rfi 2024-03-27 01:06:06



Report

EU banks under fire, accused of financing ‘ecosystem destruction’

Since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, European banks have lent about €256 billion to corporations that put forests, savannahs and other natural ecosystems at risk, according to new research by a collective of NGOs, including Greepeace.

More than 130 key actors in ecosystem risk sectors have received more than one-fifth of their total global credit since the 2015 Paris Agreement, and just under one-tenth of their current global investment, from EU-based financial institutions, according to the report published on Tuesday.

Entitled “Bankrolling Ecosystem Destruction: The EU must stop the cash flow to businesses destroying nature” the study uses data from Profundo, an independent research organisation.

It focuses on JBS, Cargill, Sinar Mas and other top global producers, processors and traders of soy, cattle, palm oil, rubber, timber and other commodities that contribute to the destruction of local ecosystems.

Currently, the EU comes second only to the US for funding these sectors.

Ecosystems are key towards slowing down climate change, and harming them could also be detrimental to global climate goals.

Putting nature at risk

The report names ABN Amro Bank, Santander, BNP Paribas, ING Group, Deutsche Bank, Allianz Group, Credit Agricole, Group BPCE, Societe Generale, DZ Bank Group, Rabobank and Nordea Bank as the banks that have been funding sectors and companies putting nature at risk.

These banks accounted for about 22 percent of the entire worldwide credit given to large companies in the above sectors between 2016 and early 2023.

Approximately 86 percent of this credit came from banks in Germany, Spain, France and the Netherlands.

Recently, the EU has been doing more to lessen its share in global deforestation and hold itself more accountable when it comes to ecosystem destruction, by implementing the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), which obliges corporations to sell only legally produced and deforestation-free products in the EU.

  • European Union adopts law to ban products driving deforestation

“Under the regulation, any operator or trader who places these commodities on the EU market, or exports from it, must be able to prove that the products do not originate from recently deforested land or have contributed to forest degradation,” the European Commission said on 29 June 2023.

But the EU has come under considerable fire for failing to hold the financial sector to account when it comes to funding these companies and sectors.

Europe thinks highly of itself for climate and nature protection, but looks the other way as its banks pour money into companies linked to massive nature destruction and related human rights abuses,” says Sigrid Deters, biodiversity campaigner at Greenpeace Netherlands.

Review in 2025

The European Commission is expected to review the role of finance in deforestation and forest degradation and, if necessary, make a legislative proposal by June 2025. 

One area of the globe that has particularly suffered from ecosystem destruction is Brazil.

Although the EU law banning deforestation-derived products will into effect at the end of 2024, Brazilian Indigenous people say it contains a loophole: the Cerrado, Brazil’s vast wooded savanna, is excluded from its scope.

  • French banks accused of ‘massively’ fuelling Amazon deforestation

The definition of “forest” in the text does not cover the Cerrado, which extends through central Brazil and into neighbouring Paraguay and Bolivia.

Isabel Figueiredo of the Brazilian NGO ISPN (Instituto Sociedade, Populacao e Natureza) told French news agency AFP that “half of the Cerrado has already disappeared,” its prairies and woods giving way to farms turning out soy or other crops.”

An Indigenous delegation taking up the issue during a visit to Brussels this week said that the oversight is “a question of survival” for them.

Much of the soy imported into Europe comes from that zone, and deforestation within it jumped 43 percent last year.

“The Cerrado is not protected by Brazilian laws – most of the Brazilian laws are looking at the Amazon,” said Giulia Bondi, of the NGO Global Witness.

The Greenpeace report suggests that EU needs to put its efforts in directing money flows to support restoration of ecosystems and struggling farmers to transition towards more resilient and ecological farming.


Security

France deploys 4,000 more troops amid security fears in run up to Olympics

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal says security measures will be stepped up with 4,000 extra soldiers deployed nationwide in the coming days. The country’s terror threat was raised to its highest level on Sunday following a deadly attack in Moscow that was claimed by the Islamic State. 

Four months ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, French authorities have raised the maximum alert level for terrorist threat.

President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that the Islamic State entity believed to be behind the Moscow attack – known as Khorasan, which is a branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan – had also sought to attack France.

At least 137 people were killed when gunmen stormed Moscow’s Crocus City Hall on Friday evening before setting the building on fire.

The assault echoed an attack on the Bataclan music venue in Paris in November 2015 which left 90 people dead and was also claimed by the Islamic State group.

  • France raises security alert to highest level after Moscow attack

“This particular group made several attempts (at attacks) on our own soil,” Macron told reporters during his trip to French Guiana.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal echoed this sentiment by saying that “the Islamist terrorist threat is real, it is strong” and “it has never weakened”. 

He said that 4,000 extra soldiers would be deployed nationwide in the days to come.

“Our fight against terrorism is not just about words. It is very concrete and our hand will never tremble in the face of terrorism, never in the face of Islamism,” Attal insisted.

Olympics a future target

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that the Paris Olympics, which begin on 26 July, were an obvious future target.

“France, because we defend universal values, and are for secularism… is particularly threatened, notably during extraordinary events such as the Olympics,” he told reporters.

“The French police, gendarmes, prefects, intelligence services, will be ready,” he added, saying that “we have a very effective intelligence system. We stop plots developing almost every month.”

  • French security forces screen a million athletes and staff ahead of Olympics

The heads of intelligence services would hold a meeting on Thursday “to discuss all the conclusions of the attack on Moscow,” he added.

French security forces are screening up to a million people before the Games, including athletes and people living close to key infrastructure, according to the interior ministry.

France was last placed on its highest terror alert in October after a suspected Islamist burst into a school in the north of the country and stabbed a teacher to death. The alert was then downgraded in January.

Cyberattacks increasing

The highest alert of the so-called “Vigipirate” system means that security forces will maintain a more visible presence on French streets and be posted in front of possible targets such as a government buildings, transport infrastructure or schools.

Attal said that 45 terror plots had been thwarted in France since 2017, two of them already this year.

The two incidents this year involved a 22-year-old who was suspected of planning an attack on either a nightclub, or the LGBT or Jewish community, and a 62-year-old suspected jihadist with the intention of targeting the Catholic church, prosecutors said in a statement.

  • French schools sent threatening messages and beheading videos, says ministry

In a further development, Ministry of Education said on Monday that 130 high schools and colleges around the country have been targeted since last week by threats of attack and “malicious acts” via digital workspaces.

Students and staff had received messages threatening a bomb attack, accompanied by a video of beheadings.

The government counted 800 false bomb threats in mid-November during a previous series of alerts.

(with AFP)


Paris Olympics 2024

Migrant transfers from Paris ahead of Olympics anger French mayors and NGOs

Mayors in rural and small-town France are increasingly angry over the transfer of migrants from the capital to their communities, which they believe is linked to clean-up efforts ahead of the Paris Olympics.

Serge Grouard, the right-wing mayor of Orleans in central France, went public Monday with his complaints over the arrival of up to 500 homeless migrants in his town of 100,000 people without his prior knowledge.

“It has been proved that every three weeks, a coach arrives in Orleans from Paris, with between 35-50 people on board,” he told reporters, adding that it was to “clean the deck” in the capital ahead of the Olympics in July and August.

Each new arrival is offered three weeks in a hotel at the state’s expense, but is thereafter left to fend for themselves, Grouard explained.

Paris has long been a magnet for asylum seekers and migrants, mostly from Africa, South Asia or the Middle East, with demand for short-term emergency accommodation far exceeding supply.

As a result, informal camps under bridges or on unoccupied land spring up regularly around the capital, which are periodically torn down by police.

  • Anger as police clear homeless from tents along banks of Seine

Occupants are offered the chance to apply for asylum and the government’s policy is to move many of them out of Paris and into facilities elsewhere in the country.

“We haven’t been consulted, either about the creation or about the people who will go there,” the deputy mayor of Strasbourg, Floriane Varieras, told French news agency AFP when asked about a new facility near her city in eastern France.

“That’s where I agree with the mayor of Orleans, the rather opaque side of what is happening,” she added.

In January, the major of Lavaur, a small town near Toulouse in southwest France, issued a public letter in which he denounced the policy of transferring migrants around the country as “irresponsible” and “dangerous”.

“To make Paris in all likelihood more ‘presentable’ and more controllable, six months before the Olympic Games,” wrote Bernard Carayon. “It’s unacceptable.”

‘Demographic transition’

French President Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of dispersing asylum seekers and refugees around the country during a speech in September 2022.

He called the longstanding policy of concentrating migrants in low-income areas of major cities “absurd” and argued that refugees could help bring about a “demographic transition” in rural and small-town France.

Many areas outside of France’s major cities are undergoing population decline, leading to school closures and labour shortages.

But right-wing and far-right politicians have long denounced the policy, accusing Macron of “introducing poverty, crime and Islamism into traditional communities” which are frequently wary of outsiders.

‘Social cleansing?’

In February, an umbrella group of 80 French charities called the Revers de la medaille (The other side of the medal) denounced what it called the “social cleansing” of Paris ahead of the Olympics with efforts to remove migrants, the homeless and sex workers.

The complaints echoed others heard in host cities of the Olympics in the past.

Authorities in China cleared an unknown number of beggars, hawkers and the homeless from the streets before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with many shipped back to their home regions, reports said at the time.

Brazilian campaign groups also said Rio de Janeiro’s homeless were being forced out of tourist areas in the middle of the night as the city hosted the games in 2016.

  • France logged record number of asylum requests in 2023

More than a million people filed requests for asylum in the European Union in 2023, the highest level in seven years, according to EU statistics.

France received the second-highest number of requests at 167,000.

(with AFP)


French football

Giroud extends goal scoring record as France see off Chile

Olivier Giroud hit a record-extending 57th goal for his country on Tuesday night as a solid rather than spectacular France came from behind to see off Chile 3-2 in Marseille.

Marcelino Núñez opened the scoring in the sixth minute at the Vélodrome to the chagrin of the partisans.

But France, who lost 2-0 to Germany in Lyon on Friday night, gradually worked their way into the game.

Youssouf Fofana levelled in the 19th minute. The Monaco midfielder’s shot took a deflection off the Chile defender Igor Lichnovsky past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

With parity restored, France grew in confidence.

“We responded well  to going behind,” France boss Didier Deschamps told French broadcaster TF1.

“We were a bit quicker between the lines and had a bit more dynamism. That was good against a team like Chile who are well able to keep the ball.”

In the prelude to the game, Deschamps urged his players to remain calm and not to panic over the defeat against Germany. His team heeded his counsel and took the lead in the 25th minute.

The ball was worked over to Theo Hernandez on the left.

The AC Milan defender had time to look up and pick out Randal Kolo Muani who outjumped two defenders to plant his header to the right of Bravo.

Return

Eduardo Vargas should have levelled for Chile just after the restart. The veteran striker got in between the French defenders but sent his header onto the post with France goalkeeper Mike Maignan stranded.

The South Americans paid the price for their lack of precision 17 minutes from the end.

Kolo Muani muscled his way to the by-line down the right and pulled the ball back for Giroud to sweep the ball into the roof of the net.

But at 3-1 up, France were guilty of sloppiness. Hernandez broke down the left on the counter but with men free in the centre, he chose to shoot. His effort went rising into the Vélodrome’s upper stands.

His selfishness was punished two minutes later. The ball broke on the edge of the France penalty area to Dario Osorio who rifled a shot across Maignan into the net.

But France held on to at least send the squad to this summer’s European championships with a victory.

“We were largely in control in comparison to the game against Germany,” said Fofana. “After a poor start we got better. Everybody played their part and, of course, I was happy to score.”

Deschamps’ men –  as runners-up at the 2022 World Cup – will go into the European championships as one of the favourites.

They kick off their campaign against Austria on 17 June and play the Netherlands four days later. They will also face Poland who secured their berth in Group D on Tuesday night following a penalty shoot-out victory over Wales after their play-off ended 0-0.

Deschamps, who will name his 23-man squad for the tournament on 16 May, added: “It’s been difficult for the players.

“The coaching staff have had to be careful with them as they have to go back to their clubs and we want them back in good condition for the European championships.”


Economy

French budget deficit widens but government promises no tax hike

France’s budget deficit widened more than forecast in 2023, official figures showed Tuesday, undermining President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to bring national finances back on track within the next four years.

The public deficit jumped to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product, or €154 billion, statistics agency INSEE said.

The government had warned recently that the deficit would exceed its previous estimate of 4.9 percent of GDP, citing the global economic slowdown and the war in Ukraine as key factors.

France has already announced €10 billion of spending cuts this year to limit the fallout and meet its deficit target for this year of 4.4 percent of GDP.

In mid-March, the Minister for Public Accounts, Thomas Cazenave estimated that it would be necessary to find at least €20 billion in savings for 2025, and announced new reviews of public spending, in particular those linked to long-term illnesses, aid to cinema or even absenteeism in the public service.

However, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday that he was “totally opposed to any tax increase” to reduce the gap.

“We can perfectly make savings on public spending without digging into the pockets of the French,” he told RTL radio.

Very rare

France’s chief auditor Pierre Moscovici called the deficit “significant”.

“We have been calculating this figure for a few days, but it is still a slippage in execution which is significant, not entirely unprecedented but very, very rare, he told France Inter radio.

Politicians from across the spectrum have reacted angrily on social media.

Leader of the right-wing Les Républicains party Eric Ciotti blamed Macron for this “disastrous record”.

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

Senate Budget Rapporteur, Jean-François Husson wrote that “the government’s policy is failing” placing the blame squarely on Le Maire’s shoulders.

“It is a collapse of France’s authority in Europe,” he said, pointing to the fact that France is third most indebted countries in the euro zone.

Manuel Bompard, deputy of the far-left France Unbowed party said rather than cutting public spending, the government should “concentrate tax increases on the wealthiest people”.

EU goals

Several deputies from the majority, including the president of the National Assembly Yaël Braun-Pivet, have also spoken in recent days of targeted tax increases or aimed at so-called superprofits.

Like all eurozone members, France is committed to keeping its deficit to below three percent of GDP and has promised to do so by 2027.

  • France to crackdown on ‘super rich’ tax evasion, help middle class

That requirement, agreed between European Union members as part of their Stability and Growth Pact, has been suspended since 2020 first to allow countries to deal with the Covid pandemic, and then with the economic fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is expected to discuss the budget and employment issues during a live interview on national television on Wednesday evening.

A debate on public finances will be held in the National Assembly on 29 April, at the request of the Finance Committee of the lower house.

(with AFP)


Senegal

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

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

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

“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

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.


French football

France football boss Deschamps calls on players to keep calm ahead of Chile game

France football coach Didier Deschamps urged his squad to maintain their composure and not to panic during Tuesday’s friendly match against Chile in Marseille following a chastening defeat to Germany in Lyon last week.

The 2022 World Cup runners-up go into the fixture at the Vélodrome – their last before the start of this summer’s European championships – again eager to show that they can prosper without midfield maestro Antoine Griezmann.

The 33-year-old Atletico Madrid star missed his first international in seven years last week and his absence was evident in the lack of fluidity in the transitions between defence and attack.

Florian Wirtz opened the scoring for Germany in the opening minute and Kai Havertz added the second just after half-time.

Deschamps fielded Warren Zaïre Emery, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Adrien Rabiot in midfield but none of the trio exerted the same influence as Griezmann. Marcus Thuram was unable to link effectively with skipper Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé failed to prosper down the right flank.

Change

Eduardo Camavinga is expected to start the game against Chile in place of Rabiot. Ousmane Dembélé is likely to make way for Randal Kolo Muani on the right hand side of the attack with Olivier Giroud in the centre instead of Marcus Thuram. Kylian Mbappé will again captain the side.

Deschamps, who steered the team to World Cup glory in 2018, said he will make changes to the defensive line for the game with the return from injury of goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

“We weren’t good at the back nor at the front,” said Deschamps on the eve of the clash. “It’s certainly possible to make this negative statement about the collective balance of the side.

“But when we’re not as good as we want to be, we don’t necessarily want to be screaming at each other. We need to be talking with each other.”

France are one of the favourites for the European crown. They start their quest on 17 June against Austria in Dusseldorf.

The French continue their Group D campaign four days later with a game against the Netherlands and finish in Dortmund on 25 June with a tie against Wales or Poland who play on Tuesday night for that final place in Group D.

“The fact that you want to dgive as much playing time to as many people as possible means that the team is always a bit more unbalanced and can look all over the place but it was the right time to do it.”


Paris Olympics 2024

France’s epic history of open-air stadiums captured in Paris expo

In the run-up to the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Paris’ museum of architecture and heritage is taking a closer look at the history of stadiums in France, such as the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille or the Stade de France in Saint-Denis near Paris.

The exhibition Il était une fois les stades (The age of stadiums) looks at the invention of the modern stadium in France through three different angles: democratisation, performance and globalisation.

“The aim of this exhibition is really to encourage as many people as possible to think about stadiums and their architecture,” Emilie Régnault, curator of the exhibition at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine in Paris, told RFI.

Open-air stadiums emerged between the two World Wars in France, as public policies were developed to boost sports. They became an integral part of the modern city in many countries.

The rise of mass sport in the 20th century transformed the stadium into more than just a major public facility, they became monuments in their own right and tourist attractions.

“The growing number of international competitions was one of the catalysts driving remarkable architecture that was designed to seat as many people as possible,” Régnault says, adding that ball games have been at the heart of this trend.

“From 1924 onwards, France embarked on a quest to build its grandest stadium, which eventually gave rise to the huge Stade de France in 1998 – with a capacity of 80,000 spectators”.

It was designed by Michel Macary, Aymeric Zublena, Michel Regembal and Claude Costantini.


Il était une fois les stades (The age of stadiums) runs from 20 March to 16 September 2024 at the Cité de l’Architecture et du patrimoine in Paris.


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)

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.

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

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. 

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.