rfi 2024-03-22 01:06:15



EU – China

China’s president to visit France in attempt to repair trust with EU

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit France and Italy in May in a bid to improve faltering relations with the European Union, which are impacting EU trade with the world’s second-largest economy. Analysts say European companies in China are facing more uncertain business conditions, forcing them to devote more resources to managing ballooning risks.

Trade will be high on the agenda when French President Emmanuel Macron meets his Chinese counterpart in Paris in May, diplomatic sources say.

It will be Xi’s first Europe trip in five years amid mounting EU-China tensions. It comes after Macron visited China in April last year.

During that trip, Macron took a softer line with Beijing compared to his EU partners, suggesting in one controversial interview that Brussels should interfere less in Chinese policy.

France is increasingly wary of Beijing’s growing assertiveness, especially in the Pacific, where Paris has its own interests in the shape of its overseas territories New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia. Its 2023 Indo-Pacific Strategy warns against “China’s increasing power and territorial claims” in the region.

But Macron’s remarks diverged from the general EU line that China is a “systemic rival“.

Impact on business

In recent years, the relationship with the EU has worsened over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, its imposition of the draconic national security law in Hong Kong, and growing EU criticism of Beijing’s human rights record, especially on minorities like Tibetans and Uyghurs.

They are the most visible targets of an omnipresent surveillance state that infringes on the privacy of virtually everybody residing within Chinese borders.

Foreign businesses are feeling the effects too. In a report released this week, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China urged the country’s leaders to address risks that have “grown exponentially” in recent years.

“This report comes at a time when the global business environment is becoming increasingly politicised, and companies are having to make some very tough decisions about how, or in some cases if, they can continue to engage with the Chinese market,” it says.

The study echoes concerns raised by European and US companies operating in China. Foreign investment fell 8 percent last year as companies recalibrated their commitments in the world’s second-largest economy.

EU business chamber officials said China’s changing business environment partly reflects moves by Beijing to minimise risks due to trade barriers and dependence on imports of key commodities or industrial products.

That’s especially the case given trade friction with Washington and discussions about “decoupling” supply chains from China after the disruptions that occurred during the Covid pandemic.

But they said European companies also must manage their own risks.

  • China and the EU in tense stand-off on human rights and sanctions
  • EU puts massive China investment deal on hold

Hope for common ground?

China has sought to emphasise its openness to foreign companies and investment.

Its cabinet, the State Council, on Tuesday issued an action plan to promote foreign investment – especially in high-tech areas favoured for growth, such as computer chips, biopharmaceuticals and advanced equipment.

It promised tariff exemptions and called for an end to discriminatory practices against foreign companies.

But other actions have run counter to that spirit of openness. Raids on foreign businesses in China, unclear state secrets laws and tightening rules for data handling have generated unease among many foreign businesspeople in the country.

“The number and severity of risks companies find themselves having to navigate has grown exponentially in recent years,” Jens Eskelund, president of the EU business chamber in China, told reporters in a briefing before the report’s release.

At the same time, Beijing has not addressed many of the issues raised by foreign businesses, among them access to government procurement contracts, which are vital given the role of state-owned companies in the economy.

Eskelund called on China to restore predictability to the regulatory environment.

“Predictability was one of the main things that made China so enormously attractive,” he said. “We might not like everything we saw but we knew what we got.”

He said the report’s purpose was to bring the debate over de-risking and national security down to specific industries and commodities, so that the various sides weren’t just arguing over abstract concepts.

“We want to find common ground,” he said. “We want to work with China on these issues. We want to work with Europe on these issues.”

Xi’s visit to France in two months’ time may help break the ice.

It comes as China and France celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations – often rocky – and both parties have indicated that they want to steer into less turbulent waters.

(with AP)


FRANCE

French schools sent threatening messages and beheading videos, says ministry

Paris (AFP) – At least 30 schools in the Paris region have this week received threatening messages accompanied by “shocking” footage of beheadings, the education ministry said on Thursday.

The establishments – mainly secondary schools – have received “serious threats” containing “justification of and incitement to terrorism”, a representative of the education ministry told AFP.

The messages came through the ENT digital platform that serves as a link between teachers, pupils and parents; internal emails; or the Pronote software used by the education ministry. 

‘Shocking videos’

Investigators were working to “identify the perpetrators”, said the ministry, adding that psychological support had been offered to children or adults who had watched the “shocking videos”. 

According to a police source, at least five high schools in the department of Yvelines, in the west of the greater Paris region, received bomb threats between Wednesday and Thursday. 

Perpetrators “hacked a student’s email address” in order to distribute the message and a beheading video, the source said.

  • ‘Best weapon’ against terrorism is education, says French PM
  • French town tests controversial school uniforms

In the department of Seine-et-Marne, to the east of the French capital, a secondary school received a message saying that explosives had been hidden throughout the establishment “in the name of Allah”, a police source said. 

The latest threats follow a flurry of false bomb alerts targeted schools, airport and tourist sites in autumn 2023.

In October, a radicalised Islamist stabbed a former teacher to death in the northern town of Arras.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal was set to chair a meeting on school security on Thursday.

(AFP)


SENEGAL

Former PMs and a lone woman among contenders in Senegal’s crisis-hit vote

Following a hurried two weeks of campaigning, Senegal’s delayed presidential election is set for this Sunday – with more than 7 million people registered to vote for a record 18 candidates.

Voters will head out to more than 16,000 polling stations across the West African country and its diaspora. Ballots will be counted after voting ends at 6pm. 

Vote tallies will be sent to the Constitutional Council, and then the National Election Commission will announce provisional results by the evening or early Monday morning.

Majority and opposition

Election coverage has highlighted polarisation between two main camps – the first led by the former prime minister Amadou Ba.

Born in Dakar in 1961, Ba studied in Paris and the US and returned to Senegal to work in higher administration. Named economy minister by President Macky Sall in 2013, the wealthy individual was prime minister until the campaign was launched earlier this month.

The second dominant camp is a coalition brought together by Ousmane Sonko – former mayor of Ziguinchor in Casamance – and his official candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

Sixteen other candidates have also been running.

  • Senegal’s Sonko takes election campaign to the south

Habib Sy and Cheikh Tidiane Dieye have been defending Bassirou’s programme, with the latter even abandoning the race on Wednesday to support Sy fully.

Among the other canditates, more than three were previously in charge of a government, many close to the former prime minister. Only one candidate is a woman.

Observers believe that Senegal is heading towards a second round, as it will be hard for any contenders to achieve 51 percent on 24 March.

Three former prime ministers 

Veteran politician Idrissa Seck, 64, served as prime minister from 2002 to 2004 in the Senegalese Democratic Party under former President Abdoulaye Wade.

He was sacked over embezzlement allegations in 2005 and spent some months in jail before his case was dismissed.

In 2006, he founded his own party and challenged Wade in 2007, finishing second. He ran again in 2012 but did not make it to the second round.

He placed second in the 2019 presidential race with 21 percent of the vote, after which his Rewmi party joined the ruling United in Hope (BBY) coalition with Sall. He served as head of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council from November 2020 until April 2023.

Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, 59, is a former close ally of Sall and was a top BBY member.

He left the coalition, resigned as minister and launched his own bid after Ba was selected as the BBY candidate.

Ndiaye is the mayor of Linguere, a town in north Senegal. A civil engineer and former bank executive, he served as energy and interior minister before taking over the agriculture portfolio.

Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, 64, was Sall’s third prime minister from 2014 to 2019. He was seen as one of the frontrunners in the race to succeed Sall within the BBY coalition.

An early supporter and ally of Sall before he became president, Dionne held several positions during Sall’s two terms in office, including chief of staff at the president’s office.

He announced his candidacy in September 2023 and launched his own coalition days after Sall selected Ba as the candidate for the ruling coalition.

Former Dakar mayor 

Sall, 68, served as mayor of Dakar from 2009 to 2018.

Unrelated to President Sall, he is, on the contrary, one of his chief political rivals.

Arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of stealing about $3 million in public funds, he was sentenced to five years in 2018, preventing him from contesting the February 2019 presidential election.

Sall pardoned him in September that year, opening the way for him to run again in an election.

According to analysts, he stands a high chance among voters who want to get rid of the current majority but have no faith in Sonko’s opposition coalition. 

One woman only

Entrepreneur and political newcomer Anta Babacar Ngom, 39, launched the Alternative for the Next Generation of Citizens political movement in August 2023.

Daughter of the founding president of Sedima, a leading poultry production group in the West and Central Africa region which operates Senegal’s Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, Ngom was, until recently, executive director of the company.

At least one outsider

Papa Djibril Fall is also running in the presidential election for the first time as an independent candidate.

Originally from Thiadiaye, a journalist and communications consultant, he graduated from the leading journalism school of Dakar, the Center for the Study of Information Sciences and Techniques, in 2014.

He has worked as a former columnist on 2sTV and Radio TFM, then was elected member of The National Assembly during the parliamentary elections of July 2022 in Senegal.

(with newswires)


EU – Ukraine

EU leaders to consider using profits from Russian assets to arm Ukraine

European Union gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit that will consider proposals to use profits from frozen Russian financial assets to buy arms for Ukraine.

Ukraine will top the agenda of the meeting of the leaders of the 27 EU member states, who will debate on how Europe can boost its arms industry and increase support as the United States has cut military aid.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has proposed transferring profits from Russian assets that were frozen in Europe into an EU-run fund used to finance arms for Kyiv.

The commission estimates the profits could be between €2.5 billion and €3 billion euros per year.

All eyes on Hungary

Russia has said the plan is theft, though it has broad support among EU governments – even if some countries find it problematic.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who maintains closer ties to Moscow than other EU leaders, opposes sending arms to Ukraine.

The proposal also raises questions for countries that have remained neutral or militarily non-aligned, like Malta, Austria and Ireland.

No final decision is expected this week, but leaders will indicate how the EU should proceed.

  • Zelensky warns ammunition shortfall damaging Ukraine’s defence

Ukraine military support

A draft summit declaration said leaders “reviewed progress” on using the revenues “for the benefit of Ukraine, including possibly for funding military support” and asks EU bodies to “take work forward”.

It also says the EU “is committed to increasing its overall defence readiness” amid “rising threats and security challenges”.

It invites officials to asses a Commission plan to boost Europe’s arms industry by giving incentives to EU countries to buy European, and work together on joint projects.

Funding increased defence spending is a complex question. Beyond the proposal of using frozen Russian assets, there is a proposal to issue European defence bonds, proposed by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas

French President Emmanuel Macron and others support the idea, but other countries, including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Sweden, are sceptical.

Gaza diplomacy

The summit will also address the war in Gaza, with leaders needing to navigate the diplomatic interests of allies of Israel, such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria, with strong advocates of Palestinians, including Spain, Ireland and Belgium.

Leaders will also discuss the prospect of opening EU membership talks with Bosnia, as well as address farmers’ protests that have swept many European countries.

(with Reuters)


Kenya

Kenya to release bodies of cult victims found in mass forest graves

The Kenyan government will be releasing some of the bodies discovered in mass graves in the Shakahola forest last year, connected to a religious cult, after they were identified using DNA. More bodies are to be exhumed in the coming weeks.

Thirty four of the hundreds of bodies discovered in mass graves in the Shakahola forest are set to be released to their families next Tuesday week for burial.

Government pathologist Johansen Oduor told media on Wednesday that the bodies had been identified using DNA analysis, and that the process has been slowed because “people are not coming to claim their loved ones”.

He urged people who suspect family members to be among the victims to come forward.

Death toll could rise

So far 429 bodies have been uncovered during months of exhumations across tens of thousands of acres of the Shakahola forest, near the Indian Ocean.

The bodies, which autopsies revealed to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated, are those of people connected to cult leader cult leader Paul Mackenzie, who instructed members of his Good News International Church to starve themselves to “meet Jesus”.

Oduor said about 35 mass graves have been identified and that further exhumations could drive up the death toll.

He said unclaimed bodies will be buried in a way that they can be traced, if someone comes forward in the future.

Cult leader remains in custody

Mackenzie, who has been in custody since his arrest in April 2023, has been charged with murder, manslaughter and radicalisation. He has denied all charges.

He and 38 others, who are also in detention, have been charged with torturing children as well as denying their rights to education.

Last week a judge in Mombasa refused to release them on bail, for the “best interests of the children who are witnesses in this matter”.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for 23 April.


DEMOGRAPHICS

Global fertility rate to plunge by end of century, study says

The population of almost every country will be shrinking by the end of the century, according to a major study that attempts to forecast the future for the world’s populations and warns of the impacts on economies and geopolitics.

The fertility rate in half of all countries is already too low to maintain their population size, according to a study by an international team of hundreds of researchers published Wednesday in The Lancet.

By 2050, the population of three-quarters of all countries will be shrinking, according to the study by the US-based Institute For Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) that is based on a massive amount of data on births, deaths and fertility around the world.

Researchers projected that by the end of the century, 198 out of 204 countries – 97 percent – will have shrinking populations, with fertility rates below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman.

Baby boom, baby bust

France is among the handful of countries in Western Europe predicted to have the highest birth rates at the end of the century, though the region as a whole is expected to see its fertility rates drop to 1.44 births per woman in 2050 and 1.37 in 2100.

Meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africa’s fertility rates are going down at a much slower pace, and the region will account for over half of the world’s births by 2100.

Only six countries are expected to have fertility rates above the replacement level in 2100: Chad, Niger, Samoa, Somalia, Tajikistan and Tonga.

  • France’s ageing population is having fewer babies and living longer than ever

Social change

“The world will be simultaneously tackling a ‘baby boom’ in some countries and a ‘baby bust’ in others,” senior study author Stein Emil Vollset of the IHME said in a statement.

The shifts in birthrates will bring about “staggering social change through the 21st century,” he said, with economic as well as geopolitical implications.

Nearly all countries will become dependent on immigration to sustain economic growth.

“Once nearly every country’s population is shrinking, reliance on open immigration will become necessary to sustain economic growth,” observed co-lead author and IHME lead researcher Natalia V. Bhattacharjee.

“Sub-Saharan African countries have a vital resource that aging societies are losing—a youthful population.”

Benefits of smaller populations

Experts with the World Health Organization experts say the projections could be overstated.

Writing in the Lancet in response to the IHME study, they pointed to several limitations of the models, particularly a lack of data from many developing nations.

Communication about the figures “should not be sensationalised, but nuanced, balancing between gloom and optimism,” they wrote.

And they pointed to benefits having a smaller population, such as for the environment and food security, while recognising the disadvantages for labour supply, social security and “nationalistic geopolitics”.

(with AFP)


Trade

France faces tense vote on EU-Canada free trade deal

French senators are getting ready to vote on a controversial trade deal between the European Union and Canada, and an unlikely alliance between left and right hopes to torpedo the pact. 

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) has been in force provisionally since 2017 but requires ratification in all European Union member countries to take full effect.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his centrist parliamentary allies managed to get the deal approved in the National Assembly in 2019 by a slim margin, but backing by the upper house – where they are in a clear minority – is needed for ratification.

The French Communist party placed the treaty on Thursday’s Senate agenda, with the stated aim of getting it defeated.

Accusing the government of treating parliament “like a doormat”, Communist senator Fabien Gay announced “a political thunderclap” for Thursday.

In a rare temporary alliance, the leadership of the conservative Les Republicains (LR) party, which has a majority in the Senate, has also signalled its opposition to the trade pact.

Cyprus rejection

“We need free-trade agreements, but not at the expense of our sovereignty, especially for food,” said Bruno Retailleau, LR’s leader in the Senate.

Like all EU trade deals, Ceta was negotiated by the EU Commission, but also needs approval from each EU member.

Seventeen of them have ratified the deal, and the the process in 10 countries, including France, still ongoing. Britain ratified the deal when it was still in the EU.

Cyprus’s parliament is the only one to have rejected the agreement outright, over a controversy about a geographical indication for halloumi cheese.

  • Shaping the future: What’s at stake in the 2024 EU elections?

But under EU rules, such a vote only impacts Ceta’s application if a government officially notifies the EU of the rejection, which Cyprus has not done. Instead, it plans to re-submit the proposal to a later vote.

If Ceta is rejected in the French Senate, Macron would be expected to do the same.

The government has, meanwhile, accused the opposition of weaponising Ceta ahead of June’s European elections seen as a key test of Macron’s popularity.

“Let’s not be naive,” quipped Macron’s minister for foreign trade, Franck Riester, saying the trade deal was being “instrumentalised in the middle of the European election campaign”.

Food safety concerns

While the French government defends Ceta, there is also plenty of opposition, notably around food safety, with critics pointing to Canada’s laxer approach to genetically-modified organisms, hormones, pesticides and herbicides, and lower standards on animal welfare compared to the EU.

There have been angry demonstrations in several EU countries against the deal, including by climate activists.

Criticism has also come from farmers and industrial sectors, notably over access to the Canadian market, and regulations.

  • France moves to block EU-Mercosur deal as farmers continue protest

“Farming in central Canada is completely industrial and operates without any rules,” said LR senator and professional farmer Laurent Duplomb, saying he hoped to “fire a warning shot” in the direction of the EU.

Meanwhile, senators have reported receiving an unusual amount of attention from companies, associations, the government and the Canadian embassy all hoping to sway them.

“I have never seen this much lobbying before a Senate vote,” said one member of the upper house who declined to be identified.

Wine and cheese big winners

Although a no-vote would not in itself kill Ceta, the French government worries about the impact of any rejection.

“We have to be careful not to send a negative signal concerning an agreement that produces benefits,” said a government source, on condition of anonymity.

  • EU, Kenya sign landmark trade deal hailed as beginning of ‘historic partnership’

The trade deal’s backers say French exports to Canada increased by 33 percent between 2017 and 2023, while imports rose 35 percent, thanks to the agreement.

Wine and dairy producers are among the main beneficiaries, the government says.

(with AFP)


Francophonie week

Why a changing French language is nothing to be afraid of

With more than 320 million speakers globally, French is the world’s fifth most-spoken language. But traditionalists complain that spelling, grammar and vocabulary are on the decline. On International French Language Day, one linguist tells RFI that change isn’t just inevitable – it’s healthy. 

“French is just fine because it’s spoken on every continent, which is rare for a language,” says Christophe Benzitoun, a lecturer in linguistics at the University of Lorraine.  

“There are several hundred million speakers, which shows that the language is doing well, it’s widely spoken, widely taught.  

“So there’s no need to worry about its vitality in the short or medium term, about the number of speakers, its ability to adapt to new technologies or anything else.” 

Some 321 million speak French worldwide, according to the French Language Observatory’s latest estimate from 2022.  

With around half of those speakers in Africa, a third in Europe and others in the Americas, the Caribbean, Asia and Oceania, its footprint is broader than Chinese or Hindi – which have more total speakers but are concentrated on a single continent.

Only English and Spanish – like French, languages of European empires that colonised much of the globe – can compete for geographical spread.  

So why do so many people believe that French is on the decline?  

Struggles with spelling 

The latest Pisa study of education, which measures the school results of 15-year-olds across 81 countries, found that reading scores in 2022 were among the lowest ever recorded in France, after a decade of consistent decline. 

They nonetheless remain in line with the average for other members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

  • French education minister wants to improve schools after Pisa shock 

National tests, meanwhile, found that while around half of 11- to 12-year-olds showed satisfactory comprehension of spoken and written French at the start of the 2022 school year, fewer than 40 percent had adequate mastery of spelling or grammar.  

In fact, nearly 35 percent of pupils were judged to be so behind on spelling that they needed special assistance. 

Successive education ministers have vowed to tackle literacy levels, including by mandating extra reading and writing time for primary school pupils and daily dictation exercises.  

But linguist Benzitoun argues that, however many hours schools have dedicated to it over the years, students have always struggled to spell French; it’s a feature of the language itself. 

Two separate languages 

Other European languages including Spanish and German have updated their spelling as pronunciation changes, he explains, keeping the written language closer to the way words sound today.  

Yet French is still spelled the same way it was when it was spoken very differently – with the result that many of the grammatical markers required in “proper” written French don’t show up in the spoken language. 

“For example, plural markers for nouns and adjectives, which we mark in writing with an S. For the most part you don’t hear these markers at all in spoken language,” says Benzitoun, who specialises in the difference between written and oral French. 

Linguists have been campaigning since the 1980s for written French to be modernised, and in 1990 some limited reforms were introduced (though not universally adopted).  

“We haven’t updated in line with the pronunciation, or perhaps a little at the edges but not at all systematically,” Benzitoun says.  

“And now we’re a good century and a half behind compared to the evolution of pronunciation.” 

Language purists 

France has proved more resistant to linguistic change than many other countries. In one 2016 survey, 82 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the 1990 attempt at reform. 

Subsequent evolutions have also met with handwringing by French intellectuals and institutions – none louder than the Academie Française, the profoundly conservative institution that since 1635 has claimed to safeguard the French language. 

Over the decades it has opposed everything from recognition of regional languages in France to the use of feminine forms of job titles for women doctors, MPs, teachers and the like.  

One of its most dogged battles is against the importation of English words, which members have claimed threatens not just France’s language but society itself. 

  • French Academy says ‘stop speaking franglais, s’il vous plaît!’ 

“It’s this fantasy vision of the language as pure and perfect in a certain era, which doesn’t make any sense from a linguistic point of view,” responds Benzitoun. 

By clinging onto centuries-old conventions at all costs, language purists want to turn French into “a sort of pristine museum that no one can touch”, he says.  

“It’s a misunderstanding of how languages work and the very definition of what language is. Languages are made to be used by the people speaking them, to adapt to the time in which they’re spoken – and if that’s not the case then there’s no reason for them to exist.” 

Fossilising French would lead it to the same fate as Latin, he warns. “Trying to go backwards would be like signing the language’s death warrant.” 

Whose language is French anyway? 

Language conservatism is also at odds with a goal to which France devotes more than €600 million each year: promoting French worldwide.  

“Part of the reason why English has spread is that there’s no one policing the language. People speak differently in the UK and the US and it’s not a problem,” observes Benzitoun. 

“Yet for French there’s a sort of centralisation – there’s a myth of ‘proper French’ that’s spoken in Paris and the surrounding region, which in fact limits its spread as a global language. 

“It’s paradoxical to seek, on the one hand, a language that’s more and more widely spoken, with a certain freedom in how people express themselves, with significant variations in how they speak, and this desire for centralisation and ‘proper French’. You have to choose one or the other.” 

French President Emmanuel Macron has shown himself to be more progressive in this area than some of his predecessors, declaring in 2018: “France must take pride in being ultimately a country among others which learns, speaks and writes in French.” 

His government backed an online dictionary of world French that aims to reflect the diversity of a language spoken from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Canada. 

Benzitoun believes that incorporating expressions from elsewhere can only make French richer. He points to the example of “enjailler”, “to have fun” or “party”: invented in French-speaking West Africa, the verb now appears in standard French dictionaries. 

He’s one of 19 linguists behind a recent treatise titled “Le français va très bien, merci” (“French is doing just fine, thanks”), designed to counter the doomsayers. 

“I have faith in French speakers and I have faith in the French language,” Benzitoun says.

“If a term is invented and it spreads widely, that suggests it’s useful. It must serve to enrich the language and express a new reality, something we couldn’t express before. It’s nothing but positive.”


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.


Francophonie week

Bridging the French and English languages with Cotgrave’s dictionary

This week is the Semaine de la francophonie. To mark it, RFI language services have focused on bilingual French dictionaries in their given languages and looked at how those dictionaries evolved. The English service took a look at Randle Cotgrave, an English lexicographer who lived during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. 

His dictionary, Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, was published in 1611 and was one of the first of its kind.

In it, he aimed to provide translations and explanations of French words into English and vice versa.

It is also regarded as one of the earliest attempts to systematically compile and organise vocabulary from both languages, making it an important resource for scholars and linguists studying the English and French languages of the period.

As part of the Semaine de la Francophonie, we have taken a deeper dive into the dictionary and its history.

To do this, we talked to Susan Baddeley, Professor of English Language and Civilization at the University of Versailles Saint Quentin.

As a historian of the English Language she wrote an introduction to Cotgrave’s dictionary in 2011.

She explained that Cotgrave’s dictionary aimed to provide translations and explanations of words in both French and English.

It was notable, she says, for its comprehensive coverage of French vocabulary, including idiomatic expressions, phrases, technical terms and even recipes.

The dictionary was also structured alphabetically with French words followed by their English equivalents and explanations.

Overall,  the Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues served as a valuable tool for promoting the study of French language and culture in England during the 17th century and contributed to the development of bilingual dictionaries and language learning resources.

The Semaine de la langue Francaise et Francophonie closes on 24 March.


Paris Olympics 2024

French football teams discover their adversaries at Paris Olympics

France’s mens Olympic football team were pitted on Wednesday night against New Zealand, the United States and a qualifier from an inter-continental play-off during a lavish draw ceremony at the headquarters of the Paris Olympic organising committee in Aubervilliers just north of Paris

The 23-man squad will launch their quest for a first Olympic gold since 1984 against the Americans on 24 July at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.

“There are no preferences,” said France boss Thierry Henry immediately after the draw.

“We accept everybody who comes,” added the former France international striker.

“We’ll come up against different styles of football in the shape of New Zealand as well as the Americans.

“The good thing is now we know exactly who we will be getting and we can start our preparations.

“We’ll do our best to get gold. It’s been 40 years since the men’s team won the title.”

Wait

The exact indentity of the three Asian teams – anointed AFC1, AFC2 and AFC3 in the draw – will be known in May at the end of the Asian Cup. They will play in Group B, C and D.

Argentina will start their Group B games against Morocco on 24 July. They will take on AFC3 and Ukraine.

AFC2 will battle Spain, Egypt and the Dominican Republic in Group C

In Group D, AFC1 will face Paraguay, Mali and Israel.

France’s women’s side – led by Hervé Renard – will vye with Colombia, the defending champions Canada as well as New Zealand in Group A for a berth in the second phase.

In Group B, the four-time champions United States will play Germany, Australia and one of the two African teams.

In Group C, Spain will go up against Japan, Brazil and the second team from Africa.

“We have to concentrate on the opening round,” said Renard whose charges will begin their bid for a first Olympic title on 25 July in Lyon.

“All the matches will be difficult just like they are in any tournament,” added the Frenchman who has steered Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to crowns at the men’s Africa Cup of Nations.

While the top two from each of the four men’s groups advance to the last eight knockout stages, in the women’s tournament, the winner and runner-up from the three pools progress automatically to the quarter-finals where they will be joined by the two best third-placed teams.

Fury

Earlier on Wednesday, Olympic Games organisers came under fire from Russian sports administrators over the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to restrict Russian athletes at the Paris Games in the summer.

The IOC on Tuesday barred Russian athletes from taking part in the )opening ceremony of the 2024 event along the river Seine on 26 July and criticised Russia for planning to hold its own Friendship Games.

“These decisions demonstrate how far the IOC has moved away from its stated principles and slipped into racism and neo-Nazism,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Last year, the IOC suspended Russia from the 2024 Games but has agreed to allow its athletes to compete as neutrals as long as they have not actively supported Russia’s assault on Ukraine.

 “The IOC’s decisions are wrongful, unjust and unacceptable,” Zakharova added.

“We are outraged by the unprecedented discriminatory conditions imposed by the International Olympic Committee on Russian athletes.”

The IOC accused Russia of politicising sport by planning the Friendship Games in Moscow and Yekaterinburg next September.

The IOC urged governments invited to the event to reject the offer. However IOC bosses said they would not sanction countries who take part.


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

Paris prepares for Olympic romance with 220,000 free condoms

Organisers of the Paris Olympics are to distribute more than 200,000 condoms to athletes in the Olympic Village. Organisers said the move comes amid a rise in sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Some 200,000 male condoms and 20,000 female condoms (dental dams) will be distributed to prevent STIs during the Paris Games, which run from 26 July to 11 August.

“We’re observing an increase in the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in the population, regardless of the Olympics,” said Laurent Dalard, who is responsible for coordinating first aid and health risks for the Paris Olympics organising committee.

“We don’t know how many people are likely to use them and obviously we’ll adapt to the requirements if needed.”

Around 14,500 athletes and their teams are expected in July at the Olympic Village, located in Saint-Denis, north of Paris.

Leaflets will be handed out, and posters will be put up in the village’s polyclinic to raise awareness among athletes. HIV testing plans will also be available.

The beds at the Paris Games however might be a passion killer, given that they are all singles, made of cardboard, and are usually two to a room.

No alcohol will be served.

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Olympics tradition

A few thousand condoms were first distributed for free to athletes at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 to encourage safe sex and raise awareness about the HIV-Aids epidemic sweeping the world at the time.

Since then, it has become a tradition for each event, stoking the idea that the village is a hotbed of high-performance promiscuity.

The number of condoms distributed has increased dramatically over the decades, rising to 50,000 at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, 100,000 in Beijing in 2008, and 150,000 in London in 2012.

The Rio Games in 2016 were dubbed the raunchiest yet, with a massive 450,000 handed out, the equivalent of 42 for each athlete.

The European Union‘s health agency warned on 7 March about a “troubling” surge in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) across the continent over the previous year.

In 2022, gonorrhoea cases in the EU rose by 48 percent, syphilis was up 34 and chlamydia 16 percent, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

(with AFP)


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.

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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)


France – Justice

Dozens jailed for cyberbullying French ‘queen of influencers’

Twenty-eight people who joined an online harassment campaign launched by a rapper against France’s “queen of influencers” have been handed jail terms in the country’s largest cyberbullying case.  

Paris’ Criminal Court on Tuesday found the accused guilty of harassing Magali Berdah after being spurred on by social media posts made by French rapper Booba in December 2021. 

The harassment included death threats, anti-Semitic remarks and other hateful and insulting messages. 

Those prosecuted were aged between 20 and 49 and live in locations across France. The court handed jail terms ranging from four to 18 months, with half receiving suspended sentences.  

They were also fined between €300 and €700, ordered to attend citizenship classes, and forbidden from contacting the victim for two years. 

The defendants must jointly pay Berdah €54,000 for moral damages. 

  • France admits ‘failures’ in prevention of teen bullying, suicides

‘Influ-swindlers’

Judges heard the hate campaign had been incited by Booba, real name Élie Yaffa, who had launched a crusade against Berdah in what he dubbed “influ-swindlers”, who he accused of scamming internet users. 

Berdah, 42, built a prominent career in France as a lifestyle and fashion expert while also marketing other social media stars through her company, Shauna Events. 

Many defendants said they had targeted Berdah over alleged deceptive business practices related to her company, which connects influencers with brands.  

Berdah said she had suicidal thoughts during the harassment, which had taken a heavy toll on her mental health.

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Accountability

“This verdict sends a clear message that no one is immune from accountability behind a keyboard,” her lawyer, David-Olivier Kaminski, said. 

Berdah hailed the judgment as a significant victory. 

“For the first time, my victimhood is acknowledged, and what I endured is recognised as serious,” she said.  

Booba himself faces charges of aggravated harassment and is under judicial supervision. 

While not directly implicated in Tuesday’s ruling, the court acknowledged the influence of his posts. 

The court said that each of the defendants had made a “conscious choice to join in” with the cyberbullying. 

(with newswires)


Hate crimes

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 anti-Semitic acts last year as in 2022, at 1,676.

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

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 anti-Semitism 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)


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. 

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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.  


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.

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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.

 

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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. 

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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?

International report

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

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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. “

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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    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

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    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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    Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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    Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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