rfi 2024-03-04 10:35:42



WOMEN’S RIGHTS

France set to make history by enshrining abortion rights in constitution

French lawmakers head to Versailles Palace Monday for a special parliamentary congress – the final step in an historic process to guarantee the right for women to access abortion. The issue has been at the centre of a long political and legal tug-of-war, and comes two years after the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

A total of 925 members of the National Assembly and the Senate will travel by bus to Versailles on Monday afternoon to vote on amending Article 34 of the constitution in order to “guarantee the freedom of women to have access to an abortion”.

Three-fifths of them need to vote for the amendment in order for it to pass; and if they do, as expected, France will become the only country in the world to clearly protect the right to terminate a pregnancy in its basic law.

The government said in its introduction to the bill that the change was needed after the rollback of abortion rights in the United States, where in June 2022 the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that guaranteed access to the procedure nationwide.

Since then, some 20 states have banned abortion outright or severely restricted access, while others have moved to protect it.

‘Writing history’

The move to enshrine abortion rights in the French constitution passed its biggest hurdle on Wednesday, when it was adopted by the Senate.

Elected officials and NGOs welcomed the result. Planning familial (Planned Parenthood) called it “a message of hope to feminists around the world”, while hard left MP Mathilde Panot said: “We are writing history.”

The Osez le Féminisme (Dare Feminism) activist group hailed the move as a “victory for feminists and for all women who want to guarantee the right to control their body”.

  • Abortion rights champion Simone Veil honoured at France’s Panthéon

Alice Bordaçarre, head of Women’s rights and gender equality at the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), said taking steps to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution would shield it from attack.

She warned that “entire rights”, or pro-life, groups’ voices were getting louder in France and other countries – especially the US, Brazil, and Russia – supported by the Vatican.

“Some of the conservative parliamentarians [in France] are using the same arguments,” she told France 24, adding that “women’s rights are human rights”.

Extra safeguard

While abortion and access to contraception has been legal in France since 1975 under the Veil Act, there was nothing preventing successive governments from rolling back the law.

Rights organisations have said enshrining the law as a constitutional right would protect it from political manipulation and fluctuations in public opinion.

“Hopefully this change will inspire other European nations to follow suit,” said Anna Blus, researcher at Amnesty International specialising in women’s rights.

She referred to situations in other countries such as Poland, where it is hoped the new government will take steps to lift restrictive measures on abortions.

Getting an abortion in Europe is neither easy nor guaranteed.

  • Should France guarantee supply of abortion drugs by producing its own?

Discrepancies across Europe

Ninety-five percent of women in Europe live in countries that allow some access to abortion. Thirty-nine European countries have legalised access to abortion on request, albeit with some restrictions.

Six countries have strict limits in place, although only three (Andorra, Malta and San Marino) do not allow abortion at all.

But even when the procedure is legal, short timeframes, complicated administrative steps, lack of access and social stigma can block access.

“Living in Europe is taking part in abortion lottery,” said Megan Clement, editor of the feminist newsletter Impact.

“Access to abortion is extremely patchy, and there is very little congruence between countries or even within countries,” she told France 24. “It totally depends where you live, as to whether you have access to a safe abortion within a reasonable timeframe.”

Uneven access

In 2022, the French government passed a law extending the limit on elective abortions from 12 to 14 weeks, and allowed midwives to perform the some procedures while also prohibiting doctors from using the the so-called conscience clause to refuse to do them.

Abortion care is fully reimbursed by France’s social security system, but access varies across the country, particularly in rural areas.

To address such inequalities, one suggestion is to increase access to medical abortions, using a pill that can taken at home, unsupervised.

While the World Health Organization said abortion pills could be safely self-administered within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, French law only allows medication abortion within the first nine weeks.

The method accounts for at least 90 percent of abortions taking place before 13 weeks of pregnancy and at least half of abortions overall in Europe.


European elections

French far-right makes immigration focus of EU election campaign

Launching its campaign for June’s European parliament elections, France’s far-right National Rally wants the vote to be a referendum on immigration.

“It is quite clear these elections on 9 June are a referendum against being submerged by migrants,” Jordan Bardella, the president of the National Rally, who will lead the party in the lections, told the first campaign rally in the southern port city of Marseille on Sunday.

“It is up to the French people to decide who is allowed to enter the country and who is not. With us France will protect its borders,” he said in the closing address, in front of a poster with the campaign’s slogan: “France is back, Europe returns to life”.

According to the French national statistics office, Insee, ten percent of people living in France in 2022 were born abroad, compared to five percent in 1946, and 8.5 percent in 2010. About a third of those immigrants have become French.

In January French the Constitutional Council struck down large parts of a new immigration law that included far-right backed measures to limit access to social benefits for foreigners and establish migration quotas.

Polls predicting success

The RN poses a major challenge to France’s mainstream parties, especially President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance, with some opinion polls giving the party up to 30 percent of the vote.

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

Like elsewhere in Europe, the far right in France has made headway on issues like the cost of living crisis and the farmers’ protests over high costs and too much regulation. They have also benefited from a general resentment towards the political elite.

Bardella and Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the party’s founder and a former party president, who said she would be last on the list, in a symbolic position, both lashed out at Macron during the meeting in Marseille.

Macron bashing

Le Pen said that Macron, called him a president “under siege”, pointing to the hostile welcome he received from farmers at the annual agriculture fair in Paris last week, and protests against his unpopular reforms.

She also criticised Macron’s recent comments that he would not rule out deploying European troops to Ukraine, saying the President “thinks he can find political salvation in warlike posturing that astounded the French people”.

(with Reuters)


Environment

French police arrest activists for breaking into ‘forever chemicals’ plant

Eight environmental activists were arrested on Saturday after they broke into a French chemicals to denounce the production of so-called “forever chemicals” – PFAS compounds – which reportedly can have serious impacts on health and the environment.

Around 300 people from the Extinction Rebellion and Youth for Climate groups cut through fences to reach the Arkema site at Pierre-Benite factory near Lyon in southeast France, a spokesman for the organisers said.

Once inside they deployed banners and spray-painted graffiti including “PFAS tell the truth” and “Arkema is poisoning us”. Police counted around 150 protesters.

“We want to close to door for the ‘forever chemicals’ that Arkema is dumping into the Rhone river,” Julien, a spokesman for the organisers, told AFP news agency.

“And at the same time, we want to open the door because everything that’s happening here is being done in secret,” he said. 

Forever pollution

PFAS, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of around 4,000 chemical compounds often referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their long lifespans in bodies and the environment. They resist grease, oil, water and heat.

Experts say that exposure to some types of PFAS have been linked to serious health effects.

American regulators said this week that materials with PFAS would no longer be sold to package microwave popcorn or other greasy foods in the United States.

Arkema said in a statement that the Pierre-Benite site would stop using PFAS compounds to manufacture its products by the end of this year.



  • Pharmaceutical plant found to have leaked neurotoxin in south-western France

France’s industry minister Roland Lescure denounced the protest, saying on X that “Disagreeing and debating, yes. Destroying, no”.

The protest came as another chemicals group, Daikin, is seeking to build a new production site nearby, which has sparked protests from residents.

Regional authorities said: “The new site from Daikin will not lead to PFAS runoffs in the water, unlike the Arkema site which has been subject to a September 2022 decree that calls for halting the use of PFAS surfactants by the end of 2024.”

(AFP)


Culture

Cinémobile, a cinema on wheels bringing the big screen to rural France

For the past four decades, people in the centre of France have had a cinema unlike most: one on wheels. The Cinémobile – a lorry that transforms into a movie theatre – tours towns across the Loire Valley, delivering thousands of showings to rural communities each year.

Of the 41 years that Cinémobiles have been operating, Philippe Leroy has driven them for 33. 

“Time goes quickly. I don’t feel like I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, but it’s more than a job – it’s a passion,” he says. 

With one of the day’s four showings down and the second underway, driver-projectionist Leroy is taking a break outside the Jacques Tati, one of three Cinémobile trucks that crisscross the Centre-Val de Loire region, setting up in one of 46 different towns every day.  

Back when he started in the early 1990s, he laughs, “I wouldn’t be out here talking to you”. In those days the projector ran on reels of 35-millimetre film – five or six of them for every full-length feature, handed down from permanent cinemas and sometimes held together by tape. 

“We couldn’t leave the projector, because [the film] might break at any moment,” Leroy recalls. Now everything’s digital, he explains. “Today, with one of these little hard drives, it’s all good.” 

The first Cinémobile set out in 1983. Launched by a local cultural association, the scheme was taken over by the regional council in 1989.

Technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed since then.

“We don’t have the same audiences anymore,” says Leroy. “We get a lot fewer people.” 

In the days before premium TV and video on demand, a Cinémobile might sell as many as 600 tickets in a single day, says Leroy, who remembers putting on extra late-night showings of Titanic to pack in spectators queuing down the street. 

These days, people in even the remotest of areas have plenty of options for watching the latest blockbuster. To keep drawing an audience, Cinémobiles have to provide something more. 

Listen to this story on the Spotlight in France podcast:

Moving pictures

Today the truck is in Mer, a town of around 6,300 people about 20 kilometres from the nearest bricks-and-mortar cinema. 

“Here the cinema comes right to their door, so that’s even better. Plus tickets are cheaper,” says Pascal Lerede, the town councillor in charge of events. 

Subsidised by the region and local councils, the Cinémobiles sell full-price tickets at €6.50, with reductions for schoolchildren, seniors, people with disabilities and others. 

Their programming differentiates them too. Managed by regional cultural agency Ciclic, the line-up includes independent films, shorts, documentaries and locally shot productions alongside mainstream hits. 

This afternoon there’s a showing of Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans for a class of middle schoolers studying English, followed by Comme Un Prince (Like A Prince) – a French film shot at the nearby chateau of Chambord.   

Other days might feature talks by directors, or post-screening drinks. The project works closely with schools, too. Of 58,800 tickets sold last year, 23,200 went to pupils, from high schools right down to nurseries.

Théophile Petitjean, another projectionist who arrives to take over from Leroy, says his favourite showings are the ones for the very youngest – some of whom may never have been to another cinema in their lives. 

He recounts: “Once a little one came up to me afterwards and asked: ‘Mister, how far did we drive during the film? Where are we now?’” 

Cinema on wheels

More experienced cinemagoers, however, won’t notice much difference between a Cinémobile and a traditional cinema. 

“It’s no different,” says Lerede, who comes whenever the Cinémobile passes through Mer once a month. “It’s a bit smaller than a cinema, but just as comfortable. The seats are good and there’s a big screen – it’s like being at the cinema.” 

Designed and built by a local company, the lorries convert from vehicle to cinema in around 45 minutes. A push of a button sees the sides of the trailer concertina outwards to create a screening room with between 80 and 100 seats, depending on the model, all of them in traditional red upholstery. 

Meanwhile the driver folds out a set of steps or a ramp for wheelchair access. 

Two comforts the trucks lack, though are toilets – logistically tricky – and popcorn. In between pinning up posters, vacuuming the carpet, manning the ticket booth and running the film, Petitjean explains, they wouldn’t have time to make it. 

Culture in the country

But the point isn’t to recreate a multiplex experience in miniature. 

“The Cinémobile supplements permanent cinemas – we’re not here to compete with them, not at all,” says Leroy. “We’re here to offer some extra cultural programming. We bring culture to rural communities.” 

That’s a mission that chimes with the priorities of the day. The first act of France’s new Culture Minister Rachida Dati, appointed as the country saw some of its biggest farmers’ protests in years, was to launch a nationwide consultation on access to culture in rural areas. 

“Numerous initiatives exist to bring cultural offerings to these areas, but they are still not sufficiently recognised or supported,” a ministry press release said, hailing the power of cultural activities to strengthen social bonds, bring new economic opportunities and even “literally change lives”. 

‘It gets us together’ 

While Leroy doesn’t put it quite so grandly, he does believe the Cinémobile provides something special.  

“Some people come because they’re cinema lovers and they want to see the film. And others come because they’re glad we’ve made the effort to come to them,” he says. 

“There are people who come who don’t even know what they’re about to see. They come, they buy a ticket, and they ask: ‘Oh by the way, what’s the film tonight?’” 

Others just want an evening out, he adds. “They come by in work clothes in the afternoon, then that evening they’ll come back all dressed up because that’s their outing for the week or the month.” 

“It gets us together,” says one neatly dressed woman who’s just exited the 4:30pm showing. She’s here with three friends, all spry pensioners, who came to see the film shot in Chambord, where they like to go walking. 

“It gets us together,” her friend agrees of the Cinémobile. “It’s nice.” 

Even with their senior discounts, they say, the prices here are “really exceptionally good”. With the loyalty card they get six showings for €24 – the equivalent of €4 a film. 

Plus this way they can come by foot, instead of driving to the multiplex a town over. “When I lived in the Paris region, I was 500 metres from a cinema,” one says. “Now it’s 300 metres away, so I can’t complain!” 

The same woman announces she’s coming back for the 8.45pm showing – a French comedy about a city-dwelling academic who moves to the countryside to try his hand at farming. 

“It’s topical,” she informs her pals.  

“Maybe I’ll come back too,” muses one.  

“I’m not coming out again,” declares another, to a chorus of objections.

“Oh go on!” urges her friend. “I’ve still got two tickets left. Come on, off we go.” 


This story appears on the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 107.


KENYA

Inside Mitahato, the Kenyan village where residents speak French

In Mitahato, a small village in rural Kenya, it’s common to see words like bienvenue adorning entrances, and to hear people saying bonjour or comment ça va as they pass each other along the leafy pathways. This regional community north of Nairobi prides itself on having become the country’s first French-speaking village.

After learning French while working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, senior UN human rights advisor Chris Mburu was inspired to open a library and learning centre in his Kenyan hometown. 

Since then the French language has spread, with people of all ages gathering regularly at Mburu’s centre – dubbed the “Mitahato French Village” – to learn French in the local dialect, Gikuyu.

“Mitahato has astounded Kenyans and foreigners alike by embracing French, a language that very few people in Kenya are willing to learn, let alone speak,” the centre’s website says.

Knight’s award

Last year Mburu was awarded the Chevalier medal, a prestigious award from the French government for his efforts in spreading French.

France‘s ambassador to Kenya, Arnaud Suquet, confirmed the embassy’s support of the centre connecting Kenya and France through language and culture.

Suquet said Mburu came from “humble beginnings”, and that after holding a senior diplomatic job at the UN he had returned to “give back to his community”.

  • Using human waste to power green energy in Kenya’s Kibera slum

People from around the world visit Mitahato’s French resource centre to learn about the community and to exchange about French knowledge and culture with the locals.

The villagers, meanwhile, are eager to keep up with their French and to be able to effectively communicate with French-speaking visitors.

“Mitahato is indeed a francophone village and we will continue to partner to bring the French language even closer to the people,” Suquet said.

Grandparents welcome 

French teacher Solomon Chege’s class is made up of pupils of all ages with a common goal: to learn French.

“We have more than 100 students,” Chege told RFI, adding they were continuously growing because of the free classes on offer. 

Sixty-year-old Jane Njeri attends the same class with her granddaughter Margret Wanjiru. Meanwhile a mother and daughter have sat side by side learning the language ever since the centre was inaugurated in 2020. 

  • Kenya eyes New Year boost to tourism with visa-free system

“People used to wonder what a shosho (grandmother) was doing in a class full of kids,” says Njeri.

“We are enjoying an opportunity we never had in our childhood. I am happy because my mind is engaged, I am happier because I can talk to visitors in a new language.’’

Unlike fellow villagers learning French for personal reasons, Joseph Kanyara, an electrical engineering graduate from the Technical University of Kenya, has bigger ambitions.

“I want to advance my studies in engineering in France. I want to go there when I’ve mastered the language … currently I’m at level two,’’ he says.


Humour

‘Festival of Laughter’ in Abidjan celebrates African stand-up comedy

Comedians from across French-speaking Africa are in Abidjan this weekend for the ninth Festival of Laughter – an event that aims to promote stand-up comedy on the continent, with a hefty dose of self-mockery.

The Festival of Laughter is organised and hosted by Nigerien-born comedian Mamane, who among his many talents hosts a satirical radio show “The Very, Very Democratic Republic of Gondwana” on RFI.

The festival is both a way of celebrating African humour and developing comedy as a career path on the continent.

Today’s highlight at the Palais de la Culture is the so-called “Battle of Ethnic Groups”. Far less violent than the title suggests, it invites comedians of different origins to go head-to-head to establish which ethnic group is the funniest.

Contestants from all over West and Central Africa – Congolese, Cameroonians, Togolese, Burkinabé and, of course, Ivorians, compete in improvised sketches, directed by Mamane himself.

  • African satirist Mamane plans drama school to promote ‘freedom’

“We suggest a theme and put a sketch together quickly, in full view of everyone,” says Kaboré l’Intellectuel, from the comedy duo Les Zinzins de l’art – winners of the 2018 RFI prize for stand-up comedy (Talents du rire).

Themes such as heartbreak or what’s known as “goumin”.

“How does each ethnic group express itself when faced with “goumin”? I’m Burkinabé and “goumin” is a taboo subject for us, it hardly exists. [But] the Ivorians, they cry a lot, a bit like the French,” he told RFI’s Marine Jeannin.



Daring to offend, laughing together

As part of the battle, contestants are invited to make fun of their community says Cameroonian comedian Sylvanie Njeng. Even if it can cause offence.

“There will always be someone, somewhere, who will take offence,” she told RFI.

“But what’s interesting is the self-mockery. Your ethnicity is part of you and then you come along, talk about it and what characterises it.

“It’s often said that it’s the preconceived ideas that cause offence. Once we’ve developed that, played it out altogether, you see that nobody wants to set one ethnic group aside and make fun of it.”

She insists the aim “really is to laugh together, not to poke fun”. And says its does everyone good to see different ethnic groups on stage.

“I, for example, am Boulou from the south. I’m sure that after this edition, I’ll be the star of the village!”

International report

Islamic State attack on Istanbul church raises fear of further terror

Issued on:

Heavily armed police are protecting churches across Istanbul day and night after an Islamic State attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul. The terrorist group has warned of further attacks against Christians and Jews.

Turkish security forces have detained hundreds of suspects in the aftermath of January’s deadly attack on Santa Maria Catholic Church in the Sariyer district, which killed one person.

The death toll could have been considerably higher if the gunmen’s automatic weapons had not jammed.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility in a statement that warned it was targeting Jews and Christians in Turkey. 

Istanbul’s small Christian community, although fearful, remains defiant.

“It’s not necessary to be a member of the congregation to be frightened. It’s something that would terrify anyone,” declared Ilhan Guzelis after attending his local church service.

“We’re scared, but believe me, we’ve never hesitated to come to our church, to worship here, and to pray to God.”

Game of cat and mouse

Two men, a Russian and a Tajik national, have been arrested for carrying out the attack, while over a hundred others have been detained across the country.  

Experts say Turkish security forces are now engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the terror group also known as Isis or Daesh. 

“This is a mutual competition between the security forces and terrorist cells,” Murat Aslan of the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (Seta) told RFI.

“Both sides will try to identify or deceive each other. And in this case, I believe the Daesh terrorists were skilful, at least to bypass the security measures.”

Aslan warns the job is becoming harder for Turkey’s security forces as the face of Islamic State evolves. He cites changes to assailants’ personal appearance, for example: recent attackers have worn regular clothes and shaved their beards, which helps them blend into a crowd.

“They are regular citizens. So it’s not that much easier to distinguish exactly who is radical or not, for instance. In the latest incident in the church, the individuals were like regular citizens,” he said.

Turkish targets

Adding to security woes is the proximity of Turkey to Syrian territory once held by Islamic State and other radical jihadist groups.

“There are armed groups in Turkey. They still have baggage in Turkey, the remnants of the armed groups inside Turkey, even Isis remnants back from the Syrian war,” claims Sezin Oney of the Politikyol news portal.

The last time Islamic State successfully carried out a major attack in Turkey was in 2017, when a gunman went on the rampage during New Year celebrations, killing 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub.

But Aslan warns that Turkey offers numerous targets.

“The church attack was really significant in terms of the potential of Daesh,” he says.

“Turkey hosts a lot of churches and Jewish holy sites. Once [terrorists] enjoy a presence here and set up hidden cells, they can easily select a target.”

Fears for tourist season

With Turkey‘s lucrative tourism season only a month or so away, bringing with it further potential targets for Islamic State, the government security crackdown is predicted to intensify.

Christians like Guzelis have mixed feelings over the presence of such patrols around the city’s churches.

“After such an incident, it is good for us that [the police] come here to protect us here again, even as a presence; we are grateful for this,” he says.

“I wish that there would be no such matters, that everyone would live together here as brothers and sisters. But we are sorry for what happened; it creates a bitterness in us.”

Read also:

  • As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out?
  • With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil

Insurgency

Burkina Faso prosecutor says around 170 ‘executed’ in attacks on villages

Around 170 people were “executed” in attacks on three villages in northern Burkina Faso a week ago, a regional prosecutor said in a statement on Sunday.

Prosecutor Aly Benjamin Coulibaly said he received reports of the attacks on the villages of Komsilga, Nodin and Soroe in Yatenga province on 25 February, with a provisional toll of “around 170 people executed”.

The attacks left others wounded and caused material damage, the prosecutor for the northern town of Ouahigouya added in a statement.

He said his office ordered an investigation and appealed to the public for information.

Survivors of the attacks told France’s AFP news agency that dozens of women and young children were among the victims.

Local security sources said the attacks were separate from deadly incidents at a mosque and a church in northern Burkina Faso that also happened a week ago.

The authorities have yet to release an official death toll for those attacks.

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Burkina Faso has been struggling to contain violent Islamist insurgencies linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that have spread from neighbouring Mali over the past decade, killing thousands and displacing more than two million.

According to Acled, which gathers data on victims of conflict worldwide, the violence claimed 439 lives in January alone.

Anger over the state’s inability to end the insecurity played a major role in two military coups in 2022.

Current strongman Ibrahim Traore came to power in a military coup in October 2022, vowing to win back territory from jihadists.

In February 2023, France officially ended its anti-insurgency military operations in the Sahel state, on the orders of the military junta.

(with newswires)


Senegal unrest

Hundreds protest in Senegal to demand elections before president’s term ends

Dakar (AFP) – Several hundred people rallied in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Saturday calling for the country’s postponed presidential elections to be held before April 2, the date when incumbent Macky Sall’s term is set to end.

The protesters gathered at a sandy lot in a working-class neighbourhood for the protest, called by the “Resistance Front”, an alliance of opposition parties and campaigning groups.

Many brandished Senegalese flags and portraits of the opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, jailed since July for “incitement to insurrection” and barred from running in the presidential vote. Sonko has endorsed Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who is also in jail but who was cleared to be on the ballot.

The crowd shouted “Macky Sall dictator” and “Free Sonko”, singing a song in his praise.

Several speakers representing some of the election candidates addressed the crowd, including former prime minister Aminata Toure, a member of the “Bassirou President” coalition.

“What we are asking President Macky Sall is to organise these elections before April 2 and to give the keys to the palace to his successor face to face, so that we can begin to rebuild our country,” she said.

Senegal was thrown into a political crisis on February 3 when Sall postponed the presidential election planned for February 25. His announcement, denounced as a “constitutional coup d’etat” by the opposition, sparked huge protests that resulted in four deaths.

On February 15, the constitutional council overruled Sall, and ever since the country has been waiting for a new date.

“We want an election before the 2nd (of April) with the 19 candidates retained by the Constitutional Council and for Senegalese democracy to continue to shine,” said one demonstrator, 27-year-old trader Assane Camara.

A national dialogue, organised at the start of the week by the president but boycotted by the opposition, had recommended holding the elections on June 2. Sall indicated that he would ask the constitutional council for its opinion on the request.

Saturday’s rally, approved by the authorities, ended in confusion following what appeared to be scuffles between supporters of rival candidates for the presidency, Sonko and Khalifa Sall, former mayor of Dakar (no relation to the president).

Supporters of the outgoing president have called for a “march for peace” Sunday morning in the capital Dakar.


NAMIBIA – WILDLIFE

How jackals’ taste for melons helps fruit flourish in Namibian desert

Black-backed jackals in Namibia urinate on sweet melons that grow in the Namib Desert to prevent other jackals stealing their favourite fruit, new research has revealed. The finding sheds new light on how the plants have populated the harsh environment, providing other species with a crucial source of food and moisture.

Namibian scientist Saima Shikesho made the discovery while studying the role the jackals played in distributing the seeds of the nara plant – a desert shrub only found in Namibia that produces large, round, sweet melons encased in tough, spiny skin.

Shikesho was surprised, when she reviewed images obtained via camera traps, that the small fox-like animals occasionally squatted or cocked their legs to urinate on the fruit.

“It could work as territorial marking, but another question that came in my mind was: ‘Are they trying to hide the scent of ripe melons, or like, it’s about to ripen but it’s not really there and therefore, if I mark it, maybe other animals will stay away from this one resource’?”

Seed dispersers

Until now, it was unclear who or what was responsible for distributing the seeds of the nara plant – an important source of food, moisture and even shelter for animals and humans in the Namib’s harsh environment.

While both wild and domestic herbivores – including oryx, cattle and donkeys – also eat the fruit, they have large molar teeth that crush the seeds.

Jackals have less developed molars, which means the seeds pass through them intact.

Shikesho found 200 undamaged seeds in just eight jackal droppings, and none in the droppings of donkeys, cattle and oryx, which are a type of antelope.

The seeds collected from jackal droppings germinated more successfully than seeds taken from ripe fruit.

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Shikesho, who is now a PhD candidate at Dartmouth College in the US, carried out the research while doing her master’s at the University of Cape Town.

She set up the camera traps to monitor eight different nara plants in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

The shrubs were fenced off to exclude herbivores, but small openings were left for jackals and similar-sized mammals to get through.

Other carnivores such as Cape foxes and brown hyenas also visited the plants and took melons, but Shikesho’s study, published in the Journal of Zoology, found that jackals visited the plants more than 96 percent of the time.

The nara melons don’t change colour when they ripen, making it extremely difficult to tell ripe fruit apart from unripe ones.

When Shikesho had to collect ripe melons to extract seeds for her germination experiment, she sought help from experts within the local Topnaar community.

“They have to carry this stick and poke the melon,” she says. “And then they’ll say, ‘That one is ripe, that one is not ready’.”

‘Mind-blowing’

That jackals can make such distinctions with one quick sniff was “kind of mind-blowing for me”, says Shikesho.

“That’s like a high-level decision-making process.”

Archaeological evidence shows that humans have used the nara fruit for around 8,000 years.

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They remain a vital source of livelihood and sustenance for the Topnaar people, who also herd cattle, sheep and goats along the Kuiseb River in western Namibia.

The community uses the plants’ roots for medicine, turns the cooked melon pulp into dried fruit rolls, and expresses oil from the seeds.

Shikesho says she enjoyed sharing her findings with the community, which was unaware of the role the jackals played in spreading nara seeds.

“I like that part of research,” she says.

“We as scientists understand why we’re doing research, but in most cases we don’t really explain it to people who don’t really think about science.”


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 organic 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)

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).


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.”


LGBTQ+ Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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



Advocacy criminalised

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obligation to denounce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regressive trend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FRANCE – AGRICULTURE

Dozens of French farmers arrested during protest at Arc de Triomphe

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

‘Illegal’ action

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

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

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

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

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

‘Excessive rules’

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

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

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

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

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

(with AFP)

International report

Islamic State attack on Istanbul church raises fear of further terror

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Heavily armed police are protecting churches across Istanbul day and night after an Islamic State attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul. The terrorist group has warned of further attacks against Christians and Jews.

Turkish security forces have detained hundreds of suspects in the aftermath of January’s deadly attack on Santa Maria Catholic Church in the Sariyer district, which killed one person.

The death toll could have been considerably higher if the gunmen’s automatic weapons had not jammed.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility in a statement that warned it was targeting Jews and Christians in Turkey. 

Istanbul’s small Christian community, although fearful, remains defiant.

“It’s not necessary to be a member of the congregation to be frightened. It’s something that would terrify anyone,” declared Ilhan Guzelis after attending his local church service.

“We’re scared, but believe me, we’ve never hesitated to come to our church, to worship here, and to pray to God.”

Game of cat and mouse

Two men, a Russian and a Tajik national, have been arrested for carrying out the attack, while over a hundred others have been detained across the country.  

Experts say Turkish security forces are now engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the terror group also known as Isis or Daesh. 

“This is a mutual competition between the security forces and terrorist cells,” Murat Aslan of the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (Seta) told RFI.

“Both sides will try to identify or deceive each other. And in this case, I believe the Daesh terrorists were skilful, at least to bypass the security measures.”

Aslan warns the job is becoming harder for Turkey’s security forces as the face of Islamic State evolves. He cites changes to assailants’ personal appearance, for example: recent attackers have worn regular clothes and shaved their beards, which helps them blend into a crowd.

“They are regular citizens. So it’s not that much easier to distinguish exactly who is radical or not, for instance. In the latest incident in the church, the individuals were like regular citizens,” he said.

Turkish targets

Adding to security woes is the proximity of Turkey to Syrian territory once held by Islamic State and other radical jihadist groups.

“There are armed groups in Turkey. They still have baggage in Turkey, the remnants of the armed groups inside Turkey, even Isis remnants back from the Syrian war,” claims Sezin Oney of the Politikyol news portal.

The last time Islamic State successfully carried out a major attack in Turkey was in 2017, when a gunman went on the rampage during New Year celebrations, killing 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub.

But Aslan warns that Turkey offers numerous targets.

“The church attack was really significant in terms of the potential of Daesh,” he says.

“Turkey hosts a lot of churches and Jewish holy sites. Once [terrorists] enjoy a presence here and set up hidden cells, they can easily select a target.”

Fears for tourist season

With Turkey‘s lucrative tourism season only a month or so away, bringing with it further potential targets for Islamic State, the government security crackdown is predicted to intensify.

Christians like Guzelis have mixed feelings over the presence of such patrols around the city’s churches.

“After such an incident, it is good for us that [the police] come here to protect us here again, even as a presence; we are grateful for this,” he says.

“I wish that there would be no such matters, that everyone would live together here as brothers and sisters. But we are sorry for what happened; it creates a bitterness in us.”

Read also:

  • As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out?
  • With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil

The Sound Kitchen

There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 33

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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

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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?

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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

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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.


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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