rfi 2024-03-28 01:13:10



Secularism

School principal resigns after receiving death threats in hijab row

French politicians from across the spectrum Wednesday expressed dismay over the resignation of a Paris school principal who had received death threats after asking a student to remove her Muslim veil on the premises.

In a show of support, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, a former education minister, was set to receive the principal later Wednesday, his office said.

Secularism in France

Secularism and religion are hot-button issues in France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community.

In 2004, authorities banned school children from wearing “signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” such as headscarves, turbans or kippas on the basis of the country’s secular laws which are meant to guarantee neutrality in state institutions.

The headmaster’s departure comes amid deep tensions in the country following a series of incidents including the killing of a teacher by an Islamist former pupil last year.

The headmaster at the Maurice-Ravel lycee in eastern Paris quit after receiving death threats online following an altercation with a student last month, officials told French news agency AFP on Tuesday.

In late February, he had asked three students to remove their Islamic headscarves on school premises, but one of them refused and an altercation ensued, according to prosecutors. He later received death threats online.

According to a school letter sent to teachers, pupils and parents on Tuesday, the principal stood down for “security reasons”, while education officials said he had taken “early retirement”.

In a message addressed to the school’s staff, quoted by French communist daily L’Humanite, the principal said that he had taken the decision to leave “for his own safety and that of the school”.

 

  • ‘Best weapon’ against terrorism is education, says French PM
  • France looks to remove radicalised students from schools

  • Islamism in France: Is Macron missing his target by limiting home schooling?

     

 ‘Collective failure’

“It’s a disgrace,” Bruno Retailleau, the head of the right-wing Republicans faction in the Senate upper house, said on X (former Twitter) on Wednesday.

“We can’t accept it,” Boris Vallaud, the head of the Socialist deputies in the National Assembly lower house, told television broadcaster France 2, calling the incident “a collective failure”.

Marion Marechal, the granddaughter of far-right patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen and a far-right politician herself, spoke on Sud Radio of a “defeat of the state” in the face of “the Islamist gangrene”.

Maud Bregeon, a lawmaker with President Emmanuel Macron‘s Renaissance party, also took aim at “an Islamist movement”.

 “Authority lies with school heads and teachers, and we have a duty to support this educational community,” Bregeon said.

Socialist Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo called the principal to “assure him of her total support and solidarity”, said her office, adding she was “appalled and dismayed.”

The student lodged a complaint against the principle, accusing him of mistreating her during the incident. She told French daily Le Parisien that she had been “hit hard on the arm” by the principal.

The student is an adult who was at the school for vocational training.

The Paris public prosecutor’s office told AFP on Wednesday that her complaint had been dismissed.

(with newswires)


Tunisia

Four people sentenced to death in Tunisia for 2013 assassination of politician Chokri Belaid

Four people were condemned to death and two sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after a decade-long investigation into the 2013 killing of Tunisian secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

Tunisia still hands down death sentences, particularly in “terrorism” cases, even though a de facto moratorium in effect since 1991 means they are effectively commuted to life terms.

Belaid’s assassination, which was claimed by jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group, dealt a heavy blow to the fledgling democracy established after the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

The slow pace of the investigation triggered accusations of obstructionism against the then ruling Islamist party Ennahdha that have been used by secular President Kais Saied to justify his 2021 power grab that has seen the party outlawed.

  • Tunisian opposition leader Ghannouchi remanded in custody

The court’s judgement was announced on national television early Wednesday after 15 hours of deliberation.

In total, 23 people received sentences ranging from two to 120 years while five defendants were acquitted.

Prosecutor Aymen Chtiba welcomed the sentences, saying: “Justice has been done”.

Fierce opponent

A fierce critic of Ennahdha, Belaid was killed on 6 February 2013, in his car outside his home.

Jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group claimed his killing, as well as that of another left-wing opposition figure, Mohamed Brahmi, six months later.

In 2014, authorities announced that the suspected mastermind of Belaid’s assassination, Kamel Gadhgadhi, had been killed in a counterterrorism operation.

Inquiry into investigation

In June 2022, Tunisia‘s President Saied, who regularly refers to Belaid and Brahmi as “martyrs”, dismissed dozens of judges, some of whom he accused of obstructing the investigations into the 2013 killings.

Last year, the justice ministry set up a special commission to carry out an “in-depth” study of the police and judicial investigations.

Over the past decade, the men’s families and their lawyers have accused political parties and some judges of hindering the investigations.

Those close to Belaid pointed the finger at Ennahdha, accusing the party of having been lenient towards the extremist discourse that had emerged at the time.

The aftermath of the 2011 revolution saw a surge in Islamist radicalism in Tunisia with thousands of jihadist volunteers leaving to fight in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring Libya.

  • Violence and disappointment as Tunisia marks tenth anniversary of revolution

Jihadist attacks in Sousse and the capital Tunis in 2015 killed dozens of tourists and police, although authorities say they have since made significant progress against the extremists.

After the killings, Ennahdha pushed back against the accusations of excessive leniency, blacklisting the formerly legal Salafist movement Ansar al-Charia as a terrorist organisation.

In a statement on Facebook Wednesday, the party welcomed the conclusion of the Belaid trial as a vindication of its repeated denials of any wrongdoing.

The court had concluded “with certainty the innocence of the Ennahda movement”, despite “a desire among certain ideological currents and political parties to make false accusations,” the party said.

 (AFP)


FRANCE – WEATHER

Climate disasters cost French insurers €6.5bn in ‘worrying uptick’

Climate disasters in France cost insurers €6.5 billion in 2023 – a worrying increase in claims that comes as temperature records are successively broken. 

Last year was the third “most severe” in terms of climate-related claims after 1999 and 2022, industry federation France Assureurs (French Insurers) has said – citing destruction from storms Ciaran and Domingos, which lashed parts of the north-west. 

Numerous extreme weather events took place in 2023 – the second warmest year in France after 2022, France Assureurs president Florence Lustman told the French news agency AFP. 

Among them were 15 wind storms with gusts of more than 150km/h, and 14 floods that each hit more than a dozen towns. Storms Ciaran and Domingos alone led to 517,000 claims costing €1.6 billion. 

‘Successive thresholds’

“We are reaching successive thresholds in the cost of climate risk,” Lustman said.  

From 2000 to 2008, France averaged €2.7 billion per year – a figure that rose to €3.7 billion between 2010 and 2019. 

“If I take the average over the last four years, including 2022 and 2023, I’m at €6 billion,” Lustman added.  

However the costliest year so far remains 1999, which was marked by storms Lothar and Martin, racking up a damage bill of €13.8 billion. That was followed by 2022, when climate events cost insurers €10 billion. 

Floods and droughts are considered natural disasters, with the French state bearing half of the cost burden – but hail and other storm damage to homes is the responsibility of insurers. 

Read also:

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

france – brazil

France’s Macron visits Brazil to launch €1bn Amazon protection plan

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has criticized Brazil for not doing enough to protect the Amazon, is in the South American country for a three-day visit. Alongside President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, he’ll launch a billion-euro green investment plan for the rainforest.

Lula will meet Macron in Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon River, where the pair will visit conservation parks with sustainable development projects and meet with indigenous leaders.

“Lula wants to show Macron the complexity of the Amazon, which is not just a vast rainforest but also a place where 25 million people live,” Brazil’s top diplomat for Europe and North America, Maria Luisa Escorel, said.

Earlier this week Macron visited parts of the tropical forest in French Guiana.



Escorel said the French government would help fund sustainable development programmes in the Amazon and to fight deforestation.

Lula and Macron will discuss a common course to fight both climate change and poverty as Brazil prepares to host the G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro in November, and UN climate talks in Belem next year – both of which the French president will attend.

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

A stalled trade agreement between the European Union and the South American common market Mercosur will not be on the agenda because it is not a bilateral matter, Brazilian and French officials said.

Macron faces pressure from French farmers to kill the deal, which has been under negotiation for two decades.

Brazil, in turn, is unhappy with EU legislation passed last year barring imports of coffee, beef, soy and other commodities if they are linked to recent deforestation.

Ups and downs

Brazil and France already work together in the fields of nuclear energy, renewable energies, defence technologies and technological innovation.

Paris and Brasilia signed a strategic alliance in 2008 with France supporting Brazil’s ambition to become a global player on the international scene, and its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

But during the Bolsonaro presidency from 2019-22 relations grounded to a virtual standstill. 

In 2019, Macron led a wave of international pressure on Bolsonaro over fires raging in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro accused Macron and other G7 countries of treating Brazil like “a colony” and said he would only accept $20 million in G7 aid to fight the Amazon rainforest wildfires if French President Emmanuel Macron retracted criticisms.

  • Congratulations pour in for Brazil president-elect Lula

Under President Lula da Silva, Brazil re-engaged in parterships with France – notably green policies – while lucrative defence projects like the Franco-Brazilian Submarine Development Program were extended.

At the Itaguai shipyard outside Rio, Macron and Lula will on Wednesday launch the third Scorpene-class diesel-powered submarine built in Brazil with French technology – part of a $10 billion program that will build Brazil’s first nuclear-powered submarine by the end of the decade.

The programme is a partnership with France’s state-run Naval Group, in which the Thales defence group has a 35 percent stake.

Macron will also meet business executives in Sao Paulo on Wednesday and make a state visit to Brasilia on Thursday, meeting again with Lula and with the leader of the Senate.

(with newswires)


Corisca

Corsica’s regional assembly to vote on new autonomy proposals

Corsica’s Assembly is set to vote on an agreement reached between the French government and the island’s elected representatives regarding ‘constitutional texts’ that will provide for the recognition of autonomy for the island, while remaining within the Fifth Republic.

An agreement on Corsica’s status of autonomy reached in Paris earlier this month, came after two years of negotiations and five hours of direct talks between Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and eight Corsican elected representatives.

The positve outcome of the discussion has given rise to cautious optimism on the island of 340,000 inhabitants that has been led by Corsican nationalists since 2015.

Negotiations on what type of autonomy Paris can give to Corsica within the parameters of the French constitution, were launched after weeks of violence on the island in 2022, following the death of pro-independence militant Yvan Colonna.

Colonna was attacked in prison where he was serving a life sentence for the 1998 assassination of Corsican police prefect Claude Erignac. 

  • Corsican nationalist Colonna dies three weeks after prison assault

The text being examined this Wednesday provides for the recognition of “a status of autonomy for Corsica within the Republic that takes account of its own interests linked to its Mediterranean insularity and to its historical, linguistic and cultural community that has developed a unique bond with its land”.

According to Darmanin, it is now up to Corsica’s President of the Executive Council, Gilles Simeoni, “to seek a broad consensus within the Assembly, beyond the Corsican autonomist and nationalist family”.

It is on this condition that the President of the Republic would then invite the island’s elected representatives to “begin more detailed constitutional discussions”, he added.



Legislative power contested

Meeting in Ajaccio this Wednesday afternoon, the Corsican Assembly should see at least 45 of its 63 elected representatives agree on the text.

Simeoni’s Corsican nationalist party holds an absolute majority of 32 seats with smaller parties, who hold a further 13 seats, having already approved the draft.

However, among the 16 elected members of the right-wing Un Soffiu Novu group, differences remain – particularly over the idea of granting the Corsican Assembly the power to legislate.

Jean-Martin Mondoloni, co-chairman of the group, says he refuses to “fall into the crude trap of those who do not want Corsica to be autonomous in Paris and who would find it very convenient to say that the Corsican elected representatives have not reached an agreement, so we are stopping everything”.

  • Corsicans welcome France’s offer of autonomy, but wait for details

He has called for there to be “four votes” to show that “there will be unanimity on three subjects in the text – recognition of an island community, power to adapt standards and consultation of Corsican residents – but not on the granting of legislative power”.

The problem is that the draft resolution provides for the regional assembly to “vote for or against everything”, in which case, he said, he will be “embarrassed but will vote against” the text.

Meanwhile, the pro-independence Nazione party – that only has one elected member – announced it would not vote in favour of the text, which it sees as “an obstacle to the recognition of the national rights of the Corsican people”.



Opposition and jealousy

However, even if these hurdles are overcome by the regional assembly and the text is adopted, problems still remain within France’s National Assembly where support for the draft is far from unanimous.

The right-wing, which holds a majority in the Senate, is hostile to constitutional reform which – in order to be validated – must be passed by both the National Assembly and the upper house before deputies and senators meet in Congress, where a three-fifths majority will be required.

In an article published recently in Le Figaro daily, 16 constitutional experts argued that creating “a special status” for Corsica with “local legislative power” was tantamount to “denying the fundamental principles of the first three articles of the Constitution.”

France’s satirical Canard Enchainé magazine has remarked that giving Corsica autonomy is making some regions jealous, with the presidents of the Brittany and Alsace looking for a “special status” for theire regions as well. 

The publication has remarked, could this be “the start of an epidemic?”


ONLINE SAFETY

One in six young teenagers a victim of cyberbullying, WHO warns

One in six children aged 11 to 15 was the victim of cyberbullying in 2022, a report published Wednesday by the World Health Organization has found. It warned the Covid pandemic had changed how teenagers treat each other. 

The study, which spanned 44 countries, revealed that virtual forms of peer violence had become more prevalent during lockdowns. More school-aged children reported being cyberbullied compared to before the pandemic. 

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said the findings served as a crucial alert, with the rate of cyberbullying among young teenagers rising by 13 percent from four years ago. 

“This is both a health and a human rights issue, and we must step up to protect our children from violence and harm, both offline and online,” Kluge said. 

Data from 279,000 children and adolescents across Europe, Central Asia, and Canada formed the basis of the study.  

  • Dozens jailed for cyberbullying French ‘queen of influencers’
  • Hate content on social media fuels French rise in anti-Semitism reports

‘Wake-up-call’

Cyberbullying peaked around the age of 11 for boys and 13 for girls. One in eight adolescents admitted to cyberbullying others. 

The report highlighted Bulgaria, Lithuania, Moldova, and Poland as countries with the highest levels of cyberbullying among boys, whereas Spain reported the lowest levels. 

With adolescents spending up to six hours online daily, even slight fluctuations in bullying rates can greatly impact their well-being, Kluge said. 

He called the report a “wake-up call” for “all of us to address bullying and violence, whenever and wherever it happens”. 

The report stressed the need for increased monitoring of peer violence and called for better education among young people, families and schools regarding cyberbullying and its impacts.  

It also urged regulatory measures on social media platforms to stem exposure to cyberbullying. 

(with newswires)


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.


TECHNOLOGY

Big tech told to identify and label AI deepfakes ahead of EU elections

The European Union has urged Facebook, TikTok, and other major tech companies to take decisive action against deepfakes and other AI-generated content by implementing clear labels ahead of the European elections in June. 

The move is part of a string of measures published under the EU’s landmark AI legislation, approved by lawmakers earlier this month, that governs AI content on 22 “very large” social sites including Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and X. 

The European Commission wants those sites to clearly label political advertising and reduce “virality of content” and disinformation that could jeopardise the integrity of the polls. 

Brussels is particularly wary about the impact of Russian “manipulation”. 

Risk assessment

In the newly released guidelines, the EU Commission said major platforms must “assess and mitigate specific risks associated with AI, such as by clearly labelling content generated by AI, otherwise known as deepfakes

“With today’s guidelines we are making full use of all the tools offered by the DSA [Digital Services Act] to ensure platforms comply with their obligations and are not misused to manipulate our elections, while safeguarding freedom of expression,” said Europe’s digital Commissioner Thierry Breton.  

While the guidelines are not legally binding, platforms are required to outline alternative “equally effective” measures if they choose not to comply.  

  • France slaps Google with €250m fine over EU media rules and AI use
  • Tech giants grilled on their compliance with EU’s new Digital Markets Act

The EU may request further information if regulators do not believe there is non-compliance, while companies also risk being investigated and fined. 

The EU has said it will conduct “stress-tests” in collaboration with relevant platforms in late April to assess their preparedness. 

X has already been under investigation since December over content moderation. 

Earlier this month the commission asked Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and four other platforms to provide more information on how they are countering AI risks to polls. 

(with newswires)


Israel-Hamas war

Israel rejects Hamas’ demands, continues assault, possibly using French weapon components

Negotiations between Israel and Hamas have broken down after a UN resolution demanded a ceasefire, and Israel continues bombing in southern parts of the Gaza strip. Meanwhile, a French investigative group says it found that French weapons companies supply Israel with weapons that are being used in the conflict.

Israeli forces pounded besieged Gaza on Wednesday in the war sparked by the 7 October attack and fought Hamas in several hospitals despite a UN Security Council demand for a ceasefire.

Talks in Qatar aimed at implementing a truce and hostage release deal, have little impact so far with both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas blaming each other.



According to the Times of Israel, Israel on Tuesday recalled its negotiating team from Qatar . The move came after Hamas rejected Israel’s latest offer in talks on a hostage deal and truce.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Hamas’s decision to reject a US-brokered compromise is “clear proof it is not interested in continuing talks, and a sad testament to the damage caused by the UN Security Council resolution,” referring to a call for a ceasefire passed Monday night that the US did not veto, thus enabling its passage.

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

The PMO accused Hamas of retreating to its “extreme demands,” including a complete end to the war and full IDF withdrawal from Gaza.

“Hamas’s stance clearly demonstrates its utter disinterest in a negotiated deal and attests to the damage done by the UN Security Council’s resolution,” according to a statement by Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)

“Hamas has once again rejected an American compromise proposal and has repeated its extreme demands.”

Hamas demands

  • An immediate halt to the war
  • the complete withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip
  • leaving in place its administration.

The PMO flatly rejects the demands, calling them “delusional.”

Hamas “rebuffed all US offers for a compromise, while celebrating the Security Council’s resolution,” according to the statement.

“Just war?”

“Israel will pursue and achieve its just war objectives: Destroying Hamas’s military and governmental capacities, release of all the hostages, and ensuring Gaza will not pose a threat to the people of Israel in the future.”

But in a hard-hitting  “advanced, unedited version” of a report by Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, published by the UN High Commisioner for Human Rights on Monday, concludes that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met,”

It added: “Israel’s military leadership and soldiers have intentionally distorted jus in bello principles, subvertingtheir protective functions, in an attempt to legitimize genocidal violence against the Palestinian people.”

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Wednesday that at least 32,490 people have been killed in the territory during more than five months of war between Israel and Hamas.

France involved?

Meanwhile France’s Defense Minister, Sebastien Lecornu, on Tuesday rejected findings by investigative groups Disclose and Marseille-based Marsactu, that France supplied components for ammunition used by the Israeli army in its Gaza campaign.

According to the investigation, published on Monday, Marseille-based firm Eurolinks had sold Israel some 100,000 M27 links, metal connectors used to join rifle cartridges into ammunition belts for machine guns.

This ammunition “could have been used against civilians in the Gaza strip,” the groups say. The findings of the group could not be independently confirmed.

Lecornu told reporters in Paris that Eurolinks’ exportlicense to deliver good to Israeli firm IMI Systems “only covers re-export to third countries” rather than use by the Israeli army.

According to a 2023 report by armed conflict monitor Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri,) 69 percent of Israel’s arms purchases come from US firms, 30% from Germany and 0.9% from Italy.

(with newswires)


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

Olympic flame to burn in front of Louvre museum during Paris 2024 Games

The Olympic flame is set to burn in the Tuileries Garden in front of the Louvre museum for the duration of the Paris Games in July and August,  according to reports from French news agency AFP.

The decision to place the Olympic cauldron in the tourist hotspot in the centre of the city was taken “several weeks ago”, a source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The Tuileries emerged as the first choice because of the ease of access for the public,” the report says.

Olympic cauldron

There had been speculation that the flame might be placed on the Eiffel Tower, while organisers also contemplated putting it in the courtyard of the Louvre, the world’s biggest museum.

The Tuileries “is an area that can be easily secured. There will be security forces on duty round the clock to protect the flame and the general public will be able to see it thanks to the raised footpaths around the garden,” the AFP source said.

The lighting of the cauldron is a key moment during the Olympics opening ceremony, signalling the formal start of the global sports extravaganza.

  • Migrant transfers from Paris ahead of Olympics anger French mayors, NGOs

It was unclear if the cauldron would be lit inside the Tuileries or whether it would be transferred there after the unprecedented opening ceremony on 26 July, which is set to take place on boats along the nearby river Seine.

The identity of the person given the honour of lighting it remains unknown, while details about the opening ceremony – which will take place outside of the athletics stadium for the first time – are a closely guarded secret.

Organisers have vowed to make the first Olympics in Paris in 100 years “iconic”.

Symbolic location

Asked about the cauldron, the Paris organising committee said in a statement to AFP that “we will not confirm or deny any of the reports that are circulating. There have already been a lot of rumours on its location.”

Organisers want the cauldron to be “placed in the heart of Paris for its symbolism and so that it is visible for everyone,” the statement added.

The Paris Games are set to take place at locations around the capital, including at temporary stadiums by the Eiffel Tower and on the Place de la Concorde which abuts the Tuileries Garden.

The park was designed in 1664 at the behest of the so-called “Sun King” Louis XIV and is closely associated with the defunct French royal family, as well as the anti-monarchist Revolution of 1789.

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

The torch relay for Paris 2024 will begin on 16 April when a flame is taken from Olympia in Greece before being transported by sea to Marseille in a three-masted 19th-century French tall ship called the Belum.

The flame is then set to travel through 400 French towns and dozens of tourist attractions during a 12,000-kilometre journey over the mainland and overseas French territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific.

At the last Covid-disrupted Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, the hydrogen-powered cauldron was lit by tennis star Naomi Osaka inside the eerily empty main athletics stadium during the opening ceremony.

A second one was placed on the waterfront near Tokyo Bay.


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris Olympics to cost taxpayers between three and five billion euros, French auditor says

The Paris Olympics are expected to cost the state between three and five billion euros, the French court of auditors said Tuesday as new figures revealed the country’s widening debt levels.

“We still don’t know the cost of the Olympics,” Pierre Moscovici, the head of the French Cour des Comptes, told France Inter radio on Tuesday.

“[But] These games will cost between three, four or five billion euros,” he said.

Moscovici had estimated in January last year that the ultimate cost to taxpayers would be “around three billion euros”, which represented an increase from government budget estimates at the time of 2.44 billion euros.

The bill for every Olympics often grows in the latter stages of preparations as unbudgeted costs appear or extra funds are needed to accelerate unfinished building work.

Public sector bonuses

Under the threat of strikes, the French government is currently negotiating one-off bonuses for public sector staff who will work during the Games, with pay-offs to the police alone set to cost up to 500 million euros.

  • CGT union says it will stage strike during Paris Olympics

The overall cost for the Paris Games, including private and public money, was most recently estimated at around nine billion euros, up from a budgeted 6.6 billion euros when the city was selected in 2017.

Making cost comparisons between games is difficult because of a lack of transparency with figures and the complexity of comparing investments across countries.

Games over budget

But a 2020 study by academics at the University of Oxford concluded that every summer games since 1960 had gone over budget, with the average sports-related costs ending up between two and three times the original estimate.

The most notorious over-spends occurred in Montreal in 1976 and Rio de Janiero in 2016, where both cities were left nearly bankrupt and mired in debt, as well as Athens in 2004 which contributed to the country’s debt and financial crisis.

Paris organisers had promised “sober” games, using existing sports infrastructure for 95 percent of their needs to keep new construction and costs down.

France’s budget deficit leapt to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product last year, according to figures published on Tuesday, piling pressure on President Emmanuel Macron’s government to find cost-cuts and savings.

France’s public sector debt now stands at 110.6 percent of GDP, making the country the third-most indebted country in the eurozone, outperforming only laggards Greece and Italy.

(with AFP)


Elections

South Africa’s ANC and DA look at coalition deal as elections loom

South Africans will go to polls on Friday 29 May to elect a new National Assembly, which will then choose the next president. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is betting on retaining its parliamentary majority but faces the biggest challenge since it came to power in 1994. 

Voters say they are disappointed with poor service delivery, unemployment, crime and power cuts.

Pollsters expect the ANC to lose its legislative majority for the first time since Nelson Mandela took power at the end of apartheid 30 years ago.

If this happened, President Cyril Ramaphosa – or an ANC successor for the top job – would be unable to stay on without a coalition, since South Africa’s parliament elects the president.

The campaign has already started, and Ramaphosa is travelling nationwide to meet with voters.



On Monday, South Africa’s second most popular party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), said that it would not rule out a deal with the African National Congress should the ANC fail to get the majority it needs to retain power in May elections, according to its leader.

“It would depend on which ANC you’re dealing with and what their programme of action is,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said, declining to disclose whether any talks had already taken place.

“I’m not ruling out anything, depending on what the election results are,” Steenhuisen added.

Negotiations

Earlier this month, the ANC’s Deputy Party Secretary Nomvula Mokonyane said the party was not considering a coalition government with other parties, and that she was not thinking that a power sharing deal would work.

But it now seems that alliances will be inevitable.

Meanwhile, the DA has been banding together with smaller parties to capture more than 50 percent of the vote needed to take power.

These include the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, a long bitter rival of the ANC, as well as Freedom Front Plus, which appeals to rural white South Africans who feel politically marginalised since the fall of apartheid, and Action SA, which has built a platform on a tough anti-immigration stance and appeals to working and middle class voters.

“It’s a long shot,” Steenhuisen said.

He added that if the opposition coalition did not win, his priority would be to prevent the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) from getting a seat on the executive.

“What I call the doomsday coalition is a tie up between the EFF and the ANC,” he said.

The DA is seen as a pro-business party, whereas businesses and wealthy individuals dislike the EFF, which is popular with poor and Black South Africans.

The EFF promises to nationalise industries and fix inequalities in land ownership.

“I won’t sit back and just watch the country handed over to the radical socialists,” Steenhuisen said.

“If the [opposition coalition] doesn’t get over the line, we may have to look at the least worst option.”



If in power, the DA would seek to pursue its policy of privatising the power sector rather than rely on state provider Eskom and eliminating red tape to make it easier for the private sector to operate, Steenhuisen said.

He also reiterated the DA policy of abandoning the ANC’s flagship Black Economic Empowerment scheme, which he called “racial bean counting”, in favour of one focused solely on reducing poverty, regardless of skin colour.

Race is a divisive issue in South Africa, and the DA is still seen by many as the party of white privilege.

Tarnished image

As its 30th anniversary approaches, the ANC’s image appears tarnished by the economic stagnation of the past decade, rising unemployment and repeated corruption scandals involving its top officials.

  • Hundreds arrested at opposition rallies against economic plight of South Africa
  • South Africa’s scandal-hit Ramaphosa re-elected as ANC leader

The party in power will have to make compromises.

Mokonyane added it was open to working with anyone as long as they agreed on “the task at hand”.

Analysts say losing its majority might jolt the party to do better on service delivery, expand the economy and address other ills like crime and corruption.

But coalitions could also end up being fractious and impede already poor service delivery.

Thirty years after the end of white minority rule, more than 30 percent of South Africans are unemployed, the murder rate is rising, and income inequality is among the highest in the world.

“We are quite certain that with our challenges and imperfections, those happened because we’re doing something that was never done,” said Mokonyane.

She criticised foreign ownership of land and mineral resources and said the ANC would do more to put national interests, as well as social welfare and girls’ education, first.

“The inequality that we see, it’s very stubborn,” she said.

“We’ve tried to turn it around, and 30 years is not a [long] enough period to turn things around.”

 (with Reuters)


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)

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.