rfi 2024-03-10 16:07:51



Youth in Africa

Young Senegalese forced abroad by dual economic and political crises

Dakar, Senegal – As young people quit Senegal amid mounting economic and political hardship that has seen universities close and jobs dry up, local charities have moved in to stem the exodus by offering practical training aimed at helping vulnerable youth forge a path into the workplace.

The country has been thrown into political crisis over the past year over the jailing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and the violent supression of protests.

President Macky Sall was accused of seeking to maintain his grip on power amid disputed elections that were then delayed. A polling date has finally been set for 24 March.

The turmoil has had a ripple effect on the economy, with tourism in decline and most industries at a standstill.

  • Dakar’s university reopens after months of closure following Sonko protests

Ayoba Faye, a journalist with private media group Walfadjri in Dakar and chief editor of the online newspaper Press Afrik, told RFI the postponement of the election had aggravated matters, particularly for young people. 

“The country faces a political crisis, but also a social crisis and an economic crisis,” he said.

Young people lost many work opportunities after the government sold fishing licences to China and the EU, added. With the largest university closed for nine months “more and more of them are taking their pirogues to try and emigrate to Spain”.

Rise in poverty

Known abroad as a haven of stability in a volatile region, Senegal has experienced a dramatic rise in poverty.  More than a third of the population living under the poverty line, UN World Food Programme figures show.

Forty-one percent of Senegalese are under the age of 14 and many young people are focused on one thing: reaching Europe.

To do so, they typically travel the dangerous Atlantic route to Spain’s Canary Islands, which means days of sailing across treacherous seas.

The International Organisation for Migration said 14,976 migrants from West Africa had reached the Canaries between January and September 2023. It also said 424 people had either drowned or disappeared in crossings during that period.

More and more people are dreaming of taking their boats out “not for fishing but to leave the country”, economist N’Dongo Samba Sylla told RFI.

“When even demonstrating can lead to death because of state violence, what else can they hope for?” 

Call for training

Several organisations are focused on supporting young Senegalese facing unemployment – some of whom have returning to the country after a failed attempt to migrate. 

Aspyre Africa, a UK-registered charity, provides access to vocational training for the country’s most vulnerable youth – especially those who feel they are unsuited for higher education. 

It aims to propose practical and sustainable solutions that can remove barriers to entering the workplace.

Many young men go through Aspyre to learn how to become electricians, for example.

“In Senegal, a lot of young people lose hope because of unemployment,” trainee gardener Pape Moussa Diarra told RFI.

“I want to tell them that they can find support and get training to find a job that suits them, and then they’ll be able to help themselves and their family.” 

One of the trainers, Lamine Tall, says social pressure has contributed to Senegal’s emigration problem. 

“If a young man hears about another one who left for Europe and did well there, his family and his village might ask him, ‘Don’t you deserve the same?'” he says. 

“That can get into people’s heads.”


FRANCE – WEATHER

Several missing in southern France after violent storms flood bridges

France (AFP) – French rescue workers were on Sunday searching for seven people, including two children, missing after violent storms hit the south of the country, with most believed to have been swept away in cars on flooded bridges. 

A family of four, including two children aged four and 13, was caught in the floods while trying late Saturday evening to drive across a bridge over the river Gardon in the village of Dions, north of the city of Nimes, the prefecture said.

The father and the two children were still missing but the mother, 40, who was also in the car, was found by rescuers and taken to hospital, it added.

In Dions on Sunday a helicopter flew over the village and the bursting waters of the Gardon while large numbers of firefighters engaged in search efforts, helped by drones and dogs. The bridge was still submerged.

Ongoing searches

Rescuers were also searching for two women, believed to be aged 47 and 50, who made an emergency call on a bridge in the town of Goudargues to the north before contact was lost.

Another driver, of Belgian nationality, was also missing and feared to have been swept away from a bridge in the village of Gagnieres also in the Gard department.

The road had been closed and a policeman had told the driver not to drive on the bridge, officials said.

  • Why is northern France so vulnerable to treacherous flooding?
  • Europe’s largest bookshop devastated by floods in southwest France

A passenger in his vehicle, also Belgian, managed to get out and take refuge in a tree, before being rescued after more than two hours amid the branches.

In the neighbouring department of Ardeche, the manager of a hydroelectric power station who went to check on the facility has also been missing since Saturday evening in the village of Saint Martin de Valamas. Searches are continuing.

Multiple rescues

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said rescuers had carried out a total of 35 operations as the storm and torrential rains swept across the Ardeche and Gard departments.

He added that all the vehicles swept away had been found but there was still “not a trace” of those missing.

The prefecture in the Gard department expressed regret that despite multiple warnings about the incoming storm, “we still see behaviour that is dangerous, first of all for the people themselves but also dangerous for the people whose duty it is to come to their aid”.


CHAD

Concerns ahead of Chad elections after death of main opposition figure

The death of Yaya Dillo – the main rival to transitional Chadian president Mahamat Idriss Déby in upcoming elections in May – has deepened the political strife plaguing the country.

The European Union and Human Rights Watch have called for an international investigation into Dillo’s death, which his party has labelled an assassination. 

During a visit to Paris last Tuesday, Chadian Prime Minister Succes Masra said he had agreed to the probe. 

Presidential elections in May and June are meant to assure the return of constitutional rule to Chad, three years after military authorities seized power in a coup led by Déby.

However, Dillo’s killing during a shoot-out at his party’s headquarters last week has thrown a dark shadow over the polls. 

While the junta says Dillo fomented an attack against Chad’s main security agency, his Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF) party maintains that he was murdered.

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

‘Culture of death’

Even if calls for an international investigation are answered, experts say it is unlikely any conclusions will be drawn.

“A similar situation occurred in October 2022 after the deadly repression of protests, but the report is still not accessible,” African specialist Roland Marchal told RFI.

“The history of Chad is full of similar situations, from 1993 or 2008 for instance. Idriss Déby already had opponents killed and no one was ever arrested or punished.”

Observers have denounced the culture of impunity in the country, fearing that the opposition is now condemned to lose the election.

RFI’s Jean-Baptiste Placca, who covers Africa, has described the situation as a “depressing culture of death“.

Opposition politician Max Kemkoye agrees. “We are candidates for death. The tension is already here, troubles are here. It is an explosive cocktail,” he told told RFI.

Prime Minister Masra told RFI the government was committed to carrying out an international-style investigation that would “identify responsibilities at all levels”.

  • Chad votes “Yes” to new junta-backed constitution

Rocky road to elections

Déby, announced his intention to contest the 6 May presidential poll three days after Dillo’s death.

Déby is the son of veteran leader Idriss Déby Itno, who ruled Chad with an iron fist for more than 30 years before being killed by rebels in 2021.

His son took power in a coup, and later promised elections after a transition period of 18 months.

But his regime has extended the transition by two years, authorising him to run in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

    “The election might be an easy win for Déby,” Marchal says.

    “As his father before him, he will probably praise the people for the high participation rate, and France or the EU will remain silent, because stability in Chad is valuable.

    “The double standards with other African regimes is obvious and it renders the EU less and less credible in central Africa and in the Sahel.”

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

    Regional ally

    Déby’s military government is one of several juntas in power in west and central Africa, where there have been eight coups since 2020.

    Chad has long been a key partner for the UN and Western powers in the Sahel in the fight against terrorism, and is one of the last countries still hosting French troops in the region.

    Recently Chad was forced to accept the dissolution of the G5 Sahel force after key members Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso cut ties with France and left the group.

    Prime Minister Masra met with his French counterpart, Gabriel Attal, on Tuesday in Paris to discuss future cooperation between the two nations.


    FRANCE – SOCIETY

    Veil, Baker and Curie: acclaimed women to appear on new French coins

    France is redesigning its 10, 20 and 50 euro cent coins to honour women who have marked the country’s history. The faces of national icons Simone Veil, Josephine Baker and Marie Curie will appear on coins set to go into circulation from the middle of 2024.

    The new coins were designed by the French mint’s chief engraver Joaquin Jimenez and feature the “three exceptional women”.

    Their profiles face in the same direction as “The Sower“, the stylised female figure representing liberty that has been seen on French coins for the last 120 years.

    “The three personalities selected to appear on these coins are the symbol of a strong attachment to the values ​​of the Republic and a source of daily inspiration for everyone,” Marc Schwartz, CEO of the Monnaie de Paris – the Paris Mint – said when the new designs were unveiled this week.

    Simone Veil

    Politician, women’s rights champion and Holocaust survivor Veil will be the face of the 10 cent coins.

    As health minister, Veil argued for the legal right to abortion, and the “Veil Law” was enacted in 1975. At the time she was one of only nine women in the National Assembly.

    She became the first elected president of the European Parliament in 1979.

    Veil died in 2017. The following year she and her husband Antoine were transferred to the Panthéon, the Paris monument that houses the tombs of French national heroes, after a request by President Emmanuel Macron.

    Veil is one of just six women buried there. 

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

    Josephine Baker

    American-French performer, Resistance fighter, feminist and civil rights activist Baker was the first black woman to enter the Panthéon in 2021.

    She will appear on the 20 cent coins.

    “My mother would have said: ‘History has shown us that universal brotherhood must be learned, whereas it should be natural’,” her son Brian Bouillon Baker said in a statement welcoming the news.

    “I am proud that it embodies our republican values ​​today.”

    Macron said that Baker’s entire life had been dedicated to “the twin quest for liberty and justice”.

    • Artist, activist and Resistance hero Josephine Baker enters France’s Panthéon

    Marie Curie

    Born Maria Sklodowska, Curie was a Polish-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.

    She will become the new face of the 50 cent coins.

    In 1895 she married the French physicist Pierre Curie, and she shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with him and with the physicist Henri Becquerel for their work developing the theory of “radioactivity” – a term she coined.

    In 1911 her discovery of the elements radium and polonium earned her a second Nobel, this time in chemistry.

    She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the only person ever to have won it in different fields.

    In 1995 she became the first woman to enter the Paris Panthéon on her own merits (the only other women interred there until then, Sophie Berthelot, was buried with her husband Marcellin).

    Curie already appeared on the last 500 franc note and on several collector’s coins.

    • French women scientists push to find their place at the top

    National symbolism

    Each minted euro coin has a European side and a national side, which can only be changed every 15 years.

    The French side of the one and two cent coins, which feature oak and olive branches within a hexagon, was last redesigned for the 20th anniversary of the euro in 2022.

    Its one, two and five cent coins show Marianne, the female symbol of the French republic.

    The new coins will gradually be put into circulation by the summer of 2024, alongside the older designs.


    France – security

    Another deportation as France shows zero tolerance for radical preachers

    Tunisian imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi was recently expelled from France for alleged hate speech under an accelerated procedure made possible by the country’s tough new immigration laws. In a crackdown on Islamist fundamentalism, France has ejected a string of foreign imams whose preaching has been deemed a threat.

    An imam at the Attawba mosque in Bagnols-sur-Cèze, in the south of France, Mahjoubi was deported on 22 February in a decision that he said was politically motivated.

    Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin ordered his expulsion after footage emerged of Mahjoubi appearing to preach hate and anti-France sentiment during a sermon in early February.

    In an extract widely circulated on social media, Mahjoubi described the “tricolors” – a term often used to refer to the French flag – as “satanic” and  “of no value with Allah”.

    The deportation order was also based on previous sermons during which Mahjoubi is alleged to have encouraged discrimination against women, hatred of Jews and the destruction of Western society.

    Mahjoubi moved to France in 1986. While he has a residence permit, the 52-year-old does not hold French citizenship.

    He was arrested on 22 February at his home on charges of “inciting terrorism”. His permit and passport were removed, and he was put on a flight to Tunis that evening.

    Mahjoubi told FranceInfo the decision was “arbitrary” and that he would challenge it through the courts and “do everything possible to return to France” to be with his wife, who is also Tunisian, and their five children.

    Decision upheld

    However on Monday the French judge examining the case upheld Mahjoubi’s expulsion on the grounds that he had deliberately used discriminatory language and incited hatred towards women and Jews in his sermons. 

    The court ruled that the imam’s remarks did not fall within France’s “framework of values” and that they set Muslims against non-Muslims, incited hatred towards Jews and Israel, and advocated for jihad and Sharia law.

    Mahjoubi’s lawyer, Samir Hamroun, said he had called on the Council of State, France’s highest court, to review the decision.

    Denouncing an “unprecedented violation of rights” and an “unprecedented procedure in terms of swiftness”, Hamroun said his client had been deprived of the opportunity to have his case heard before a judge. 

    Deportation ‘urgent’

    Mahjoubi’s deportation was executed in less than 12 hours on the grounds of “absolute urgency”.

    In his decision, Darmanin said the imam’s rhetoric could incite his followers to commit acts of violence at a time when there is a particularly high terrorist threat following the 7 October attacks by Hamas in Israel.

    “It’s a demonstration that the immigration law, without which such a speedy expulsion wouldn’t have been possible, makes France stronger,” he wrote in a social media post on 23 February.

    Under the new legislation, French authorities can enter a suspect’s home and withhold identity papers without the owner’s permission. 

    “It allows the passport to be taken at home, immediately, and the person can be put on a plane immediately,” lawyer Aurélie Desingly told FranceInfo.

    But that’s the only change.

    Another lawyer, Stéphane Maugendre, told RFI the procedure of absolute urgency that allowed for such a swift deportation already existed before Darmanin’s law.

    Mahjoubi claims he’s been used as a scapegoat for Darmanin to “create a buzz around the immigration law”.

    In an interview with French media, he said his reference to tricolor flags being satanic was a “slip of the tongue” and that he was referring to rivalries between football supporters of different Maghrebi nations during the recent Africa Cup of Nations.

    “All these flags … all these slogans in stadiums … divide Muslims,” he said. “The Maghrebi nation is tearing itself apart and these flags are satanic. They’re dividing us; the devil is spreading discord among us.”

    • France to close six mosques and disband associations suspected of radicalism

    Double discourse

    Mahjoubi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist fundamentalist movement founded in Egypt in 1928.

    Researchers claim it “aims to establish an Islamic government and substitute the prevailing secular laws”. 

    “The brotherhood is theocratic and cannot support democracy,” says Florence Bergeaud-Blackler – an expert on Islamic extremism and author of a recent book on the Muslim Brotherhood that has earned her death threats.

    Bergeaud-Blackler says imams preaching in France are obliged to hold a double discourse.

    “One is aimed at their followers and another allows these religious figures to obtain positions of influence (in France),” she told RFI.

    After a string of Islamist terror attacks, including the death of teacher Samuel Paty by a radicalised former pupil, French authorities are increasingly interested in what’s happening within France’s mosques.

    A small number have been closed down. On Friday the mosque in Bagnols-sur-Cèze where Mahjoubi officiated lost its lease.

    • France will no longer accept imams trained by foreign countries

    String of expulsions

    Mahjoubi is just the latest imam to have been sent back to his country of origin for expressing views deemed contrary to French values.

    In 2012, fellow Tunisian Mohamed Hammami was expelled for advocating violent jihad and anti-Semitism. Several others were expelled under the Socialist government of Francois Hollande.

    Under President Emmanuel Macron’s watch, Doudi Abdelhadi was deported to his native Algeria in 2018, Mmadi Ahamada to the Comoros in 2022 and Hassan Iquioussen to Morocco in 2023.

    According to Interior Ministry figures, 44 people “deemed dangerous and linked to radical Islam” were expelled from France in 2023 – an increase of 26 percent on the previous year.

    The French government sees deporting radical preachers as one way of combatting Islamist extremism, but it is also seeking to promote French-born, rather than foreign, imams.

    In 2020, Macron said he wanted to end the process of welcoming imams on detachment from Muslim countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Maghrebian nations.

    A law aimed at ending “detached imams” comes into force on 1 April.


    Climate change

    As temperatures climb, is the future of French wine in England?

    As climate change threatens France, the world’s largest wine producer, winemakers are looking to innovate. One solution, particularly for champagne producers, is to invest in countries with cooler weather – including the United Kingdom.

    Wine might not top the list of climate concerns. 

    But vines are among the crops most immediately vulnerable to events such as wildfires, water shortages, hail and frost. 

    Already, hot winters followed by unseasonably cold springs are upsetting the delicate balance of wine production in France.

    Grapes grown on century-old vines are ripening weeks earlier than they did in the 1980s. In the south, fruits are getting smaller. In other regions, winemakers wake up before dawn to light hundreds of candles to thaw frosts that kill early buds.

    And some producers have their eyes on land in unconventional areas like Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands. 

    Rise of English viticulture 

    While all regions in France are affected by rising temperatures, Champagne is one of the hardest hit, according to a 2023 study by international viticulture expert group Giesco.

    England’s south-east has similar temperatures as Champagne did 30 years ago, with the same chalky soil. Ideal conditions for the chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes that go into the famous sparkling wine could make it a future epicentre of production. 

    French winemakers are buying up land there in a bid to stay one step ahead of climate change.

    The Pommery champagne house began working with winemakers in Hampshire in 2014 to produce English sparkling wines, and has since planted its own vines in the southern county. In 2015, Taittinger acquired around 70 hectares in Kent.

    In a statement, the champagne house’s president, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, said: “Our aim is to make something of real excellence in the UK’s increasingly temperate climate and not to compare it with champagne or any other sparkling wine.” 

    • Can French wine survive the climate change fiasco?

    Unique region

    There’s no question of abandoning the legendary Champagne region, at least for now. 

    Jean-Marc Touzard, director of research at Inrae, a French public research institute dedicated to agricultural science, told RFI: “Production conditions in Champagne remain favourable until 2050, even if changes are coming.”

    By investing in the UK, he added, French winemakers are not necessarily seeking to weather climate change so much as diversify their portfolio and tap into the local market.

    Philippe Schaus, chief executive of Moët Hennessy, told The Telegraph in late 2022 that nowhere could replace the Champagne region.

    “Champagne is not just about average temperatures. The soil is very particular. The craftsmanship is very, very particular.”

    • In the cellars of Maison Ruinart, the oldest champagne producer in France

    Strict winemaking rules

    French production rules mean that only wines made and bottled within strict geographic limits have the right to the champagne name

    The same rules, set by France’s National Institute of Origin and Quality (Inao), also determine which grape varieties winemakers can include and how they’re cultivated.

    Producers have complained that the regulations make it harder for them to experiment with new techniques, which they say are urgently needed to adapt to changing weather patterns.

    Touzard says that Inao has announced the possibility of introducing new grape varieties to test their viability under climate change.

    But he cautions that deviating from time-honoured techniques may cut “the links to the terroir and the local conditions of production that created the value and narratives of wines”. 

    Terroir is a French term describing the unique ecosystem that collectively builds a wine’s character.

    • It took a woman from the French Antilles to shake up champagne making in France

    Taste of climate change

    The owners of Moët & Chandon have called for the regulations to be loosened, arguing that France imposes tighter quality standards than Italy or Germany.

    The champagne house has set up research units to test new technologies and production methods. 

    “Present day traditions are not sustainable in the long term and it would be unwise to let them reach breaking point,” Vincent Malherbe, head of vineyards at the LVMH group that owns Moët & Chandon, told Polytechnique Insights in a 2021 interview.

    “We must progress in order to maintain the style and quality of our wines.”

    A warming climate is already increasing the alcohol content of grapes, while reducing acidity and bringing out unexpected aromas.

    Even so, Malherbe said, swapping north-east France for southern England was not on the agenda. 

    “Vineyards in the Champagne region have a bright and sunny future ahead of them,” he insisted.

    “The solution lies in innovating in accordance with our traditions.”

    (with newswires)


    Cote d’ivoire

    Former Ivorian president Gbagbo agrees to run in 2025 election

    Abidjan (Reuters) – Former Cote d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo has agreed to lead the party he founded into the 2025 presidential elections, spokesman Katinan Kone told Reuters following a meeting of the party’s central committee. 

    Gbagbo, president of the West African country from 2000 to 2011, launched his African People’s Party – Cote d’Ivoire (PPA-CI) in 2021 following his acquittal on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and return from a decade abroad.

    He was acquitted in 2019 by the Netherlands-based ICC on charges relating to his role in a civil war sparked by his refusal to concede defeat in an election.

    Gbagbo lost control of the party he previously founded, the Ivorian Popular Front, to a former ally while imprisoned awaiting trial in the Netherlands for several years, but he retains a large and loyal base of supporters at home.

    The election is expected to be held in October 2025. President Alassane Ouattara, who was re-elected in 2020, has not yet said whether he will run again.

    Another possible contender is Tidjane Thiam, former chief executive of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, who in December became president of the PDCI, one of Cote d’Ivoire’s main opposition parties, though the party has not yet formally designated its chosen candidate.

    Read also:

    • Beekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire help reduce dependence on glyphosate pesticide
    • Ivorian president Ouattara in France to discuss partnership and security issues

    PORTUGAL – POLITICS

    Portugal votes in election that could fuel Europe’s drift to the right

    Lisbon (AFP) – Voters in Portugal go to the polls Sunday in an early election that could see the country join a shift to the right seen across Europe after eight years of Socialist rule.

    Final opinion polls published Friday show the centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD) narrowly ahead of the Socialist Party (PS) but short of an outright majority in parliament, which could make the far-right party Chega a kingmaker for forming a governing coalition.

    But analysts warned the results of the election, Portugal’s second in two years, remained wide open given the large number of undecided voters.

    Voting stations in the nation of around 10 million people open at 8am with exit poll projections expected at 8pm.

    The AD leader, 51-year-old lawyer Luis Montenegro, has campaigned on promises to boost economic growth by cutting taxes, and to improve the country’s public services.

    “We really must turn the page,” he told a packed final rally at Lisbon’s bullring on Friday night.

    Montenegro has ruled out any post-election agreement with Chega, but other top AD officials have been more ambiguous.

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

    Analysts say a deal with the anti-establishment Chega, which means “Enough”, may prove the only way for the AD to govern.

    Chega’s leader Andre Ventura, a former trainee priest who went on to become a tough-talking television football commentator, has said his party is “as legitimate as the others”.

    Chega calls for tougher measures to fight corruption, stricter controls over immigration and chemical castration for some sex offenders.

    Just five years old, Chega picked up its first seat in Portugal‘s 230-seat parliament in 2019, becoming the first far-right party to win representation in the assembly since a military coup in 1974 toppled a decades-long right-wing dictatorship.

    It increased its seats to 12 seats in 2022 and polls suggest it could more than double that number this time.

    That would mirror gains by far-right parties across Europe, where they already govern – often in coalition – in countries such as Italy, Hungary or Slovakia, or are steadily gaining, as in France and Germany.

    ‘Change direction’

    The election was called after Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa, 62, unexpectedly resigned in November following an influence-peddling probe that involved a search of his official residence and the arrest of his chief of staff.

    Though Costa himself was not accused of any crime, he decided not to run again.

    Under his watch unemployment has dropped, the economy expanded by 2.3 percent last year – one of the fastest rates in the eurozone – and public finances have improved.

    • Lisbon street plaques tell story of Portugal’s forgotten slave trade

    But surveys indicate many voters feel Costa’s government squandered the outright majority it won in 2022 by failing to improve unreliable public health services and education, or address a housing crisis that has sparked large street protests in what remains one of Western Europe’s poorest countries.

    “We need to change the direction of the country because it can’t continue in this state,” Antonio Ferreira, a 47-year-old telecoms technician and volunteer firefighter, told AFP at an AD street rally Friday in Lisbon‘s upscale Alvalade neighbourhood.

    The Socialists’ new leader, 46-year-old former infrastructure minister Pedro Nuno Santos, has defended the government’s record even as he acknowledges it could have done better in some areas.

    “The right thinks they’re going to win the election with their usual arrogance and lack of humility. It’s the Portuguese people who will decide,” he said at his final rally on Friday night.


    SENEGAL

    Senegal kicks off shortened election campaign after poll delays

    Dakar (Reuters) – Senegalese presidential candidates launched their shortened campaigns on Saturday, two days after a court confirmed the election would be held on March 24, ending weeks of uncertainty and kick-starting a competition that remains wide open.

    Tensions have gripped the country since early February, when a bid by President Macky Sall to postpone by 10 months a vote that had been due to take place on Feb. 25 provoked widespread protests and warnings by critics of democratic backsliding.

    Senegal, a country of 18 million, is normally one of West Africa‘s most stable democracies.

    The worst of the crisis appears to be over after the Constitutional Council ruled that the vote must be held before Sall’s mandate expires on April 2.

    The new date leaves the 19 candidates little more than two weeks, rather than the usual 21 days, to drum up support.

    Ramadan campaigning

    It also means that for the first time campaigning in the majority Muslim nation will take place during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Sunday night.

    “We will have to adapt everything,” opposition candidate and former mayor of the capital Dakar, Khalifa Sall, told Reuters.

    “We were used to big gatherings, big events — it was festive — but this festive character does not fit with Ramadan, which is a time of penitence, a moment of communion.”

    The campaign period also coincides with the Christian period of Lent.

    • Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential election
    • Senegal: Civil society, opposition step up protests to break political deadlock

    Sall, 62, who has reached the constitutional limit of two terms in power, said when he delayed the poll that he was doing so because of a dispute over candidates and alleged corruption within the Constitutional Council that approved the list.

    The council has denied the accusations.

    “We will have to demonstrate flexibility and ingenuity,” said Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president.

    “But the important thing is we have a date and we will vote.”

    The charismatic former mayor, who was prevented by a jail sentence from contesting the 2019 presidential election and later pardoned, launched his campaign as the clock struck midnight on Friday.

     

    He pledged to re-unite the divided country and reform state institutions to avoid future constitutional crises, calling the recent dispute over the election date a “grave and sad thing” for a country has held elections for 64 years.

    He also promised to revive the economy by boosting agriculture, fishing and the budding oil and gas industry.

    The ruling Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition’s candidate, Amadou Ba, was due to kick off his campaign later on Saturday, as was opposition candidate Anta Babacar.


    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)

        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


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

          Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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          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.