rfi 2024-03-26 10:06:12



Senegal

From prisoner to president: Bassirou Diomaye Faye to become Senegal’s youngest president

Only two weeks ago, Bassirou Diomaye Faye was sitting in a prison cell. Faye was arrested almost a year ago for “spreading false news, contempt of court, and defamation of a constituted body”. He is now set to be inaugurated as Senegal’s president.

When his candidature was announced, many believed he didn’t stand a chance.

Yet, at the age of 44, he is set to become Senegal’s and Africa’s youngest head of state.

His main rival in the presidential election, former prime minister Amadou Ba, recognised Faye’s victory on Monday.

  • Macky Sall’s candidate concedes defeat in Senegal election

“In choosing me as president, the Senegalese people have made the choice of rupture”, Faye said in his first speech as future head of state of Senegal, on Monday evening in Dakar’s Radisson hotel.



His mentor, opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, endorsed him as his replacement only a few months ago, after he was judged to be ineligible for the office. 

  • Senegalese opposition chooses new candidate for presidential election

In twelve presidential elections based on universal suffrage in Senegal, this is the first time that an opposition candidate has won in the first round.



 ‘The same project’

Sonko and Faye embarked on a whirlwind campaign a few weeks ago when they were finally freed. Both are fierce critics of President Macky Sall.

They were most often welcomed by crowds chanting “Sonko mooy Diomaye, Diomaye mooy Sonko“, or “Sonko is Diomaye, Diomaye is Sonko”.

“Bassirou is me,” Sonko indeed said of his number two.

From a modest rural background, Faye, who is a Muslim, appeared at his final rally alongside his two wives clad in his trademark wide-sleeved boubou robe.

He had followed in Sonko’s footsteps by sitting Senegal’s administration and magistrate exams, before taking over as head of a trade union from Sonko.

He has even named one of his sons Ousmane.

Together, they founded the Pastef political party in 2014, which authorities dissolved last year.

The two also spent time together in the same prison.

“They are two sides of the same coin with two different styles,” said Moustapha Sarr, a trainer of former Pastef activists.

“Of course, we would have preferred [the candidate] to be Ousmane Sonko, but I have confidence in Diomaye because Sonko put his trust in him,” said Mourtalla Diouf, 27, from the southern Casamance region. “They share the same [vision].”

Tax inspector

The former tax inspector was put in prison last year, as many members of Sonko’s party, Pastef, dissolved as he was himself arrested and put on trial.

Faye has never held elected office.

He promised the Senegalese profound change and left-wing Pan-Africanism.



Presenting himself as part of a new generation of politicians, he believes in national sovereignty, a fairer distribution of wealth, and reform of what he sees as a corrupt justice system.

He also vowed to renegotiate oil and fishing contracts, and raised the controversial issue of a new national currency to replace the CFA franc by a common currency for the whole West African group Ecowas.

This measure denounced by his opponent in the presidential elections , Amadou Ba.

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

Prison time

Presenting himself as part of a new generation of politicians, he believes in national sovereignty, a fairer distribution of wealth, and reform of what he sees as a corrupt justice system.

He also vowed to renegotiate oil and fishing contracts, and raised the controversial issue of a new national currency to replace the CFA franc by a common currency for the whole West African group Ecowas.

This measure denounced by his opponent in the presidential elections, Amadou Ba.

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

Sonko and Faye were only released from prison 12 days ago, on 14 March.

In April last year, Faye was charged with several offences, including contempt of court, after broadcasting a message critical of the judiciary in legal cases against Sonko.

Sonko joined Faye in prison in July on charges including calling for insurrection.

  • Senegal opposition leader charged with fomenting insurrection, his party dissolved

The opposition’s protests played a role in outgoing President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the election, plunging the West African country into its worst political crisis in decades.

  • Senegal president calls off February 25 election

Immediately after casting his vote on Sunday, he called on the Senegalese people to “calm down” and “return once and for all to the serenity that has been seriously disrupted in recent months and years”.

 (with AFP) 


NUCLEAR TESTS

French lawmakers to investigate effects of nuclear tests in South Pacific

French lawmakers are considering launching a probe into the impact of the country’s nuclear weapons tests in French Polynesia over three decades.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, France detonated almost 200 nuclear bombs in French Polynesia – a scattered Pacific island territory thousands of kilometres east of Australia – including 41 atmospheric tests between 1966 and 1974.

The largely communist GDR group in France’s National Assembly has made a written request for an investigation, stating: “We need to ask ourselves what the French government knew about the impact of the tests before they were carried out, as they occurred and up to today”.

The GDR used its right to request one parliamentary investigation per session to demand the probe, which must be formally approved by the parliament’s defence committee.

In the text written by Mereana Reid Arbelot, a French Polynesian member of parliament, the blasts “had numerous consequences: They relate to health, the economy, society and the environment”.

She also called for a “full account” of the consequences and added that the group wanted to “shed light” on how testing sites were first chosen in the 1950s.

Reid Arbelot stressed that those decisions inflicted “trauma on the civilian and military populations” of the islanders.



Calls for compensation

The GDR maintains that Paris’ claims about how much radiation people were exposed to at the time of the tests are contested among scientists and should be revised.

Paris first opened a path to compensation in 2010 when it acknowledged health and environmental impacts.

A study published by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) last year found that the nuclear tests slightly increased the risk of thyroid cancer for local people.

  • Macron to discuss legacy of nuclear tests on French Polynesia visit
  • Paris talks assess impact of 30 years of nuclear testing in French Polynesia

But campaigners at the time said that it should have investigated a larger segment of the population and called for more reparations.

On a visit to French Polynesia in 2021, President Emmanuel Macron said the nation owed the overseas territory “a debt” for the nuclear tests – the last as recent as 1996.

He called for the testing archives to be opened, save only the most sensitive military information.

De Gaulle’s nuclear legacy

France’s independent nuclear programme was launched in the wake of World War II and pushed by the founder of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle.

One of nine nuclear powers in the world, it maintains a stock of around 300 warheads – a similar level to China or Britain, but far short of heavyweights Russia and the United States.

French nuclear doctrine calls for the bombs to be used only if the country’s “vital interests” are under threat – a relatively vague term leaving the president wide leeway to decide on their use.


Israel-Hamas war

UN Security Council votes for ‘immediate’ Gaza ceasefire, US abstains

After more than five months of war, the UN Security Council for the first time Monday demanded an “immediate” ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The United States was the only member to abstain.

Drawing unusual applause in the normally staid Security Council, all 14 other members voted in favor of the resolution which “demands an immediate ceasefire” for the ongoing Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

It calls for the truce to lead to a “lasting, sustainable ceasefire” and demands that Hamas and other militants free hostages seized on 7 October.

The resolution also stresses the “urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to and reinforce the protection of civilians in the entire Gaza Strip”.

“Hamas welcomes the United Nations Security Council’s call today for an immediate ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip, the militant group said, adding: “We also affirm our readiness to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides.”

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield says she abstained because the resolution did not include an explicit condemnation of Hamas.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the US abstention on the resolution hurt Israel’s fight against Hamas and the effort to release hostages held in the territory.

“It gives Hamas hope that international pressure will allow them to accept a ceasefire without the release of our abductees,” Netanyahu said.

To mark his protest, he cancelled the trip of an Israeli delegation to Washington that was to discuss alternatives to a looming attack on the Rafah border town, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians try to shelter from the ongoing bombardments. 

The Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said that the approval of a ceasefire resolution needed to be a “turning point” in ending the Gaza war.

“This must signal the end of this assault, of atrocities against our people,” he said, holding back tears.

High time for action

French Ambassador and Permanent Representative Nicholas de Rivière welcomed the adoption of the resolution, stressing that “it was high time” that the Security Council act. 

“The adoption of this resolution demonstrates that the Security Council can still act when all of its members make the necessary effort to discharge their mandate,” he said.

France has called for work on a permanent ceasefire once Ramadan ends in around two weeks.



Extended pauses

The US has vetoed three draft council resolutions on the war in Gaza. It has also previously abstained twice, allowing the council to adopt resolutions that aimed to boost aid to Gaza and called for extended pauses in fighting.

Russia at the last minute objected to the removal of the word “permanent” ceasefire rather than “lasting” ceasefire but the vote failed and Moscow still voted for the resolution.

The successful resolution was drafted in part by Algeria, the Arab bloc’s current member on the Security Council, with a diverse array of countries including Slovenia and Switzerland.

“The bloodbath has continued for far too long,” said Amar Bendjama, Algeria’s representative. 

  • EU claims starvation used as ‘weapon of war’ as aid efforts to Gaza persist

The United States has shown growing frustration with Israel, including its stated plans to expand its military operation in the southern city of Rafah.

A change in tone toward its Middle Eastern ally was seen Friday, when the United States put forward a resolution to recognise “the imperative” of an “immediate and sustained ceasefire.”

But that text was blocked by Russia and China, which along with Arab states criticized it for stopping short of explicitly demanding Israel halt its campaign in Gaza.

Unlike Friday’s text, the call for a ceasefire in the new resolution is not directly linked to ongoing talks, led by Qatar with support from the United States and Egypt, to halt fighting in return for Hamas releasing hostages.

Little effect

The 7 October attack by the Palestinian militant group on Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to a tally of Israeli figures.

The militants also seized 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

  • France calls for independent probe into Gaza aid delivery deaths

Israel’s military campaign in response to eliminate Hamas has killed more than 32,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

UN personnel say Israel continues to block aid convoys as experts warn of looming famine.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday said: “This resolution must be implemented. Failure would be unforgivable,” Guterres wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

(With newswires)


Senegal

Macky Sall’s candidate concedes defeat in Senegal election

Senegal’s governing coalition candidate Amadou Ba conceded defeat on Monday, against opposition rival Bassirou Diomaye Faye after Sunday’s elections. This brings President Macky Sall’s long leadership to a close after months of protests, a delayed election and a deep political crisis. 

“Considering the trends of the presidential election results and awaiting the official declaration, I congratulate the president Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye on his victory in the first round,” Amadou Ba said in the statement.

The governing coalition had been insisting a run-off would still be needed until Monday morning, as an absolute majority is required for a first-round win.

Official results are expected in the coming days and outgoing President Macky Sall is stepping down on 2 April.

Sall congratulated Faye as his successor on Monday, hailing “a victory for Senegalese democracy”.

Former Prime Minister Ba, who was representing outgoing leader Sall‘s camp, was one of the 17 candidates in the running.

Early predictions

From late Sunday evening, local media channels started announcing polling station tallies that put Faye comfortably ahead of Ba, as well as most newspapers’ frontpages.



Opposition supporters celebrated in the streets of Ziguinchor, in Casamance, where Ousmane Sonko, Faye’s mentor, has been mayor for years.

Many told RFI that they hoped the new president would bring change, a boost to the economy and especially jobs for the youth.

Faye and his coalition have promised voters a programme of left-wing pan-Africanism.

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

Faye’s and Sonko’s supporters also celebrated in the capital Dakar into the early hours of Monday, which is also Faye’s birthday.

“I am happy to see there is a wind of change,” one of Faye’s supporters also told Reuters news agency, joining others to wave Senegalese flags, light flares and blast vuvuzelas.

“It is wonderful because democracy has won. Many thought it would not happen,” he said.



A peaceful election

“The vote went very well. The polling stations were peaceful, orderly and quiet. Every voter who came was able to cast their ballot, and exercise their fundamental right to choose their leaders,” Timbuktu Institute senior fellow Babacar Ndiaye told RFI English.

“That showed that, despite the tension in the pre-electoral period, they were eager to go and exercise that fundamental right.”

The tension seen during the pre-electoral period, had actually started over three years ago in Senegal, when politicians from different sides were “engaged in violent struggles,” he added, “and tactics either to eliminate one candidate from running or to take advantage of the situation.” 

“Senegalese citizens demonstrated much maturity and a democratic culture of peace, of order, of respect, of rules.”

Ndiaye hopes this victory will “lead to transparency, good governance and prosperity for the majority of people, which is the ultimate goal of democracy.”

The new leader will have to steer Senegal out of three years of turbulence and a political crisis, and manage revenues from oil and gas reserves that are shortly to start production.

 (with newswires)


Crime

Police arrest nearly 200 in massive anti-drug operations across France

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced on Monday that more than 187 people had been arrested as part of massive anti-drug operations carried out simultaneously in several cities in France.

Darmanin announced the figure from Roubaix in northern France, where he was visiting on Monday to oversee the government’s new anti-drug clean-up initiative – dubbed Place nette XXL.

These operations were focused simulataneously on Lille, Lyon, Dijon and in the Paris region, he said.

“We have a goal of 850 people to be arrested. We are about a quarter of this goal if we count Marseille,” he said. “Our goal is to show all residents, and especially those in working-class neighborhoods, that we are taking their security seriously,” Darmanin insisted.

He announced that other operations of this type would be carried out “in several other cities in the days and weeks to come”.

The operation in Marseille was launched just after President Emmanuel Macron’s visit last week.

“It’s an unprecedented operation that we have launched, to put a stop to drug trafficking and ensure republican order,” said Macron.

Some 900 police, gendarmes and customs officers were dispatched on the first day of the operation in Marseille and the Bouches-du-Rhône department.

Within four days, 22 kilos of drugs had been seized and 71 people taken into custody. Officers said nearly €400,000 in cash or assets had been seized along with four weapons.

Turf war

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

Four of the dead were caught by accident in crossfire and had no link to the drugs trade.

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

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

Felix Bingui, 33, was detained in Casablanca. He 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 prepares to welcome visitors for this summer’s Olympic sailing events. Matches for the Olympic football tournament will also take place at the Vélodrome stadium in the city centre.

At the beginning of March, Isabelle Couderc, one of the top judges dealing with organised crime in Marseille, sounded the alarm about the impact drug trafficking.

“I fear that we are losing the war against drug traffickers,” said Couderc just before before a Senate committee inquiry into the fight against drug trafficking in France.


Paris 2024 Olympic Games

French ministers hail ‘exceptional’ revamp of land around Olympic climbing venue

Two top French ministers joined forces 20 kilometres to the north of Paris on Monday to pay tribute to the builders, engineers and landscapers behind a 650-million euro regeneration project on 70 hectares of land around the venue for the sports climbing events during the Paris Olympic Games.

During their 90-minute tour of the Cluster des Medias, sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and industry minister Roland Lescure inaugurated the 10-million euro Gymnase Marie Paradis in Le Bourget where competitors will warm up for their appearances between 5 and 10 August in the climbing events on the walls outside.

The delegation – which included politicians from the Seine-Saint-Denis region as well as Tony Estanguet, the boss of the Paris Olympics organizing committee – also inspected a new footbridge over the A1 motorway leading to apartment blocks in the Village des Medias in Dugny where more than 1,500 foreign technical staff and journalists will stay during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“What you have done is absolutely exemplary,” Oudéa-Castéra told the 200-odd workers who had gathered inside the gymnasium which will be used for sports such as badminton, handball and volleyball as well as sport climbing after the Games.

Flanked by Lescure, she added: “You’ve worked very hard over the years and you’ve delivered a whole complex on time and a whole extraordinary area that will enable us to be extremely proud to welcome people from all over the world from next week.

Praise

“It shows just how much France is a nation of builders,” she added. “It just shows how much it has with men and women who are absolutely exceptional and who really do our country proud.

“You really have to realise that this is a first in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games that structures of this scale and magnitude are being delivered in such reliable conditions, on time and on budget.

“It’s not me saying it. It’s the International OIympic Committee saying these things when they come to visit us in France. I think we can all be extremely proud.”

Planning chiefs in Seine Saint Denis have been working since the turn of the century on projects to offer residents in Dugny and La Comète – a tiny district of the town cut off by the A1 Motorway – with better and more eco-friendly links to the public transport networks.

“Dugny was totally bombed and razed to the ground during the Second World War,” said Isabelle Vallentin, deputy managing director at SOLIDEO – the body charged with making sure Olympic venues are completed on time.

“It was rebuilt after the war and as it was the 1940s and 50s, things were orientated in this town towards the car. Today, of course, the thinking is different.

Distance

“Even the bus network wasn’t linked to the stations. So there’s been a lot of thinking going on about how to pull the town together and how to ensure that you can get from the town to the station in a pleasant way and with a sense of continuity.”

The footbridge over the motorway will connect the Gymnase Marie Paradis and the surrounding school and sports facilities with just over a dozen apartment blocks in Dugny some of which boast sweeping views into central Paris as well as over the 400-hectare Parc Georges Valbron which stretches into La Courneuve.

“When we designed the project for the apartments in the spring of 2020 we were in the middle of the lockdown for the coronavirus,” said Jean-Francois Leopold, deputy director at Demathieu Bard Immobilier.

Leopold, whose company worked with Sogeprom on eight of the blocks, added: “I think that, consciously or unconsciously, the fact that everyone was confined led the project to anticipate everything that makes people think about the quality of housing and the quality of life that they wanted post Covid.”

Change

Residents who move into the 1,400 new homes after the Paralympic Games on 8 September will also benefit from a revamp of the 20-hectare Aire des Vents.

The space was used for just over two decades as the venue for the Fête de l’Humanité music and cultural rally as well as a car park for the biennial Paris Air Show at Le Bourget International Air and Space Show.

Landscapers will repurpose the area over the next 18 months into a separate open space from the nearby Parc Georges Valbon which will gain another 13 hectares from the end of 2024 after the clean-up of the former military oil and gas storage centre – Terrain des Essences – is completed.

“I’ve been working on this project for 10 years,” said Quentin Gesell, the mayor of Dugny, after the SOLIDEO chief Nicolas Ferrand had handed over a symbolic key to the Cluster des Medias to Estanguet.

“It’s a relief and it’s even more beautiful than it looked in the pictures,” he beamed.

“There have been a lot of meetings, a lot of work, a lot of discussions, sometimes not always straightforward but now it’s come to fruition.

“After the foreign media have gone, the residents will simply be able to enjoy it to the full.”


ISRAEL – HAMAS WAR

Macron issues ‘war crime warning’ to Netanyahu over forced displacement in Gaza

French President Emmanuel Macron has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that any forced transfer of people from the southern Gaza city of Rafah would constitute ‘a war crime’.

In a telephone call between the two leaders on Sunday, Macron also “strongly condemned” Israel’s announcement of the seizure of 800 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank for new settlements.

Activists say Israel’s declaration last Friday that land in the northern Jordan Valley was now “state land” was the single largest seizure in decades.

Macron also repeated his opposition to any Israeli military operation to fight Hamas in Rafah, where most of Gaza’s population has taken shelter after months of fierce fighting in the territory.

  • US warns Gaza facing ‘acute food insecurity’ as UN declares famine ‘imminent’
  • EU claims starvation used as ‘weapon of war’ as aid efforts to Gaza persist

‘Unjustifiable situation’

During the call, Macron told Netanyahu he intended to bring a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for “an immediate and lasting ceasefire” and urged Israel to immediately open all crossing points into Gaza. 

The UN Security Council will hold a vote on Monday on a new draft resolution, after Russia and China vetoed an earlier text proposed by the United States.

According to the Elysée Palace, Macron also held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, during which they discussed the “unjustifiable humanitarian situation in Gaza”.

Forcing civilians to run the risk of famine was “unjustifiable”, the two leaders said.

They also agreed on the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that “implied the creation of a Palestinian state including Gaza”.



Campaign to destroy Hamas

The planned Rafah ground offensive has faced growing international opposition, with warnings it would cause mass civilian casualties and worsen the humanitarian crisis.

Israel has insisted it is necessary in its campaign to destroy Hamas.

The Gaza war was sparked by the unprecedented Hamas attack on 7 October that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians. 

Israel has vowed to destroy the militants, who also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

After almost six months of fighting at least 32,000 people have been in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.


French overseas territories

Macron returns to French Guiana for thorny talks on autonomy and illegal mining

France’s President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the overseas department of French Guiana on Monday for a two-day visit, to discuss poverty, crime and greater autonomy – a prickly topic between Cayenne and Paris. The trip will be followed by a visit to neighbouring Brazil, where Macron will address the issue of illegal mining in the border regions.

In his first visit to the South American territory in October 2017, just months after his election, Macron was met with protesters, angry over the lack of investment in the impoverished region.

Macron was under pressure to honour the outgoing government’s promises of a billion-euro emergency package. 

He also promised at the time to strengthen the local police force to tackle a murder rate 10 times as high as that of mainland France, as well as tackling undocumented immigration and illegal gold mining.

However, he did not make a positive impression on the locals, who remember his response when they asked about building a new hospital: “I’m not Santa Claus.”

This anger translated into electoral revenge as 60 percent of Guianans voted for far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the presidential election of 2022. 

Poverty, unemployment, crime

In 2023, Guiana is still struggling to tackle poverty, high unemployment, poor education and health facilities and neglected infrastructure.

It was also a record year for violent crime, with public prosecutors reporting 59 homicides and 250 attempted murders, or 20.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants – compared to the national average of 1.5 per 100,000.

Michel-Ange Jérémie, president of the Association of Mayors of Guiana, says the region needs a global approach that takes into account education and training.

“The number of law enforcement officers is substantial, but insecurity continues to grow,” he said, quoted by the French press agency AFP.

Half of the 300,000-strong population is under 25 years old, due in part to a high fertility rate and high numbers of people leaving the country.

According to a 2021 study by French statistics office Insee, 37 percent of people between the ages of 21 and 29 leave Guiana to study or work abroad.

Meanwhile, one in three young people aged 15 to 29 is neither in work or education, particularly in isolated areas not connected to the limited road network.

  • Rainforest villages in French Guiana cut off after loss of airline
  • Unicef sounds alarm over child poverty in French overseas departments

Illegal gold mining

Macron will be accompanied by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Overseas France Minister Marie Guévenoux.

They will attend a service commemorating French special forces major Arnaud Blanc, who died one year ago during an operation against illegal gold mining in Maripasoula, a region in the south of Guiana bordering Brazil.

According to local media, Macron will also travel to the eastern town of Camopi, a hotspot of illegal gold panning. Back in the capital Cayenne, he will observe a masterclass at the Paris Opera’s local academy.

  • Paris Opera seeks to nurture artistic talent in French Guiana

On Monday evening, Macron will attend a dinner with a collective of mayors, parliamentarians and the president of the Territorial Collectivity of Guyana.

The exchange will be an opportunity to discuss the evolution of the status of Guiana within France, inspired by Corsica’s quest for autonomy.

The next day, Macron will visit the Guiana Space Centre, created 60 years ago in March 1964. He’ll also have a peek at the Ariane 6 launcher assembly building, where the rocket is being prepared for a launch in June or July.

Joint operations with Brazil

On Wednesday, Macron is expected in Brasilia, where he will stay for three days.

Brazil and France are set to sign an international cooperation agreement that would allow police from both countries to launch joint operations aimed at tackling illegal mining in French Guiana.

The countries have expressed concern about increased wildcat mining activities and environmental crimes near the border between Brazil’s northern state of Amapa and French Guiana.

  • Mountains of gold, rivers of mercury: Poisoning of Guiana and the French Amazon

The agreement would allow the countries to launch joint operations, train police officers and share results obtained from the analysis of the composition of illegal gold extracted in both countries, according to Brazilian sources.

It is expected to be signed when French President Emmanuel Macron visits his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia late March.

The deal expands a similar one signed by Lula and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

“The French expressed their intention to deepen ties with Brazil,” a source at Brazil’s Justice Ministry told AFP, adding that the new agreement would be more focused on operations than the previous one.

(with newswires)


Security

France raises security alert to highest level after Moscow attack

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said Sunday that the country was raising its security alert to the highest level after Friday’s Moscow concert hall attack that left 137 people dead and nearly 200 injured.

“Given the claim of responsibility for the attack by the Islamic State and the threats weighing on our country, we have decided to raise the Vigipirate state to its highest level: emergency attack,” said Attal, raising the level again just three months after it was lowered in January.

President Emmanuel Macron called in his top ministers and advisors on Sunday night to the Elysée Palace to discuss the implications of the assault at the Crocus City Hall just outside the Russian capital on Friday evening.

They will meet on Monday to flesh out security plans moving forward.

On Monday, Russian officials cast doubt on assertions by the United States that the Islamic State was responsible for the deadliest attack inside Russia for two decades.

Four men appeared at Moscow’s Basmanny district court on Monday charged with terrorism. Two pleaded guilty and all four were remanded in custody for two months.

Investigators are continuing to search the rubble of the building housing the concert hall, which was ravaged by a huge fire started by the attackers.

Concern

French police are in the process of finalising their plans to ensure safety during the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer in Paris and several cities throughout the country.

On Wednesday, senior politicians in the Senate – the upper house of the French parliament – will present their findings from a year-long review into how the police intend to operate and marshal an estimated 15 million spectators at nearly 40 venues to be used during the Games.

The inquiry was launched after the disastrous prelude to the Champions League final at the Stade de France in Saint Denis in May 2022 between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

Thousands of Liverpool fans were prevented from entering the stadium leading to a near fatal crush of supporters who were also sprayed with tear gas by riot police and robbed by youths.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had blamed Liverpool fans, saying that 40,000 had travelled to the stadium either with no tickets or fake ones.

Vindication

But a French Senate fact-finding mission found the problems were actually caused by a “string of dysfunctions” including a lack of preparation by French authorities and European football’s gioverning body Uefa, as well as poorly executed security arrangements.

“These dysfunctions were at every level, not only during the implementation but also during preparations in advance,” the co-chair of the enquiry Laurent Lafon said.


INDIA

India’s top court untangles nexus between politicians and businesses

Corporate India is in the spotlight after the publication of a donor list revealing close ties between companies and political parties. Electoral bonds, which account for more than half of all political donations, were anonymous until India’s top court ruled them illegal, weeks before the start of national elections next month. 

India’s Supreme Court forced the disclosures on Thursday – a month after striking down as “undemocratic” the controversial policy called the Electoral Bond Scheme, introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2017.

The election commission has now published a list detailing buyers of electoral bonds, revealing the close ties between businesses and the ruling BJP party.

Critics have argued the scheme violated citizens’ right to information and that it was designed to favour the BJP, which came to power in 2014 and hopes for a third term in parliamentary elections this spring.

Lion’s share

Published details showed the BJP received €773 million through donations up to July 2023, cornering nearly half of the bonds put up for sale by the federal government.

The opposition Congress received €199 million, or 11 percent of all bonds sold, while two regional groups, the Trinamool Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, scooped up €220 million.

Trinamool rules West Bengal state while the other governs Tamil Nadu. Modi’s BJP has failed to breach either of these two opposition bastions.

The two parties insisted the funds were left on their doorsteps by secret donors, but a Tamil Nadu-based lottery firm which had bought electoral bonds worth €152 million admitted gifting a chunk of them to the two political parties.

  • India to hold marathon national election from April

Cash for votes

Politicians say slush funds could produce skewed results from the polls, which involves 960 million voters and some 2,000 political parties in the race for 545 legislative seats.

“Electoral bonds are being wrongly referred to as political donations,” said Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. His centrist opposition party has received a humble €1.10 million in electoral bonds since 2018.

“This is extortion. Has such a type of rampant extortion taken place anywhere else in the world ever before?” asked Yadav.

French news agency AFP reviewed the list and found that of the €1.38 billion donated through the bond scheme, at least €86 million was donated by 17 companies after they faced – either directly or through their subsidiaries – investigations for tax evasion, fraud or other corporate malfeasance.

  • India’s opposition cries foul after state election defeats

Indian media also identified several other irregularities with the electoral bond scheme, reporting that several companies donated amounts far in excess of their annual profit or revenue.

Others were loss-making or had been freshly incorporated, suggesting they had been used as front companies to make donations on behalf of an unidentified third party.

Black money

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah argued a ban on donations could prove unhealthy for electoral politics.

“Electoral bonds were introduced to end the domination of black money in Indian politics. Now the scheme has been scrapped and I fear the return of black money,” argued Shah.

But India’s Communist Party called the system a channel for money laundering.

“Instead of tackling black money or curbing it, you are actually allowing money laundering to be done… Companies have bought electoral bonds multiple times more than their annual profits,” Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury said.

Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer who led the charge against the scheme in court, said he would not rest until and unless the murky nexus was broken.

“This opaque instrument promotes corruption as these bonds are given as kickbacks to parties in power … Opposition parties have not received a single electoral bond,” he said.


Haiti – France

France to evacuate vulnerable citizens from Haiti as unrest rages

France will provide special flights for its “most vulnerable” citizens to leave Haiti, the French foreign ministry said Sunday, after air links with Port-au-Prince were cut during political chaos.

“France’s embassy in Port-au-Prince remains open and is still working despite the degraded conditions,” the ministry told French news agency AFP in a statement.

It added that staff are “completely mobilised to support the French community on the ground”.

Haiti’s international airport has been closed since armed gangs attacked it earlier this month.

Around 1,100 French citizens live in Haiti – once a slave colony of France – many of them with dual nationality.

Paris said that its defence ministry would be responsible for organising the flights, which are set to begin on Sunday.

People who want to leave should contact the embassy in Port-au-Prince, the foreign ministry said, adding that it was not yet clear how many people would take up the offer.

Thousands flee gang violence

More than 33,000 people have fled Haiti’s capital in around two weeks as armed gangs continue to pillage homes and attack institutions, according to a report this week from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration.

The majority of those displaced have traveled to the south of Haiti.

United States authorities said they evacuated more than 130 US citizens out of Port-au-Prince between Wednesday and Friday, and nearly 100 others out of the coastal city of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti since last Sunday.

  • Africa-led mission to Haiti ‘urgently needed’, according to the UN

Port-au-Prince remains gripped by the street battles that erupted late February, prompting the resignation earlier this month of prime minister Ariel Henry.

His departure, demanded by an alliance of gangs that now control most of the capital, has not lessened the violence.

The main port remains closed, and supplies of food and water are dwindling. 

Kenya, which had been due to lead an international peacekeeping mission to Haiti, says the deployment is on hold until a new administration is in place. 

Caribbean leaders are helping form a transitional council that will be responsible for choosing an interim prime minister and cabinet.

(with newswires)

Spotlight on Africa

The long path to Senegal’s troubled presidential elections

Issued on:

This is a big election year for Africa, with 16 countries heading to the polls. Close attention is being paid to the delayed presidential vote in Senegal – a West African beacon of democracy that’s been facing increasing instability. RFI spoke to author and economist Ndongo Samba Sylla in the capital Dakar. 

RFI is renewing its Spotlight on Africa podcast, and the first episode zeroes in on one of the continent’s biggest news stories.

Senegal was plunged into political crisis when President Macky Sall unexpectedly postponed elections that had been due to take place by the end of February.

Protests erupted from those supporting opposition candidates, as well as from all corners of civil society. The polls were finally rescheduled for 24 March.

Voters say they’re worried about unemployment and a lack of opportunities for young people – many of whom are quitting the country in search of a better life elsewhere.

Ndongo Samba Sylla helps us to better understand where the unrest has taken the heaviest toll – and what’s really at stake in Sunday’s election.

Also read:

  • Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential election
  • Senegal president calls off February 25 election

     


 

Episode mixed by Guillaume Buffet. 

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 


ENVIRONMENT

Obsolete electronics pile up as e-waste outstrips recycling efforts, UN warns

UN agencies have warned that waste from electronics is piling up worldwide while global recycling rates remain low and are likely to fall even further.

In a report released this week, the United Nations International Telecommunications Union and research arm UNITAR said some 56 million tonnes of “e-waste” was generated in 2022 – enough to fill tractor-trailers that could be lined up bumper to bumper around the globe.

That amount is on track to reach more than 70 million tonnes by 2030.

E-waste is defined as discarded devices with a plug or battery such as mobile phones, electronic toys, TVs, microwave ovens, e-cigarettes, laptop computers and solar panels.

It does not include waste from electronic vehicles, which fall into a separate category.

According to the report, metals – including copper, gold and iron – make up half of the 60 million tonnes, worth a total of over €80 billion.

Plastics accounted for over 15 million tonnes and the remaining 12 million tonnes included substances such as composite materials and glass.



Chasing ‘hazardous elements’

The United Nations says 22 percent of e-waste mass was properly collected and recycled in 2022.

However, that figure is expected to fall to 20 percent by the end of the decade because of “staggering growth” of such waste due to higher consumption, limited repair options, shorter product lifecycles, the growing “electronification” of society, and inadequate e-waste management infrastructure.

It says some of the discarded electronic devices contained hazardous elements such as mercury, as well as rare metals coveted by tech industry manufacturers.

  • Negotiating an end to plastic pollution, with global treaty

Only 1 percent of the demand for the 17 minerals that make up the rare metals is met through recycling.

To date, about half of all e-waste is generated in Asia, where few countries have laws on recycling or collection targets.

Recycling and collection rates top 40 percent in Europe, where per-capita waste generation is highest at nearly 18 kilos. 

Scavenging for a living

In Africa, which generates the least of any of the five big global regions, recycling and collection rates hover at about 1 percent.

“The latest research shows that the global challenge posed by e-waste is only going to grow,” said Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava, head of the ITU telecommunication development bureau.

“With less than half of the world implementing and enforcing approaches to manage the problem, this raises the alarm for sound regulations to boost collection and recycling.”

For some, e-waste represents a way to earn cash by rummaging through trash in the developing world to find coveted commodities, despite the health risks.

  • A day in the life of a worker at Dandora, Nairobi’s main dumping ground

At the Dandora dumpsite where garbage collected from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi ends up – even though a court declared it full over a generation ago – scavengers try to earn a living by picking through rubbish for e-waste that can be sold to businesses as recycled material.

Steve Okoth hopes the flow continues so he can eke out an income, but he knows the risks.

“When the e-waste comes here, it contains some powder which affects my health,” he said, adding that when electronic devices heat up, they release gases and he “can’t come to work because of chest problems.”

However Okoth said they don’t have any other options. “We are now used to the smoke because if you don’t go to work you will not eat.”

The authors of the UN report have acknowledged that many people in the developing world pay their bills through harvesting such e-waste, and called for them to be trained and equipped to make such work safer.

“We must try to support these people trying to find their niche,” said Ruediger Kuehr, senior manager of the sustainable cycles programme at UNITAR.


CHAD

Chad excludes military rulers’ main opponents from presidential vote

Authorities in Chad said on Sunday they had barred 10 candidates, including three leading opponents of the ruling junta, from standing in the presidential election on 6 May. The vote is supposed to mark a return to democratic rule three years after military leaders seized power, but the opposition says it’s a sham.

The constitutional court said the applications of outspoken opponents Nassour Ibrahim Neguy Koursami, Rakhis Ahmat Saleh and Ahmat Hassaballah Soubiane, as well as seven others, had been rejected because of “irregularities”.

The court attributed the decision to missing or inconsistent documents, declaring that Koursami’s file listed several different places of birth.

Ten other candidates remain in the running, most prominently the current leader Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno and his prime minister Succes Masra. Former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke also saw his candidacy approved.  

Deby Itno was proclaimed interim president by military generals in 2021 following the death of his father Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the country for more than three decades.

Masra, a former opposition leader, signed a reconciliation deal with the junta leader earlier this year.

Call for boycott

The opposition says Masra’s candidacy is a ploy to make the race appear open – when in fact Deby Itno is almost certain to win, since his main rivals are dead or in exile.

Even before the court announced its decision, opposition and civil society coalition Wakit Tama (“It’s time”) urged voters to boycott the election, which they called a “charade”.

“If you boycott, [Deby Itno] will be elected. If you don’t boycott, he’ll still be elected. So does a boycott matter?” spokesperson Soumaine Adoum said at a press conference on Sunday morning.

“Yes, because refusing to vote makes a stand. Because it will call the vote’s legitimacy into question.”

  • Chad’s opposition fears France will maintain status quo after elections
  • Concerns ahead of Chad elections after death of main opposition figure

Opposition leader shot

The election has already been marred by the violent death of a prominent opposition leader, Yaya Dillo.

Dillo, who was widely expected to challenge Deby Itno for the presidency, was killed last month when soldiers stormed his party’s headquarters in the capital, N’Djamena.

The authorities claim they were attempting to arrest a member of Dillo’s party for an alleged attack on the security agency when his supporters open fire, leading to Dillo’s death in a shoot-out.

But his supporters say that he was executed at point-blank range. They claim that photographs of his corpse show a single shot to the head.

Human Rights Watch said Dillo’s death raised serious concerns.

“The circumstances of Yaya Dillo’s killing are unclear, but his violent death highlights the dangers facing opposition politicians in Chad, particularly as elections approach,” said Lewis Mudge, the watchdog’s Central Africa director, in a statement

(with newswires)


France

Waiters race for glory as Paris revives century-old tradition

Some 200 aproned competitors took their places on the starting blocks Sunday for a tradition that goes back more than a hundred years: the Paris waiters’ race. 

Intended to showcase waiters’ talent with a tray, the 2km race saw contestants make their way from Paris city hall through the narrow streets of the Marais and back again – all while singlehandedly carrying a glass of water, a cup of coffee and a croissant. 

Samy Lamrous was the fastest male entrant, completing the course in 13 minutes and 30 seconds, while Pauline Van Wymeersch was the speediest woman with a time of 14 minutes and 12 seconds.

Time penalties were imposed for spills, with judges waiting at the finish line to assess the state of each participant’s tray.

Running was not permitted. Instead waiters were expected to cover the course at a brisk walk – the maximum speed at which you’d expect to see one arrive at your table.

Carrying the tray with two hands resulted in automatic disqualification.

Paris revival

It’s the first time since 2011 that the race has returned to Paris, the city where it was invented.

Historians have traced the first edition back to 1914, when it was conceived as a way to promote Parisian cafes and the skills of those who worked in them.

Previous participants had to cover as much as 10km past some of the city’s most famous monuments, including a stretch down the Champs-Élysées.

The contents of the tray have also varied over the years, ranging from a full bottle of wine or spirits to a carafe of water and three glasses.



Originally known as the course des garçons de café (cafe waiters’ race), the event gradually opened to waitresses in the 1960s.

It also took off across France and around the world, with waiters’ races held as far away as Cameroon, Hong Kong, Australia, Guatemala and the United States.

In Paris, though, the race died out 13 years ago for lack of sponsorship. 

It’s been revived this year by the city of Paris, hospitality industry groups and a handful of private partners, who rebranded it as the course des cafés (cafes race).

Sunday’s races were mixed events, one for professional waiters and another for apprentices.

Competitors had to wear a white shirt, black trousers or skirt and an apron. While trainers were allowed, traditionalists were invited stick to dress shoes. 

The winners received medals, tickets for the Olympics opening ceremony and a night in a swanky hotel.

Read also:

  • France’s butter sector churned up after watchdog exposes flaws
  • France bans use of ‘meat’ labelling for vegetarian products

Jewish art

Missing for 80 years, Holocaust victim’s artwork is finally returning to Paris

Works by the early 20th-century Jewish artist Ary Arcadie Lochakov are being sent from San Francisco back to Paris, where they’ll be housed at the Museum of Jewish Art and History. There are few clues as to how the artworks mysteriously appeared in the US, eight decades after Lochakov’s death in Nazi-occupied Paris.

A Port of San Francisco employee, Jermaine Joseph, came across the artworks during his maintenance rounds along the city’s waterfront in May 2022. The 48 drawings, prints and paintings were arranged on a bench, some fixed with stones to prevent them from blowing away. 

Together with colleagues, he gathered the art and took it back to headquarters. They wanted to know where it had come from but had no leads. Local police said they had no reports of stolen or missing art, and there was no surveillance footage of the park.

They decided to look more closely at details that most of the artworks shared: dates between 1920 and 1941, and the signature “Lochakov”. 

A lost artist

Ary Arcadie Lochakov – sometimes written Lochakow – was born in 1892 to an artistic Jewish family in what is now Moldova, then part of the Russian Empire. He served as an officer in World War I before moving to Paris to pursue art in 1920. 

He exhibited at some of Paris’s most prestigious art shows, working part-time in a photography studio to get by.

As World War II broke out and Nazi forces occupied Paris, Lochakov went into hiding. He died from malnutrition in October 1941. 

Since then, his career has been lost to the historical record – with a few exceptions. 

Paris-based author Hersh Fenster wrote about Lochakov in his 1951 book Our Martyred Artists. Published in Yiddish with a preface by Marc Chagall, it told the stories of Jewish members of the School of Paris (a loose term for artists, including the likes of Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Joan Miro, who came to Paris in the early 20th century). 

  • Jewish artist’s work tells of life fleeing persecution

Nadine Nieszawer, an art dealer focused on the Paris School’s “lost Jewish artists”, inherited Fenster’s archives. She was already connected to Lochakov through her grandparents, who bought a 1923 work directly from the artist.

Until the San Francisco discovery, it was one of only a handful of paintings attributed to the artist. It depicts his friend David Knut, a Jewish poet and Resistance figure, and was acquired by the Museum of Jewish Art and History in 2020 for €23,400. 

Despite his value to art history, information on Lochakov, described as a “loner” during his life and a “little known artist” today, remains sparse. 

“He didn’t have a wife, any children, a family,” Pascale Samuel, the Paris museum’s curator, told The San Francisco Standard, which first reported the story.

“We don’t know what happened to Lochakov’s studio after his death.” 

Unknown provenance

Port staff in San Francisco contacted experts, including Samuel and Nieszawer, to find out more about Lochakov’s artistic footprint.

Prints of his work held by the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in northern Israel helped authenticate the newly discovered pieces.

Neither Nieszawer nor Samuel can guess how Lochakov’s artworks appeared in pristine condition in California eight decades after his death.

The ownership history of the collection found in the park remains, for now, mostly unknown. 

  • France passes law to help return art looted by Nazis to Jewish owners

The San Francisco Standard speculated that a friend of Lochakov could have brought the works to the United States or that an American descendent of Nazi occupiers of Paris inherited a stockpile of Jewish art. Some frames, however, have been traced to a maker in Alabama. 

Samuel said it was one of the greatest mysteries of her career.

San Francisco’s city council passed a resolution in January for the finds to be transferred to the Museum of Jewish Art and History, France’s largest museum of Jewish culture.

Before returning them to Paris, the port plans to display the artwork but has yet to announce when or where. 

(with newswires) 


Terrorism

France condemns ‘heinous’ gun attack on Moscow concert hall

France joined other Western countries in condemning a gun attack on a concert hall in the Russian capital on Friday night, which killed more than 130 people and injured many more. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility.

French President Emmanuel Macron “strongly condemns the terrorist attack” on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall, said a statement from the presidential palace. 

“France expresses its solidarity with the victims, their loved ones and all the Russian people.”

At least 133 people were killed in the attack, according to Russian authorities’ latest count on Saturday.

Hundreds of fans were at the hall in a northern suburb of Moscow for a rock concert when, minutes before the music was due to start, armed attackers opened fire.

They also set the hall alight, starting a blaze that spread throughout the building. 

Panicked spectators rushed for the exits, with some escaping into the basement or onto the roof. 

“The images from Moscow tonight are horrifying,” France’s foreign ministry wrote in a social media post as the attack unfolded.

“All effort has to be made to determine the causes of these heinous acts.”

Eleven arrested

A statement released by the Islamic State group claimed responsibility, but Russia did not immediately identify who it believes is to blame.

The Kremlin said on Saturday that it had arrested 11 people over the attack, including four suspected gunmen.

It did not name them. In a televised address, President Vladimir Putin claimed that the suspects were captured while trying to escape to Ukraine.

The European Union and United Nations condemned the attack, along with the United States and other Western countries that – like France – have sided with Ukraine since Russia’s 2022 invasion.

The White House deplored the “horrible” events, but said there was no sign of Ukrainian involvement.

  • France’s Macron says ground operations in Ukraine possible ‘at some point’
  • Paris rejects Russian accusations of French mercenaries in Ukraine

Rising death toll

The US embassy had said two weeks before the attack that there was a risk of “extremists” targeting mass gatherings in Moscow, including concerts.

Earlier this month, Russian authorities announced that six suspected Islamic State fighters had been killed in an operation in Ingushetia, a small Muslim-majority republic in the Caucasus region.

Russia has been the target of past attacks by Islamic militants, but also mass killings with no clear political link.

Russian authorities on Saturday raised the death toll from the Moscow shooting several times. First estimated around 40, it climbed to over 130 – making the attack the deadliest in Russia in two decades.

Authorities said over 100 others were in hospital, more than half of them in serious condition. At least five children are reported to be among the wounded.

(with AFP)


DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Freed DRC journalist says he was imprisoned as warning to others

Prominent Congolese journalist Stanis Bujakera, released from prison this week after spending six months behind bars, has accused the government of fabricating the charges against him as part of a campaign to intimidate reporters looking into the death of an opposition politician.

Bujakera, who is deputy director of the Actualite.cd news site and a regular contributor to RFI and international outlets, said that he had been targeted by the state for reporting on the death of Cherubin Okende

A former minister and spokesman for the opposition party Ensemble pour la République (“Together for the Republic”), Okende disappeared on 12 July last year.

His bullet-riddled body was found in his car in Kinshasa the following day.

Bujakera was arrested in September over a report that appeared in French magazine Jeune Afrique about the possible involvement of the country’s intelligence bureau, based on a leaked confidential memo.

Though the magazine said Bujakera was not the author of the story, he was charged with spreading falsehoods and forging documents and jailed awaiting trial. 

He was found guilty earlier this month, and sentenced to time served and a fine of 1 million Congolese francs (around 330 euros). He was finally released on 19 March.

‘Totally fabricated’

Speaking to RFI in his first interview as a free man, Bujakera described the pressure on him to reveal his sources, and the pressure on the judges to convict him.

“They wanted to convict me to scare other journalists,” he told RFI’s Christophe Boisbouvier.

“There was nothing right in the case against me, so it’s a totally fabricated affair. Totally fabricated to try to intimidate us.”

Bujakera’s arrest came three months before presidential elections in the DRC and “the authorities wanted to control information”, he maintains.



Dangerous information

Bujakera told RFI that he had no plans to appeal the conviction until he had faith that DRC’s justice system was truly independent.

Meanwhile former minister of tourism Modero Nsimba appeared in court in Kinshasa this week, to face charges of propagating rumours against the family of President Felix Tshisekedi in the wake of Okende’s death.

His arrest came after the sharing of controversial audio recordings regarding the alleged murder on social networks.

Okende was buried this week in Kinshasa. The Congolese judiciary still insists he died by suicide.

Read also:

  • Call for investigation after head of DRC broadcasting body attacked in Paris
  • France congratulates DRC’s Tshisekedi on disputed re-election

(with newswires)


COVID PANDEMIC

Four years on, what has France learned from its first Covid lockdown?

In spring 2020, France shut down schools and businesses as the world faced a mysterious new illness – Covid-19. The first of three lockdowns was imposed – but why did people accept strict limits on movement in a country that is so used to protests and debates?

Starting 17 March 2020, people in France were not allowed to circulate freely for 55 days. 

After shuttering schools, restaurants and other businesses, the French government imposed its first strict lockdown to contain the spread of Covid.

The population was required to present certificates whenever they left home. They were permitted a maximum of one hour outside for shopping or exercising, and only those working “essential” jobs could travel further than a kilometre.

And for the most part, people followed the rules.

Nicolas Moriot, a historian who has co-written a book about the lockdown, describes it as an “act of mass obedience”.

Listen to this story on the Spotlight on France podcast

Based on a survey of 16,000 people, he found that 80 percent of people stuck to lockdown rules – not necessarily to avoid Covid, but because they were put off by the potential for run-ins with the police and a €135 fine for off-limits outings.

A quarter of those surveyed said they followed restrictions on movement but not health recommendations, like staying a metre apart and washing hands.

“So you cannot say their fear of the virus was very high,” Moriot concludes.

Lack of public debate

He compares France with northern European countries, which closed businesses but did not impose full lockdowns. France’s reaction, he says, comes from its history of reacting to societal issues with security measures.

“You can say that it’s a question of habit for the government to put in place things like certificates and restrictions on public freedom,” he said.

While debate in France emerged over health passes, vaccines and later lockdown measures, very few people protested initial restrictions in the spring of 2020 – which Mariot attributes to the fact that there was little opportunity to organise, or even exchange.

“Associations, unions and political parties were shut down, as well as social and athletic gatherings. All that was completely cancelled. And this is the way French people shape their political opposition,” he explains.

“As a result, individual citizens found themselves alone. We were in a direct relationship with the state, and I think that played a fundamental role in the fact that there was not much opposition.”

Worrying precedent? 

Four years later, it is clear that lockdowns impacted mental health, notably for young people and students. Studies showed an increase in depression and anxiety during the first lockdown, growing with subsequent lockdowns and restrictions.

But there has been little reflection about lockdowns and their longer-term impacts on society, with relatively few questions about the measures themselves and the powers they gave to the state.

Police carried out 21 million checks during the first lockdown and issued 1.1 million fines.

Moriot is surprised that no one has questioned these penalties.

“What happened to them? Did people pay them? We know nothing,” he said.

In May 2023, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that their Covid lockdown was unconstitutional and annulled the 1.2 million fines handed out.

Though France’s constitutional court ruled on the vaccine passes used to access public venues later in the pandemic – judging that they were constitutional so long as it was temporary – they were never asked to pronounce on the lockdown and the fines.

French lawmakers questioned ministers in parliamentary committees, but focused more on mask availability than the lockdown itself.

“There was no public discussion or debate or questioning,” said Moriot. “It’s surprising and quite worrying for the future.”


More on this story on the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 108.


French food

Massive meltdown as French town breaks world raclette record

What do you get if you combine 620kg of cheese, 350kg of charcuterie and a tonne of potatoes? The answer is the world’s largest ever raclette feast – a certified triumph achieved in the south-eastern French city of Saint-Etienne. 

Although its origins are Swiss, raclette is very popular in France – particularly in mountainous regions – where people gather around a special grill that slowly melts the creamy cheese, which they then scrape off onto boiled potatoes, pickles, onions and cured meats. 

Like its cousin, the fondue, it’s a dish best enjoyed in a social setting; there’s no such thing as a raclette for one. 

Organisers of the event in Saint-Etienne, not too far from Lyon, took the concept to new heights last Sunday when 2,236 people sat down for a gargantuan raclette which a court bailiff officially recognised as a new world record. 



Record shredded

Some 10,000 potatoes were needed to shred the previous record held by students from Chambéry, a picturesque city with views of the Alps, who gathered 1,067 people around a raclette in 2022. 

And the ambition doesn’t stop here. French comedian Jason Chicandier and sidekick Mathou Cann, who were behind Sunday’s raclette rumpus, say they aim to double the number of guests next year. 

“This is fantastic. I expected it to be a success but not such an explosive one,” said Chicandier, who’s known for his videos promoting French regional cuisine. 

  • France bans use of ‘meat’ labelling for vegetarian products
  • Sheep farmers break the mould as French lose their taste for Roquefort cheese

He told local broadcaster RadioScoop the feast en masse was intended to offer unpretentious, casual fun among families and friends – true to the rustic roots of the dish itself, which was traditionally enjoyed by mountain farmers around an open fire. 

“The goal is to get the regions to communicate with each other. That’s why I’m also thinking about organising a sauerkraut [event] in Saint-Tropez, a bouillabaisse in Dunkirk or even a giant paella in Biarritz,” Chicandier added. 

Saint-Etienne’s raclette rendezvous is expected to be validated by the Guinness Book of Records

International report

With Somalia naval deal, Turkey steers into strategic but volatile region

Issued on:

A naval agreement between Turkey and Somalia positions the Turkish navy in a strategically vital region, underlining Ankara’s growing ambitions at sea. But analysts warn that the deal threatens to escalate tensions with Somalia’s neighbour, Ethiopia.

Under a ten-year defence agreement ratified earlier this month, the Turkish navy will help protect Somalia’s territorial waters and facilitate training and equipment for the Somali navy.

The deal is just the latest step in Ankara’s deepening relationship with Mogadishu.

“Not only is this the location of Turkey’s largest international military base, it’s also the location of Turkey’s largest embassy in the world,” explains Norman Ricklefs, chair of multinational consultancy group Namea.

“This shows the importance Turkey has placed on Somalia, and rebuilding Somalia as a major state in the Horn of Africa, and making Somalia’s future success part of Turkey’s broader strategic goals in eastern Africa in the Red Sea region,” he says.

Turkey also signed an energy exploration deal with Somalia this month. The East African country is believed to have major oil and gas reserves both on land and within its territorial waters.

Blue-water navy 

Experts see the deepening of ties with Somalia as part of growing international competition for influence in this strategically vital region.

“This will provide Turkey an opportunity to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa,” says Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu, an associate professor of African studies at Ankara’s Social Sciences University.

“Because all those external countries – Gulf countries, Western countries… even Japan – have bases in Djibouti, they are all vying to increase their development in the region, especially for economic purposes. So this is also an opportunity for Turkey,” she says.

The Somali deal comes as Ankara rapidly expands its navy’s so-called “blue-water” capabilities – the ability to operate on the open oceans, far from the country’s home ports.

Turkey has built up a fleet of energy research ships and a growing navy.

“[Naval expansion] focuses on the projection of Turkish military capacity in the maritime domain – both in protecting its own exclusive economic zones and waters, while also helping its allies and partners to do the same,” explains Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent defence analyst.

“And Somalia has been facing an increased threat of piracy.”

Tensions with Ethiopia

Turkey’s deepening military ties with Somalia come as the Horn of Africa nation faces tension with its neighbour, Ethiopia.

In January, Ethiopia infuriated Somalia by signing an agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland, giving Addis Ababa long-desired sea access.

But Mehmet Ozkan of the Turkish National Defence University says Ankara is well placed to contain any fallout, given its ties with Ethiopia. 

“Military cooperation, personal cooperation, the personal relationship between the leaders – I think relations are pretty good,” he says.

“Because in the region everybody is looking for security cooperation, and it’s same for Ethiopia… Turkey is a security provider for Ethiopia as well.”

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

‘Drone diplomacy’

With Turkish-made military drones widely used by both the Ethiopian and Somali militaries in their wars against insurgencies, Ankara’s so-called “drone diplomacy” has been instrumental in balancing its relations with rivals.

“Turkey has also probably supplied some drones to Somalia – which are operated by Turkish operators, not Somalis – but they’ve been useful in the conflict against Al-Shabaab,” explains analyst Ricklefs.

“I know Turkey has a good relationship with Ethiopia. It has a good relationship with Somalia. So its presence in Somalia is more likely than not – given Turkey’s broader strategic aims in the region – to have a stabilising effect rather than a destabilising effect,” he argues.

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

However, Africa expert Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu warns that, given the region’s volatility, Ankara will still need to tread carefully.

“In the long run, this might lead to Turkey’s involvement in regional conflicts. This is what Turkey was trying to avoid in its Africa policy: it does not want to be a part of African conflicts, but it might be dragged into [them],” she says.

As Turkey extends its influence in one of the most volatile parts of the world, analysts suggest Ankara will need to perfect its diplomatic balancing skills.

International report

With Somalia naval deal, Turkey steers into strategic but volatile region

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A naval agreement between Turkey and Somalia positions the Turkish navy in a strategically vital region, underlining Ankara’s growing ambitions at sea. But analysts warn that the deal threatens to escalate tensions with Somalia’s neighbour, Ethiopia.

Under a ten-year defence agreement ratified earlier this month, the Turkish navy will help protect Somalia’s territorial waters and facilitate training and equipment for the Somali navy.

The deal is just the latest step in Ankara’s deepening relationship with Mogadishu.

“Not only is this the location of Turkey’s largest international military base, it’s also the location of Turkey’s largest embassy in the world,” explains Norman Ricklefs, chair of multinational consultancy group Namea.

“This shows the importance Turkey has placed on Somalia, and rebuilding Somalia as a major state in the Horn of Africa, and making Somalia’s future success part of Turkey’s broader strategic goals in eastern Africa in the Red Sea region,” he says.

Turkey also signed an energy exploration deal with Somalia this month. The East African country is believed to have major oil and gas reserves both on land and within its territorial waters.

Blue-water navy 

Experts see the deepening of ties with Somalia as part of growing international competition for influence in this strategically vital region.

“This will provide Turkey an opportunity to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa,” says Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu, an associate professor of African studies at Ankara’s Social Sciences University.

“Because all those external countries – Gulf countries, Western countries… even Japan – have bases in Djibouti, they are all vying to increase their development in the region, especially for economic purposes. So this is also an opportunity for Turkey,” she says.

The Somali deal comes as Ankara rapidly expands its navy’s so-called “blue-water” capabilities – the ability to operate on the open oceans, far from the country’s home ports.

Turkey has built up a fleet of energy research ships and a growing navy.

“[Naval expansion] focuses on the projection of Turkish military capacity in the maritime domain – both in protecting its own exclusive economic zones and waters, while also helping its allies and partners to do the same,” explains Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent defence analyst.

“And Somalia has been facing an increased threat of piracy.”

Tensions with Ethiopia

Turkey’s deepening military ties with Somalia come as the Horn of Africa nation faces tension with its neighbour, Ethiopia.

In January, Ethiopia infuriated Somalia by signing an agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland, giving Addis Ababa long-desired sea access.

But Mehmet Ozkan of the Turkish National Defence University says Ankara is well placed to contain any fallout, given its ties with Ethiopia. 

“Military cooperation, personal cooperation, the personal relationship between the leaders – I think relations are pretty good,” he says.

“Because in the region everybody is looking for security cooperation, and it’s same for Ethiopia… Turkey is a security provider for Ethiopia as well.”

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

‘Drone diplomacy’

With Turkish-made military drones widely used by both the Ethiopian and Somali militaries in their wars against insurgencies, Ankara’s so-called “drone diplomacy” has been instrumental in balancing its relations with rivals.

“Turkey has also probably supplied some drones to Somalia – which are operated by Turkish operators, not Somalis – but they’ve been useful in the conflict against Al-Shabaab,” explains analyst Ricklefs.

“I know Turkey has a good relationship with Ethiopia. It has a good relationship with Somalia. So its presence in Somalia is more likely than not – given Turkey’s broader strategic aims in the region – to have a stabilising effect rather than a destabilising effect,” he argues.

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

However, Africa expert Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu warns that, given the region’s volatility, Ankara will still need to tread carefully.

“In the long run, this might lead to Turkey’s involvement in regional conflicts. This is what Turkey was trying to avoid in its Africa policy: it does not want to be a part of African conflicts, but it might be dragged into [them],” she says.

As Turkey extends its influence in one of the most volatile parts of the world, analysts suggest Ankara will need to perfect its diplomatic balancing skills.

The Sound Kitchen

There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 34

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen, a special treat: RFI English listeners’ musical requests. Just click on the “Play” button above and enjoy!

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday. This week, you’ll hear musical requests from your fellow listeners Bidhan Chandra Sanyal from West Bengal, India, Helmut Matt from Herbolzheim, Germany, 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 program: “Aaj Na Chhodenge” by Rahul Dev Burman, sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar; Simple Symphony by Benjamin Britten, performed by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer, and “Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley, performed by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

The quiz will be back next Saturday, 30 March. Be sure and tune in! 

Spotlight on Africa

The long path to Senegal’s troubled presidential elections

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This is a big election year for Africa, with 16 countries heading to the polls. Close attention is being paid to the delayed presidential vote in Senegal – a West African beacon of democracy that’s been facing increasing instability. RFI spoke to author and economist Ndongo Samba Sylla in the capital Dakar. 

RFI is renewing its Spotlight on Africa podcast, and the first episode zeroes in on one of the continent’s biggest news stories.

Senegal was plunged into political crisis when President Macky Sall unexpectedly postponed elections that had been due to take place by the end of February.

Protests erupted from those supporting opposition candidates, as well as from all corners of civil society. The polls were finally rescheduled for 24 March.

Voters say they’re worried about unemployment and a lack of opportunities for young people – many of whom are quitting the country in search of a better life elsewhere.

Ndongo Samba Sylla helps us to better understand where the unrest has taken the heaviest toll – and what’s really at stake in Sunday’s election.

Also read:

  • Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential election
  • Senegal president calls off February 25 election

     


 

Episode mixed by Guillaume Buffet. 

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 

International report

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

Issued on:

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

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

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

Deepfake videos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call for action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sound Kitchen

Senegal’s presidential poll moves forward

Issued on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome Orlando! So glad you have joined us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations winners!

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

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

You have until 15 April to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 20 April podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here

Spotlight on France

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

Issued on:

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

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

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

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

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).


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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.