rfi 2024-03-08 10:05:50



Women’s day

France gears up for its largest ever strike for women’s rights

Rights groups have called on women in France to down tools on Friday, 8 March – International Women’s Day – for a strike to mark the importance of women’s labour both at work and at home. For the first time, trade unions have joined the call for what organisers hope will be France’s largest ever such strike.

“When women stop, everything stops,” reads the call to action from the SUD/Solidaire union, calling for women to walk off the job, even if they’re at home.

Going on strike and not doing domestic work “demonstrates how all we do is essential” said Soad Baba Aïssa, of Femmes Solidaires, one of 50 feminist groups at the origin of the strike call.

They have been joined by five major trade unions, including the CGT and the CFDT, which have previously published a support statement but stopped short of calling for specific strikes.

The decision this year comes after the strong support trade unions found during the protests against the government’s pension reform last year, when there was a particular focus on the disparities for women in lower-paying jobs or with truncated careers.

  • France’s CGT union elects first female boss

Salary inequalities

Unions are particularly concerned about salary inequalities, which exist “in all companies in all administrations”, said Myriam Lebkiri of the CGT.

Women in France earned about a quarter less than men in the private sector in 2022, according to a study by the Insee national statistics institute – partially because they are more often employed part time.

Even working the same amount of time, women still earn nearly 15 percent less than men because they hold lower level positions. And when women and men work the same positions and the same amount of time, there is still a 4 percent disparity.

Growing support

Women’s rights groups have called for a strike every 8 March for several years, and are inspired by the success in Spain in 2018, when five million people took part.

Public transit ground to a halt and hundreds of gatherings drew hundreds of thousands of people across the country behind the slogan: “If we stop, the world stops”.

In Iceland, 100,000 people – a quarter of the population – took to the streets on 24 October, the anniversary of a 1975 women’s strike, to demand wage equality and to denounce violence against women.

In France 2024 could mark a turning point as inflation and increased costs of living disproportionately affect women, and with the resurgent MeToo movement.

Thousands of demonstrations are planned in 150 cities across the country.


Cannes Film Festival 2023

Inshallah a Boy: a film that tackles women’s rights in Jordan

Director Amjad Al Rasheed’s first feature film, Inshallah a Boy, tells the story of a mother standing up to Jordan’s archaic, patriarchal inheritance laws. Carried charismatically by award-winning actress Mouna Hawa, the film also addresses broader issues of gender inequality.

Inspired by a member of Al Rasheed’s own family, Inshallah a Boy is a story about Nawal (Mouna Hawa), a young mother who wakes up to find her husband has suddenly died.

Left alone with her young daughter, she knows their lives will be challenging and not just emotionally.

She faces a law that exists in most Arabic countries: if a woman loses her husband and doesn’t have a son, part of the inheritance goes to her in-laws.

“I want to raise moral questions, provoke people to think and start a conversation. For me, a film starts after the people leave the theatre,” Al Rasheed told RFI after the film’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival as part of the Critics’ Week line-up.

In Nawal’s case, her in-laws “allow” her to continue living in her house, but they make it clear that her options are now limited. 

Although she bought the house with her dowry, her husband signed the deed in his name to avoid the social shame of female ownership.

Although it is technically her property, she has no proof. 

If Nawal had been pregnant with a boy at the time of her husband’s death, her problems would be solved – hence the film’s title.

Then, Nawal finds help from an unlikely source: the wealthy daughter of the Christian woman she works for. A strategy to get around their legal situations involves a ruse that is as tenuous as it is touching.

Complex society

Al Rasheed says that it was important to explore Jordanian society’s “grey areas”. With characters from different faiths, he tries to show women’s universal struggle for rights goes beyond religion.

Al Rasheed is aware that he can’t speak for the women themselves. Throughout the creative process, he surrounded himself with women for both advice and co-writing, with support from producer Rula Nasser and writer Delphine Agut.

During a long research phase, he says he took inspiration from his own mother and other women from all backgrounds who are “fighters, strong characters trying to make their way in this society”. 

“At the end of the day, they are the weakest link because traditions and laws are against them, and society doesn’t support them,” he adds. 

  • RFI’s coverage of the Cannes Film Festival 2023

“I don’t believe the film is solely about Jordanian society,” he told Cannes Critics Week journalist Perrine Quennesson.

“It tackles the inequalities and violence imposed on women around the world…I could make a film in Europe and talk about the wage gap.

“There are many rules and laws in place for women to feel inferior, and it is that injustice that I wanted to call out.”

Best actress award

Inshallah a Boy made headlines in 2023 as the first film from Jordan to be selected as part of the Cannes Film Festival. It won the Gan Foundation Award for Distribution. 

Postcard from Cannes #3: About a Boy

Since its premiere in Cannes, it has travelled to dozens of other festivals worldwide and picked up numerous awards, notably Best Actress for Mouna Hawa at the Red Sea Film Festival last December.

It was released in France on 6 March, just ahead of International Women’s Day.


Paris Olympics 2024

France’s CGT union says it will stage strike during Paris Olympics

French public sector workers will strike during the Paris Olympics this summer, the powerful CGT union has warned, adding it would file formal strike notices next month.

The CGT union on Thursday said it intended to file strike notices in the French public services at the beginning of April for the period covering the Paris Olympics, from 26 July to 11 August.

“Our warnings must finally be heard,” CGT chief Sophie Binet told broadcaster FranceInfo, saying vital questions such as overtime work, lodging and childcare facilities had not been addressed.

The strike notice would cover people working in central and local government, as well as medical and social workers.

Social conditions

“Hundreds of thousands of workers will be battered by the Games,” Binet said, including with overtime and restrictions on taking time off.

“We’re asking what will the conditions of this work be, how will all the workers who have to come to the Paris region for the Olympics be housed?” she added.

“How will their children be taken care of when it’s the school holidays at the same time? What bonuses will they get? So far nothing has been sorted out on this side.”

  • Paris ‘not ready’ for Olympics amid transport and housing worries

The CGT trade unionist also sounded the alarm about the situation of hospitals in the Île-de-France region. 

“We are told that there will be an influx of millions of visitors to Paris, and there are no additional resources for hospitals in the Paris region,” Binet said. 

“We are very, very worried”, she added.

‘Social truce’

Binet has demanded a meeting with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to discuss the issue.

Only a few public sector workers have been told what support they will get during the Games, with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin saying police working in the Paris region will get a bonus of up to €1,900.

  • French police rally to demand better pay during Paris Olympics

Talks have started in other fields on compensating overtime and missed holidays, including for hospital and transport workers.

Last week Transport Minister Patrice Vergriete said he was “absolutely not” worried about the possibility of a public transport strike during the Paris Olympics, despite a notice already given by Paris transport company RATP for this period.

As for the Paris Olympics organising committee chief Tony Estanguet, he called for a “social truce” without strikes.

(with AFP)


SWEDEN – NATO

The picturesque town being turned into a strategic military hub as Sweden joins NATO

Sweden on Thursday formally joined NATO as the 32nd member of the transatlantic military alliance, ending decades of post-World War II neutrality. In the period preceding the official ceremony, the Nordic nation was already busy reordering its defences – transforming the central town of Ostersund into a military hub.

President Joe Biden congratulated Sweden on its admission and said it was a sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Ukraine had united, rather than divided, the alliance.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson was a guest of honor Thursday evening at Biden’s State of the Union address to Congress, where the president welcomed him to “the strongest military alliance the world has ever seen.”

For one Swedish town, this meant a profound change.

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

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

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

Strategic role

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peaceful history

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

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

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

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

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

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


Eastern Europe

France says it will support Moldova amid fears of Russian destabilisation

President Emmanuel Macron has stressed France’s “unwavering support” for Moldova as tensions mount between Chisinau and pro-Russian separatists. Moldova’s pro-EU government fears that the breakaway region of Transnistria, on the border with Ukraine, could become the region’s next flashpoint.

“France restates its unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova within its internationally recognised borders,” he said in a joint statement with Moldovan President Maia Sandu as she visited Paris on Thursday.

Moldova, a western neighbour of Ukraine, has a tiny defence budget. Relations with Moscow have long been tense and have worsened as Chisinau backs Ukraine in the war against Russia.

In a separate statement, Sandu said: “France has stood by us, offering us support during the last two years of turmoil caused by Russia’s actions. France stands with us as we move forward on our path to joining the European Union.”



Defence neglected

“For thirty years, we didn’t pay enough attention to our security,” Vaeceslav Ionita, a former MP and now researcher with the Viitorul think tank in Chisinau, told RFI.

He says that Moldova spends a yearly average of 0.4 percent of its GDP on defence, “five times less than NATO standards. And now we begin to understand that Moldova needs more and more to solve our security issue.”

Moldova is “a poor country, we have not enough capacity to do it by ourselves”, he says. Not only is the country financially weak, he says, but it also lacks “technical and logistical and intelligence capacity”.

“For 30 years, we have not paid enough attention to our security.”

01:57

INTERVIEW with Vaeceslav Ionita, former Moldovan MP and researcher with the Viitorul think tank in Chisnau

Jan van der Made

France, he believes, can throw Chisnau a lifeline.

“It can save us, because it’s not only about money, it is about intelligence, and about understanding what the real security needs of Moldova are,” Ionita says.

Tension in Transnistria

Things heated up recently when pro-Russian officials in Transnistria, a breakaway region squeezed between Moldova and Ukraine, appealed to Moscow for “protection”.

There is mounting concern that the territory could become a new flashpoint.

Russian still keeps some 1,500 troops of its former 14th Soviet Army, now called the Operative Group of Russian Troops, in the “Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic”, as the separatist government calls itself.

Moscow also maintains 400 “peacekeepers” in the region, who were sent there after a bloody war between separatist forces, backed by Soviet soldiers, and Moldovan troops. That conflict led to the region’s split from Moldova in 1992. 

Last month leaders of the secessionist region, speaking at a meeting of hundreds of officials, asked Russia to help its economy withstand Moldovan “pressure”.

The remarks were dismissed by Moldova’s pro-European government as a “propaganda event”.

Ionita agrees. “Both Russia and Moldova have a lot of problems,” he says. “But they’re not Transnistria.”

He finds Transnistria’s request hard to understand. Forty percent of Transnistria’s exports go to Moldova, he says. “It’s us who help them survive.”

Still, no politician in Moldova would support Transnistria’s independence. “No one, including pro-Russian politicians, would say such a thing. It’s political suicide,” according to Ionita. 

  • European leaders meet in Moldova in show of unity against Russia

French deal

Thursday’s meeting between Macron and Sandu included the signature of a Chisinau-Paris defence deal, as well as an “economic roadmap”.

The two countries reached an initial accord on 25 September that covers training of military personnel, regular defence dialogue and intelligence sharing. 

A letter of intent includes the possible purchase of French-made Ground Master 200 portable defence radar, enabling Moldova’s army to improve aerial surveillance.

Meanwhile France has also been courting another former Soviet Union country, Armenia.

Yerevan is angry with Moscow, a traditional ally, for its failure to defend their country militarily against Turkey-backed Azerbaijan.

  • Armenia signs arms contract with France amid boost in military ties

France’s Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu travelled to Armenia last month, the first time a French defence chief has visited the South Caucasus nation, in a bid to ramp up cooperation.


    NUCLEAR ENERGY

    Nuclear safety in spotlight as French start-ups bring mini reactors to market

    France wants to take the lead in rolling out safer, cleaner nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels – but the growing number of start-ups promising to decarbonise the industry with small reactors is raising questions about safety and environmental responsibility.

    Small modular reactors (SMRs) have been touted as the silver bullet that will finally kill the world’s reliance on oil and gas and bring about carbon-neutral energy production in future decades. 

    President Emmanuel Macron made a rallying call two years ago for a renaissance of the French nuclear industry as he advocated for the construction of up to 14 new reactors.

    The arrival of nuclear engineering start-ups has raised questions over the safety of the fast-evolving technology being used.



    Smaller, faster, cleaner

    Smaller but less powerful than their industrial-scale siblings, SMRs are able to produce electricity – but also supply heat – to heavy industries such as glass, chemicals and steel, which depend on fossil fuels.

    Compared with 4,300 megawatts thermal (MWth) expected to be produced once the flagship Flammanville 3 EPR goes online in Normandy later this year, individual SMRs will output anything from between 10 and 540 MWth.

    The nuclear start-ups – with names like Jimmy, Calogena or Naarea – build small modular reactors, which are a miniature version of pressurised water reactors, as well as fourth generation “advanced modular reactors“, or AMRs. 

    In all, more than 80 projects have been identified around the world at various stages of development, but only Russia is operating two SMRs – both on board a barge.

    Of the 10 projects monitored in France by the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), most are AMRs, touted by their promoters as being able to solve the problem of radioactive waste through the better recycling of spent fuel.

    • France to build more new generation nuclear reactors to reach green targets

    Regulation headache

    Start-up Jimmy Energy is set to be the first to submit a request for authorisation to create, by the end of March, its helium-cooled high-temperature reactor. The application process will take at least three years.

    Other projects such as the Calogena reactor and an SMR developed by Nuward – a subsidiary of French state utility EDF – are aiming for 2030 as the date for “concrete” nuclear production from their reactors. 

    However, their development largely depends on their ability to gain access to specific fuels, opening the way for the creation of new fuel distribution sectors.

    For decades, the ASN has dealt with four incumbent operators – EDF, Orano, Framatome and Andra.

    Already swamped by dossiers linked to extending the lifespan of existing nuclear reactors and plans for new EPRs, it now has to deal with the wave of mini-reactors being developed.

    • Paris Perspective #39: France’s nuclear renaissance in a post-atomic age – Yves Marignac

    Security challenges

    The ASN must also assess a start-up’s capacity to become a “nuclear operator”, including their management system, their financial capacity and their safety culture.

    The fact that these reactors are smaller does not mean that there will be fewer safety expectations. 

    The ASN reckons the start-ups will be “much more demanding” with regards to what it refers to as “new local nuclear power”.

    These new reactors are intended to be mass-produced and deployed in large numbers, in order to be economically profitable.

    They also could be installed in densely populated areas.

    To address these issues – in particular public acceptability – the ASN has set up a commission of five safety experts and five stakeholder representatives from civil society, the energy industry and the insurance sector.

    “As these reactors will be installed close to homes in urban or industrial areas, we will need to demonstrate that the consequences – even in the event of a serious accident – are negligible,” said Philippe Dupuy, head of the ASN’s innovative reactor section.

    In the case of conventional reactors, the consequences must be “limited”.


    Sahel

    Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso to launch anti-jihadist force

    Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali have agreed to set up a joint force to tackle security threats across their territories.

    Moussa Salaou Barmou, the head of Niger’s armed forces, announced the new force after a meeting with his counterparts, the junta leaders of Mali and Burkina Faso, on Wednesday.

    In a televised statement, Barmou said the task force would be “operational as soon as possible to meet security challenges”, but did not give details on the size or remit of the force.

    “We are convinced that, with the combined efforts of our three countries, we will manage to create the conditions for shared security,” he added.

    Insurmountable insurgency

    A decade-long fight led by Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State has fuelled violence in the region, which worsened after the three countries’ militaries seized power in a series of coups from 2020 to 2023.

    The latest coup took place in Niger in July 2023, followed by the exit of all three countries from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

    • Niger faces multiple crises three months after military coup

    Conflict fatalities in the central Sahel rose by 38 percent in 2023 from the previous year, according to the US-based crisis monitoring group Acled, which cited reports of more than 8,000 people killed in Burkina Faso alone.

    Last week, some 170 people were executed in one day in attacks on three villages in northern Burkina Faso, followed by more violence.

    France ‘at fault’

    Many in Mali, Burkina Faso, and more recently in Niger, have blamed the French mission in the region for failing to shut down the Islamist insurgency while diminishing the countries’ sovereignty.

    “France has lost its diplomatic and military place in the Sahel for sure,” Babacar Ndiaye, a senior fellow at the Timbuktu Institute in Senegal, told RFI.

    “It’s evidence that the Sahel’s Islamist insurgency cannot be beaten with a military strategy,” he added.

    “We cannot fight an ideology with arms. These countries need development and democracy.”

    Regional reorganisation

    The decision to launch a joint force is the latest sign of closer alignment between the three neighbours, who all severed military ties with longstanding partners, including France, to form a cooperation pact known as the Alliance of Sahel States in September.

    • Burkina Faso and Niger to quit G5 Sahel anti-jihadist force
    • Niger suspends cooperation with international Francophone body

    Politically and economically, the three countries have also decided to leave Ecowas after it had imposed sanctions on all their leaders for overthrowing democratically elected governments.

    (with newswires)


    Senegal

    Senegal sets March date for delayed presidentials, but confusion prevails

    Senegalese President Macky Sall has said delayed presidential elections will be held on 24 March after the country’s top court found it would be unconstitutional to hold the vote after his mandate expires on 2 April. Confusingly, however, the Constitutional Council overruled the government by choosing 31 March as the date.

    The Council of Ministers announced the date chosen by the president on Wednesday, capping a dramatic evening that saw Sall dissolve the government and replace Prime Minister Amadou Ba with Interior Minister Sidiki Kaba.

    The presidency said the move was intended to help Ba and the ruling coalition’s presidential candidate focus on the electoral campaign.

    A few minutes after the election announcement, the Constitutional Council said the polls would be held a week later.

    ‘Total imbroglio’

    Members of the opposition said they were puzzled by the contradicting dates.

    “Is it March 24 or 31? We are in a total imbroglio,” Abass Fall, a former MP from the main opposition Pastef party told RFI.

    Ayib Dafe, an MP from the same party, said Pastef was satisfied the election would happen before the end of Sall’s mandate.

    “Now we have to reconcile the two dates between the one of the government and that of the Constitutional Council; it’s a bit messy,” Dafe said.

    • Senegal opposition demands election to pick new president by April

    “In any case we are ready to go to the presidential election because that is what we have always asked for.”

    The Aar Sunu election platform said the situation appeared to be a victory for themselves and civil society.

    A proposal by the government’s national dialogue commission to hold the polls on 2 June had no legal basis, the Constitutional Council earlier said.

    The council maintained the list of 19 candidates despite demands for a main opposition candidate to be included.

    • Senegal: Civil society, opposition step up protests to break political deadlock

    Ongoing political crisis

    Senegal has been thrown into political turmoil since Sall postponed the 25 February polls amid electoral disputes.

    But many believe Sall and his party sought to postpone the vote because they were unsure about their own candidate and wanted time to think.

    “It’s very evident that the election delay would not have taken place if Macky Sall believed that Amadou Ba was clearly capable of winning the presidency,” Tochi Eni-Kalu, Africa analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, told Reuters.

    A move to hold them on 15 December was ruled unconstitutional, with the opposition insisting they be held before April. 

    (with newswires)


    JOURNALISM – ETHICS

    Gaza war vanishing from French news channels amid fears of media bias

    Television coverage of the Israel-Gaza war has dipped sharply in France, five months after the start of conflict that has left 30,500 people so far and polarised people around the world. This diminishing visibility has raised concerns about media bias and self-censorship as more French viewers turn to international channels to stay informed.

    Analysis shows the Gaza war and the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe has largely disappeared from French screens – namely the daily 8pm prime-time news bulletin – on channels TF1, France 2 and M6, which collectively reach 12.5 million viewers.

    “This is a real breach of the duty to provide information,” says media anthropology researcher Celia Chirol, who is the first person to study French coverage of the events.

    “Of the 20 news programmes analysed from 8-14 January, only 29 seconds of airtime were devoted to Gaza and the fate of the Palestinians.”

    Broken down individually, those figures show five seconds for TF1, 10 seconds for M6 and 14 seconds for France 2 public television.

    Chirol says this “invisibility” of the Palestinians and paltry reporting of the war in general came as the MeToo movement in French cinema and Jennifer Lopez’s latest film got top billing.

    • Macron says recognition of Palestinian state ‘not a taboo’ for France

    Editorial choices

    Picking up on her research, Arrêt Sur Images (Freeze-Frame), a show that examines media biases and the impact of media on public perception, found similar results.

    For a period of 10 days from 4-15 February, the show scrutinised news broadcasts on TF1 and France 2 and found that during 30 hours of airtime and 46 news bulletins, only five minutes were given to the situation in Gaza.

    There were no dedicated segments or reports on Gaza during the flagship 1pm and 8pm news bulletins.

    In addition, no French news channel provided a comprehensive tally of the number of deaths in Gaza during that period. Instead, coverage was focused on Israeli hostages, several of whom are French, and announcements from Israel’s government.

    The editorial choices likely reflected the perceived interests of the target audience, Arrêt Sur Images concluded.

    • EU still divided over sanctions against Israeli settler violence

    A telling ‘silence’

    French media watchdog Acrimed, which promotes pluralism, democracy and journalistic integrity, carried out its own study of how the French media has framed the conflict in the days and weeks following Hamas’ 7 October attack, that sparked Israel’s deadly retaliatory bombing campaign on Gaza.

    “This may seem paradoxical at first glance, but silence is part of the media noise, and what is kept silent is no less interesting than what is said,” Acrimed said as it documented a “process of marginalisation” of the besieged Gaza Strip and of Palestinians themselves.

    Public fatigue with the prolonged conflict, or the perception that it is too complex to understand may also have contributed to the drop in coverage.

    Media sociologist Jean-Marie Charon told RFI that when a major world event happens, “exhaustion” inevitably sets in and it can be challenging for the public to remain engaged.

    “It’s a fairly classic phenomenon that we find particularly in situations of war or crisis,” Charon says, adding that the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long seemed like a hopeless cause.

    The war in the Middle East is far more complex than the war in Ukraine, Charon says, which continues to make headlines despite also having a compounded social and political backstory.

    The French may also feel more involved in Ukraine because they are geographically closer to it.

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

    A steady decline

    Studies have pointed to declining media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in France for the past 20 years.

    This is despite France having the largest Jewish population outside of Israel and the United States, as well as the largest Muslim population in Europe.

    Charles Enderlin, Israel correspondent for France 2 between 1981 and 2015, told La Revue des Médias online media industry magazine that a fear of “extreme backlash” from either camp may also be to blame.

    The subject is shrouded in taboo, to the point where tip-toeing and fears of being accused of bias appear to have led the broadcast media to censor itself, forcing French viewers to switch to international channels with rolling coverage.

    “France is in the Western camp, and Israel is a part of that,” adds Pascal Boniface, director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.

    “And this very visible in the media.”


    This article was adapted by Amanda Morrow from the French original version written by Anne Bernas.


    MIGRANT CRISIS

    UN says 2023 was the deadliest year on record for migrants

    The United Nations migration agency has found that 2023 was the deadliest on record for migrants, with 8,565 people dying on routes around the world.

    The previous deadliest year was 2016, when 8,084 migrants around the world perished.

    The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported the figures based on data collected by its Missing Migrants Project.

    “In the absence of regular and safe routes for migrants people continue to die,” IOM communications officer Jorge Galindo told RFI.

    The 2023 death toll was 20 percent higher than 2022, with a little more than half of the deaths the result of drowning.

    Mediterranean deadliest

    The Mediterranean crossing between northern Africa and Europe remains the deadliest route for migrants, with at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances registered.

    More than 600 people died in one single shipwreck off the coast of Greece on 14 June, 2023.

    “We note some worrying trends like the Mediterranean, which remains the most deadly transit route in the world,” said Galindo.

    “We also have seen the appearance of what we call invisible ships, which means numerous victims or bodies that appear on shores are not connected to shipwrecks, so are not counted as migrants.”

    Regionally, the IOM said most deaths in Africa occurred in the Sahara Desert and in the sea on route to the Canary Islands.

    ‘Horrifying figures’

    “These horrifying figures … are also a reminder that we must recommit to greater action that can ensure safe migration for all, so that 10 years from now people aren’t having to risk their lives in search of a better one,” said IOM Deputy Director General Ugochi Daniels.

    The Missing Migrants Project has been recording migrant deaths and disappearances since 2014, when it was established following two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy.

    In 10 years it has documented the deaths of more than 63,000 migrants worldwide.

    “It’s important to note that even if our database is the largest to count migrants, and 63,000 deaths recorded worldwide, the number may be much higher,” said Galindo.

    Since 2014, the remains of 26,553 migrants have not been recovered, according to the project.

    (with AFP)


    Climate change

    Hottest February ever puts world in ‘unchartered’ climate territory

    Europe’s climate monitor has said that February 2024 was the warmest on record, warning that climate change is bringing the world into “uncharted territory”, with the ninth straight month of historic high temperatures globally.

    Temperatures increased across large parts of the world, with Europe also registering its second warmest winter on record, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) service in its monthly update on Thursday.

    Daily global temperatures were “exceptionally high” in the first half of the month, Copernicus said, with four consecutive days registering averages 2C higher than pre-industrial times.

    Overall the month was 1.77C warmer than the monthly estimate for 1850-1900, the pre-industrial reference period.

    Breaking through 1.5C?

    This is notably higher than the limit agreed in the 2015 Paris climate deal of “well below” 2C and preferably 1.5C, but it is not yet a breach of the agreement, as the increase is is measured as an average over decades and not months.

    Last month the monitor said that the period from February 2023 to January 2024 marked the first time Earth had endured 12 consecutive months of temperatures 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter than the pre-industrial era.

    • World’s carbon emissions could start to fall for first time in 2024

    The temperatures have been driven up by human-caused climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels, which continues to rise, and is intensified by the naturally occurring El Nino, which warms the southern Pacific ocean and causes hotter weather globally.

    Increased temperatures have caused extreme weather events and disasters, including strong storms and flooding in some areas, and drought and fire in others.

    “Our civilisation has never had to cope with this climate,” C3S director Carlo Buontempo told AFP.

    “In that sense, I think the definition of uncharted territory is appropriate.”

    Record ocean temperatures

    Along with high temperatures on land, the oceans have also warmed alarmingly, with sea surface temperatures the highest in February for any month on record at over 21C at the end of the month.

    Oceans, which cover over 70 percent of the planet, have absorbed most excess heat produced by human carbon emissions since the start of the industrial era.

    But their warming disrupts the mixing of nutrients and oxygen that are key to supporting life and can potentially alter their crucial role in absorbing carbon, creating what scientists have warned is a negative feedback loop .

    Sea surface warming also sends more moisture into the atmosphere, causing increasingly strong rains and winds.

    (with AFP)


    Tobacco industry – Health

    French banks accused of continuing to finance tobacco industry

    Several French banks, including Société Générale, have financed the tobacco industry to the tune of over $5 billion since 2018, an anti-smoking group claimed in research published Wednesday.

    “If the tobacco industry has succeeded in maintaining its deadly trade, it is, in part, thanks to the resources provided by banking institutions and investment funds,”  Alliance Contre le Tabac (ACT)  director Marion Catellin, said in a statement about the report.

    However, he pointed out that the same banks pledged to stop funding tobacco giants six years ago. 

    In 2017, the Australian NGO Tobacco-Free Portfolio introduced the Tobacco Free-Finance Pledge, which called on all international financial players to stop financing tobacco companies.

     Among the signatories were Société Générale, Crédit Agricole and the BPCE group (Banque Populaire-Caisse d’Epargne).

    The report, commissioned by ACT  shows that between 2018 and 2023, these French banks granted 5.3 billion dollars in loans to British American Tobacco (Lucky Strike, Dunhill, Kent), Philip Morris International (Malboro, L&M, Chesterfield) and the Imperial Brands group (Davidoff, Drum, Rizla).

    ‘An industry that kills’

    “These bank credits are unacceptable,” Catellin told France Inter.

    “As World Health Organisation Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently stated, every investment in the tobacco industry is an investment in death and disease. By financing the tobacco industry, French banks are complicit in an industry that kills one out of every two consumers.”

    Société Générale accounts for 83 percent of French financial support for the tobacco industry, even though it has become “more virtuous in recent years”.

    “Aware of the environmental and social impacts associated with the tobacco sector, Société Générale has committed to a strategy to exit the sector,” the bank told French news agency AFP.

    It signed a charter to this effect in September 2023. 

    French banks

    The report from the investigative organisation Profundo and commissioned by ACT,  says that French banks not only granted loans to tobacco giants but also invested directly in the market.

    In November last year alone, French banks totaled $733 million in investments in the tobacco industry.

    Forty percent of these funds come from the BPCE Group, (Banque Populaire-Caisse d’Épargne), and over 20% from Crédit Agricole.

    Tobacco is responsible for 75,000 deaths each year in France, a figure cited by ACT but confirmed by Public Health France.


    PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

    Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets

    A total of 326,000 tickets are set to be sold or given away for the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics on the River Seine, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Tuesday, giving the exact number for the first time. Security fears have seen the size of the waterborne parade dramatically reduced.

    “We will have 104,000 spectators on the lower bank who have paid for a ticket,” Darmanin told a hearing in the Sénat.

    “Then you have 222,000 people on the higher banks (with free tickets).”

    Darmanin estimated that another 200,000 people would watch the event along the river from buildings that overlook the Seine, with an additional 50,000 in fan-zones in the capital.

    Resistance from French security services and worries about potential terror attacks saw the number of spectators downgraded from as many as two million people.

    However the event is still set to break records in terms of its size, with all previous opening ceremonies taking place in an athletics’ stadium.

    The open-air ceremony on boats is in keeping with promises to make the Paris Olympics “iconic”, with the local organising committee keen to break from past traditions in the way it stages the world’s biggest sporting event.

    A total of 180 boats are set to sail around six kilometres down the Seine, of which 94 will contain athletes, the top security official for the Paris region, Marc Guillaume, told the same hearing.

    Darmanin added: “No country has informed us that they do not want to take part … They have confidence in our organisation.”

    • Paris 2024 Olympics unveil official posters that ‘tell a story’
    • Turning motion into art using soft pastels and Olympic vigour

    Special security 

    The executive in charge of planning and risk management at the Paris organising committee told AFP last week that special security measures would be considered for high-risk delegations such as those from the US or Israel.

    “Every delegation has its own unique circumstances, and we’ll look at solutions that are adapted to the risk,” Lambis Konstantinidis said.

    The Olympics have been targeted with attacks in the past, notably Munich in 1972 and Atlanta in 1996.

    France was placed on its highest alert for terror attacks in October after a suspected Islamist burst into a school in northern France and stabbed a teacher to death.

    The country has been consistently targeted by Islamic extremists over the last decade, particularly from the Islamic State group, while Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza is seen as exacerbating domestic tensions.

    Around a million people are set to be screened in advance by French security forces for possible security risks, including the athletes, journalists, private security guards and people who live close to key infrastructure.

    (with AFP)


    ENVIRONMENT – POLITICS

    How big industry ‘diluted’ the EU’s triumphant deal on packaging waste

    An EU deal to ban single-use plastics in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector from 2030 – and to achieve a 5 percent reduction before then – will see items such as condiment sachets, miniature toiletries and plastic wrapping around fresh fruit and vegetables disappear. However, what campaigners are calling a “reckless loophole” has seen cardboard packaging survive the cut.

    The ban was extended to so-called “forever chemicals” (PFAS) in packaging that has contact with food, while all packaging in the EU will have to be recyclable by 2030. 

    “This is clearly an historic agreement,” said Frédérique Ries, the Belgian MEP who pushed the text through parliament on Monday.

    “For the first time in an environmental law, the EU is setting targets to reduce packaging consumption, regardless of the material used.”

    However, the new rules – which took a year of negotiations before a deal was finally struck between MEPs and the European Council – stop short of banning disposable cardboard items such as cartons and coffee cups used by fast food outlets. 

    Paper manufacturers and fast food giants sucessfully argued that cardboard packaging – whether recyclable or from sustainable forests – was more environmentally friendly than plastics. 

    The most recent Eurostat data shows that Europeans generated 189kg of packaging waste per person in 2021 – an increase of almost 11kg more than the year before. 

    This waste has a significant environmental impact, contributing to 40 percent of plastic and 50 percent of paper use, along with carbon emissions equal to the yearly emissions of Hungary, the data shows.

    • Petrochemical industry joins global talks to agree plastic pollution treaty

    ‘Win’ for industry lobbyists 

    While the agreement has been widely praised as a crucial step towards the EU’s commitments to environmental sustainability and waste reduction, critics say it’s also a win for big industry. 

    The NGO Zero Waste France warned the final EU deal risked a “major shift” towards increased usage of paper and cardboard – two materials that require the use of large quantities of water and wood. 

    “The good news about PFAS (forever chemicals) hides a mountain of exemptions and exceptions – especially on reuse – and reflects a vision still focused on recycling,” Zero Waste France spokesperson Charlotte Soulary told Le Monde

    Meanwhile environmental campaign Rethink Plastics Alliance said the European Commission’s original proposal had been watered down by “reckless loopholes” and exemptions “adopted under the pressure of throwaway lobbies”. 

    Sectors affected by the proposed rules – wine, beer and soft drink makers, cosmetics companies, hotels and fast food chains and paper producers – rushed to influence policymakers in an effort to protect their interests. 

    • What steps is France taking to tackle its plastic pollution?

    Dystopian ‘manipulation’

    In an opinion piece published by leftwing French daily Libération, Pascal Canfin – who chairs the parliament’s environment committee – said the “manipulation of language” by fast food giants was worthy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.  

    “Companies like KFC, Pizza Hut and Dunkin Donuts have come together as a coalition whose slogan is the opposite of their ambition: ‘Together for sustainable packaging’,” he wrote.

    France has already banned disposable containers, plates, cups and tableware for customers dining in at fast food restaurants. 

    The government’s policy is to reduce the amount of new single-use packaging by 20 percent by 2025.  

    Fresh targets are to be set every five years until single-use plastic has been removed altogether through a combination of the “3Rs”: reduce, reuse, recycle. 


    DIPLOMACY

    France’s Macron urges allies not be ‘cowardly’ on Ukraine

    French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Ukraine’s allies not to be “cowards” in helping the war-torn country fight off Russia’s invasion. 

    Macron has faced a backlash from many Western allies after he discussed the idea of sending Western troops to Ukraine at a Paris-based conference last month.

    During a visit to Prague on Tuesday, the French leader said he “fully” stood by his controversial comments, adding that a “strategic leap” was necessary.

    “We are surely approaching a moment for Europe in which it will be necessary not to be cowards,” Macron said on his visit to the Czech Republic, which is pushing a plan to buy weapons outside Europe for Ukraine.

    Speaking later after meeting his Czech counterpart Petr Pavel, he asked: “Is this or is it not our war? Can we look away in the belief that we can let things run their course?”

    Macron said that France and the Czech Republic were “well aware that war is back on our soil”.

    Some powers, he added, had become “unstoppable” and were extending their threat of attack each day.

    “We will have to live up to history and the courage that it requires,” Macron said.

    • France’s Macron in Prague for talks on Ukraine, nuclear energy

    Troops refusal

    Most of Macron’s European allies said they would not send troops to Ukraine after his comments on 26 February.

    The White House said Tuesday that Ukraine had never sought Western troops.

    “President Zelensky isn’t asking for that, he’s just asking for the tools and capabilities. He’s never asked for foreign troops to fight for his country,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.

    Germany’s defence minister said Macron’s quotes were not helpful.

    “We don’t need really, from my perspective at least, discussions about boots on the ground or having more courage or less courage,” Boris Pistorius said at a press conference in Stockholm after meeting with his Swedish counterpart Pal Jonson.

    “This is something which does not really help solve the issues we have when it comes to helping Ukraine,” he added.

    French officials have said that Western forces could be sent to back operations such as de-mining rather than fighting Russian forces.

    “We want no escalation, we’ve never been belligerent,” Macron said Tuesday.

    • EU unveils €1.5bn defence programme as Ukraine war persists

    Ammunitions

    Macron also stressed on Tuesday his support for plans announced last month by the Czech Republic, backed by Canada, Denmark and others, to finance the rapid purchase of hundreds of thousands of ammunition rounds from third countries to dispatch to Ukraine.

    Ukraine is critically short of artillery rounds as its troops try to hold back Russian forces who are again on the offensive in the east, two years after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion.

    “We support this initiative and we are ready to contribute to it,” Macron said of the Czech plan.

    Macron did not say what France would contribute to the initiative, adding that ministers would work on that.

    But he opened the door to using European funds for it.

    (with newswires)


    Gaza

    Thousands of patients need to be evacuated from Gaza, WHO says

    An estimated 8,000 patients need evacuating out of the Gaza Strip, the World Health Organization has said, voicing frustration that few have so far been transferred outside the besieged territory.

    The WHO said moving these patients out of Gaza would relieve some of the strain on the medics and hospitals that are struggling to keep functioning in a war zone.

    “We estimate that 8,000 Gazans need to be referred outside Gaza,” Rik Peeperkorn, the WHO representative in the Palestinian territories, told a press briefing in Geneva via video-link from Jerusalem.

    Of those, an estimated 6,000 are related to the conflict, including patients with multiple trauma injuries, burns and amputations, he said.

    The other 2,000 are regular patients, he said, noting that before the war began, 50 to 100 patients a day were referred from Gaza to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, of which around half were cancer patients.

    Medical evacuation

    Only 2,293 patients were referred outside Gaza for medical treatment between 7 October and 20 February.

    Peeperkorn said the process involved not just the WHO, but also the authorities in Gaza, Israel and Egypt, plus the hospital directors.

    He said the WHO had been pushing for a streamlined medical evacuation system since November and “we don’t understand… why is it essentially not happening”.

    He said Egypt, other Middle Eastern countries and some in Europe had offered to receive patients and their companions.

    “We would like to see, and are pushing for, an organised, sustained medevac. First of all for the patients who need it, and deserve to get better treatment,” said Peeperkorn.

    “But it would also help to relieve some of the enormous stress these collapsing health services are under in Gaza.”

    • French hospital ship treated hundreds of injured Palestinians in two months

    Peeperkorn said that 23 out of 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip were not functioning, with the rest only partially or minimally operational.

    Since the start of the conflict, 1,500 amputations have been performed, he added, pointing to numbers from the Gaza health ministry.

    Back in early November, after the first evacuations of wounded patients, the WHO said Al-Arish Hospital, in the closest major Egyptian city to the border, would be the main first referral hospital, with onward referrals to second-line hospitals in Egypt.

    (with AFP)


    Geopolitics

    Asean-Australia meeting ends with warning against actions that ‘endanger peace’

    Leaders from Southeast Asia and Australia warned against actions that “endanger peace” in the South China Sea following fresh confrontations between Beijing and the Philippines in contested waters. France, another Pacific player, is concerned as well.

    The Australian-Asean Special Summit celebrating 50 years of partnership ended on Tuesday.

    According to a joint statement, the partnership will continue to “work together to promote an open, inclusive and transparent rules-based regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific region,” in what is widely believed to be a coded warning against the spread of Chinese influence.

    China claims large swaths of the South China Sea, disregarding international rules set by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

    The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) itself was inaugurated on 8 August 1967, with Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia as its founding members.



    In its founding declaration, Asean describes itself as an organisation for economic cooperation with the additional task of  “promot[ing] regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law.”

    In reality, the cooperation grew out of a fear of communism. At the time the People’s Republic of China was at the height of the Cultural Revolution, while the US was involved in a war against the Viet Cong in Vietnam and insurgencies in Laos and Cambodia.

    According to Frank Frost, author of Australia and the origins of Asean, Australia’s Asean membership was discussed, but the founding members thought Canberra was too close to the UK and the US which, in turn, could hamper the identity of the organisation. However, in March 1974 Asean accepted Australia as its first “dialogue partner”.

    Tensions with China

    Today Asean’s membership has grown to ten members, including Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. While relations with Beijing were at times cordial, recently, simmering tensions in the South China Sea threatened to boil over when Chinese boats in the Spratly Islands were accused of harassing Philippines vessels.

    Beijing on Wednesday accused the United States of using the Philippines as a “pawn to stir up trouble in the South China Sea” as hostilities between the Asian nations escalate over their territorial dispute.

    • France joins forces with India, US in China’s Pacific backyard

    China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea as its own, ignoring legal precedents and competing claims from a host of Southeast Asian nations.

    “We encourage all countries to avoid any unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region,” read a joint declaration hammered out between Asean members and Australia.

    “We recognise the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity,” the statement added.

    The French position

    Meanwhile, France, as a Pacific power with overseas territories New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna, and French Polynesia, is interested in broadening cooperation with Asean. France currently employs some 8,000 military personnel on five bases in the region.

    During a meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Malet in Paris in February, French President Emmanuel Macron “welcomed the strengthening between France and Asean” while France is strengthening its “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” bringing it in line with Asean’s own “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” that specifically refers to “cooperation for peaceful settlement of disputes; promoting maritime safety and security, and freedom of navigation and overflight.”

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

    US POLITICS

    Trump hails Super Tuesday wins as Haley set to drop out

    Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump marched towards a White House rematch with President Joe Biden in November as his final Republican rival Nikki Haley was reportedly set to drop out Wednesday after a heavy defeat in the “Super Tuesday” primaries.

    Haley, 52, the former US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, was about to suspend her campaign, the Wall Street Journal and CNN reported. She was due to speak in Charleston, South Carolina, at 10am.

    Former president Trump swept 14 out of 15 states up for grabs on the biggest day of the 2024 race so far, with Haley denying him only in the northeastern state of Vermont as he covets a second term in the White House.

    Incumbent Biden also swept the Democratic “Super Tuesday” primaries, although he was effectively unchallenged, and the 81-year-old will now turn his attention to his crucial State of the Union speech on Thursday.

    Eyeing a historic comeback to the US presidency, Trump told cheering supporters at his Mar-a-Lago beach club in Florida that they had witnessed “an amazing night and an amazing day.”

    “They call it ‘Super Tuesday’ for a reason,” said Trump, 77.

    “This is a big one. They tell me, the pundits and otherwise, that there has never been one like this, never been anything so conclusive.”

    • Biden and von der Leyen signal thaw in EU-US trade tensions

    Little suspense

    This year’s Super Tuesday was sapped of much of its suspense as Biden and Trump had effectively secured their parties’ nominations before a ballot was cast Tuesday.

    Haley, a former South Carolina governor, has failed to throw significant obstacles in Trump’s path to the nomination since finishing a distant third in the opening contest in Iowa in January.

    Impeached twice, beaten by seven million votes in 2020 and facing 91 felony charges in four trials, Trump has a profile unlike any US presidential election candidate in history.

    Yet his appeal among working-class, rural and white voters, particularly on issues like immigration and the economy, has propelled him toward the nomination in one of the most lopsided primary seasons ever seen.

    Haley – a favorite of affluent, suburban voters and university graduates – was set to collect only a handful of the delegates needed to secure the nomination.

    Biden v Trump, again?

    “I expect Nikki Haley to finish and drop out. There is no pathway after tonight for her to get the nomination,” Kenny Nail, a grassroots Republican activist, told French news agency AFP at Trump’s Florida watch party.

    Trump’s victories included Maine, one of three states that had sought to keep him off the ballot over his push to overturn the 2020 election and the assault on the US Capitol.

    The Supreme Court rejected the expulsion effort Monday, clearing the way for Trump’s participation in every state.

    The states up for grabs Tuesday offered 70 percent of the delegates Republicans need to be named the party’s candidate at the summer convention.

    Trump was not able mathematically to close out the contest but he expects to be anointed by March 19 at the latest, according to his campaign.

    Haley, who set low expectations ahead of Super Tuesday, had previously argued she is more likely than Trump to beat Biden in November and could forge on.

    Biden was on the ballot in the Democratic primaries, but he faced little threat from two outsider challengers, making his re-nomination a formality.

    • EU to loosen state aid rules in response to US green tech subsidies

    The president raced to clear wins – minus a loss in tiny Pacific Ocean territory American Samoa – and warned Trump was “determined to destroy” US democracy.

    Trump will “do or say anything to put himself in power,” Biden said in a campaign statement.

    The only real challenge to Biden came from signs of a protest vote over his support for Israel‘s offensive on Gaza, with some voters filling out ballots saying “uncommitted” in Minnesota and other states.

    Stephanie Perini-Hegarty voted for Biden in Quincy, Massachusetts.

    “I think we need a leader who is not involved in any corruption, and who is going to look out for the best interests of the people,” the 55-year-old said.


    France

    Police raid Paris town hall in probe over mayor’s trip to Tahiti

    Investigators raided Paris town hall Tuesday as part of a probe into a taxpayer-funded trip by mayor Anne Hidalgo to the French Pacific island Tahiti, according to reports from French news agency AFP.

    Specialist financial crimes officers and prosecutors from the National Financial Prosecutor (PNF) went to Paris city hall Tuesday.

    The probe, first reported by French daily Le Monde, was opened in November after complaints by anti-corruption campaigners and city councillors over Anne Hidalgo’s October trip with Paris officials, according to the reports.

    The case concerns a three-week trip to the Pacific, from 16 October to 5 November 2023, which has raised questions about the possible mixing of public money and private affairs. 

    Hidalgo justified her trip by linking it to this year’s Paris Olympics, whose surfing contest will be held at Teahupoo in Tahiti.

    • Olympic surfing to be held in Tahiti as planned as opponents agree to new plans

    But she brought her partner and tacked on a two-week personal stay to the 60,000-euro official visit.

    Hidalgo has maintained that she paid for the personal leg of the travel, including her flight home.

    Anti-graft organisation AC!! Anti-Corruption said her stay included a visit to her daughter, who lives on a nearby island.

    Hidalgo’s office had “already voluntarily produced supporting documentation regarding the journey of a city delegation to French Polynesia and New Caledonia,” another French Pacific territory, it told French news agency AFP in a written statement.

    It added that it had provided additional documents that investigators had asked for on Tuesday.

    City hall also highlighted that its own ethics commission – whose members are nominated by Hidalgo – had found no issue with the Polynesia trip.

    (with AFP)


    Iran

    Iran executed record 834 people last year, according to rights groups

    Iran executed a “appaling” total of at least 834 people last year, the highest number since 2015 as capital punishment surged in the Islamic republic, rights groups said Tuesday.

    The number of executions, which Iran has carried out by hanging in recent years, was up some 43 percent on 2022.

    It marked only the second time in two decades that over 800 executions were recorded in a year, after 972 executions in 2015, Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) said in the joint report.

    The groups accused Iran of using the death penalty to spread fear throughout society in the wake of the protests sparked by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini that shook the authorities.

    • Iran stops Mahsa Amini’s family travelling to France for EU rights award

    “Instilling societal fear is the regime’s only way to hold on to power, and the death penalty is its most important instrument,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam in the report, which described the figure of 834 as a “staggering total”.

    Iran has executed nine men in cases linked to attacks on security forces during the 2022 protests, two in 2022, six in 2023 and one so far in 2024,according to the rights groups.



    But executions have been stepped up on other charges, notably in drug-related cases, which had until recent years seen a fall.

    Of particular concern is the dramatic escalation in the number of drug-related executions in 2023, which rose to 471 people, more than 18 times higher than the figures recorded in 2020,” said the report.

    Members of ethnic minorities, notably the Sunni Baluch from the southeast of Iran, are “grossly overrepresented amongst those executed” on drug-related charges, it said.

    At least 167 members of the Baluch minority were executed in total, accounting for 20 percent of the total executions in 2023, even though the minority accounts for only around five percent of Iran’s population.

    ‘Wrong signal’

    ECPM director Raphael Chenuil-Hazan said the “lack of reaction” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was sending “the wrong signal to the Iranian authorities”.

    Most hangings in Iran are carried out within the confines of prison but the report said that in 2023 the number of hangings carried out in public in Iran tripled from 2022, with seven people hanged in public spaces.

    At least 22 women were executed, marking the highest number in the past decade, the report said.

    Fifteen of them were hanged on murder charges and NGOs have long warned that women who kill an abusive partner or relative risk being hanged.

    In 2023, only 15 percent of the recorded executions were announced by official Iranian media, with IHR confirming the other executions with its own sources.

    Amiry-Moghaddam expressed concern that a lack of international outrage at the executions, in particular with attention focused on the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, was only encouraging the Islamic republic to carry out more hangings.

    “The inconsistency in the international community’s reaction to the executions in Iran is unfortunate and sends the wrong signal to the authorities,” he said.

    (With newswires)


    EU – DEFENCE

    EU unveils €1.5 billion defence programme as Ukraine war persists

    The European Commission has announced an unprecedented defence package for the EU to boost its arms industry, allowing the bloc to shift to “war economy mode” in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    This Tuesday, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, unveiled the European Defence Industrial Strategy in Brussels – an extensive project aimed at encouraging EU countries to buy more weapons together from European companies, and to help European firms increase production capacity.

    At the presentation of the vast €1.5 billion package, Breton stressed that “to counter the return of high-intensity war on our border, we have decided to kick up a gear.”

    The commissioner had earlier underlined the need for the European Union “to change the paradigm and move into war economy mode. This also means that the European defence industry must take more risks, with our support.”

    The war in Ukraine has forced Brussels to innovate, and the EU defence strategy presented by Breton borrows from some mechanisms already in place.

    These include the bloc’s Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP), which according to Breton will swell the number of shells produced annually in the EU to two million in 2025 against a quarter of that figure when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

    “We are doing it with artillery munitions, we must now be able to do it for all equipment necessary for our security,” Breton said.

    The Commission’s project proposes favouring the common purchase of weapons made in the European Union.

    Since the invasion of Ukraine, nearly 70 percent of arms bought by European nations and sent to Kyiv came from the United States.



    Bracing for Trump’s return

    A French former tech company CEO, Breton also said the possibility of another US presidential term for Donald Trump – who has questioned Washington’s commitments to NATO – means Europe has to do more to protect itself.

    “In the current geopolitical context, Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security, regardless of the outcome of our allies’ elections every four years,” Breton said.

    In February, Donald Trump expressed his willingness to “encourage” Russia to attack any NATO allies perceived as not meeting their financial obligations, in a move that drew swift condemnation from US allies.

    The White House promptly rebuked Trump’s remarks, denouncing them as “appalling and unhinged,” with a statement from the Biden administration emphasising the dangers posed by such rhetoric, asserting that endorsing invasions by aggressive regimes jeopardises American national security, global stability, and the domestic economy.

    • EU’s Borrell dismisses Trump’s ‘silly idea’ that encourages Russian attacks on NATO

    Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, joined the chorus of criticism of Trump’s stance.

    Stoltenberg reaffirmed NATO’s unwavering commitment to defend all its allies, emphasising that any insinuation of wavering commitment undermines the collective security of NATO members, including the United States.

    He underscored the crucial role of solidarity among allies in ensuring the safety of American and European soldiers, regardless of the outcome of presidential elections, expressing confidence in the enduring strength of the US-NATO alliance.



    United EU defence effort 

    Although Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted many European countries to increase defence spending, EU officials argue that national efforts alone are less efficient and want EU bodies to play a greater role in defence industrial policy.

    Analysts say the war has made clear that European industry was ill-prepared for some major challenges, such as a sudden surge in demand for large amounts of artillery ammunition.

    Breton’s proposals include creating a European version of the US Foreign Military Sales scheme, under which the United States helps other governments to buy from US arms companies.

    Another proposal would allow the EU to compel European weapons firms to prioritise European orders in times of crisis.

    To become reality, Tuesday’s proposals will need approval from the EU’s 27 national governments – which have often been reluctant to cede power on defence and military matters – and the European Parliament.

    The proposals will also be studied closely by NATO, which has said it welcomes EU efforts to help European defence, but warned they must not duplicate or clash with the transatlantic alliance’s work.

    • Zelensky warns ammunition shortfall damaging Ukraine’s defence at Munich Security Conference

    Finding the funds

    Breton’s package includes some €1.5 billion in new money through to the end of 2027 – a modest sum in the world of large-scale defence procurement.

    But officials say the package will create a legal framework that would allow much greater coordinated spending in years to come, if the EU is willing to stump up the cash.

    Breton has called for a special EU fund of €100 billion for defence projects.

    Commission officials say they want Kyiv to take part in the proposed new schemes to boost joint procurement and production capacity, even though Ukraine is not part of the EU.

    Agreeing on the proposals will take some time, particularly as a new European Parliament will be elected in June, followed by the appointment of a new European Commission.

    Disagreements within the current Commission give a foretaste of some of the power struggles ahead.

    While Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said she will create a post of defence commissioner if she serves a second term, Breton has argued there is no need for such a role.

    “If the question is that of a Defence Industry Commissioner, it seems to me that we already have one,” he said.

    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

    The Sound Kitchen

    There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 33

    Issued on:

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

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

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

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

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

    Spotlight on France

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

    Issued on:

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

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

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

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

    Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

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

    International report

    Will Turkey ditch Russian missiles for US military jets?

    Issued on:

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

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

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

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

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

    Founding partner

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

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

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

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

    • The escaping Russians finding a better life in Turkey

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

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

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

    Important symbol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Waiting game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Their removal would be a similarly significant victory for Washington.

    The Sound Kitchen

    A pioneering female French journalist

    Issued on:

    This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about Françoise Giraud. There’s “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan”, and of course, the new quiz question, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

    Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music… so be sure and listen every week.

    Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr  Tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

    Facebook news: As you know, there are two different Facebook pages for you – one is the RFI English Clubs page, reserved for members of the official RFI English Clubs, and the other is the RFI Listeners Club page, open to all RFI Listener Club members.

    It is confusing, and every day I must decline membership to listeners who mistakenly go to the English Clubs page instead of the Listener Club page.

    So we’ve decided to merge the two pages into one: The RFI English Service Listener Forum. You will need to re-apply to the page by answering some questions (which if you don’t, I will decline your membership request). Soon, the RFI English Clubs and the RFI Listeners Club pages will be closed.

    It will be less confusing and there will be more radio lovers to interact with, so don’t be sad!

    Would you like to learn French? RFI is here to help you!

    Our website “Le Français facile avec RFI”  has news broadcasts in slow, simple French, as well as bi-lingual radio dramas (with real actors!) and exercises to practice what you have heard.

    Go to our website and get started! At the top of the page, click on “Test level”. According to your score, you’ll be counseled to the best-suited activities for your level.

    Do not give up! As Lidwien van Dixhoorn, the head of “Le Français facile” service told me: “Bathe your ears in the sound of the language, and eventually, you’ll get it”. She should know – Lidwien is Dutch and came to France hardly able to say “bonjour” and now she heads this key RFI department – so stick with it!

    Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

    In addition to the breaking news articles on our site, with in-depth analysis of current affairs in France and across the globe, we have several podcasts that will leave you hungry for more.

    There’s Paris Perspective, Spotlight on France, and of course, The Sound Kitchen. We have an award-winning bilingual series – an old-time radio show, with actors (!) to help you learn French, called Les voisins du 12 bis. And there is the excellent International Report, too.

    As you see, sound is still quite present in the RFI English service. Keep checking our website for updates on the latest from our team of journalists. You never know what we’ll surprise you with!

    To listen to our podcasts from your PC, go to our website; you’ll see “Podcasts” at the top of the page. You can either listen directly or subscribe and receive them directly on your mobile phone.

    To listen to our podcasts from your mobile phone, slide through the tabs just under the lead article (the first tab is “Headline News”) until you see “Podcasts”, and choose your show. 

    Teachers, take note! I save postcards and stamps from all over the world to send to you for your students. If you would like stamps and postcards for your students, just write and let me know. The address is english.service@rfi.fr  If you would like to donate stamps and postcards, feel free! Our address is listed below. 

    Another idea for your students: Br. Gerald Muller, my beloved music teacher from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has been writing books for young adults in his retirement – and they are free! There is a volume of biographies of painters and musicians called Gentle Giants, and an excellent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., too. They are also a good way to help you improve your English – that’s how I worked on my French, reading books which were meant for young readers – and I guarantee you, it’s a good method for improving your language skills. To get Br. Gerald’s free books, click here. 

    Independent RFI English Clubs: Be sure to always include Audrey Iattoni (audrey.iattoni@rfi.fr) from our Listener Relations department in all your RFI Club correspondence. Remember to copy me (thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr) when you write to her so that I know what is going on, too. NB: You do not need to send her your quiz answers! Email overload!

    We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Masahiro Kobayashi from Kawaguchi-City in Japan.

    Welcome Masahiro! So glad you have joined us!

    This week’s quiz: RFI English journalist Jessica Phelan, our French history expert, was on Alison Hird and Sarah Elzas’ podcast, Spotlight on France Number 105 with a piece on a pioneering French female journalist, Françoise Giraud. You were to listen carefully to the podcast and send in the answers to these questions: What is the name of the news magazine Françoise Giraud co-founded, what is the name of the other founder, and in what year was the magazine first published?

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

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

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

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

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

    Congratulations winners!

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

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

    You have until 25 March to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 30 March podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

    Send your answers to:

    english.service@rfi.fr

    or

    Susan Owensby

    RFI – The Sound Kitchen

    80, rue Camille Desmoulins

    92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

    France

    or

    By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

    To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

    To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here

    International report

    Turkey and Egypt turn page on decade of friction with show of friendship

    Issued on:

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Cairo this week formally ended more than a decade of animosity with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the two leaders committing their countries to a new era of cooperation.

    A military band and gun salute welcomed Erdogan when he arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, as Sisi rolled out the red carpet for his Turkish counterpart.

    Not long ago, the two leaders were more used to exchanging angry barbs. But now the talk is about cooperation to prevent Israel’s looming military offensive against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip and the growing humanitarian crisis there.

    “We will continue the cooperation and solidarity with our Egyptian brothers for the bloodshed in Gaza to stop,” Erdogan declared at a joint press conference with Sisi.

    “In the medium term, we are ready to work with Egypt for Gaza to recover and be rebuilt.”

    Decade-long rift

    Bilateral relations plunged into a deep freeze after Sisi ousted Erdogan’s close ally, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 coup.

    Erdogan’s visit to Cairo resulted from intense and ultimately successful diplomatic efforts to end years of antagonism between the leaders.

    “Reconciliation, an official visit by the Turkish president to Egypt, a meeting there is in and of itself significant,” observes international relations expert Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

    “Given what transpired in the past, obviously, this is a major move on the part of both President Erdogan and President Sisi.”

    Clampdown on critical media

    For years, groups affiliated with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and critical of Sisi broadcast from Istanbul – further stoking tensions between Turkey and Egypt.

    “These Political Islam-inspired narratives across the whole region are obviously something that is considered corrosive by the Egyptian government,” says political scientist Jalel Harchaoui, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

    Harchaoui claims moves by Ankara to curtail opposition TV broadcasting in recent years facilitated the rapprochement with Cairo.

    “It has always found a home in terms of being able to get broadcast across the region in Istanbul. But Erdogan was able to reduce these freedoms as part of his conversation with Cairo,” Harchaoui says.

    Regional realignment

    Turkey’s deployment of troops in the Middle East and North Africa is also a point of tension with Cairo. Turkey and Egypt backed rival sides in the Libyan civil war.

    But Erdogan, speaking to the media with Sisi, pledged a new era of cooperation.

    “We had the opportunity to evaluate the issues in Libya, Sudan and Somalia,” the Turkish president said. “We give full support to the unity, togetherness, territorial integrity and peace of these three brotherly countries.”

    • What are Turkish troops and Syrian militia fighters doing in Libya?

    During his Cairo visit, Erdogan underlined that rapprochement with Sisi was part of a more comprehensive policy of repairing ties across the region.

    “We never want to see conflict, tension, or crises in Africa, the Middle East or other places in our geography,” Erdogan said.

    “With this aim, we are determined to increase our contacts with Egypt at every level for the establishment of peace and stability in our region.”

    Libya breakthrough?

    Turkey and Egypt are two of the region’s powerhouses, and rivalry between the countries has only exacerbated conflicts in the region, particularly in Libya, argues Libyan security analyst Aya Burweila.

    “In general, I think this is good,” she said of their rapprochement. “I think it’s helpful for Libya as well because both sides support different factions in Libya. And the stalemate has gone on for such a long time.

    “It’s about time that the existing powers figure out something that everybody can agree on, and there is a deal to be had.”

    • Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in Africa

    Burweila believes Erdogan’s rapprochement with Sisi and the broader region is also born out of the realisation that cooperation is more productive than rivalry.

    “I think both parties realised that the best way forward is to cooperate and discuss, and that Turkey has realised that without economic partners in the Middle East, it cannot move forward,” she said.

    Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, on a visit to Libya this month, stressed the importance of Erdogan’s meetings in Cairo to secure Libya’s long-term future.

    Erdogan and Sisi also discussed the development of the region’s energy resources.

    Such cooperation, observers suggest, could mark a new era in bilateral relations between these two regional heavyweights.


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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.