector is under-exploited. France has a huge range of honey varieties, but the production is not keeping pace with demand.

“France makes excellent honey, we have excellent habitats, but honey costing less than €5 a kilo isn’t worth producing,” she Mélanie adds.

Raphaël, a beekeeper and organice honey producer from eastern France, agrees.

“For both organic and conventional beekeepers in France, it is very difficult to sell our products,” he says.

“We’re dealing with colleagues who have huge stocks. Generally, we work a year in advance. This allows us to smooth out a very bad production year.

“Now we’re mostly working two years in advance, and our revenues have started to fall very, very low.”

Easing of pesticide rules

The other problem the beekeeping economy faces is the suspension of Ecophyto 2030 plan cutting down on pesticides used in agriculture.

Beekeepers work a lot with farmers grow spring polyfloral, sunflower and buckwheat honey.

“It’s clear that if we’re suddenly told that phytosanitary products (inclusing pesticides) have to be used on crops, there’s going to be a disaster down the line,” Mélanie says.

“It is a proven fact that pesticides kill bees.”

Then there are other factors contributing to bee mortality such as the Asian hornet, varroa mites and climate change.

“I understand that farmers need these products, but we’re also going to have to work with beekeepers because there are a lot of us in France too,” Mélanie adds.

“A plan must be put in place to protect our biodiversity and our profession, while also working with farmers.”


Chad elections

Chad’s interim leader Deby confirms plan to run for president

Chad’s interim president Mahamat Idriss Deby says he plans to run in this year’s long-awaited presidential race, three days after his chief rival was killed in disputed circumstances..

Deby’s confirmation on Saturday came at the end of a chaotic week in which opposition politician Yaya Dillo was shot and killed in the capital N’Djamena.

Dillo’s death on Wednesday in disputed circumstances has further exposed divisions in the ruling elite at a politically sensitive time as the Central African country prepares for the promised return to democratic rule via the ballot box.

Addressing a crowd of supporters and state officials, Deby announced his candidacy in a speech that made no reference to the recent violence.

“I, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, am a candidate for the 2024 presidential election under the banner of the ‘For a United Chad’ coalition,” he said in a speech. “It is … with a mixture of honour, humility, responsibility and gratitude that I accept this nomination.”

Deby Itno took power in 2021 after his father, veteran leader Idriss Deby Itno, was killed in clashes with rebels.

He had promised a return to civilian rule and elections within 18 months, but his government later adopted resolutions that delayed elections until 2024 and allowed him to run for president.

The date of the presidential elections was announced on Tuesday, barely two months before the vote. 

Deby’s uncle arrested

On Friday, the government confirmed that Deby’s uncle, General Saleh Deby Itno, had been arrested in the wake of Wednesday’s events in which “dozens” of people had been killed or wounded, according to local authorities.

General Itno had recently defected to Dillo’s party, the Socialist Party Without Borders.

“He has now been charged by the public prosecutor and his life is in no danger,” government spokesperson Abderaman Koulamallah said, without specifying what charges Itno faces.

  • Macron hosts Chad’s Deby with Niger troop withdrawal topping agenda

The state prosecutor, Oumar Mahamat Kedelaye, said at a news conference  on Wednesday that Dillo was killed during an exchange of gunfire with security forces. The Chadian government has accused members of Dillo’s party of also attacking the internal security agency.

Chadian rebel group the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) and the CNRD opposition party have described Dillo’s death as an assassination. Analysts say the circumstances are unclear.

Rights group Human Rights Watch called on Saturday for a foreign-backed independent investigation into Dillo’s killing.

“The killing of a potential presidential candidate during an assault by Chadian security forces on an opposition party headquarters raises serious concerns about the environment for elections scheduled for May 6,” HRW said in a statement.

(with newswires)


Press freedom

17 suspects in journalist’s murder to stand trial in Cameroon

Seventeen people, including a top businessman and an ex-secret service chief will stand trial in Cameroon over the kidnapping and killing of popular journalist Martinez Zogo early last year, according to court papers seen by French media on Saturday.

The badly mutilated corpse of Arsene Salomon Mbani Zogo, known as “Martinez”, was found a few days after his abduction in front of a police station outside the capital Yaounde on 17 January, 2023.

The 50-year-old radio reporter and former director of radio Amplitude FM hosted a popular daily programme, Embouteillage (Gridlock). An outspoken critic of alleged corruption and cronyism in Cameroon, he would often single out government officials by name.

The Yaoundé military court in Cameroon on Friday closed its judicial investigation, saying “sufficient charges against the indicted” justified ending the judicial enquiry and setting a trial. The date has yet to be confirmed.

The suspects include Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga, an influential businessman and owner of Anecdote media group, who was arrested two weeks after Martinez’s murder.

“He has been ordered to stand trial on a fabricated charge – complicity in torture,” Belinga’s lawyer Charles Tchoungang told France’s AFP news agency.

Maxime Leopold Eko Eko, former head of Cameroon‘s DGRE counter-espionage agency, must also stand trial on charges of complicity in torture.

The DGRE’s operations director, Justin Danwe, faces charges of complicity in murder.

  • Mourning begins as missing Cameroon journalist Zogo found dead


International NGOs say the regime of President Paul Biya, 91, who has ruled with an iron fist for more than 41 years, routinely curtails opposition.

And many Cameroonians fear justice may never be done in a country ranked by Reporters Without Borders as 118th out of 180 for press freedom. 

 After both Belinga and Eko Eko were freed from detention without formal explanation in December, a new investigative judge – the third – was named to handle the case. 

Rights group Human Rights Watch says freedom of expression continues to be restricted in Cameroon, noting that three independent journalists were killed there last year. 

(with AFP)


Navalny

Macron hails ‘courage’ of Russians risking arrest to honour Navalny

French President Emmanuel Macron has praised the “courage” of thousands of Russians who risked arrest to mourn opposition leader Alexei Navalny as he was buried in Moscow on Friday. A Russia specialist in France sees signs the Kremlin is nervous.

Large crowds of Navalny supporters queued for hours on Frriday to pay their respects to the 47-year-old – President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic for more than a decade.

Surrounded by a heavy police presence, they risked arrest chanting “No to war!”, “Russia will be free and “Russia without Putin” as they streamed from a nearby church to the cemetery .

Some branded Putin a “murderer” and called for the release of political prisoners.

“Courage was needed to go and pay tribute to Alexei Navalny. Thousands of Russians did not fail to do so. That is his heritage,” President Macron said in a post on X.

Rights monitoring group OVD-Info said Russian police had arrested at least 128 people attending tributes in 19 cities on Friday.

Navalny died in an Arctic prison colony last month, where he was serving a 19-year sentence on “extremism” charges largely seen as politically motivated.

Few details are known on the cause of his death. Officials say he collapsed after going for a walk but his wife alleges he was killed on the orders of President Putin.

‘Striking’ turnout

Russia has cracked down hard on all dissent since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Strict military censorship laws have been used to prosecute hundreds that have spoken out publicly against the campaign.

Given the clampdown on all forms of political opposition “the strong presence of Russian citizens paying tribute to Navalny is very striking” says Russia expert Françoise Daucé.

“They braved danger to pay him a final tribute, it’s almost a surprise,” she told RFI, underlining that there was also an “impressive” four million people who followed the ceremony on the Navalny Team YouTube channel.

With the majority of opposition activists either in prison or living in exile, including Navalny’s widow and brother, there are fears that the opposition leader’s death has put paid once and for all to any hope of a challenge to Vladimir Putin.

But Daucé believes there are encouraging signs. That thousands of ordinary people are prepared to turn out and show support for Navalny  suggests that “in the long run … political protest could resurface”.

Despite the total lack of insitutional opposition, she points to a disparity between this absence of threat and yet the energy the regime deploys to control any criticism, repressing even the most symbolic forms of protest.

“It reflects a kind of nervousness… [the Kremlin] senses there are contrary opinions, perhaps even headwinds blowing within Russian society.”


Fake news

France blames bed bug panic on Russian ‘disinformation’

A bedbug scare in Paris last autumn that grabbed headlines across the globe and led to schools closing was artificially amplified by social media accounts linked to Russian “disinformation” activities, a French minister has said.

“The bed bug polemic was in a very large part amplified by accounts linked to the Kremlin, and they even created a false link between the arrival of Ukrainian refuges and the spread of bedbugs,” French European affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot told TF1 television on Friday.

After social media users published footage of the insects crawling around in high-speed trains and the Paris metro, the scare picked up traction on French and foreign media.

The city of Paris’ deputy mayor called on the government to help stamp out the bugs ahead of the Paris Olympics in summer 2024 – some schools and classes were temporarily closed and a deep inspection of metros and trains was carried out.

  • French government to hold crisis meetings on bedbug ‘scourge’

The authorities, however, found no trace of any unusual outbreak.

Destabilising public opinion

The media had already reported that French intelligence services concluded there was a link between Russia and the bed bug panic, but this is the first time a French minister has confirmed it in public.

Asked if the government believes Russian accounts had “orchestrated” the panic, Barrot did not confirm, saying the disinformation campaign had rather “amplified” an existing scare with the aim of creating a sentiment of insecurity.

Barrot said that Russian cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns had accelerated since the start of the war in Ukraine two years ago.

“We know this because of the Viginum service created in 2021, whose mission it is to detect such manoeuvres that aim to destabilise public opinion in France and to weaken public support for Ukraine,” he said.

French military and cybersecurity experts recently uncovered an extensive network of Moscow-based fake news sites that were spreading Russian propaganda and disinformation across Western Europe.

In November last year, France blamed a Russian disinformation campaign for amplifying on social media Stars of David that had been dawbed on walls on 31 October in Paris, shortly after war broke out in Gaza.

  • Probe into Stars of David graffiti in Paris suggests foreign interference

(with newswires)


MALAWI – HEALTH

Rising cholera infections in Malawi raise fears of another deadly pandemic

Namithuthu, Nsanje – Two years after Malawi experienced its deadliest ever cholera outbreak, a spate of sporadic infections is once again causing alarm. With 59,000 cases since 2022, Malawi has become the worst-hit country in southern Africa – where climate impacts and poor border controls are helping to fuel transmission of the illness.

At the Nyamithuthu health centre, in Malawi’s southern-most district of Nsanje, Maria Khumbize is busy preparing porridge for her three children.

Her son, 18, and daughter, 2, are lying in bed hooked up to an intravenous drip. They have been in hospital for two days.

“It all started with fever and abdominal pain followed by diarrhea,” she says, pointing at her other daughter, aged six.

“She was the one who first caught the disease, but has since been discharged … They have all tested positive for cholera.”

Khumbize suspects that a family member who visited them from neighbouring Mozambique brought the infection across the border.

  • Death toll in Malawi climbs as citizens clean up after cyclone Freddy

Lack of clean water

The new surge in cases has been linked to a lack of clean water facilities, such as boreholes.

“According to our analysis, most people are coming from the shores of Shire river,” says Thomson Madani, a medical assistant at the Nyamithuthu centre.

“We have cases some coming from Malawi, some coming from Mozambique, but they use the same river as their main source of water.

Meanwhile in Malawi’s eastern Mulanje district, 93 cholera cases have been registered since January – with 10 percent of patients having recently travelled to Mozambique.

  • Cholera outbreak in Malawi kills more than 1,200 with ‘very high’ risk of spread

“We’re doing surveillance making sure that we know if anyone has symptoms so that they can be identified,” says Dr Stalin Zikanda, the director of health at Mulanje District Hospital.

“We are also educating people on cholera prevention and distributing chlorine to affected areas, and we’re making sure that people are being taught about hygiene issues.”

Zikanda pointed to a shortage of cholera vaccines as one of the main challenges. 

So far the hospital has been distributing the vaccine, which also acts as a treatment – but there are not enough doses for the entire district.

“That’s why there haven’t been any deaths in our cholera treatment unit,” Zikanda adds.

Cross-border spread

About 188,000 cholera cases, including 3,000 related deaths, have been reported in eight countries in southern Africa since January 2023, the UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA, reported.

“A lack of sustainable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services (WASH) continue to impede efforts to curb further spread and control of the disease,” the agency said.

Malawi has reported 643 deaths so far this year.

  • Malawi: How scientists mapped mosquito breeding grounds using drones

“There is the potential threat of cross-border transmission as there are reports of severe cholera outbreaks going on in neighboring countries, notably, in Zambia,” Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda warned.

While figures from Malawi’s Health Ministry show a decline in the number of cases reported this season compared to last, the pockets of rising infections have been described as a wake-up call by campaigners.

“Cholera is still in our midst. It’s high time that we started to intensify awareness raising and distribution of chlorine to communities that do not have reliable sources of water,” says George Jobe, the director of Malawi Health Equity Network, an NGO based in the capital, Lilongwe.

“We don’t want to go back to the old situation where we lost many people.”


EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024

Who is Valérie Hayer, Macron’s unknown champion for the European elections?

Centrist MEP Valérie Hayer has been appointed to head President Emmanuel Macron’s list for the European elections in June. RFI looks into the background of this little-known candidate, who has a fight on her hands as the French far right prepares for battle on the hustings. 

Now 37, Hayer was a local councillor for the centrist UDI party before switching to Macron’s camp in 2017.

She entered the European Parliament in 2019, and was appointed to lead the parliament’s liberal Renew Europe group in January 2024.

But she has no national profile in France, prompting some observers to question Macron’s decision to put her first in line to be elected in the upcoming European polls – which are expected to be a key test of voters’ faith in the EU.

Speaking to the right-wing Le Figaro daily, Hayer brushed off such concerns: “Maybe I’m still unknown to the general public, but that’s not the case in the halls of the European Parliament. Some of my competitors couldn’t say the same.”



‘The farmer’s daughter’

Born in France’s north-western Mayenne department in 1986, Hayer – who likes to describe herself as “the daughter, granddaughter and sister of farmers” – is a timely pick in the light of French farmers’ anger towards Macron’s government and their deep mistrust of EU agricultural policy. 

“I’m lucky enough to have grown up on a farm with my sister and brother,” Hayer told TF1 television this week, saying she was “very proud to come from the farming world”.

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

Hayer initially wanted to become a veterinary surgeon, but went on to study public law.

She was quickly drawn to the world of politics, becoming a local councillor in her home region at the age of 21 – the same year she joined the UDI.

From local politics, Hayer went on to become vice-president of the Mayenne department in 2016, joining Macron’s party – then named En Marche, since renamed Renaissance – in 2017.

European track record

Two years later she was elected to the European Parliament and has since played an active role in negotiating the rolling European budget and the post-Covid recovery plan.

In a foretaste of the next three months of campaigning, Hayer has regularly crossed swords with the far-right National Rally led by Jordan Bardella, as well as Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s hard-left France Unbowed group.

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

Speaking on her first campaign visit on Friday, to a farm in her native Mayenne, Hayer stressed that she did not want “Europe and agriculture to be opposed”.

“I don’t want Europe and agriculture to be pitted against each other. The reality is that … French farmers need Europe,” she said.

“Every year, €10 billion of European money goes to support French farmers. I fought to get it at the very beginning of my term of office. I can guarantee you that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.”

Hayer’s farming credentials will be put to the test on Saturday when she attends the politically charged Paris Agriculture Show, where angry farmers last weekend greeted Macron with whistles and insults.


Asia-Pacific

Will Australia turn to France for backup amid Pacific arms race?

As Australia announces plans to double its naval fleet and boost defence spending, the country is also looking to France to help counter China’s expanding influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Last week, Australia outlined a 10-year plan to double its fleet of major warships and boost defence spending by the equivalent of €6.5 billion.

“It is the largest fleet that we will have since the end of the Second World War,” said Defence Minister Richard Marles.

In an op-ed for China’s Global Times, which often echos the official line of the Communist Party, analyst Qin Sheng accused Australia of descending “into the abyss of an arms race” caused by the US, which “has been using its influence to peddle a cold war mentality to its allies both in Europe and the Western Pacific”. 

But analysts say Australia is facing a genuine and serious threat.

The Australian government’s latest defence strategy review, published last year, posed the question: does Australia have the capability to defend itself in the new circumstances of our time?

“The answer was no,” says Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor of politics with the University of New South Wales based at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

“Strategic analysts worry about China breaking through the island chain and positioning itself. So we’re no longer defending from the north, but from the north and our rear. And that would affect France as well.”

01:19

Carlyle Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy

Jan van der Made

The review states that the US is no longer “the unipolar leader of the Indo-Pacific” and that as a result of the growing rivalry between Beijing and Washington, “the region has seen the return of major power strategic competition”.

As a consequence, the paper continues, “for the first time in 80 years, we must go back to fundamentals, to take a first-principles approach as to how we manage and seek to avoid the highest level of strategic risk we now face as a nation: the prospect of major conflict in the region that directly threatens our national interest”.

‘Arc of instability’

Beijing has been making inroads into the Pacific in recent years, chipping away diplomatic allies from Taiwan. 

Just four years ago, the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic relations to Beijing, last year followed by Kiribati and Nauru. Suddenly, a string of Pacific states that used to have ties with democratic Taiwan had switched allegiance to communist China, casting uncertainty over security in the region. 

Australia’s regional concerns first came to light in the late 1990s and 2000s, when commentators referred to an “arc of instability” in the South Pacific – a chain of supposedly volatile states, including Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

In 2003, Australia led a “regional assistance mission” to the Solomons, a police and military deployment that officially ended in 2017. Since then Australia has started a development programme in the country, but spent only some €485 million over five years. 

But in April 2022, Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China, ringing alarm bells in Canberra and Washington. According to Thayer, Australia and the US are concerned that Beijing might want to expand its naval operations.

“The last thing anybody in Australia wants is China to begin docking coast guard ships and then military ships, and then making a presence or a lodgement in the area that we have to keep an eye on,” he says. 

France in the middle

Meanwhile, Paris is caught in the middle. With overseas territories New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia, France is a substantial power in the Pacific. 

France currently deploys 7,000 defence personnel, 15 warships and 38 aircraft in the Indo-Pacific zone. Its navy is the largest force in the Pacific Islands.

  • China expands military might as far as French borders with Solomon Islands pact 

Like Australia and the US, France is concerned about China’s growing military presence there.

In a 2021 strategic update, the French defence ministry warned that China had “doubled its defence budget since 2012, making it the second largest in the world, while expanding its nuclear arsenal and showing new ambitions in terms of power projection”.

The Pacific region is “extraordinarily vast, bigger than the continental United States in area”, points out Thayer. And France’s New Caledonia finds itself bordering the Beijing-friendly Solomon Islands.

Resurfacing after submarine debacle

France was initially happy to engage in some of the military exercises organised by Quad countries the US, Australia, India and Japan.

But the relationship went sour when Australia dumped a lucrative French submarine deal in exchange for a US contract for nuclear subs and membership of the trilateral Aukus alliance between Canberra, London and Washington. France’s enthusiasm for a common defence policy promptly cooled.

  • Sinking of submarine deal leaves Franco-US friendship in tatters

Though relations are back to normal now, France has not yet joined US and Australian protests about China’s latest attempts to gain influence in the region. 

“Things were going quite well before the axing of the submarine issue,” says Thayer, who himself taught French officials deployed as defence attachés in Canberra. “French people began speaking in English! And you could see that relationship developing.”

The submarine debacle was a temporary setback, he believes.

“I think they’ll be picking up on it. Since Australia is considered the partner for the region, working together [would] help on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, monitoring at sea, and the larger issue that strategic analysts worry about – China breaking through the island chain and positioning itself so we’re no longer defending from the north, but from the north and our rear.

“And that would affect France as well,” Thayer points out.

“So I see a growing convergence in interest … To me it’s a win-win situation.”


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)


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.

The Sound Kitchen

There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 33

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen, a special treat: RFI English listeners’ musical requests. Just click on the “Play” button above and enjoy!

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday. This week, you’ll hear musical requests from your fellow listeners Sultan Mahmud from Naogaon, Bangladesh, Hossen Abed Ali from Rangpur, Bangladesh, and Jayanta Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India.

Be sure you send in your music requests! Write to me at thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Prezident oldida qo’shiq kuyladi” by Mohisharifa Matchonova, performed by Aida; “Heart of Gold”, written and performed by Neil Young, and “Gypsy Queen” by Chris Norman, performed by Norman and Smokie.

The quiz will be back next Saturday, 9 March. Be sure and tune in! 


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.

The Sound Kitchen

There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 33

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen, a special treat: RFI English listeners’ musical requests. Just click on the “Play” button above and enjoy!

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday. This week, you’ll hear musical requests from your fellow listeners Sultan Mahmud from Naogaon, Bangladesh, Hossen Abed Ali from Rangpur, Bangladesh, and Jayanta Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India.

Be sure you send in your music requests! Write to me at thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Prezident oldida qo’shiq kuyladi” by Mohisharifa Matchonova, performed by Aida; “Heart of Gold”, written and performed by Neil Young, and “Gypsy Queen” by Chris Norman, performed by Norman and Smokie.

The quiz will be back next Saturday, 9 March. Be sure and tune in! 

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


Sponsored content

Presented by

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.


Sponsored content

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.