rfi 2024-03-20 16:05:23



Xenophobia

French police report rise in racist and religion- based offences

Racist, xenophobic and religion-based hate offences surged 32 percent in France last year, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Police forces said they recorded 8,500 crimes and misdemeanours targeting the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion.

SSMSI, the French Interior Ministry’s statistics service, highlighted a marked rise towards the end of the year – coinciding with the period following Hamas’s attack on 7 October on Israel and the retaliatory campaign in Gaza.

“The increase can be seen from October, with a level of offences holding at the same high level in November before falling back in December,” the report said.

France’s Representative Council of Jewish Institutions (CRIF) said in January that it had recorded four times as many antisemitic acts last year as in 2022, at 1,676.

“There was an explosion in numbers after 7 October,” it added.

Types

Most racist, xenophobic or anti-religious acts were provocations, insults and defamation, the report found.

Men, people aged between 25 and 54, as well as citizens of African countries, were especially targeted, it added.

However, only four percent of victims filed criminal complaints.

‘Paris danger zone’

The report said the rate of hate crimes in Paris was almost three times higher than the national average.

However, the SSMSI’s data noted that the levels could be attributed to significantly higher numbers of foreigners and French people from other parts of the country passing through the capital than other areas.

In December 2022, during a visit to a World War II deportation camp in the south of France, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that xenophobia and antisemitism were on the rise in the country.

Following his tour of Camp des Milles on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, Macron said, “The camp is not an accident of history, but the fruit of a deliberate slide toward genocide.”

“Here, at the Camp des Milles, France was what it should never again become,” he added.

Some 10,000 people of 38 nationalities were interned at the camp, and more than 2,000 deported to Auschwitz, according to camp historians.

The round-ups began in 1939, nearly a year before German forces occupied northern and western France and installed a puppet administration over the rest of the country based in Vichy under Marechal Pétain.

(with newswires)


EU POLITICS

EU strikes deal capping Ukrainian poultry and grains to appease farmers

EU lawmakers on Wednesday reached a deal to cap duty-free imports of Ukrainian grain, which were allowed in the wake of Russia’s invasion. 

The agreement extends the tariff exemption granted in 2022 for another year, but adds oats, eggs, poultry and sugar to the list of products with import “safeguards”. 

For those products, an “emergency brake” would be used to prevent cheap imports from flooding the market.  

Wheat and barley will not be added to the safeguard list. 

“This renewal underscores our unwavering support to #Ukraine while including safeguard mechanisms to protect EU market,” the Belgian EU presidency said on X

A French government source said on Tuesday that work was underway to enable Ukrainian agricultural products to return to their original markets in Africa and the Middle East so that they “do not remain blocked in Europe”. 

Access to those areas had been disrupted by the Russia-Ukraine war.

  • Farmers’ protests in France: a long and sometimes deadly history
  • The €136bn price tag on Ukraine’s path to joining the EU

Farmers upset

The 27-nation bloc dropped tariffs on Ukrainian imports in a bid to help Ukraine’s economy to remain afloat as it fought the conflict. 

But two years of conflict have seen EU farmers complain about being undercut by cheaper imports from Ukrainian producers who are not bound by stricter EU rules. 

The issue has fuelled angry protests across the bloc. 

Polish farmers have been blocking checkpoints with Ukraine, and this week expanded their protests to the western border with Germany. 

The tariff caps come three months ahead of the European elections, where a surge of support is expected for far-right parties who have widely seized upon the farmers’ discontent in their campaigning. 

(with AFP)


TECHNOLOGY

France slaps Google with €250m fine over EU media rules and AI use

France’s competition watchdog on Wednesday announced it had fined Google’s parent company, Alphabet, €250 million. The penalty stems from a 2019 EU law requiring online platforms to compensate media outlets for using their content. 

The Autorité de la Concurrence, or Competition Authority, accused Google of failing to fulfil commitments it made two years ago to implement the law with regards to online media payments and the use of news content by its Gemini AI platform. 

Google had not negotiated in “good faith” with news publishers on how much compensation they would receive for use of their content, the body said in a statement. 

The fine is linked to a copyright and neighbouring rights dispute in France over online content in a case triggered by complaints from some of the country’s biggest news organisations. 

Neighbouring rights are granted to performers, producers and broadcasting organisations in relation to their performances or recordings.  

They are distinct from copyright, which typically applies to the creation of original works such as songs or literary texts. 

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

Monitor appointed

French daily Le Figaro said that to reach its decision the watchdog had relied partially on regular reports submitted by Accuracy, an independent consultancy firm appointed as a monitor to keep the authority informed of negotiations between Google and the media.  

Accuracy also asked publishers via a survey about the negotiation practices of the global tech leader. 

Based on this evidence, the watchdog launched an investigation in autumn 2023, sending numerous questionnaires to Google and the media, Le Figaro said, quoting unnamed sources. 

It found the compensation amounts Google paid to publishers were not sufficient considering the indirect revenues generated by displaying media content on its search engine.  

Google was criticised for delaying the disclosure of details regarding its calculation methodology for payments to certain publishers, and for failing to update contracts.  

It was also accused of attempting to influence the behaviour of the appointed mediator. 

  • Apple facing €1.8bn EU fine for breaking music streaming competition laws

AI breach

Meanwhile the watchdog highlighted Google’s failures following the launch of its artificial intelligence chatbot Gemini, which was launched in February 2023 under the name Bard. 

Google was found to have violated transparency obligations by not informing media outlets and news agencies about the use of their content by Gemini, and previously Bard, to build its artificial intelligence tools.

“Google linked the use of the content concerned by its artificial intelligence service to the display of protected content,” the watchdog said – adding that in doing so Google hindered the ability of publishers and press agencies to negotiate fair prices. 

Wednesday’s fine is the second large penalty imposed by the French competition watchdog against Google regarding neighbouring rights.

In 2021, Google was fined €500 million. Google had said it would not contest the fine, while promising to implement corrective measures 

In France, Google has reached agreements with nearly 450 press publications and agencies.  


France

‘A home for the language’: welcome to France’s museum of French

France is launching a six-month festival to celebrate the French language on Wednesday, the international day for Francophonie. It will culminate in a summit hosted by President Emmanuel Macron in October at the Château de Villers-Cotterêts. Since last November, the Renaissance castle has become the official home to the International French Language Centre.

France is launching a Francophonie Festival on Wednesday which will last more than six months, with the slogan: “create, innovate, undertake in French”.

The French presidency says it wants to take advantage of this period to “celebrate Francophonie as a force for world transformation”, a source of “solutions for the world in the face of global challenges”, and “embodied” by “inspiring figures”.

Around a hundred projects and events have been planned in partnership with 40 countries and more than 400 structures in France and internationally.

On 4 October, Macron will welcome nearly a hundred heads of state and government for the 19th Francophonie summit at the Château de Villers-Cotterêts.

Extensive renovations

The former royal palace is now home to the Cité Internationale de la Langue Française, a museum celebrating the history and future of the French language. It was inaugurated on 30 October by the French Macron and opened to the public on 1 November.

Located 50 kilometres north of Paris, the Château de Villers-Cotterêts opened its doors after four years of work overseen by the national heritage body, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN).

The palace had fallen into ruin until 2018, when the decision was taken to restore it and turn it into the International French Language Centre.

The choice of the castle is a symbolic one: it is where King Francis I of France signed the Ordinance of of Villers-Cotterêts on 10 October 1539 that made French the country’s official language.

The decree is the oldest piece of French legislation still partly used by courts. It made it compulsory for official documents to be written in French. 

A printed copy of the ordinance, usually housed in France’s National Archives, will be displayed in the new museum’s first exhibition.

‘Deterioration in the language’

Today French is spoken by 321 million people around the world – but according to Paul Rondin, director of the new museum, “we are witnessing a real deterioration in the language”.

“We’ve let ourselves be devoured by a globish that isn’t English […] The language has been transformed into an accumulation of signs, leaving little room for complexity and diversity, accelerated by digital technology where it’s not even quite globish but pieces of globish or of what used to be French,” he says.

“Our project is to provide a home for the French language: not to protect it, but to reflect on it, to listen to it, to value it, to be attentive to all its transformations,” Rondin explains.

The opening exhibition, “L’aventure du français” (‘The adventure of French”), explored the cultural, historical and social aspects of French, as well as its relationship with other languages.

Teaching and cultural centre

Alongside exhibitions, the new centre will offer opportunities for students to learn French.

It is also intended to be a hub for arts and culture, notably with the Jeu de Paume, a 250-seat auditorium that will host concerts, shows, conferences and more.

“Artists will be welcome at the Cité, whatever their discipline, gender or origin,” says Rondin.

The next exhibition, due to open in May 2024, will focus on French-language songs that have become beloved hits around the world, from La Vie en Rose by Édith Piaf to the more recent Pookie by Aya Nakamura.

The International organisation of Francophonie (OIF) has 54 member countries, seven associate members and 27 observers.


DRUG VIOLENCE

Macron launches major police operation to end Marseille drug wars

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised an “unprecedented operation” against drug trafficking in the southern port city of Marseille.

He made the comments on Tuesday during a surprise visit to the city, which has been beset by gangland killings.

According to press reports, the operation will require the mobilisation of thousands of police deployed on a weekly basis to end a crisis that has eroded security in Marseille and damaged its reputation. 

Other cities will also benefit from police security.

Macron began his visit with a walkabout in the northern district of La Castellane, telling residents – in what has been one of the worst hit areas – that the operation will last several weeks.

“The goal is to try to destroy the networks and the traffickers and to make those people who make your life impossible go away,” he said.



Pre-Olympics Crackdown

Daily Le Figaro reported that 4,000 police officers would be mobilised every week in Marseille and the surrounding areas.

Some 170 “targets” have been identified.

The turf war for control of lucrative deal-making points hit new highs in 2023, with 49 people killed – mostly in drug-related murders – and 123 people injured.

Four of those killed had no link to drug wars and were caught by accident in crossfire.

  • 3 killed, 8 injured, in drug-related violence in French port city of Marseille
  • France sends elite police unit to Marseille in bid to quell drug violence

The campaign by the French authorities comes after the alleged leader of a major drug gang from Marseille was arrested in Morocco last week.

Felix Bingui, 33, was detained in the port city of Casablanca and is believed to be the leader of Yoda – one of Marseille’s main drug gangs – which has been engaged in a turf war with another major clan known as DZ Mafia. 

Tackling the problem is all the more important for French authorities as Marseille has a role to play in this summer’s Olympic Games.

Marseille is due to provide a spectacular backdrop as it hosts the Olympic sailing events, while its legendary Velodrome stadium will also host some matches in the football tournament.


north africa

Libya closes border crossing with Tunisia following clashes

Libya has ordered the “immediate” closure of its main border crossing with Tunisia following clashes between armed groups and security forces on the Libyan side, the Interior Ministry said. 

The border post in the desert area of Ras Jedir, about 170 kilometres from the Libyan capital Tripoli, is the main crossing point between the two north African countries.

Libya‘s Interior Ministry said in a statement that it ordered the closure of the post “after outlaw groups attacked the post in order to create chaos”.

It said the groups are involved in smuggling activities, which “they consider to be their right”.

The closure of the border crossing aims to “establish security arrangements to restore the post’s work” and ensure it functions “under the authority and legitimacy of the state”.

According to local media, clashes broke out on Monday night between armed groups who control Ras Jedir and security forces sent by Tripoli.

On Monday, Libyan Interior Minister Imad Trabelsi directed the ministry’s law enforcement department to intervene at Ras Jedir to “combat smuggling and security violations” and to facilitate travel.

 

  • Libya’s road to democracy remains blocked as political stalemate endures
  • Tunisia, Libya to share responsibility for migrants stranded on border

Lucrative border trade

Groups from cities in the border area have for years controlled Ras Jedir, benefitting from the lucrative parallel border trade.

Thousands of Tunisian families in the south also make a living from the trade.

Its closure halts the transport of goods in both directions, as well as the movement of many Tunisians working in Libya, and Libyans seeking medical treatment in Tunisia.

Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war that followed the overthrow and death of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country’s rule is split between rival administrations: Tripoli in the west and Benghazi in the east.

(with AFP)


ENVIRONMENT

Experts fault UN climate plan for overlooking ‘obvious’ need to eat less meat

A UN roadmap to reform the world’s food systems – which account for a third of carbon emissions – has been criticised by experts who say it lacks transparency and fails to properly address the crucial need to reduce meat consumption.

 

In a commentary published on Monday in the journal Nature Food, academics from the US, Brazil and the Netherlands said the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had “missed opportunities” to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while also offering up solutions that could potentially make things worse. 

Part one of the FAO’s roadmap – the first of its kind – was released at the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai in December. It aims to achieve zero hunger and malnutrition while staying within the 1.5°C climate warming threshold.  

The document, which is to include two more instalments, acknowledged that diets “absolutely” needed to change for the sake of human and planetary health, while offering proposals on how to make that happen.  

‘Major oversight’

While praising the FAO’s ambition, the experts said the agency had neglected “one of the most obvious and urgent interventions” – the transition away from the production and consumption of food sourced from animals. 

“Extensive literature has shown that shifting to plant-rich diets that reduce consumption of animal-sourced foods would make a substantial contribution towards meeting climate targets,” the commentary said. 

Also, improving the efficiency of farming techniques – as recommended by the roadmap – would be insufficient to meet the agriculture sector’s methane emissions targets, it added. 

  • Is urgent reform of world’s food system still a side dish at climate talks?
  • Cop27 climate summit charts small path for global food justice

Lead author of the commentary Cleo Verkuijl, of the Stockholm Environment Institute, likened the FAO’s oversight in limiting animal consumption to “publishing a 1.5C roadmap for the energy sector that ignores the need to scale back fossil fuels”. 

Failure to reform food systems – everything from the way food is produced, transported and consumed – would make it impossible to stay below 1.5C of warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said.  

This remains true even if fossils fuels were to be immediately phased out. 

‘Risky’ proposals

Some of the roadmap’s proposals, such as transitioning from beef to chicken and intensifying animal agriculture, risked increasing the risk of anti-microbial resistance and zoonotic diseases, the commentary warned. 

This is because farmed animals – often kept in large populations and in close proximity to humans – are fed high levels of antibiotics and can harbour and transmit dangerous viruses. 

The experts also said it was unclear how the roadmap’s 120 recommended actions were chosen, or how they would in fact help to lower emissions. 

Of particular concern was a failure to mention the so-called “One Health” approach, which means understanding that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interconnected, and that solving problems in one area can benefit the others. 

This is despite the FAO being one of four global agencies that make up the One Health Quadripartite

Future instalments of the FAO’s roadmap should to provide clearer goals backed by detailed analysis showing how they contribute to the 1.5°C target, the experts said.  

They should also be transparent about how its recommendations are made, who makes them, and how they’re reviewed, with input from environmental and health experts.


Anti-semitism

Macron promises France will be ‘uncompromising’ when it comes to anti-Semitism

President Emmanuel Macron has said that the State will continue to fight anti-Semitism, which has been on the rise since the Hamas attacks in Israel on 7 October. He was speaking at a yearly dinner marking the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Council of Jewish Institutions of France (Crif).

“Every time the slightest trace of anti-Semitism reappears, we will treat it as uncompromisingly as my predecessors,” Macron said on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Crif at the Palais Elysée on Monday evening.

In his address, the president of Crif, Yonathan Arfi, said that the number of anti-Semitic acts have “multiplied since the abyss of 7 October and our republican model has been attacked like never before in 80 years”.

According to a Crif report, attacks have increased in 2023 to 1,676 compared to 436 in 2022.

Arfi also demanded that France show “the same solidarity and the same confidence in Israeli democracy in the face of terrorism” as it does for Ukraine in the face of Russia.

  • Anti-Semitism in France ‘quadrupled’ on back of Israel-Hamas war

Macron responded by saying that “loving Israel, wanting its security, does not mean subscribing to all the choices of a democratic government of the day.

“We must assume, as democracies allow, to have disagreements,” he added in reference to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling for respect for “humanitarian law, international law” in Gaza.

Hamas’s attack on 7 October resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to a tally by French news agency AFP based on Israeli official figures.

Parliamentary inquiry

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.

Israel has responded with a relentless offensive against Hamas that Gaza’s health ministry says has killed at least 31,726 people, most of them women and children.

Interviewed by France Info public radio on Tuesday, Arfi said “the plight of the civilian populations touches me and matters a lot to me, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli”.

But he stressed that the responsibility of the situation in Gaza remained in the hands of Hamas.

“All it would take is for Hamas to release the hostages tomorrow morning and this war will end instantly,” he said.

  • Macron condemns ‘anti-Semitic’ remarks at pro-Palestinian university protest

With regards to anti-Semitic acts in France, he underlined the importance of a Crif request for a  parliamentary commission of inquiry into anti-Semitism in higher education.

This comes just a week after a Jewish student was blocked from entering an amphitheatre at Sciences-Po university in Paris where pro-Palestinian students were protesting against the war in Gaza.

The incident sparked condemnation at the highest level of government, with Macron telling a cabinet meeting last Wednesday that the remarks heard against the Jewish student were “unspeakable and perfectly intolerable”.

The elite establishment has opened its own inquiry and was taking legal action.


Geoplotics

France walks tightrope in Caucasus as Stoltenberg visits NATO partners

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is touring three Nato partner countries in the Caucasus, two of them divided by warfare – with two NATO member states backing each of the belligerents. 

 

Stoltenberg started his three-day tour on Sunday in Azerbaijan, host of the upcoming Cop 29, the UN climate change summit.

In a joint press conference with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, he stressed the need to fight global warming, and called climate change a “crisis multiplier” with implications for global security. 

Praising energy-rich Azerbaijan for its “important role in delivering (natural) gas to key NATO allies,” Stoltenberg said “the challenge is that the world needs energy, but at the same time we need to fight global warming.”

“We need to reconcile the need for energy and environment,” he said, adding that “climate change matters for security, matters for NATO.”

But he also mentioned the conflict with Armenia, saying that “there is now a possibility to achieve lasting peace” after Aliev said that both countries were “currently in the active phase of peace negotiations.”

In September, Azerbaijan’s army entered Nagorno-Kharabakh, an enclave that was self-ruled by the majority Armenian population, and after a short bombing campaign, drove out all Armenians, claiming the territory for itself. 

  • No end in sight to brutal conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

France’s Armenia puzzle

The situation is causing a diplomatic headache for NATO-member France. Traditionally friendly towards Armenia because of a substantial Armenian diaspora community, Paris has offered military and humanitarian aid to Yerevan.

As a result, Azerbaijan condemned what it called “provocative declarations” of French politicians “against Azerbaijan”, which they said, had been stirred up by a “campaign of lies and manipulation by Armenia”

Things are complicated further by France’s recognistion, in 2001, of the 1915 Armenian genocide, invoking the wrath of NATO-member Turkey, whose Ottoman Empire, was responsible for the massacres.

In 2019, France for the first time officially commomorated the Armenian genocide, drawing angry reactions from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, saying that Paris “manipulates history.” 

Turkey also backs Armenia’s arch-enemy Azerbaijan militarily in its war against Armenia. 

While Paris clearly took sides in the stand-off, NATO as a whole officially “has no direct role in negotiations aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” according to its website.

Accordingly Stoltenberg repeated in Yerevan on Tuesday what he had said in Baku in Sunday:that both sides should sign a peace deal “paving the way for normalisation of relations”. 

Sea Guardian

Neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia are on an official track to join the Alliance, but Georgia, visited by Stoltenberg on Monday, is one step ahead of its two Caucasian neighbours.

The country, “one of NATO’s closest partners” wants to join the Alliance. In line with NATO policy, Stoltenberg called on Tbilisi to consolidate democratic reforms. 

“NATO stands by your side as you continue your path towards stronger democracy and full Euro-Atlantic integration, including the 2008 Bucharest decision that Georgia will become a member of NATO alliance,” he said during a joint press conference with Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze.

Georgia’s bid started at a 2008 summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest, when NATO leaders granted Georgia an “integration perspective,” without putting it on a formal membership path.

Since, the country has taken part in joint training exercises and the NATO led Sea Guardian operation in the Mediterranean.

 

  • Did NATO’s expansion drive Vladimir Putin to war?

Gaza conflict

US warns Gaza facing ‘acute food insecurity’ as UN declares famine ‘imminent’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the entire population of Gaza is experiencing ‘severe levels of acute food insecurity’, as the UN food agency has declared famine is imminent in the enclave, underscoring the urgency for increasing the delivery of humanitarian aid to people starving in the territory.

Speaking at press conference in the Philippines where Blinken is on an official visit this Tuesday, the top US diplomat said: “According to the most respected measure of these things, 100 percent of the population in Gaza is at severe levels of acute food insecurity. That’s the first time an entire population has been so classified.”

‘Catastrophic’ hunger

Blinken’s remarks came on the eve of his return to the Middle East – this time to Saudi Arabia and Egypt – to discuss efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and ramp up aid deliveries.

A United Nations-backed food security assessment warned Monday that half of Gazans are experiencing “catastrophic” hunger, with famine projected to hit the north of the territory by May unless there is urgent intervention.

Speaking on RFI, the FAO Director for Emergencies and Resilience, Rein Paulsen stressed: “The latest findings paints an extremely concerning situation. And when we think about the north of Gaza – where the situation is the most precarious – the latest analysis tells us that famine is imminent in the period between now and May in the north of Gaza … we’re facing a catastrophic situation in technical terms.”

  • EU claims starvation used as ‘weapon of war’ as aid efforts to Gaza persist
  • All cargo offloaded from first aid ship to reach Gaza: NGO

In the south of Gaza, Paulsen underlined “the situation has also worsened and there we maintain the projection of famine likely.”

This comes as Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief, has called for Israel to allow unfettered aid into the besieged Palestinian territory, saying there was “no time to lose”.

With aid agencies reporting huge difficulties gaining access to Gaza, particularly the north, the UN has been warning for weeks that a famine is looming.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification partnership said Monday that while the technical criteria for a famine had not yet been met, “all evidence points towards a major acceleration of deaths and malnutrition”. 



Testimony of despair

French doctors who have been working in Gaza have described the situation as “unspeakable and unjustifiable”. 

Dr Khaled Benboutrif and his colleague Pascal André have described the lack of antiseptics, patients screaming in pain and “avoidable deaths”.

On their return after several weeks volunteering at the European Hospital in Gaza, the two French doctors described operations carried out under “terrible” conditions in the enclave.

“There are no longer any resources to ensure the asepsis [prevention of infectious diseases] of a hospital ward”, said Dr Khaled Benboutrif, an emergency doctor from Toulouse, who travelled to southern Gaza between 22 January and 6 February with the Palmed medical association, which specialises in helping Palestinians.

“We couldn’t find anywhere to treat them, there were no stretchers … we had to treat the seriously injured on the ground”, added the 60-year-old at a press conference in Marseille.

André, an infectious diseases specialist by training, noted that between 8 and 22 February “a lot of patients had serious post-operative infections” because the operating theatre was “not sufficiently clean” due to the lack of antiseptics.

“Surgery is carried out in terrible conditions because people can’t clean themselves properly beforehand”, explained Pascal André.

00:38

Rein Paulsen, FAO Director of Emergency and Resilience on Gaza

RFI

Snipers ‘target children’

In addition to the victims of bombardments, Dr Benboutrif explained that he had seen “a lot of sniper victims” in the emergency department.

“It was clear that children were being shot at. It was well planned and well calculated”, said the doctor, referring to the case of an 11-year-old girl who became a quadriplegic after being hit by a bullet in the neck.

The two doctors regretted the lack of attention paid to their testimony since their return to Europe. “I am suffering from the silence”, concluded Dr André.

To date, the Israeli military operation launched in retaliation to the 7 October Hamas attack has killed more than 31,700 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.

Israel controls the entry of ground aid into Gaza, which is still far from sufficient to meet the immense needs of the 2.4 million inhabitants – the vast majority of whom are threatened with starvation according to the UN.


France – strikes

Striking public sector workers pressure French government for better pay

Trade unions have called on France’s 5.7 million public sectors workers to walk out on Tuesday in a push for better pay and conditions, a month after the government announced some €10 billion in public spending cuts.

One in five of France’s active population works in the public sector – they teach, provide healthcare, and ensure a host of administrative services that keep the country ticking over.

But their union reps insist wages are not keeping up with inflation and working conditions are deteriorating.

In a joint statement the unions said: “We urgently need to open negotiations to improve career prospects and take general measures to improve pay”.

They called for “an immediate 10 percent increase in the value of the index point” – which the state uses to determine salaries in the public sector – “and the recovery of purchasing power lost since January 2000 … at a time when public sector pay grades are collapsing”.

The latest figures show inflation stood at 3.1 percent in January 2024.

“We are still in a period of quite high inflation,” says Mylène Jacquot, a senior official from France’s centrist CFDT union.

“Public sector workers’ purchasing power is impacted, so that’s our primary demand,” she told RFI.

Merit-based hikes

Hospitals and schools are expected to be the services worst affected on Tuesday, with more than 100 demonstrations planned nationwide.

The call to strike was launched on 25 January, just days after President Macron held a major press conference in which he announced plans to revise public sector salaries.

“The main criteria for promotion and remuneration for our civil servants should be merit, in addition to length of service,” he insisted.

But Mireille Stivala, a leading rep with the hard-left CGT union, rejects the introduction of merit-based salary hikes.

“We are totally opposed to this notion,” she told RFI. “We consider that services delivered to the population should not be subject  to merit-based salaries… as if they were merchandise.”

Official data shows that the average net monthly salary in the public sector in France in 2021 was €2,500.   

The gross monthly salary for teachers ranges from around €1,900 to €3,300, depending on experience. Nurses have very similar pay scales. 

However, “10 percent of public sector workers earn less than €1,500 per month,” Mylène Jacquot points out. “So you can’t say civil servants are better paid or paid too much, and that changes should be made only on merit. That’s a totally ideological notion.”

Worsening conditions

The unions also contest the looming reduction in public spending.

Last month, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced €10 billion in spending cuts across all government departments and agencies to compensate for a larger than anticipated drop in growth this year. 

  • Slower economic growth means France must cut €10bn in public spending

In a letter to Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, relayed in Le Figaro daily, a leading rep with the FO union said public sector workers were carrying out their functions in “permanently worsening conditions”.

Pressure ahead of the Games

The social situation in France remains tense, following recent protests by teachers, police officers and farmers.

The FO is one of several unions threatening to extend strike action beyond 19 March through to 8 September – to cover the period of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics – unless workers mobilised during the Games are sufficiently compensated.

In a bid to ease tension, the Minister for Transformation and Public Administration, Stanislas Guerini, recently promised bonuses ranging from €500 to €1,500 to civil servants deployed across the capital during the Games.

  • CGT union says it will stage strike during Paris Olympics

He also said the government was working on a plan to help employees with childcare during that period – including nurseries for civil servants on duty and some 1,000 spots in summer camps. Employees with children will also be able to claim bonuses of between €200 to €350 per child depending on their family situation.

The unions, however, say this is insufficient.

Solidaires-FP has demanded all public sector workers required to work during the Games get the same compensation, aligned with the €1,900 bonus already promised to police officers and gendarmes.

So far Guérini has ruled out any across-the-board salary increases for civil servants this year.

Last Thursday, he presented the unions with figures showing the government had spent €13.8 billion on public sector salaries since 2022.

Unions say the numbers are not objective and are based on “a very biased choice of items”.


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)


Paris Olympics 2024

Hundred-year-old French cycling champion to take part in Olympic torch relay

Charles Coste, a former French Olympic cycling champion, celebrated his 100th birthday last February. In a few months’ time, he will be one of the 10,000 torch bearers for Paris 2024.

The torch relay for the Paris Olympics begins in Marseille on 8 May and will finish for the start of the Games on 26 July.

It will pass through 400 towns with 10,000 torch bearers. The oldest of them is Charles Coste who turned 100 on 8 February.

Coste is France’s oldest Olympic champion. He won a gold medal at the London 1948 Games in the team pursuit event in track cycling.

He now lives in Bois-Colombes near Paris and in his flat, there is an entire room dedicated to his Olympic memories. His gold medal is in a display case, along with his other awards.

The Olympic champion has forgotten nothing of his victory at the London Games in 1948.

“Being Olympic champion was our dream come true that day,” he told RFI’s Loreen Duret.

The day was marked by the medal ceremony, which was different from today’s ceremony.

“We were on a very small podium. It was hard to keep the four of us together. We were given the medal in a box,” Coste explained.

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

That day, however, there was a slight downside. Charles and his team-mates were deprived of their national anthem.

“We waited for a while and then we were told: ‘We haven’t found the Marseillaise disc, so you can get off the podium.’

“We were a little bit disappointed, of course, but our dream had been fulfilled and that was already a great joy.”

Coste’s passion for cycling started at a very young age:

“My parents bought me a tricycle. I used to go round the table at home. I was two, two and a half years old.

“I’ve always had an Olympic spirit. My mother used to say that when I was 10-12 years old I’d be an Olympic champion or a general in the army. I preferred to choose Olympic champion.”

Cycling also enabled him to meet his wife Yvette over 60 years ago in Rambouillet near Versailles during a cycling race.

76 years after his victory, Coste is set to attend the Paris Games this summer.

“It’s fantastic for me. I was born in 1924. I was an Olympic champion at the age of 24 and in 2024, I hope to attend the Paris Games, which for me is spectacular,” he said.

One hundred years on, he will be participating in his own way in this new edition in the capital as one of the torch-bearers.


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. 


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)


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.”

    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! 


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

      Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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      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.