rfi 2024-03-19 01:05:54



Climate Change

Greater biodiversity shields forests from climate extremes, say scientists

Having a large variety of plant and tree species as well as fertile soils rich in organic life helps forests to better withstand the impacts of climate change, particularly droughts, new research has found. 

Published on Monday in the journals Global Change Biology and PNAS, two studies carried out by French, German and Chinese scientists underpin the critical importance of fostering biodiversity. 

When a forest’s canopy is made up of many different species, it acts as a buffer that preserves the forest’s microclimate – and therefore its ecosystem – because there are fewer temperature and humidity extremes. 

“This means that when there are very high temperatures, it will be a little cooler in forests with great biodiversity,” CNRS researcher Stéphan Hättenschwiler, who participated in the studies, told RFI

Forest field work

By conducting field experiments in five types of forests across China, the researchers also found that high biodiversity helps tree leaves to decompose, even during periods of drought.  

Leaf litter breakdown, essential for the proper functioning of forests, is also helped along by the presence of organisms in the soil such as earthworms, centipedes and mites. 

“When you have a more species-rich leaf litter and a more complex network of decomposer organisms, this diversity can counteract the negative effects of drought,” Hättenschwiler said. 

“So it’s a kind of insurance against extreme conditions.”

  • Europe unprepared for ‘catastrophic’ climate risks: EU agency
  • Hottest February ever puts world in ‘unchartered’ climate territory

To achieve their results, the scientists created drought conditions in the forests – which ranged from temperate to tropical ecosystems – using so-called rainfall exclusion systems. 

They say their findings demonstrate the urgent need to move away from monocultures and to promote the diversity of trees in the world’s forests. 

The team is pushing for the findings of the studies to be integrated into ecosystem management practices for both forests and grasslands. 


GASTRONOMY

62 new French restaurants join Michelin Guide’s galaxy of stars

The Michelin Guide has unveiled its annual list of the best French restaurants, praising the ‘cultural dynamism’ of a new generation of chefs, though again only a handful of women have been honoured. 

After a long period of resting on the laurels of its gastronomic reputation, France has seen a flourishing of new establishments in the last decade or so, absorbing international ideas and with a greater focus on sustainability. 

Two restaurants achieved the highest pinnacle of three stars at the annual ceremony, this year held in the Loire Valley city of Tours: Le Gabriel in Paris and La Table du Castellet in the southern Provence region.

A total of 62 restaurants were awarded at least one star – most joining the Michelin ranks for the first time, including 23 that have been open for less than a year.



Among the innovative restaurants earning a star were Nhome in Paris, where there is only one table for 20 guests in a vaulted cellar opposite the Louvre, and Espadon at the Ritz, where chef Eugénie Béziat has brought daring African fusion dishes into the historic hotel.

Reflecting the continued male dominance of the industry, Béziat was one of just six women chefs being awarded a star on Monday. 

Michelin Guide director Gwendal Poullennec referred to the gender gap at Monday’s ceremony, saying: “There are too few women at the head of kitchens despite their being more and more numerous in culinary schools and restaurant teams”.

“It’s a reality we deplore,” he said, but added he was still hopeful thanks to “strong initiatives to promote talented young women.”

  • Remote French island restaurant wins 3-star Michelin ranking

‘Enormous challenge’

La Table du Castellet – which focuses on locally-sourced seafood and vegetables – went straight to the top ranking in its first year under Fabien Ferré.

At just 35, he is currently the youngest chef in France with three stars.

“It’s an enormous challenge every day and I’m so glad to be able to experience this moment with my colleagues,” Ferré told the AFP newswire.

The Michelin Guide celebrated his “perfectly executed creative dishes” and “deep and punchy sauces”.

He worked under the restaurant’s previous head chef, Christophe Bacquié, who reportedly noted: “I predicted the best for him, it happened faster than I thought.”

Le Gabriel, a highly exclusive eatery near the Champs-Elysées in Paris, is led by chef Jerome Banctel, who was praised for his technical excellence in reworking classics from his native Brittany.

There are now 30 restaurants with three stars in France, 75 with two, and 534 with one.

“French gastronomy is no longer stuck in the past,” Poullennec stressed before the ceremony.

The 2024 crop marks “the emergence of a whole generation that we could feel coming up,” he added. 

Many of those rewarded on Monday put a focus on sustainable, locally-sourced cuisine. 

“There is a very clear emphasis on the ‘terroirs’ – the local agricultural fabric,” Poullennec underlined.

  • ‘Best chef in the world’ Guy Savoy stripped of Michelin star

What goes up, must come down

Two weeks ago, Michelin announced demotions – done in advance to avoid any bitter taste at the ceremony. 

A total of 28 lost a star this year, including one three-star establishment.

The annual ceremony has become a touring affair around France since the Covid-19 pandemic, with the last two held in Strasbourg and Cognac.

That reflects the spread of France’s best restaurants beyond Paris, with regional eateries accounting for most of the new stars in recent years. 

Some 40 small municipalities and villages find themselves with a Michelin-starred restaurant in the latest edition of the guide.

  • French chef loses cheddargate case against Michelin food bible over lost star

Respected, but feared

Among top chefs, the Michelin Guide is as feared and criticised as it is respected.

Its anonymous reviewers can make or break reputations, with very tangible impacts on the fragile bottom lines of restaurants.

Tyre-manufacturing brothers André and Edouard Michelin launched their first guide in 1900 to encourage motorists to discover restaurants around France.

It has since expanded to 45 destinations around the world, and will this year launch a similar guide for hotels. 

(With Wires)


NEW CALEDONIA

New Caledonia elections to be delayed, ahead of crucial constitutional reforms

France’s national assembly has voted on postponing provincial elections in New Caledonia that are a prerequisite for constitutional reforms that are supposed to review the electoral system in the French overseas territory.

This Monday – following the vote’s validation by the Senate – members of the French parliament are now considering what will be a very brief legislation, that will postpone the provincial elections in New Caledonia slated for this May “to 15 December 2024 at the latest”.

The elections are crucial for New Caledonia, where the regional provinces hold a large proportion of the territory’s powers.

The postponement of a few months is the first – and least sensitive – stage in the long journey expected to reform the archipelago’s institutions, against a backdrop of stalled negotiations with pro-independence parties.



The new deadline is “reasonable in order to give local political negotiations a chance to reach a successful conclusion”, according to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

The government is working on a constitutional reform that promises to be much more fraught, since the two main pro-independence parties in New Caledonia are opposed to it at this stage.

  • French mission to New Caledonia unable to solve historic problems

‘Frozen electorate’

The plan is to “unfreeze” the electorate in order to pave the way towards provincial elections – reserved for natives and residents who arrived before 1998 and their descendants – to people who have lived in New Caledonia for at least ten years.

Darmanin has deplored the fact that almost “one in five voters” cannot currently vote in local elections in New Caledonia, a “freezing of the electorate” that “is not in line with the essential principles of democracy or the values of the Republic”, he believes.

  • Macron urges New Caledonia to build future after independence vote

A decisive congress of the Front de libération kanak socialiste (FLNKS), which brings together the main pro-independence movements, is scheduled to take place on 23 March, three days before the Senate examines the reform.

In this context, according to pro-Macron MP for New Caledonia, Philippe Dunoyer, the delay of the elections is “necessary”, but in no way “prejudges the outcome of the discussions and could even, if circumstances require, not be the last”.


Health

Hospitals in France slowly catch up from Covid but disparities remain

Four years after the start of the first Covid lockdown in France, hospitalisations have mostly returned to their pre-pandemic levels, though not in all areas of the country, and wait times for doctors have gotten longer.

The French hospital federation (FHF) says that hospital activity in 2023 “globally came back to the level observed in 2019,” but some disparities indicate that patients have not fully caught up on their healthcare since the pandemic.

The conclusion comes from a report on the state of hospital care in France, in partnership with France Info radio, published Monday.

There were about 3.5 million fewer hospital visits since 2019 than expected, according to the federation, and departments like digestive surgery, neurology and rheumatology, which cut care to make room for Covid patients, have not recovered.

Those departments have seen an 11 to 12 percent drop in patients from what would be expected in 2023, with some 260,000 fewer endoscopies performed, for example, which has impacts on patient health, with delays on detection of certain cancers.

The federation talks about a “public health debt” in which patients have put off catching up on their healthcare, with delayed treatment.

Difficult to recruit staff

One explanation for this drop in hospitalisations is the closure of public hospital beds over the past few years, most because of the difficulty in recruiting healthcare workers.

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

Another reason for the drop in hospitalisations is that patients themselves are putting off some treatment.

According to the report, which was based in part on a survey of patients, six out of ten people have put off some form of treatment in the last five years, either because the wait for an appointment was too long, or it cost too much.

The federation warns that the length of time to get a doctor’s appointment has “doubled in five years” for most specialties.

The wait time to see a generalist went from four days in 2019 to ten days in 2024 for example, and from one month to two months to see a gynaecologist or cardiologist.

Emergency rooms have picked up the slack, with 54 percent of people saying they have resorted to emergency care for situations that were not emergencies, compared to 42 percent in 2019.


Police

Police station in Paris suburb attacked after teen killed in car chase

French authorities have arrested nine people over a firework attack on a police station in a suburb north of Paris. This came just days after a teenager riding a motorbike was killed when a police car hit him during a car chase after he refused to stop for a police check.

Late Sunday evening, “around 50 people attacked the police station in La Courneuve, mostly with firework mortar shots” Paris police chief Laurent Nunez told TF1 television, adding that the attack was linked to the death of an 18-year-old in a police chase on Wednesday evening.

The victim, identified as Wanys R, from La Courneuve, had refused to stop for a police check in the neighbouring town of Aubervilliers and was stuck by another police car as he was riding away on his scooter.

The accident was documented in a video that was widely shared online. Wanys died in hospital, and the passenger on the scooter with him is being treated for injuries.

The people aiming fireworks at the police station Sunday night “clearly came from the neighborhood” where Wanys lived, Nunez said.

Seven adults aged 18 to 21 years old and two minors were among those arrested, and two police officers were “slightly hurt”.

Investigations underway

Nunez said police reinforcements would be deployed in the area around midday on Monday to keep the situation from escalating.

La Courneuve lies in the Seine-Saint-Denis department that is to host Olympic venues including the flagship Stade de France stadium.

  • Riots in France’s banlieues are over for now, but deep-rooted anger remains

Police representatives say Wanys’ death was an accident, while the lawyer representing Wanys’ family has accused police of hitting him on purpose.

Two investigations are underway, one by the IGPN internal affairs division, into the police officers for involuntary homicide and bodily harm, and another into the accident, for refusing to stop for a traffic check.

In June, a video of a police officer shooting dead 17-year-old Nahel in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre after he refused to stop for a traffic check set off several days of protests and riots in Paris and its suburbs.

The officer who fired the fatal shot has been charged with voluntary homicide.

(with AFP)


French football

Mbappé shines for PSG before leading France into Euro warm-ups

France skipper Kylian Mbappé prepared for international duties against Germany and Chile with a dazzling hat trick on Sunday night for Paris Saint-Germain in their 6-2 romp at Montpellier.

On a collective level, the annihilation took the champions 12 points clear of Brest with 12 games remaining.

On a personal note, the 25-year-old’s triple advanced him to 250 goals for PSG since joining from Monaco in 2017. The strikes also moved him up to eighth in the all-time scorer’s charts for the French top flight.

Mbappé’s 188 goals in Ligue 1 have come in 241 games over nine years. Fleury Di Niallo – the man he supplanted – required 15 seasons and 425 matches to reach 187.

Barring a horrific injury, Mbappé will eclipse seventh-placed Joseph Ujlaki’s mark of 190 goals over 15 years and 438 fixtures and could even surpass Roger Piantoni’s haul of 203 between 1950 and 1966 in 394 games before he formally announces the open secret of his move to Real Madrid.

“There’s not much more to say about Kylian’s goal-scoring abilities,” said PSG boss Luis Enrique after the mauling at Montpellier. 

“What we’ve got to do is simply make the most of him while he is with us and if the day comes that he’s no longer here, everyone will just have to raise their level to compensate for his absence.”

Options

As he awaits the arrival of his 23-man squad at the French Football Federation’s Clairefontaine training on centre Monday, France boss Didier Deschamps has no such qualms as he ponders his options in the leafy tranquility some 45 kilometres south of central Paris.

Even before he was anointed captain, Mbappé’s and Antoine Griezmann’s were among the first names Deschamps inked onto the team sheet. 

The pair will be the usual spearhead for the friendlies in Lyon and Marseille respectively. They are also likely to parade in the final selection for the European championships in June and July in Germany.



However, Olivier Giroud, a stalwart of the surge to the 2018 World Cup crown and the final in 2022, faces threats to his place in the starting line-up from Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram.

Deschamps will pick his midfield from Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelién Tchouaméni as well as PSG’s teenage wunderkind Warren Zaïre-Emery. With 25-year-old Youssouf Fofana also in the mix, Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot at 28 limbers up as the veteran.

Mike Maignan, who was in action on Sunday night for AC Milan after recovering from an injury sustained during the Europa League clash at Slavia Prague, is likely to retain his berth as goalkeeper.


Technology

Tech giants grilled on their compliance with EU’s new Digital Markets Act

American tech giant Apple explained how it is complying with the European Union’s Digital Markets Act at a hearing in Brussels on Monday, fending off criticism that it has not done enough to meet the terms of the law. It kicks off a week of hearings of all the tech giants and their compliance with the newly-enacted legislation.

In recent weeks Apple has announced a series of changes in order to comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) that came into effect on 7 March, including allowing apps developers to distribute their apps directly to iPhone consumers instead of through Apple’s App Store.

“We were guided first and foremost by ensuring that we’ve complied with the law. And then second, that we did it in a way that was consistent with our values and consistent with the language that we’ve developed with our users over a very long period of time. And we think we’ve accomplished that,” Apple’s Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer said at a day-long hearing attended by app developers, business users and rivals.

The DMA requires so-called “gatekeeper” companies, including Apple as well as Google, Microsoft, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to open up their platforms and services to other businesses in order to allow more competition and better serve consumers.

Risk of hefty fines

“I think we’re focused on it from a user perspective,” Andeer told the hearing, adding that the developers are not being ignored, but iPhone consumers are the main focus.

Meta will present its own compliance efforts at a hearing on Tuesday, Amazon on Wednesday, Google’s parent company Alphabet on Thursday, TikTok’s ByteDance on Friday and Microsoft next Tuesday.

Companies that fail to comply with the DMA risk investigations that can lead to fines of as much as 10 percent of their global annual turnover.

Earlier this month the EU fined Apple €1.8 billion for breaking competition laws by favouring its own music streaming service over rivals, and the company faces a separate investigation into its mobile payments service, which it has promised to open up to rivals.

(with Reuters)


Tennis

Swiatek and Alcaraz claim the spoils at Indian Wells

Iga Swiatek cemented her place at the top of the women’s tennis rankings and Carlos Alcaraz installed himself as heir apparent to Novak Djokovic following victories in the finals at the Indian Wells tournament in the United States on Sunday. 

Swiatek’s win over the ninth seed Maria Sakkari furnished her with her second title in California as well as 1000 points to push her lead over Aryna Sabalenka to more than 2500 points.

Two years ago, Swiatek won her first Indian Wells trophy at the expense of Sakkari. The Pole emerged a 6-4, 6-1 winner from that showdown. T

The rematch was a slightly more savage 6-4, 6-0 triumph.

“There are going to be ups and downs still, so I don’t expect I’m always going to feel comfortable with pressure,” Swiatek said. “Sometimes it hits harder; sometimes it doesn’t hit at all.”

During her surge to the 19th title of her career, the 22-year-old did not lose a set and dropped 21 games across her six matches –  the fewest games lost on the way to the title in 30 years. 

In 2022, Swiatek moved onto Florida where she claimed the Miami Open to complete the “Sunshine Double”.

As she starts her 95th week as world number one, Swiatek will be hot favourite to add another of the tennis circuit’s most prestigious prizes to her trophy cabinet and become only the second woman after Steffi Graf in 1994 and 1996 to collect the “Sunshine Double” twice.

Dominance

In claiming his second consecutive Indian Wells title, Alcaraz saw off the challenge of the fourth seed Daniil Medvedev.

The 20-year-old Spaniard beat the Russian 7-6, 6-1 to hoist his first trophy since winning Wimbledon last July.



He became the first men’s player to win successive titles in Indian Wells since Djokovic’s feat of three titles between 2014 and 2016.

Alcaraz also joined his compatriot Rafael Nadal in winning five events at the Masters 1000 series before the age of 21.

“It means a lot to me, lifting this trophy and winning this tournament,” said Alcaraz. “I overcame a lot of problems in my head and a lot of problems physically.” 


Russian elections

No congratulations from France’s Macron to Putin for his re-election

French President Emmanuel Macron will not send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him for his landslide re-election on Sunday, in a vote that France and other western countries said was neither free, nor fair.

Exit polls indicate that Putin won at least 87 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election that the France and other western countries have said was not free and fair because of the imprisonment of political opponents and shutting down of the opposition.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who received congratulations from Putin when he was re-elected in April 2022, will not be doing the same.

One cannot congratulate someone for an election “lined with the death of those who fought for pluralism in Russia,” Macron said in an interview with the Parisien newspaper published Saturday.

He said the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison and Putin’s banning of all opposition made the election impossible to recognise.

“France duly notes the expected result of the presidential election,” the French Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement, which said the vote was not “free, pluralist and democratic”.

“The electoral process in Russia occurred in the context of an acute repression of civil society and all forms of opposition to the regime, increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and a ban on the work of independent media.”

Russians all over the world, including in Paris, participated in the vote, with thousands of people waiting for hours in front of the embassy in Paris to cast a ballot.

Hundreds responded to the call of Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, to all vote at noon at polling stations, and Russian dissidents and French officials later gathered at Trocadero, calling out anti-Putin slogans and calling for the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine.

Russain Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that those who voted at embassies in Paris and elsewhere were not opposition supporters.

“They came to cast their vote, taking advantage of the opportunity that, despite all the threats of the West,” she wrote on Telegram.

Putin said the victory sends a message to the West, and shows that he had been right stand up to the West and send its troops into Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow after his victory, he said that France “could play a role” in finding peace with Ukraine, after he was asked about Macron’s comments last month in which he could not rule out deploying ground troops to Ukraine in the future.

“All is not lost yet,” said Putin.

“I’ve been saying it over and over again and I’ll say it again. We are for peace talks, but not just because the enemy is running out of bullets.”

(with Reuters)


Chad – France

Chad’s opposition fears France will maintain status quo after elections

As elections approach in Chad, the country’s civil society fears that nothing will change. The vote should mark the country’s transition back to democracy after three years of military government, but the opposition says France, which has a military presence there, has an interest in maintaining the status quo.

Mahamat Idriss Deby, who took power at the head of a military junta in April 2021 after the death of his father, long-time president Idriss Deby Itno, is running in the election scheduled for 6 May, with a second round on 22 June. Prime Minister Succes Masra is standing against him. 

A major issue for Chad is the presence of French troops in the country. Earlier this month France’s special envoy to Africa, Jean-Marie Bockel, met both candidates in the capital, Ndjamena, and said the roughly 1,000 troops stationed would stay.

“We need to stay and, of course, we will stay,” he said.

“When Bockel says that the French army must stay in Chad, this is a declaration of war for the people of Chad,” Soumaine Adoum, a spokesperson for Wakit Tama, a coalition of local opposition and civil society groups, told RFI.

“Bockel may declare that the French army needs to stay here, but this is not what the Chadians want. This is something only the interim president and him agreed upon.”

Free and fair elections?

“The French troops have been in Chad long enough,” said Adoum.

French troops have been in Chad since 1983, when 3,500 soldiers intervened following an appeal by then president Hissene Habre for military intervention to fight Libyan forces.

Juntas in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have all recently ordered France to withdraw its troops from their respective territories, leaving Paris with military bases in Gabon, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti and Chad.

  • France ends decade of missions in Sahel as last troops leave Niger

Adoum fears that France and other Western partners will not push for a change in political rule in case it jeopardises their military presence in strategically-located Chad.

“Bockel said that he is satisfied with the transition process. Does he know what has been going on during this transition?” Adoum questioned.

“The conditions for free and fair elections are not there,” he said.

Both the agency organising the elections and the constitutional council that referees electoral disputes are headed by members of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS).

    Opposition candidate killed

    Adoum also told RFI he was at a loss to understand how Bockel’s approving comments about the transition when a leading opposition figure had been killed just a few days earlier.

    Yaya Dillo, an opposition candidate for president and a cousin of Deby’s, was killed on 28 February during a military assault on his party’s headquarters in Ndjamena.

    The authorities blamed Dillo’s Socialist Party Without Borders (PSF) for an attack on the security agency following the death one of their leaders.

    The official version is that Dillo resisted arrest and his partisans opened fire on the armed forces.

    But the few members of his party who dare speak say that he was killed at point-blank range. They claim that photographs of the bullet wounds on his corpse show he was executed.

    “The death of Yaya Dillo came as a shock to us,” said Adoum.



    Status quo

    “France and other Western countries have been quite lenient towards the transitional military council after the 2021 coup,” according to Adoum, who believes that Western powers do not put the beneficial status quo at risk.

    “We met European governments who told us they fear that if they demand more accountability from the regime in power, it will open the door to China, Russia or other Brics countries,” he said.

    “But what is it that they have to offer that could stop people from joining Russia?”

    • Diplomatic dip for France as African nations seek out stronger partners
    • Europe failed to bolster democracy in Sahel, EU’s top diplomat says

    Adoum continued: “The people of Chad want to get rid of poverty, they want democracy and freedom, an army that is not attacking them.

    “It’s not a long list, but the people in power do not listen to us because they know that Western powers have their back.”


    Europe – Egypt relations

    EU and Egypt agree €7.4bn deal focused on energy, migration

    The EU chief and five European leaders visited cash-strapped Egypt on Sunday to announce a 7.4-billion-euro financial package focused on boosting energy trade and stemming irregular migrant flows to the 27-member bloc.

    The deal will include billions in credit over coming years for highly indebted Egypt, and stepping up energy sales that could help Europe “move further away from Russian gas”, said a senior European Commission official.

    • EU president and EU leaders to travel to Egypt for Tunisia-style migration deal

    European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — who was joined by the leaders of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Italy — met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ahead of the scheduled signing ceremony.

    The Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership agreement includes five billion euros in loans over four years, 1.8 billion euros in investment and hundreds of millions for bilateral projects including on migration, the official said on condition of anonymity.

    Egypt is mired in a painful economic crisis, borders war-battered Libya and the centre of two ongoing conflicts — the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and Sudan’s war between the regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

    “Egypt is a critical country for Europe today and for the days to come,” said the commission official, who pointed to Egypt’s “important position in a very difficult neighbourhood, bordering Libya, Sudan and the Gaza Strip”.

    Egypt already hosts around nine million migrants and refugees, including four million Sudanese and 1.5 million Syrians, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.

    The EU official said the deal includes steps to cooperate on “security, counter-terrorism cooperation and protection of borders, in particular the southern one” with Sudan.

    The Gaza Strip, where Israel is at war with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas since the October 7 attack, “will not be the main focus but will be part of the discussion” in Cairo, the official added.

    The delegation included three Mediterranean leaders — Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, her Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides.

    They were joined by Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

    ‘Cash-for-migration-control’

    The agreement follows several controversial deals the EU has sealed in northern Africa — with Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania — to stem the flow of irregular migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

    The EU’s border agency Frontex last year recorded nearly 158,000 migrant arrivals in Europe via the dangerous sea route, up by 50 percent on the previous year.

    The trend has sparked rising anti-immigrant rhetoric in Europe and gains for right-wing populist parties in several EU nations.

    Human rights groups have strongly condemned the deals with authoritarian governments.

    US-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented “arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees by Egyptian authorities”.

    HRW criticised what it labelled “the EU’s cash-for-migration-control approach” which it said “strengthens authoritarian rulers while betraying human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and activists whose work involves great personal risk”.

    Egypt stresses that migrant boats have not sailed from its coast in recent years. But Egyptians still arrive in Europe by sea, mostly via Libya or Tunisia to Italy.

    Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, is in dire need of financial help as it weathers a severe economic crisis marked by rapid inflation.

    The International Monetary Fund this month agreed an $8 billion loan package after Cairo implemented reforms including a flexible exchange rate and raised interest rates.

    Egypt’s economy, dominated by military-linked enterprises and recently focused on infrastructure mega-projects, has been hit hard by a series of recent economic shocks.

    Among them have been the Covid pandemic’s impact on the tourism sector, higher prices for food imports amid the Ukraine war and attacks by Yemen’s Huthi rebels on Red Sea shipping that have slashed Suez Canal revenues.

    Egypt’s external debt has ballooned to nearly $165 billion, and the cost of servicing it is expected to reach $42 billion this year.

     (AFP) 


    India

    India joins US, France, Britain with missile that fires multiple N-warheads

    India has joined Britain, France, Russia, and the US with the first successful test of its nuclear-capable missile that can carry multiple warheads up to a range of 5,000 kilometres.

    India hailed the maiden flight of the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology on the Agni-5 missile as a “historic moment in our quest for self-reliance in the field of missile technology.”

    “Various Telemetry and radar stations tracked and monitored multiple re-entry vehicles. The Mission accomplished the designed parameters,” the defence ministry in a statement added but did not give the number of warheads released in space.



    Starwar jitters

    Pakistan too claimed to have tested the technology in 2017, but experts say the assertion was unverified. China deployed MIRV on its Dong-Feng missiles as part of the rapid expansion of its strategic forces with new technologies.

    Some nuclear non-proliferation lobbies say North Korea was also scrambling for MIRV, which can carry a dozen or more warheads and is vastly difficult to track or intercept.

    According to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-proliferation lobby, warheads once released in space can hit separate targets up to 1,500 kilometres apart.

    The Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based policy think tank, called India’s space project  a “warning sign” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a rare third term in office praised the launch of the MIRV-enabled Agni-V.

     “The bigger picture is that India’s pursuit of MIRV capability is a warning sign of an emerging arms race,” the Washington-based Federation in a statement said.

    “This follows the failure of the US and Russia to implement the ban on MIRV on land-based missiles they agreed to in the START-II treaty in the 1990s,” it added.

    Delhi, which has now pipped Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest arms buyer, seems to be in no mood to abandon its weapons import programme largely due to military tensions with China which fought a brief but bitter border war with India in 1962.

    Ties plunged to their lowest level after 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese troops died in a clash in Kashmir’s Galwan Valley in June 2020, prompting the two sides to reinforce their frontier outposts.



    They share a 3,488-kilometre de facto border called the Line of Actual Control which is not entirely demarcated.

    Modi last month proposed 67 billion euros in military spending for year starting 1 April, up 13 percent over the previous year to pay for more war jets and roads amid tensions with China.

    On Tuesday, he chided his predecessors for allegedly not doing enough to shore up India’s defences.

     “Those who ruled the country for decades were not serious on the matters of the country’s defence,” he said in an indication Delhi was unlikely to turn off arms imports from Russia, France, the US and Israel.

    France vs Russia

    India last year became the world’s top arms importer, accounting for 9.8 percent of the global arms purchases, mostly from Russia, its long-time ally.

    Russia accounted for 34 percent of India’s arms purchases – posting a clifftop drop of more than 40 percent since the 1980s when the South Asian nation was solely dependent on its Communist ally.



    France is snapping at Russia’s heels, accounting for 33 percent of India’s imports. Experts said it would soon sail past Moscow with the sale of three Scorpene submarines and 26 Rafale jets worth 5.5 billion Euros in addition to 36 planes worth seven billion euros.

    “France is using the opportunity of strong global demand to boost its arms industry through exports,” said SIPRI researcher Katarina Djokic.


    Senegal

    Senegal’s Sonko takes election campaign to the south

    Senegal’s charismatic opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and his coalition’s presidential candidate flew to the south of the country Saturday, pressing on with their election campaign less than two weeks before the vote.

    Sonko and his ally Bassirou Diomaye Faye were greeted by hundreds of supporters after they flew into the coastal resort of Cap Skiring in the Casamance region.

    Sonko has endorsed Faye as his coalition’s candidate for the 24 March election after he was barred from running himself.

    The two political allies travelled from the airport in a black 4×4 vehicle with tinted windows, as the crowd shouted: “Diomaye, president!”

    Faye wearing a traditional white boubou, or flowing wide-sleeved robe, was the first to appeared, followed by Sonko in a pale green shirt and cap.

    Both raised their hands to salute the crowd of mainly young people.

    Sonko will ‘bring change’

    “We are going to win in the first round, I’m sure of it,” one supporter, 26-year-old Malang Sane told AFP, echoing the prediction made by Sonko the previous night in Dakar.

    “We have come to welcome our leader (Sonko) who has just got out of prison and is going to bring change,” 29-year-old teacher Ibou Diatta told AFP.

    “Senegal is like a new car that hasn’t been used, and Ousmane Sonko is going to get it running,” he added.

    Faye sat up front and Sonko behind him as their convoy headed to the Casamance regional capital of Ziguinchor, some 80 kilometres away.

    Sonko served as mayor there and this region is his political stronghold.

    The two men were only released late on Thursday evening, to the acclaim of hundreds of their supporters in Dakar.

    Sonko was jailed at the end of last July on a string of charges, including provoking insurrection, conspiracy with terrorist groups and endangering state security.

    • Senegal prosecutor demands 10-year jail term for opposition leader Sonko

    Faye was imprisoned in April 2023, charged with contempt of court, defamation and acts likely to compromise public peace after posting a message critical of the justice system.

    Sonko had been vocal in denouncing what he says is government corruption and maintains there was a conspiracy to keep him out of the 2024 election.

    But he says he is fully behind the less charismatic and less popular Diomaye Faye.

    Ba denounces opposition

    Former prime minister Amadou Ba meanwhile, the presidential camp’s candidate in the election, denounced Sonko’s “slanderous” attack on him the previous evening.

    Ba stepped down from his post to campaign for the presidency under the banner of Macky Sall’s party. 

    “If he is elected, he will be the president of foreign countries,” Sonko had said of Ba, accusing him of having covered up corruption.

    A statement from Sonko’s team said Ba had “devoted an entire press conference to tasteless defamation and slander”.

    Ba is currently campaigning in the north of the country.

    President Sall himself has already served two terms and is not running again. His mandate as president runs out on 2 April.

    It was he who proposed the amnesty law that allowed for the release of Sonko and Diomaye Faye, in a bid to ease political tensions.

    But it was his last-minute decision in February to defer the presidential vote due later that month and try and push it back to December that sparked the latest crisis.

    His decision sparked clashes that left four dead.

    The Constitutional Council stepped in, forcing him to reset the date to 24 March.

    For some analysts, opposition figures such as Sonko and Faye have emerged stronger from their long political struggle with Sall’s administration.

     (AFP) 

    Read also:

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


    Senegal elections

    Senegal’s opposition hopes promise of new national currency will win votes

    The economy is expected to prove a key issue in Senegal’s upcoming presidential election. With campaigning for the 24 March polls in full swing, the opposition coalition says replacing the colonial-era CFA franc with a national currency would be the best way to tackle inequality and boost employment.

    The opposition coalition launched its campaign platform on 10 March with a promise to create a new national currency.

    Leading opponent Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a key figure in the protests that followed the postponement of the February polls by President Macky Sall, is seen as a strong contender among the 19 candidates for the presidency. 

    In his 84-page election platform, Faye says Senegal needs to take back control of its economy.

    “Convinced that full independence cannot be achieved without controlling the economy, livestock management, fisheries, and agriculture, we are fully committed to achieving food, digital, fiscal, energy and scientific sovereignty,” he writes.

    Colonial tools

    The idea of a new currency is popular among some people in Senegal, who think that the CFA franc, the shared currency inherited from French colonial rule, isn’t helping an underdeveloped economy.

    The CFA franc was created as an alternative to the dollar and is used in 14 countries in Central and Western Africa.

    Development economist Ndongo Samba Sylla told RFI that Senegal would be “better off if it had its own currency system, not one that was designed to serve colonial and external interests”.

    “All the countries using the CFA franc are still poor,” he says.

    Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo in particular “should be very rich, like Dubai”, because of their vast resources, he claims.

    Asymmetrical system

    The CFA franc was created in 1945 to counter US dollar hegemony, Samba Sylla explains.

    “The French economy at the time was in very bad shape and needed to have access to raw materials – but not priced in US dollars, because France did not have enough dollars.”

    The CFA franc allowed France to bypass the dollar and buy imports needed by French industry such as uranium, manganese and oil, he says.

    Samba Sylla wonders if the international monetary system created for industrial countries after World War II is fit for purpose for an economy such as Senegal’s.

    “We live in a global economic and financial system that is asymmetrical,” he says.

    The Bretton Woods economic and financial system, brought about in 1944 when much of the Global South was colonised, “does not work for us”, he insists. 

    If the world is to address global challenges like climate change, he says, “we need to change the system that has been created by and for the victors of World War II”.

    • End of CFA franc in West Africa only a ‘symbolic change’: economist
    • 50 years later, Françafrique is alive and well

    Knock-on effects

    If Faye is elected, the coalition’s plans for a new currency could have significant implications not only for Senegal, but for the eight-nation West African Economic and Monetary Union.

    The juntas in power in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have already announced that they envisage leaving the CFA system.

    A new currency would also impact Senegal’s plans to become an oil producer, already slated for this year.

    Faye’s proposals also include tax and customs reforms and the renegotiation of contracts related to mining, hydrocarbons, public procurement and infrastructure, all of which could rile both allies and investors.

    Democracy hasn’t paid

    Most other parties, however, dismissed the need for a local currency.

    “In Senegal, the lack of leadership has been a very crucial element explaining why the country is still poor,” according to Samba Sylla.

    He blames the absence of consensus between the political class, civil society, and the private sector.

    “There have been countries that went through devastating civil wars that managed to develop,” he says.

    “There has been no economic dividends from our so-called democracy and political stability, and that’s unfortunate.”


    DIPLOMACY

    France’s Macron says ground operations in Ukraine possible ‘at some point’

    French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview published Saturday that Western ground operations in Ukraine might be necessary “at some point”, days after meeting with German and Polish leaders.

    Last month Macron refused to rule out putting troops on the ground in Ukraine, which prompted a stern response from Berlin and other European partners.

    The French president has not recanted from his position, but stressed that Western allies would not take the initiative.

    “Maybe at some point – I don’t want it, I won’t take the initiative – we will have to have operations on the ground, whatever they may be, to counter the Russian forces,” Macron told newspaper Le Parisien in an interview on Friday.

    “France’s strength is that we can do it.”

    Disagreements over the possibility of ground operations and the delivery of long-range missiles to Kyiv had threatened to undermine cooperation between the allies.

    German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reacted angrily to Macron’s earlier refusal to rule out sending troops to Ukraine and his pointed comments urging allies not to be “cowards”.

    • EU leaders reject Macron’s suggestion that sending troops to Ukraine is possible

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

    Macron met his German and Polish counterparts in Berlin on Friday in a show of solidarity behind Kyiv.

    After the meeting, Macron said the three countries of the so-called Weimar Triangle were “united” in their aim to “never let Russia win and to support the Ukrainian people until the end.”

    Demand for ceasefire 

    Macron also said in the interview from Paris shown on Ukrainian television and posted by a Ukrainian journalist on her YouTube channel on Saturday that Russia will be asked to observe a ceasefire in Ukraine during the Paris Olympics.



    “The demand for a ceasefire during the Olympics. They (the Russians) must do this. That is what has always happened,” the interviewer said, speaking through an interpreter.

    “It will be requested,” Macron says in French before a voiceover interpretation gives his response in Ukrainian as “Yes, we will ask for it.”

    “The rule of the host country is to move in step with the Olympic movement,” the interpreter quoted Macron as saying. “This is a message of peace. We will also follow the decision of the Olympic Committee.”

    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) condemned Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, saying the Russian government had breached the Olympic Truce, which aims to harness the power of sport to promote peace and dialogue.

    On Thursday, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee said it would not boycott this year’s Paris Olympics, despite restrictions on athletes imposed by the IOC as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine. 

     (with AFP and Reuters)


    India

    India to hold marathon national election from April

    India announced Saturday that national polls would begin in April, with Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly favoured to win a third term in the world’s largest democracy.

    Nearly a billion people are eligible to cast ballots in what will be the largest exercise of the democratic franchise in human history, conducted over six weeks.

    Many consider Modi’s re-election a foregone conclusion, owing to both the premier’s robust popularity a decade after taking office and a glaringly uneven playing field.

    His opponents have been hamstrung by infighting and what critics say are politically motivated legal investigations aimed at hobbling any challengers to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

    “We will take democracy to every corner of the country,” chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar said at a press conference in New Delhi announcing the voting dates.

    “It is our promise to deliver a national election in a manner that we remain a beacon for democracy around the world.”

    Voting will be staggered over seven stages, with the first date of polling on 19 April and the final phase on 1 June.

    Results around the country will be counted all at once on June 4 and are usually announced on the same day.

    Modi, 73, has already begun unofficial campaigning as he seeks a repeat of his landslide wins of 2014 and 2019, forged in part by his muscular appeals to India’s majority faith.

    In January, Modi presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram in the once-sleepy town of Ayodhya, built on the grounds of a centuries-old mosque razed by Hindu zealots.

    Construction of the temple fulfilled a long-standing demand of Hindu activists and was widely celebrated across India with back-to-back television coverage and street parties.

    Published opinion polls are rare in India but a Pew survey last year found Modi was viewed favourably by nearly 80 percent of Indians.

    “Wherever I go, I can clearly see that Modi will become PM for the third time,” Amit Shah, India’s home minister and Modi’s closest political ally, said in a speech this week.

    A total of 970 million people are eligible to vote in the election — more than the entire population of the United States, European Union and Russia combined.

    There will be more than a million polling stations in operation staffed by 15 million poll workers, according to the election commission.

     (AFP)


    Coup in Niger

    Niger’s junta revokes military deal with US

    Niger’s ruling junta has revoked with immediate effect a military accord that allows military personnel and civilian staff from the US Department of Defence on its soil, junta spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane said on Saturday.

    The decision follows a visit by US officials this week which was led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and included General Michael Langley, commander of the US Africa Command.

    Abdramane, speaking on television in the West African nation, said the US delegation did not follow diplomatic protocol, and that Niger was not informed about the composition of the delegation, the date of its arrival or the agenda.

    He added that the discussions were around the current military transition in Niger, military cooperation between the two countries and Niger’s choice of partners in the fight against militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

    A US official, speaking on the condition anonymity, said senior US officials had “frank discussions” in Niamey earlier this week about the trajectory of Niger’s ruling military council – known as the CNSP.

    “We are in touch with the CNSP and will provide further updates as warranted,” the official added.

    Since seizing power in July last year, the Niger junta, like the military rulers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, have kicked out French and other European forces, and turned to Russia for support.

    • France ends decade of missions in Sahel as last troops leave Niger

    • Diplomatic dip for France as African nations seek out stronger partners

    “Niger regrets the intention of the American delegation to deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism,” Abdramane said.

    “Also, the government of Niger forcefully denounces the condescending attitude accompanied by the threat of retaliation from the head of the American delegation towards the Nigerien government and people.”

    There were about 1,100 US troops in Niger as of last year, where the US military operates out of two bases, including a drone base known as Air Base 201, built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of more than $100 million.

    Since 2018 the base has been used to target Islamic State militants and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, an al Qaeda affiliate, in the Sahel region.

    Abdramane said the status and presence of US troops in Niger was illegal and violated constitutional and democratic rules because, according to the spokesperson, it was unilaterally imposed on the African nation in 2012.

    He said Niger was not aware of the number of US civilian and military personnel on its soil or the amount of equipment deployed and, according to the agreement, the US military had no obligation to respond to any request for help against militants.

    “In light of all the above, the government of Niger, revokes with immediate effect the agreement concerning the status of United States military personnel and civilian employees of the American Department of Defence on the territory of the Republic of Niger,” Abdramane said.

    (Reuters)


    Restitution

    Madagascar asks for restitution of Sakalava king’s skull from France

    Madagascar – Two of the great granddaughters of a Sakalava king in Madagascar, who was beheaded in 1897 by colonial troops, publicly addressed the French ambassador, asking him to speed up the restitution of their ancestor’s skull.

    In all, they are claiming three skulls belonging to the Sakalaves, an ethnic group living on the west and northwest regions of the island.

    Plundered at the end of the 19th century during the French colonial conquest, the skulls are now kept at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, along with several hundred human remains from Madagascar

    Among the three skulls is the skull of King Toera, who was beheaded in 1897 in Ambiky, the former royal capital of the Menabe region, to quell a rebellion during an attack by French colonial troops.

    DNA tests have not been able to fully confirm that the skull belongs to King Toera.

    King Toera’s great granddaughters

    On 11 March, during celebrations for Taombaovao – the Malagasy New Year – in Antananarivo, the French ambassador, Arnaud Guillois, received a letter from two of King Toera’s great granddaughters. 

    While the very first request for restitution made by the current Sakalava king, Magloire, for Princess Julia Georgine Kamamy dates back to 2003, this request is special. 

    This is the first time, under the presidency of Andry Rajoelina, that it has been done so directly, according to Princess Marie Francia Kamamy, eldest daughter of Queen Georgette Kamamy and descendent of King Toera.

    “The reason why this restitution is so important to us is that according to Malagasy traditions, if our grandfather’s body is not in its entirety in the tomb, his soul wanders endlessly,” she told RFI.

    “He can’t fulfil his role as protective ancestor for his people and his descendants.

    “That’s why we, the family, are asking for his skull to be returned to us. It would be a sign of forgiveness between the Malagasy and the French.

    Restitution of human remains

    France’s representative publicly stated that he was “aware of the importance” of this request, before reaffirming that the future of relations between the two countries “can only be founded if we are aware of our shared past”. 

    The French embassy in Madagascar confirmed that the letter, hand-delivered and signed by the Madagascan Culture Minister, Augustin Andriamananoro, was forwarded on the same day to his French counterpart, Rachida Dati.

    A joint Franco-Malagasy commission is expected to rule soon on the return of the skull of King Toera along with the two other skulls.

    The French law on the restitution of human remains belonging to public collections was enacted on 26 December. 

    It is part of a wide-ranging ethical review of the contents of French museum collections.

    Read also:

    • New legislation opens door for French museums to return ancestral human remains

    Culture

    Moto Hagio, the pioneering graphic artist who opened doors for women in manga

    Moto Hagio is a unique figure in the male-dominated world of Japanese manga, breaking down barriers and revolutionising the comic book genre since the 1970s. France honoured her with an award and exhibition at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in January.

    At 74, Moto Hagio is still at the top of her game. Much to the delight of French fans, the Angoulême International Comics Festival invited her to give a masterclass alongside fellow Japanese authors Hiroaki Samura and Shinichi Sakamoto.

    Not only was she handed the Fauve d’honneur – a lifetime award acknowledging her contribution to the comics industry over the last 50 years – but a large selection of her work was also chosen for the exhibition “Beyond Genres” at the Angoulême Museum. It is on display until 17 March.

    Exhibition co-curator Xavier Guilbert is thrilled that French audiences have had a chance to encounter a pioneer of the industry and get to know her extensive work better.

    “We are lucky enough to have a lot of her work being translated into French, but they only represent a little part of her entire production,” Guilbert told RFI during the festival.

    Manga offers audiences a way of “travelling”, he said.

    Manga integral part of culture

    Guilbert, who lived in Japan, calls manga “integral” to Japanese culture. It also allows space for “criticism directed at society or exploring its fantasies or aspirations”.

    “We thought it was a good opportunity to cast a light on part of the history of manga that is usually put aside,” he told RFI, suggesting that male artists tend to pull more focus than their female counterparts.

    He points to the variety of Hagio’s framed drawings around the exhibition space. Hagio’s finely sketched, expressive faces peer out from the crowded panels. They are mostly in black and white with translated captions appearing alongside the original in Japanese. 

    • Britain’s Posy Simmonds wins top prize at Angoulême Comics Festival

    “The objective was to bear witness, to showcase all the different directions and different themes that she has tackled over 50 years of her career,” Guilbert explains.

    Having grown up as an avid manga reader, and fan of famous mangaka Osamu Tezuka, Hagio launched her career in 1969 with contributions to the girls’ magazine Nakayoshi.

    Her breakthrough came in 1971 when, after joining Shôjo Comic magazine, she was able to publish unconventional works that other publishers had rejected.

    Creative wave

    Hagio belonged to a women’s collective, known as the Year 24 Group, who strived to bring about different creative styles.

    With members like Keiko Takemiya, they are credited with making shojo (“girls”) manga central to production in the 1980s and attracting a male readership to the category for the first time.

    Hagio distinguished herself with The November Gymnasium in 1971, a short tale inspired by German writer Hermann Hesse. In 1974, she turned it into a longer series known as The Heart of Thomas.

    The long saga recounts the lives of adolescents at a German boarding school, the death by suicide of a fellow student, sexual awakenings, friendships, identity and family secrets.

    These works, known as yaoi, featuring love stories between male characters, propelled Hagio into the international limelight.

    In 1972, her vampire series The Poe Clan brought commercial success that led to greater creative control over her future publications.

    Then, in 1975, she published They Were Eleven, an impressive work of science fiction, then a genre little explored by female writers.

    Overflowing imagination

    Hagio is one of few authors of her generation to blur the lines between fantasy and personal life, turning her strained family relationships, particularly with her mother, into inspiration.

    Although she has an overflowing imagination, she never hesitated to adapt works by other Japanese writers, and was inspired by American authors Ray Bradbury and Ursula Le Guin, as well as European literature.

    • Comics are serious literature in France: Penelope Bagieu on adapting The Witches

    Hagio’s stories have been adapted into movies, TV shows, and plays. She has received many awards including Japan’s Person of Cultural Meritin 2019.

    “I always try to take on board the reaction of the readers and the editors but in the end I just do things my way – I don’t care about what they say,” Hagio once said.

    Guilbert and fellow curator Leopold Dahan featured the quote in the exhibition catalogue. Guilbert says it gets to the heart of why he admires Hagio’s work so much.

    “That’s really what defines her work,” he says.

    “She was set on doing things her way and she never faltered from doing that. And when you look at her entire work, there’s a consistency. It’s very coherent in the themes that she approaches and the kind of message she has.”


    Paris Olympics 2024

    Paris Olympic tapestry weaves together heritage of art and sport

    Olympic organisers this week unveiled the official Olympic Games tapestry based on a design by Franco-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi. The brightly-coloured triptych gives pride of place to the Eiffel tower and two new urban sports incorporated into the competition.

    The central panel features the easily recognisable metal latticework of the Eiffel Tower and a city skyline. The silhouette of a male athlete in blue and a female athlete in red sprint across a globe towards the Olympic flame.

    The left panel represents a javelin thrower in yellow, under a moon beside one of the bases of the Eiffel tower, an allusion to the poster for the Paris Olympic Games in 1924.

    The right-hand panel has silhouettes in black and green of a skateboarder and a breakdancer (known as ‘breaking’ in France), two of the four sports newly integrated into the Olympic program.

    The tapestry was inaugurated at France’s official furniture supplier Le Mobilier national in Paris in the presence of the artist on Tuesday.

    A group of breakdancers was invited to perform on the slick parquet floors.

    A group of primary school children were also invited to trim the threads at the bottom of the tapestry.

    Three years of work

    Measuring more than three metres high and nine metres wide, the tapestry took three years to make.

    It was handwoven by eight artisans from the workshops at Manufactures Nationales des Gobelins and Beauvais using 60 kilogrammes of wool dyed in France but originally from New Zealand.

    “The list of specifications was quite long,” Marjane Satrapi told French news agency AFP. “I had to integrate references to the past, the future, gender equality and new sports… so I came up with a triptych.”

    “The weavers with whom I collaborated asked me not to overload the design, not to go too far into detail,”she added.

    Comic book author, painter and filmmaker, Satrapi, 54, has lived in France for many years. She became famous thanks to the graphic novel and film Persepolis, a portrait of life in Iran before and after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

    “I grew up with sports,” says Satrapi, adding she was a fan of skateboarding and football.

    • Paris 2024 Olympics unveil official posters that ‘tell a story’

    “In a football stadium, you find a billionaire and a worker watching the same match, with the same passion. I like this unifying spirit that you can find in sporting competition.”

    “In 1976, I remember that the gymnast Nadia Comaneci won ten out of ten everywhere at the Montreal Games. My father told me: ‘To be excellent like that, you have to work hours every day.’ And it was this teenager who put in my head the idea that you have to work hard to achieve what you want.”

    Meeting of body and spirit

    The choice of athletes of both sexes evokes the goal of the Olympic committee to be the first gender-balanced games in history with as many sportswomen as men.

    The unveiling of the tapestry fits into what the organisers call the Cultural Olympiad – a programme of events and exhibitions bringing volunteers and community groups together in parallel to the competition.

    Dominique Hervieu, Culture Director of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, says this concept already existed during ancient times in the Greek cities of Olympia and Delphi.

    “We are, in a way, reconnecting with an Olympic ideal, a meeting between the body and the spirit, sensitivity,” he told AFP.

    The Olympic tapestry will be on display to the public from 21 June at the Hôtel de la Marine museum, overlooking the Place de la Concorde where the Olympic skateboarding and breaking events will take place.

    The work will join the collection of the Nice Sports Museum at the end of the Games.

    The Paris 2024 Olympic Games will be 26 July – 11 August, followed by the Paralympics from 28 August – 8 September.


    Birth control

    What’s stopping more men in France from getting vasectomies?

    The number of men in France getting a vasectomy – a minor operation to cut the tubes that carry sperm – has rocketed in the past decade, but the procedure remains far less common here than in many other countries. Vasectomies were illegal in France until 2001 and, despite growing interest, lingering reservations continue to put patients and doctors off.

    The first time Justin asked a French doctor about getting a vasectomy, he got an answer he wasn’t expecting. 

    “He said, ‘we don’t really do that in France’. And I said, ‘what do you mean you don’t do that in France’, and he’s like, ‘well, you need to be ready and fertile for your second wife’. And I just was floored. Like, are you kidding me?” 

    Justin, an American teacher who lives in Paris, already had two children at the time and his wife was pregnant with their third.  

    “So I went home to my wife that night and said: ‘I guess I can’t get a vasectomy here because I need to be prepared for my next wife who wants to have children’.” 

    Listen to this story on the Spotlight on France podcast:

    ‘Form of mutilation’

    Vincent Hupertan, a urologist in Paris who’s been performing vasectomies since 2011, sighs when he hears the story. 

    “The description is cartoonish – and it’s entirely accurate, unfortunately,” he tells RFI. 

    “I get the feeling that doctors place the blame for refusing vasectomies on men themselves – ‘you’re not sure about it, you haven’t thought it through’, as if they weren’t capable of making their own decisions about their life.  

    “It’s a very humiliating attitude, paternalistic to the extreme. Unfortunately, I hear it a lot.” 

    Much of the mistrust goes back to the French law’s position on vasectomies.  

    As surgeons were developing the modern procedure in the 1930s, prosecutors in Bordeaux put a doctor on trial for performing vasectomies on some 15 men. Although his patients were willing, he was convicted of castration – removal of the testicles, even though vasectomy leaves them intact – and served a year in prison. 

    “That frightened doctors, because there was now a legal precedent classing vasectomies as a form of mutilation. So generations of doctors hammered that home,” says Hupertan. 

    “Us urologists, we all came out of medical schools where our superiors told us: ‘Don’t touch men’.” 

    Generational shift 

    The law was revised in 2001 to make voluntary sterilisation legal for both men and women. 

    By the end of that decade, fewer than 2,000 men a year were getting vasectomies in France. It’s only in recent years that numbers have shown a significant rise – increasing more than fifteenfold from 1,940 vasectomies in 2010 to 30,288 in 2022, according to a recent study by France’s public health service. 

    “It’s not just me – all urologists are noticing that demand is increasing everywhere,” says Hupertan. 

    He puts the change down to generational shifts. “People in their 40s now who were 20 [when the law changed] have grown up with this idea of equality between men and women,” he says.  

    “So these are men invested in their relationships and their children… Men are invested in equality at the heart of the family. That’s why they’re taking responsibility.” 

    ‘No-brainer’ 

    Justin describes his own decision to get a vasectomy as “a no-brainer”. 

    “For us, with three kids – three boys – at this point, we just knew that we’re happy with where we are,” he says. 

    His wife wasn’t keen to go back to taking the contraceptive pill, which had given her side effects.  

    “And so this idea that the onus is placed on the woman to have to go back on birth control as opposed to the men doing something, taking action and having a vasectomy, to me was just like… There was no question in my mind that that’s what I was going to do.” 

    In the United States, where Justin grew up, an estimated 500,000 men get vasectomies every year. 

    “Of my close friend group in high school, those who have had children and are done having children, all of them have had vasectomies,” he says. 

    He was expecting as routine a process as they’d gone through in the US. But from start to finish, getting a vasectomy in France will have taken him eight months.  

    Mandatory wait 

    Justin first spoke to RFI in February, two weeks before he was booked to have the procedure. Even after finding a specialist to do it, it had been a long wait.

    “I saw this doctor back in October, whatever it was. I legitimately had to sign a document to say… I was required to take a four-month waiting period so that I had an opportunity to be able to change my mind and I needed to really think about it,” he recounted.  

    This “reflection period” – four months minimum – is written into French law as a condition for sterilisation, male or female. 

    “Meanwhile for plastic surgery, for example, the mandatory period is 15 days,” points out Hupertan. “It’s outdated.”  

    Together with other members of the French Urology Association, he’s pushing lawmakers to shorten the wait time.  

    He and his colleagues believe France’s rules are due an overhaul in other respects too, starting with getting vasectomies better covered by health insurance.  

    Given that the procedure is both elective and low risk, France’s national insurance pays for only a small fraction of the cost. The rest is left to private insurers – most of which won’t cover the full cost, according to Hupertan – and patients themselves. 

    Finally, urologists want to make it possible to get a vasectomy in doctors’ offices, not just hospitals. 

    Simple procedure 

    “They treat this like an operation, for sure,” says Justin when RFI next catches up with him, about a week after his vasectomy. 

    “I was taken back and laid down on the operating table. And more people start to come in… When there were six people in the room, I remember being like, ‘this is just a vasectomy, right, this is all we’re here to do?’” 

    He was given a general anaesthetic for the procedure, which typically lasts less than half an hour.  

    “Which again is not something that my friends went through when they got this done in the United States,” he points out. “They all just do local anaesthesia, and they’re completely awake during the process.” 

    Hupertan, who practices a less invasive technique that doesn’t involving making incisions, says he only ever uses local anaesthesia and recommends other doctors do the same. 

    He believes performing vasectomies as a simple outpatient procedure would help normalise them in France.

    “What surprises me is that in 2024 we’re still talking about vasectomy like a revolution,” he says, with a trace of exasperation.  

    “When in fact – just look at the rest of the world, it’s been done for ages and we know it’s safe, it doesn’t harm your sex life, it doesn’t give you cancer, you’re no less virile – on the contrary.” 

    Information gap 

    Justin shares his frustration, calling it “absurd” that vasectomies aren’t more commonplace in France.

    “I want doctors to be more comfortable and proactive in discussing it with patients,” he tells RFI, noting that none of the professionals he spoke to even told him there was a less invasive option.

    Eight days after his procedure, he was still recovering.

    “Some soreness, a little bit uncomfortable,” he reported. “I haven’t gone for any runs or anything and I don’t plan to for a little while, but otherwise it’s been pretty good.” 

    He won’t find out whether the procedure was effective for another three months, when a doctor will check a semen sample to be sure it no longer contains sperm.   

    “And then at that point I should be hopefully good,” he says. 

    “Unless of course I need to impregnate a younger wife in the future – then I would have to return to have it reversed.” 


    This story appeared on the Spotlight in France podcast, episode 108.

    International report

    Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul

    Issued on:

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading a battle to regain control of Istanbul in hotly contested local elections this month. However, opposition media is warning about deepfake videos in campaign ads, while international rights groups are voicing alarm over social media companies’ willingness to comply with Turkish censorship ahead of the critical polls.

    Polls show the elections are going to be a tight contest. But as Erdogan’s AK Party steps up efforts to regain control of Istanbul, an artificial intelligence-generated video of incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu praising Erdogan for his achievements in Istanbul has been circulating on social media. 

    Independent media warn of the threat of fake news, as mainstream media, which is mostly under government control, are not verifying the authenticity of the videos.

    Deepfake videos

    “Deepfake videos are usually not posted on news sites, but they reach millions of people as advertisements. These stick to the candidate.” explains Hikmet Adal , social media editor at Bianet, an independent news portal.

    “The voting segment in Turkey is 40 million. When you ask people if Ekrem Imamoglu actually said this, they will say ‘he did’ because they only follow the mainstream media,” added Adal.

    During last year’s presidential elections, Erdogan used a video falsely showing his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu with leaders of the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish government.

    Yaman Akdeniz of Turkey’s Freedom of Expression Association fears more fake news videos will appear as election day draws closer.

    “We will witness more of these leading into the local elections, which is of course a major concern,” warns Akdeniz,

    “And there were some examples of that prior to the May 2023 general elections. A photo of the opposition leader came out with PKK leaders. Even the president of Turkey commented , saying that he knows that it is fake, but they still used it.”

    Turkey’s small independent media sector, which is crucial to the exposing of fake news is facing increasing pressure from Turkish authorities. Much of their news is blocked on social media.

    “What we’ve seen is that very, very often material, mainly news on social media, is removed and blocked online,” explains Emma Sinclair-Webb senior Turkey researcher of Human Rights Watch

    Call for action

    Human Rights Watch was among 22 international rights groups calling on social media companies to stand up to Turkish authorities’ demands for removal of postings.

    “It’s very concerning to see that authorities are willing to clamp down on free speech, but social media companies themselves are not robust enough to stand up to this pressure,” added Sinclair-Webb,

    “We want them to be more transparent and to work together in raising concerns about requests by Turkey to block content that is clearly within the boundaries of freedom of expression and also to contest others in court in Turkey. “

    • Turkey’s presidential challenger faces uphill battle to unite opposition
    • Volunteer army of election monitors prepare to protect Turkey’s vote

    A growing number of prosecutions of independent media under a new disinformation law adds to the pressures they face. Many Turks are now turning to international news platforms.

    But Turkish authorities are blocking internet access to foreign news sources which broadcast in Turkish like Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.

    These portals are only accessible by a virtual private network, or VPN, which circumvents the ban. But now, some of the most widely used VPNs also face restrictions. 

    • Attack on football referee exposes anti-elite resentment in divided Turkey

     “Restricting access to the internet has become a sort of playbook for regimes and authoritarian governments. And so we see across the world an increase in VPN usage, especially in countries like this, like Turkey,” said Antonio Cesarano of Proton, a VPN provider.

     “It’s a cat-and-mouse game. We will try our best to keep fighting and to keep investing in technology that can bring people back online.”

    Turkish based independent news providers  warn they are facing a losing battle in verifying fake news.

    “As  alternative media, it is not possible for us to fight against this,” said Bianet, social media editor Adal.

    “Our teams are very limited to 20 people, maybe 15 people, at maximum. But there is an army behind this.

    With opinion polls indicating the Istanbul election too close to call, analysts warn the danger of fake news is likely to grow along with pressure on independent news.

    The Sound Kitchen

    Senegal’s presidential poll moves forward

    Issued on:

    This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the delayed presidential election in Senegal. There’s a history lesson about Lithuanian’s love of books (and their language), there are your answers to the bonus question on “The Listener’s Corner”, and of course, a delicious dessert from Erwan Rome on “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!

    Facebook News: There’s a “new and improved” Facebook page for you, the RFI English Listeners Forum. 

    It’s for everyone who reads and listens to us and wants to connect with others, so ask to join, and I’ll sign you up!

    The RFI Listeners Club page and the RFI English Clubs page no longer exist; if you belonged to the RFI English Clubs page and not the RFI Listeners Club page, you’ll need to ask to join. I promise I won’t click “Decline” 😊 

    Here’s your job: send me your photos for the banner! Send them to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

    More tech news: Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Just go to YouTube and write RFI English in the search bar, and there we are! Be sure and subscribe to see all our videos, and Erwan has even made a weekly Sound Kitchen promo for you to hear. Don’t miss out!

    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 counselled 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 10 February, I asked you a question about the presidential poll in Senegal. On 3 February, just hours before official campaigning was to start, the polls were called off by the incumbent president, Macky Sall. Sall cited as the reason an investigation into two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned.

    You were to re-read Melissa Chemam’s article “Senegalese lawmakers postpone presidential election to 15 December”, and answer this question: How many candidates are running for president of Senegal?

    The answer is, at the time I asked the question: 20

    Here’s an update: Senegal’s Constitutional Council ruled that the vote must be held before Sall’s mandate expires on 2 April. The new date for the poll is 24 March, which leaves the 19 candidates very little time to campaign. And yes, there are now 19 candidates instead of the original 20; on 19 February, Rose Wardini renounced her candidacy following controversy over her dual Franco-Senegalese nationality.

    In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “How do you get to sleep?”, which was suggested by Nasyr Muhammad from Katsina State, Nigeria. 

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

    The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Dipita Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India. Dipita is also this week’s bonus question winner. Congratulations Dipita!

    Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Sharifun Islam Nitu, who’s a member of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, and Nafisa Khatun, the president of the RFI Mahila Shrota Sangha Club in West Bengal, India.

    There’s also RFI Listeners Club member Anju Regmi from Biratnagar, Nepal, and last but not least, RFI English listener Dilruba Yeasmin Lovely, who’s the general secretary of the Sonali Badhon Female Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh.

    Congratulations winners!

    Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Dance With Waves” by Anouar Brahem, performed by the Anouar Brahem Quartet; “Oriental Dance ” by Juozas Gruodis, performed by Martynas Švėgžda von Bekker and Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdottir; the traditional “Jarabi”, performed by Toumani Diabaté and Sidiki Diabaté; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and the Piano Trio in a Minor by Maurice Ravel, performed by Louis Kentner, piano, Yehudi Menuhin, violin, and Gaspar Cassadó, cello.   

    This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Pratap Chakravarty’s article “India picks pilots for space flight that will blast it into cosmic history”, which will help you with the answer.

    You have until 15 April to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 20 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

    Spotlight on France

    Podcast: Covid obedience, vasectomies in France, was Rosa Bonheur a lesbian?

    Issued on:

    Four years after the start of the first Covid lockdown in France, what has been the impact? What’s stopping more men getting vasectomies in France. And why not everyone wants to accept that Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the 19th century, was a lesbian.

    For 55 days, starting 17 March 2020, French citizens were confined to their homes as part of the government’s approach to controlling the then little-understood virus sweeping the planet, which we now know as Covid-19. Historian Nicolas Mariot, co-author of a book about the lockdown, looks into the reasons behind why a majority of people in France accepted the harsh curbs on personal freedom, and asks why there has not been a broader reckoning about the impacts. (Listen @ 2’40) 

    Vasectomies are rare in France. The procedure that cuts the tubes in men’s testicles that carry sperm, serving as a permanent form of birth control, was only legalised in 2001. Urologist Vincent Hupertan describes the reservations patients and doctors have about the vasectomies, which have to do with both French culture and how the health system works. And we hear from one man before and after his vasectomy, who was told by his doctor to rethink it in case he ever planned to remarry a younger woman. (Listen @ 17’00)

    Rosa Bonheur, born 16 March 1822, was probably the best-known female painter of the 19th century. Writer Anna Polonyi talks about how Bonheur’s paintings of animals are attracting fresh interest from people curious about her personal life, notably her decades-long relationship with a woman. Yet some of the people in charge of guarding her legacy refuse to say that she was lesbian. Polonyi’s web documentary series, The Rosa Bonheur Case, explores Bonheur’s life and how queer artists are represented. (Listen @ 10’15)

    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

    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! 


      Sponsored content

      Presented by

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

      Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


      Sponsored content

      Presented by

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

      Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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