rfi 2024-03-09 16:10:04



Climate Change

Almost zero snowfall in February a record low for French Alps

Less than 40 percent of the Alps was covered by snow in February – a record low – data from France’s Centre for Space Studies of the Biosphere (Cesbio) shows.

Images from satellite observations by Cesbio highlight the impact of climate change on exceptionally low snow levels throughout the winter – but especially in February, when snowfall was absent for almost the entire month.

Snow-covered areas in the French Alps and parts of the Swiss Alps saw a drastic drop below normal levels between 27 January and 21 February – with 26 consecutive days below the known minimums.

Meanwhile photos published on French news sites showed holidaymakers navigating through mud instead of the traditional snowy landscapes.



  • French ski resorts warned fake snow will only worsen climate impacts
  • French Alps the only bidder to host 2030 Winter Olympics

Warmest February

The average snow-covered area throughout February in the alpine regions was recorded at 37.7 percent, while last month was registered as globally the warmest on record according to data from the EU’s Copernicus satellite.

The severe snow shortages have dealt a blow to the sector, with some French ski resorts almost forced to close before the late return of snow in recent days saved the season.

Forecasts of substantial impending snowfall brought on by the Monica depression are expected to bring more welcome relief to the region.

Météo France says the mid-mountains will receive up to 30cm of snow, while areas above 1,800 metres in altitude in the southern Alps will see up to 50cm.

In the Pyrenees, especially in Andorra, fresh snowfall is expected until 12 March.


EUROPE

The €136bn price tag on Ukraine’s path to joining the EU

Ukraine’s aspirations for EU membership face a daunting economic reality. New research puts the cost of the country joining the bloc as high as €136 billion – even before post-war reconstruction begins.

As the full-scale conflict with Russia enters its third year, the cost of rebuilding is projected to rise into hundreds of billions of euros.

But Ukraine is looking beyond the battlefield towards future membership of the European Union – and the Bruegel Institute economic think tank reported this week that Ukraine’s accession could cost current member states as much as €136 billion.

Although the sum is only a fraction of a percentage of the European Union’s GDP, it still represents a considerable portion of the bloc’s seven-year budget.

The process of Ukraine’s integration into the European Union began at breakneck speed after Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

By June of that year, the EU signalled its commitment to Kyiv by swiftly approving its membership application, granting Ukraine official candidate status.

However, the European Council stipulated further reforms – particularly in the realm of rule of law and governance – as prerequisites for accession negotiations, amid criticism that the bloc was being too hasty in pushing for Ukraine’s membership.

Those prerequisites were finally agreed upon last December, following months of vetoes and political grandstanding by Hungary’s pro-Russia prime minister, Viktor Orban.

  • Hungary blocks billion-euro EU aid deal for Ukraine

Public-private investment

If and when EU accession comes to pass, what assistance must Europe provide Ukraine in managing post-war reconstruction, and at what cost?

Reconstruction costs for Ukraine are estimated at around €400 billion, “which is a huge amount”, says Zsolt Darvas, senior fellow at the Bruegel Institute and co-author of its report.

“But it’s not the EU who will pay for most of that,” he explains.

According to the economist, the European Union would contribute to rebuilding key assets not only through public funding but also via private companies, “thereby gaining ownership of a large share of infrastructure in Ukraine”.

“The private sector will contribute, the EU will contribute … as will other countries, [but] it also depends on who will be the next US president,” notes Darvas.

“At this stage, it’s impossible to break down how this €400 billion will be distributed between different actors.”

Hard sell for Brussels

How such a hefty price tag would wash with EU member states is hard to predict, with many right-wing parties already bemoaning Europe’s “over-expansion” into Eastern Europe.  

“How will EU member states swallow this? That’s a big question and certainly a political question,” Darvas tells RFI.

He stresses that the real costs could end up being less than his institute’s projection, which is based on several suppositions.

“First of all, it assumes that Ukraine will regain its full territorial integrity – that its GDP and population will not be permanently impacted by the war.

“If some territories remain under Russian control – with the GDP and population permanently reduced due to the war – then this number is going to be going to be lower,” he explains.

The analyst also notes that trade and foreign direct investment will become easier if Ukraine becomes an EU member, pointing out that Western companies “made huge profits” when central European states joined in 2004.

  • EU heading for ‘small revolution’ on enlargement: French minister

Combatting corruption 

Yet with an influx of new money comes the spectre of corruption.

For Darvas, the biggest challenge is Ukraine itself – namely, the rule of law, democracy and controlling graft.

“If you look at the indicators, Ukraine ranks very poorly on all these dimensions,” he says.

According to governance indicators compiled by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, he explains, Ukraine ranks “even lower than Russia and Belarus”.

“The starting point for Ukraine is very, very weak. And it will be an enormous challenge for the country [to reach] European standards,” he told RFI.

In other countries, the accession process has proven to be a powerful driver of fundamental reforms. But Darvas emphasises that there is a long and challenging road ahead for Ukraine.

  • What is ‘multi-speed Europe’, and does France back the idea?

Europe’s poor relation

Nevertheless, Russia’s invasion has catalysed a scramble within the EU to get Ukraine on board, no matter the cost.

Some have drawn a parallel with the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s, which is estimated to have cost some €2 trillion over 25 years as the wealthier West poured investment into the formerly Soviet-controlled East. 

At the time, the main goal was to bring the living standards of East Germans close to those of West Germans, Darvas explains.

“While wages still remained somewhat below what was in West Germany, that gap was 20 percent or so. In the case of Ukraine, we’re talking about wage differences of more than 10 times or 15 times,” he points out.

He does not believe Brussels will shell out to bring Ukraine’s wage levels closer to the EU average: “That would be an enormous cost.”

What is more likely, Darvas suggests, is that Kyiv will start navigating “convergence paths towards the EU” that will put Ukraine’s economy on a trajectory towards better wages and living standards – although it will be a long haul.

“Since the starting position of Ukraine is very, very low in terms of income and GDP per capita, I’m afraid that even after many decades, it will still remain the poorest member of the European Union,” he says.


Reproductive rights

Why changing the constitution doesn’t guarantee access to abortion in France

As commentators hail France’s decision to protect abortion rights within its constitution as a legal milestone, healthcare workers warn that having the right to an abortion and having access to one remain two different things. 

“Enshrining this right in the constitution makes it practically untouchable,” declared long-time women’s rights activist and former leftwing MP Danielle Bousquet, speaking to RFI on the day that both houses of the French parliament approved the move.

Article 34 of the charter now states: “The law determines the conditions by which the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed, is exercised.”

First legalised in France in 1975, abortion was previously authorised by successive acts of parliament – acts that parliament could potentially have repealed if a majority of lawmakers agreed. 

Now any legislation that seeks to revoke abortion rights would face censure by the Constitutional Council, the court that rules whether new laws comply with the constitution.

Instead lawmakers would have to amend the constitution once again, a complicated process that involves calling an exceptional joint session of parliament and securing three-fifths of MPs’ votes – or referring the matter to a public referendum. 

That extra level of protection is “very, very good news”, said Delphine Giraud, co-president of Anso, an association of midwives delivering reproductive healthcare.

“It shows that the French public wants this right to be set in stone. And as professionals working on the ground, we hope that it will have real consequences for access to abortion, because unfortunately it’s still difficult to access it throughout the country.”

What are France’s abortion rules?

Abortion has been legal in France since 1975. 

Since 2012 the procedure has been fully covered by national health insurance.

The time limit for getting an abortion has been successively extended; originally set at 10 weeks of pregnancy, it now stands at 14 weeks. Medical abortions are authorised until seven weeks, after which the procedure must be performed surgically.

Abortions can be carried out in hospitals, clinics, family planning centres and private practices, by general practitioners, specialists and – under certain conditions – midwives.

Ever since abortion was first legalised, France has allowed medical professionals to refuse to perform the procedure if they object to it. However, the law binds them to direct patients to other practitioners who can help them.

    Few practitioners

    One of the primary challenges is finding someone to perform the procedure.

    Only a small fraction of medical professionals in France practice it. In 2018, fewer than 2,000 doctors and midwives in private practice carried out 25 percent of all abortions that year, according to a 2020 parliamentary report – the equivalent of around 3 percent of all such practitioners.

    Most abortions take place in hospitals, yet years of restructuring and closures have resulted in fewer dedicated units within stretched public institutions. 

    “In hospitals, abortion is kind of the poor relation: often establishments see it as a variable to be adjusted,” Giraud told RFI.

    “In other words they prioritise other, more ‘noble’ specialities, and then if there’s any room left on the table they’ll add in abortions. It’s never seen as a priority.”

    • Hospitals warn France’s healthcare system is at breaking point

    Medical deserts

    The French Family Planning association estimates that 130 abortion centres have closed in the past 15 years or so.

    And as small hospitals and clinics shut and consolidate with larger ones, parts of the country find themselves becoming so-called medical deserts – areas with an absence of services where people are forced to travel far to get the care they need.

    “There are real inequalities when it comes to accessing care in different parts of France,” said Sophie Gaudu, an obstetrician-gynaecologist and co-founder of Revho, a network that draws together abortion providers in the greater Paris region.

    “If you live in a medical desert or somewhere with limited access to healthcare and midwives, my goodness it gets difficult. Some women are forced to change area and travel dozens of kilometres to get an abortion.” 

    Around 17 percent of women getting an abortion in mainland France travel outside their department of residence, according to 2022 statistics from the Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (Drees).

    That figure rises as high as 48 percent in the Ardèche department in the south-east.

    Unequal choices

    The range of abortion services available also varies widely, Gaudu stressed, with not all centres offering both medical and surgical terminations.

    “And at the end of the day patients will go wherever they can end their pregnancy, without really having a say in the method used,” she told RFI.

    In 2022 some 78 percent of abortions in France were delivered medically by giving a patient drugs that terminate her pregnancy.

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

    But this method is only authorised until seven weeks into a pregnancy, which leaves women reliant on surgical providers in the crucial window between eight and 14 weeks, beyond which terminations are no longer allowed.

    Such providers can be hard to find, suggested Gaudu. 

    “The number of people who offer abortions in France isn’t as small as all that,” she said, noting that her organisation alone trains more than 400 medical professionals a year in the procedure.

    “It’s for surgical abortions that there’s a lack of practitioners.”

    ‘Conscience clause’

    According to the parliamentary report, several centres refuse to perform surgical abortions up to the 14-week limit, arguing that the procedure becomes harder and higher risk the later it gets (which is not necessarily the case).

    French law also allows medics to opt out of the procedure on personal grounds.

    The public health code states that professionals can decline any form of care for their own reasons, and on top, a so-called “double conscience clause” specifically authorises health professionals to refuse to give abortions – provided they refer patients to another practitioner instead. 

    “In practice, however, this reorientation is often lacking,” the report notes – whether because doctors either don’t know where to direct patients or simply don’t want to.

    Family Planning and other advocacy groups have been calling for years for France to scrap the clause that singles out abortion, which they say has a stigmatising effect. But so far all efforts to rewrite it have failed. 

    No ‘ratchet effect’

    The logistics of aborting in France may yet change.

    “This constitutional revision does not have a ratchet effect,” public law expert Paul Cassia told French parliamentary TV channel LCP

    In other words, things can still go backwards. While the new clause in the constitution makes it hard for lawmakers to repeal abortion rights altogether, it doesn’t stop them erecting roadblocks.

    “Tomorrow or the day after or the day after that, a majority could decide to reduce the legal time limit for getting an abortion or make distinctions between different circumstances,” Cassia warned.

    The amendment approved this week is the result of successive compromises. One of the versions originally proposed included the wording: “The law guarantees effective and equal access to the right to abortion.”

    Those safeguards didn’t make it into the final text. 

    Mathilde Panot, the MP from the hard-left France Unbowed party who originally proposed them, said she felt “pride and emotion” to see the rewritten version pass. 

    But she continued: “The fight for our rights goes on, still and always.” 

    International report

    Turkey and Italy consider teaming up to seek new influence in Africa

    Issued on:

    Turkey and Italy are finding common ground as they seek to expand their economic and diplomatic influence in Africa. The two nations are eyeing opportunities to cooperate on security, energy and migration as France’s traditional influence on the continent wanes.

    This month, Somalia’s parliament ratified an agreement with Turkey to provide naval protection and assistance in building a Somali navy, another step in Turkey’s efforts to expand its African presence.

    “With this pact, Turkey will protect the Somali coast from pirates, terrorists – anyone that violates our maritime borders, like Ethiopia,” declared Abdifatah Kasim, Somalia’s deputy defence minister. 

    The defence deal was followed by a bilateral agreement on energy exploration in Somalia.

    Ankara’s growing influence in the region was underscored by a strong African presence at Turkey’s annual Antalya Diplomacy Forum, with seven African heads of state, seven prime ministers and 25 foreign ministers in attendance.

    In January, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hosted African leaders at a summit in Rome, where she unveiled plans to expand Italy’s influence on the continent.

    “Our future inevitably depends on the future of the African continent. We are aware of this, and we want to do our part,” Meloni declared.

    “That’s why we have decided to launch an ambitious programme of interventions that can help the continent grow and prosper, starting from its immense resources.”

    • Italy targets energy, migration with ‘non-predatory’ plan for Africa

    Common ground in Libya

    Analysts say both countries are considering cooperating as a means of achieving their Africa goals.

    “Italy is trying to fulfil a position that Western countries in some way left over the last decades, while Turkey has already been in Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa,” observes Alessia Chiriatti of the Institute of International Affairs, an Italian think tank.

    “The main issues for confrontation or cooperation – we will see – will be migration, energy issues, and, of course, the economic development of these countries,” she says.

    Also in January, Meloni met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The meeting included talks on Africa, with a focus on cooperation in Libya – a country where experts say Ankara has considerable influence, including a military base.

    The North African nation is a main transit route for migrants seeking to enter Europe, mainly through Italy.

    • Tunisia brush-off augurs badly for EU push for African migration deals

    Italy, France and other European countries see that as a “huge threat”, according to Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu of the African Studies Department at Ankara’s Social Sciences University.

    “So there is room to cooperate in this area and to prevent the illegal flow of migrants, and cooperate in the security area as well.”

      On Tuesday, the Italian and Turkish defence ministers held talks in Ankara. Exploiting Libya’s vast energy reserves is also potential common ground.

      France on the outs

      Meanwhile the recent ousting of regimes sympathetic to France in Niger, Mali and Gabon – and with it, the withdrawal of French forces – has severely weakened France’s historical political and economic influence in West Africa.

      That offers an opportunity to Italy and Turkey.

      “Italy could have an important cooperation with Turkey in order to take advantage of the position left aside by some countries like France, like Germany, like the other Western countries in Africa,” says analyst Chiriatti.

      “But it will also depend on the bilateral agenda and bilateral interests expressed by Turkey and Italy,” she adds. “That’s not always the same. So in this sense, we need to see what will happen in the future step by step.”

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

      Business opportunities

      Chiriatti warns that cooperation can easily turn into rivalry in business. But Africa’s vast economic potential is seen as offering plenty of room for partnership.

      “There are several areas where Turkey can cooperate with other countries, including European countries, because Turkish companies are trying to increase their investments,” says Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu.

      “They would like to gain new contracts for large projects, et cetra. Africa is in desperate need of infrastructure. There’s a huge energy deficit and infrastructure gap in the whole continent,” she notes.

      With Italy and Turkey lacking the financial muscle of other influential players on the continent – notably China – both countries have powerful incentives to focus on potential partnership in their bid to expand their influence in Africa.


      Paris Olympics 2024

      French security forces screen a million athletes and staff ahead of Olympics

      French security forces are vetting up to a million people before the Paris Olympics, including athletes and people living close to key infrastructure, the Interior Ministry has said.

      Ahead of the Games on 26 July, all 10,500 athletes selected for the Paris Olympics and 4,400 for the Paralympics are being subjected to background checks, as will their coaches and medical staff, in addition to 26,000 accredited journalists.

      “Nobody will be able to get accreditation from the organising committee unless they have been screened,” said Julien Dufour, head of the Interior Ministry’s security screening service, SNEAS.

      “It’s for everyone, except for spectators.”

      Of the 22,000 security agents and 45,000 volunteers, those with access to sensitive areas will be checked, while the 12,000 people chosen to take part in the torch relay have already been investigated.

      A total of 13 people selected for the torch relay were rejected, including some who had committed drugs offences as well as a suspected Islamist.

      With events set to take place around the French capital, including along the river Seine, Dufour said people living close to sensitive locations could also be vetted.

      “You can assume there are investigations on people living in some areas,” he said.

      Criminal records checked

      Officials will look for criminal records or mentions in national and international intelligence databases, with any findings then evaluated to see if they disqualify people for a role at the Games.

      For example, a person with a conviction for drink-driving might be authorised to intervene to repair a machine in a sensitive area. “But it’s a real issue if they are set to become a bus driver,” Dufour explained.

      • France to beef up Olympic security with deployment of 10,000 soldiers
      • France approves algorithmic video surveillance to safeguard Olympics

      SNEAS, which was created in 2017, carried out 100,000 background checks for last year’s Rugby World Cup in France, but Dufour declined to say how many people had been rejected.

      Each host country for the Olympics carries out its own security screening.

      For the 2012 Games in London, British security services checked 500,000 people – their biggest vetting process since World War II – and ultimately rejected 100, according to The Guardian newspaper.

      (with AFP)


      International Women’s Day

      UN alarmed over rising number of female genital mutilation cases

      The number of female genital mutilation survivors now exceeds 230 million worldwide, with most living in Africa, according to Unicef. That represents an increase of 15 percent since 2016 despite progress against the practice in some countries. 

      “It is indeed bad news. This is a huge number, a number that is bigger than ever before,” said Claudia Coppa, lead author of the report released to coincide with International Women’s Day on Friday.

      Female genital mutilation, known as FGM, can include partial or total removal of the clitoris as well as the labia minora, and suturing of the vaginal opening to narrow it.

      FGM, which can cause fatal bleeding or infections, can also have long-term consequences such as fertility problems, childbirth complications, stillbirth and painful sexual intercourse.

      144 million survivors in Africa

      Africa is home to the most number of FGM survivors with more than 144 million, ahead of Asia (80 million) and the Middle East (six million), according to the survey of 31 countries where the practice is common.

      The overall increase is largely due to population growth in certain countries but the report highlighted progress in reducing its prevalence in other places.

      In Sierra Leone, the percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 who have undergone genital mutilation has fallen in 30 years from 95 percent to 61 percent.

      Ethiopia and Kenya also recorded strong declines.

      • Urgent investment needed to meet UN goal of eliminating FGM by 2030

      Burkina Faso is one of 29 countries most affected by FGM, but the practice has declined thanks to the commitment of the state and the mobilisation of young girls and boys, according to Unicef.

      The percentage of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 subject to FGM dropped from 76 percent in 2021 to 56 percent in 2020.

      Bilal Sougou, child protection head at Unicef-Burkina said this “significant progress” is linked to “major political commitment from the authorities”.

      “To date, almost 400 cases of circumcisers or people who have practised circumcision have been brought before the courts,” he added.

      FGM cases among children aged up to 14, have, however, dropped only from 13 percent in 2010 to nine percent in 2021.

       FGM and children

      In Somalia, 99 percent of women between 15 and 49 have undergone genital mutilation, as well as 95 percent in Guinea, 90 percent in Djibouti and 89 percent in Mali.

      “We’re also seeing a worrying trend that more girls are subjected to the practice at younger ages, many before their fifth birthday,” Unicef chief Catherine Russell said in a statement.

      “That further reduces the window to intervene. We need to strengthen the efforts of ending this harmful practice.”

      • Women’s rights groups take Mali to regional court over inaction against FGM

      Meanwhile, the UN called Wednesday for the withdrawal of a controversial bill aimed at ending a ban on female genital mutilation in Gambia.

      On Monday, Gambia’s parliament began examining the bill, in force since 2015, with the second reading of the text now slated for 18 March.

      Seventy-six percent of Gambian women aged between 15 and 49 had undergone female genital mutilation, according to a 2021 report by Unicef.

      Role of men and boys

      Progress needs to increase to 27 times the current level to eradicate the practice by 2030, as called for in the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development.

      But even if perceptions are evolving, FGM “has been in existence for centuries. So changing social norms and practices that are related to this norm takes time,” Coppa said.

      “In some societies, for example, it is considered a necessary rite of passage, in other contexts it is a way of preserving, for example, the chastity of girls. It’s a way of controlling girls’ sexuality,” she said.

      As for the role of men and boys, while in some countries they favor the continuation of FGM, in others women and girls are the ones reluctant to abandon the age-old practice.

      But the men and boys “remain silent…. And this silence gives the impression that there is active acceptance of the practice. So everybody needs to take a stand,” Coppa said.

      (with AFP)

      The Sound Kitchen

      Striking French farmers and their European allies

      Issued on:

      This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the French farmer’s political action campaign and the other European farmers who have joined in. There’s “On This Day”, “The Listener’s Corner”, Ollia Horton’s “Happy Moment” and Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan” – all that and the new quiz question too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Orlando Teamah from Monrovia, Liberia.

      Welcome Orlando! So glad you have joined us!

      This week’s quiz: On 3 February, I asked you a question about the French farmers and their political action campaign – which has not cooled off. You were to re-read our article “France seeks change to EU nature laws in bid to appease farmers” and answer this question: in which other European countries are farmers striking?

      The answer is, to quote our article: “While farmers in Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Belgium have also taken to the streets, those in France – Europe’s largest agriculture producer – complain they are being further penalised by restrictions on pesticides that are harsher than in neighbouring countries.”

      Farmers in other countries than those above have been striking, too – Hans Verner Lollike noted that Denmark’s farmers were, but that there was too much snow for them to drive their tractors to the capitol or block roads!

      In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Rodrigo Hunrichse from Ciudad de Concepción in Chile: “For you, which age is the best? Childhood? Teenager? Young Adult? Adult? Middle Age? Senior? Old Age? Why?” 

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

      The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Nasyr Muhammad from Katsina State, Nigeria. Nasyr is also this week’s bonus question winner. Congratulations, Nasyr!

      Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Saleem Akhtar Chadhar, the president of the RFI Seven Stars Radio Listeners Club in District Chiniot, Pakistan, and Nuraiz Bin Zaman, who’s a member of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

      There’s also RFI Listeners Club member Habib ur Rehman Sehal, who is also the president of the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan.  Last but not least, RFI English listener Adiba Ava, from Munshiganj, Bangladesh.  

      Congratulations winners!

      Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: The “Prelude” to the Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E, BWV 1006 by Johann Sebastien Bach, performed by Philippe Honoré; “Take me home, country roads” by John Denver, arranged by Graham Byrd; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer; “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and “Hommage aux Chanteuses Kabyles Anciennes” by Ferroudja Saidani, performed by Saidani and her ensemble.

      This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets” which will help you with the answer.

      You have until 1 April to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 6 April 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 Women’s Day

      Women honoured in Paris for outstanding contributions to science

      Since its creation in 2001, the Irene Joliot-Curie Prize is given to women researchers for their outstanding contribution to science. Claire de March, whose research focuses on understanding the complexity of odour perception, was one of this year’s winners. The awards ceremony for the 2023 prize was held in Paris on the eve of International Women’s Day. 

      Speaking to RFI, de March said understanding the interaction between odourant receptors and odourant molecules was important for perfumery, food industries and everything else that depends on smell.

      She said some odourant receptors were also located outside the olfactory systems.

      “Some are even expressed in cancer cells. So perhaps, they could become therapeutic targets,” de March added.

      “So having molecules that activate them, inhibit them is also very important and could involve the development of new drugs.”

      When asked if she had to face bias as a woman scientist and about the significance of the award, de March said she was “extremely proud” to have received it.

      “Irene-Joliot Curie was a genius. This award aims to encourage young women researchers and and to provide role models of what a woman researcher can achieve,” she said.


      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

      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)


      Nigeria

      At least 200 children kidnapped from Nigerian school

      Gunmen kidnapped more than 200 pupils during a raid on a school in northwest Nigeria, a teacher and local residents said. It is one of the country’s largest mass abductions in years. 

      Local government officials in Kaduna State confirmed the kidnapping attack on Kuriga school on Thursday, but gave no figures as they said they were still working out how many children had been abducted.

      “As of this moment we have not been able to know the number of children or students that have been kidnapped,” Kaduna State Governor Uba Sani told reporters in Kuriga on Thursday. “No child will be left behind.”

      At least one person was shot dead during the attack, local residents said.

      Sani Abdullahi, one of the teachers at the GSS Kuriga school in the Chikun district, said staff managed to escape with many students when the gunmen known locally as bandits attacked early on Thursday firing gunshots in the air.

      He told local officials that 187 pupils had been snatched from the main school along with another 100 from the school’s primary classes.

      Early morning attack

      “Early in the morning, before we got up, we heard gunshots from bandits, before we knew it they had gathered up the children,” another local resident Musa Mohammed told French news agency AFP.

      “We are pleading to the government, all of us are pleading, they should please help us with security.”

      Another local resident Muhammad Adam also told AFP more than 280 have been kidnapped. Two more residents said around 200 were abducted.

      Kidnappings for ransom are common in Africa’s most populous country, where heavily armed criminal gangs have targeted schools and colleges in the past, especially in the northwest, though such attacks have abated recently.

      • Nigeria’s army increases troop numbers to tackle violence in Plateau State

      The abduction illustrates the complex security challenge facing President Bola Ahmed Tinubu who after coming to office in May promised to make Nigeria safer and bring in more foreign investment.

      Thursday’s kidnapping also comes almost ten years after Boko Haram jihadists triggered international outcry by kidnapping more than 250 schoolgirls from Chibok in Nigeria’s northeast. Some of those girls are still missing.

      Long-running insurgency

      Amnesty International condemned the latest abductions in Kaduna.

      “Schools should be places of safety, and no child should have to choose between their education and their life,” the rights group said on X, formerly Twitter.

      “The Nigerian authorities must take measures immediately to prevent attacks on schools, to protect children’s lives and their right to education.”

      Nigeria’s armed forces are battling on several fronts, including against armed criminals in the northwest and a long-running jihadist insurgency in the northeast of the country.

      Between July 2022 and June 2023, 3,620 people were abducted in 582 kidnap-related incidents in Nigeria, according to local risk analysts SBM Intelligence.

      (with AFP)


      Gaza crisis

      EU and US aim to bring aid to Gaza using temporary port

      EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is in Cyprus today, Friday, to observe preparations to send aid to war-ravaged Gaza by sea.

      This comes just hours after US President Joe Biden announced that the military will set up a temporary port off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to support deliveries.

      Efforts to dramatically ramp up aid deliveries signaled growing frustration with Israel’s conduct in the war in the United States and Europe.

      Efforts to set up a sea route for aid deliveries come amid mounting alarm over the spread of hunger among Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

      Hunger is most acute in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by Israeli forces for months and suffered long delays in food deliveries.

      Risk of famine

      After months of warnings over the risk of famine in Gaza because of Israel’s bombardment, offensives and siege, hospital doctors have reported 20 malnutrition-related deaths at two northern Gaza hospitals.

      While reiterating his support for Israel, Biden used his State of the Union speech to reiterate demands that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allow more aid to Gaza.

      “To the leadership of Israel, I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden declared before Congress. He also repeated calls for Israel to do more to protect civilians in the fighting, and to work toward Palestinian statehood as the only long-term solution to Israeli-Palestinian violence.

      US officials said it will likely be weeks before the Gaza pier is operational.

      Officials from the US, Europe, Israel and the Middle East were already deep in discussions and preparations for a maritime aid route.

      Ramadan

      Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s powerful executive arm, arrived in Cyprus late Thursday to inspect facilities at the port of Larnaca, where aid ships are expected to depart for Gaza.



      In November, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides offered the use of the port, which is a 370-kilometer journey from Gaza.

      It’s unclear when the first ship will set sail, but it’s believed it could happen as early as Sunday, the expected start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

      A ship belonging to Spain’s Open Arms NGO is moored at Larnaca waiting for permission to deliver food aid from World Central Kitchen, a US charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

      Aid groups have said their efforts to deliver desperately needed supplies to Gaza have been hampered because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, the ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order. It is even more difficult to get aid to the isolated north.

      EU Commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari said on Wednesday the bloc would consider air drops, but this would be a last resort and cannot replace ground access to the enclave.

      French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week posted a a message on social media showing large packages with French flags being dropped out of a plane, adding “Solidarity at work.”



      Ujvari confirmed that the EU has so far carried out around 40 flights to deliver aid to Gaza, primarily through Egypt.

      • EU increases aid, calls for humanitarian pause as war rages in Gaza
      • France calls for independent probe into Gaza aid delivery deaths

      (With newswires)


      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.


      Paris Olympics

      Anger as police clear homeless from tents along banks of Seine

      Security forces in Paris have evicted some 400 people living in tents along the River Seine as rising waters threatened to flood its banks. Rights groups say the move is part of a broader attempt to remove homeless and migrant populations ahead of the Olympic Games.

      The Paris prefecture on Wednesday said it removed people living “illegally” along the river.

      “Some tents are directly threatened by the rising waters,” it warned, adding the life of occupants was in danger.

      Migrant and homeless rights groups denounced the lack of temporary housing offered to those displaced. 

      “The pre-Olympic Games manhunt has started,” wrote Utopia 56, a group that provides services to homeless migrants, on X.

      They are part of the Other Side of the Medal, an umbrella group with 80 members that have been warning about a “social cleansing” in Paris ahead of the Games.

      In November last year, they launched their campaign to draw attention to the consequences of the Olympics on disadvantaged residents. 

      In an open letter to the organisers, they wrote, “The Games will cause profound upheaval in the city, with a very negative impact on these people’s lives: eviction of the homeless, fewer places in emergency shelters, closure of reception services, decrease in food distribution, and so on.”

      Demonstrations in towns and rural areas have broken out following the transfer of Paris’ homeless to temporary accommodation centres in provincial France ahead of the games.

      But the French government has denied having a “zero homeless” target for the Olympics, saying that additional accommodation for rough sleepers will be part of their legacy. 

      Brazilian campaign groups also said Rio de Janeiro’s homeless were being forced out of tourist areas in the middle of the night as the city hosted the games in 2016.

      The Paris Olympics are set to run from 26 July to 11 August, followed by the Paralympics from 28 August to 8 September.

      (with AFP)


      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 presidential election

        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. The Constitutional Council first chose 31 March as the date, before agreeing to 24.

        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 finally aligned its decision on the same date, 24 March, and 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)

        International report

        Turkey and Italy consider teaming up to seek new influence in Africa

        Issued on:

        Turkey and Italy are finding common ground as they seek to expand their economic and diplomatic influence in Africa. The two nations are eyeing opportunities to cooperate on security, energy and migration as France’s traditional influence on the continent wanes.

        This month, Somalia’s parliament ratified an agreement with Turkey to provide naval protection and assistance in building a Somali navy, another step in Turkey’s efforts to expand its African presence.

        “With this pact, Turkey will protect the Somali coast from pirates, terrorists – anyone that violates our maritime borders, like Ethiopia,” declared Abdifatah Kasim, Somalia’s deputy defence minister. 

        The defence deal was followed by a bilateral agreement on energy exploration in Somalia.

        Ankara’s growing influence in the region was underscored by a strong African presence at Turkey’s annual Antalya Diplomacy Forum, with seven African heads of state, seven prime ministers and 25 foreign ministers in attendance.

        In January, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hosted African leaders at a summit in Rome, where she unveiled plans to expand Italy’s influence on the continent.

        “Our future inevitably depends on the future of the African continent. We are aware of this, and we want to do our part,” Meloni declared.

        “That’s why we have decided to launch an ambitious programme of interventions that can help the continent grow and prosper, starting from its immense resources.”

        • Italy targets energy, migration with ‘non-predatory’ plan for Africa

        Common ground in Libya

        Analysts say both countries are considering cooperating as a means of achieving their Africa goals.

        “Italy is trying to fulfil a position that Western countries in some way left over the last decades, while Turkey has already been in Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa,” observes Alessia Chiriatti of the Institute of International Affairs, an Italian think tank.

        “The main issues for confrontation or cooperation – we will see – will be migration, energy issues, and, of course, the economic development of these countries,” she says.

        Also in January, Meloni met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The meeting included talks on Africa, with a focus on cooperation in Libya – a country where experts say Ankara has considerable influence, including a military base.

        The North African nation is a main transit route for migrants seeking to enter Europe, mainly through Italy.

        • Tunisia brush-off augurs badly for EU push for African migration deals

        Italy, France and other European countries see that as a “huge threat”, according to Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu of the African Studies Department at Ankara’s Social Sciences University.

        “So there is room to cooperate in this area and to prevent the illegal flow of migrants, and cooperate in the security area as well.”

          On Tuesday, the Italian and Turkish defence ministers held talks in Ankara. Exploiting Libya’s vast energy reserves is also potential common ground.

          France on the outs

          Meanwhile the recent ousting of regimes sympathetic to France in Niger, Mali and Gabon – and with it, the withdrawal of French forces – has severely weakened France’s historical political and economic influence in West Africa.

          That offers an opportunity to Italy and Turkey.

          “Italy could have an important cooperation with Turkey in order to take advantage of the position left aside by some countries like France, like Germany, like the other Western countries in Africa,” says analyst Chiriatti.

          “But it will also depend on the bilateral agenda and bilateral interests expressed by Turkey and Italy,” she adds. “That’s not always the same. So in this sense, we need to see what will happen in the future step by step.”

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

          Business opportunities

          Chiriatti warns that cooperation can easily turn into rivalry in business. But Africa’s vast economic potential is seen as offering plenty of room for partnership.

          “There are several areas where Turkey can cooperate with other countries, including European countries, because Turkish companies are trying to increase their investments,” says Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu.

          “They would like to gain new contracts for large projects, et cetra. Africa is in desperate need of infrastructure. There’s a huge energy deficit and infrastructure gap in the whole continent,” she notes.

          With Italy and Turkey lacking the financial muscle of other influential players on the continent – notably China – both countries have powerful incentives to focus on potential partnership in their bid to expand their influence in Africa.

          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


          Sponsored content

          Presented by

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

          Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


          Sponsored content

          Presented by

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

          Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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