rfi 2024-04-01 16:05:53



Society

Iftar for All: Ramadan handouts highlight food insecurity in Paris

For the second year running, hundreds of volunteers across Paris and its suburbs joined the ‘Iftar for All’ campaign to hand out free food to people in need to mark the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. As inflation and precarity tip more people into poverty, charities say they’re seeing a rise in the number of people seeking help.

“People don’t see us. It’s like we’re invisible. If it wasn’t for food parcels, I’d die of hunger,” said Nelly, a well-dressed, middle-aged woman, who chanced upon one of the ten Iftar for All stands delivering food to people in need in and around Paris.

It was a biting cold evening in Paris and Nelly was walking towards the spot where she usually picks up free milk when she saw a table heaped with food, which volunteers from the charity Muslim Hands were handing out behind the posh Printemps department store.

“Food assistance is vital for us,” Nelly said. “In my case, I have only 10 euros for the next 10 days until the end of the month.” 

She is one of thousands of people in Paris and its suburbs who received food parcels, or a warm meal, during the one-day Iftar for All event organised by Hmarket supermarket and six French charities on 28 March.

Food for all

It was the second edition of Iftar for All, a yearly event aiming to distribute food to all people in need – not only Muslims – during the month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast during the day.

Ramadan began on 11 March and runs until 9 April.

Iftar, also known as fitoor or f’tour, is the time at sunset when they break their fast. Charitable initiatives are common during that month, when sharing is as important as fasting.

Born out of a brainstorming at Hmarket headquarters during last year’s Ramadan, the project was set up in two weeks and promptly gathered the support of other organisations.

“We believe it is important to join forces so as to create a greater impact on the ground,” says Attika Trabelsi, Hmarket’s communications and marketing manager. “It seemed important to build bridges and help people connect who otherwise wouldn’t.”

This year, the team included the Paris Central Mosque, local charities G Huit and O Coeur de la Rue, and three French NGOs that operate internationally: Life, Muslim Hands and Amatullah.

“We wanted to join them again this year because even though each of us is involved in food security all year round, such an event places a spotlight on what we do and helps us reach out to a larger number of people,” said Imad Bentayeb, Life’s country coordinator for France, Morocco and Palestine.

Rising needs

The first edition saw volunteers hand out 3,000 food parcels in five locations. This year, 3,500 food parcels were distributed in 10 different areas across Paris and neighbouring suburbs Nanterre and Aulnay-sous-Bois. 

“We gave out 350 parcels in less than an hour and a half. I was surprised it went so fast, especially when there were hot meals distributed only a few metres away by [another food charity] La Soupe Saint-Eustache,” said Matthieu Jeuland, property manager at Hmarket, who was volunteering next to Les Halles commercial centre in the centre of Paris.

Need for food assistance is increasing in France. According to the independent Inequality Observatory, 5.3 million people – 8 percent of the population – lived below the poverty line in France in 2023, a rate that has been rising steadily since the mid-2000s.

“We operate in 19 developing countries and used to carry out actions in France occasionally. But we had to open an office here because living conditions took such a hard blow after the Covid pandemic. Inflation is ever increasing and people have difficulties making ends meet,” said Bentayeb.



Almamy Sylla, marketing and communications manager at Muslim Hands France, said they too had seen a shift.

“We provide assistance all year round and we’ve noticed a steadily rising number of people who need us,” he said. “We often come across some families who – from the outside – do not appear to be facing difficult circumstances.”

  • More French people turn to food banks as inflation bites
  • Struggling French food bank warns it will soon be turning needy people away

Hidden poverty

According to Nelly, who is homeless, there is no one type of person living in poverty: “They are of all ages, all social backgrounds, foraging for food in bins.”

Appearances are often deceptive. Nelly, like many who collected the food handouts, does not wear ragged clothes and is not dirty or gaunt. She seems put together, yet does not know where the next meal is coming from or where she’ll sleep tonight.

“Dignity, reticence, shame, pride stop us from begging,” she says. “Some people will wait towards the end to walk up and ask for food parcels.”

As she spoke, she shared a cream puff with a young volunteer, Yanele. Aged seven, she told RFI she was eager to come volunteering again.

“I am relieved to see that there is a new generation who will continue what we’ve started,” said Malia, who volunteers for Life in its kitchen. “We had 50 mums who came to help us last year and over 80 women this year, most of whom are students.”

First-time volunteers

Both editions of the initiative gathered around 350 volunteers, but this year, over a hundred of them were helping Iftaar for All for the first time.

Some having never participated in such activities before. The charity O Coeur de la Rue said it even enrolled five new volunteers.

Sirine, a 25-year-old who works in digital communications, is a first-time volunteer with Muslim Hands and Iftar for All but helps out twice a week with Restos du Coeur, a French organisation providing food assistance.

“I feel as if the people we are trying to help give us much more than we give them,” she told RFI.

“It’s such a fast-moving world and we’re fuelled by the need to acquire as many apps, or what not, to stay connected to the wider world. Yet in real life, I think we’re pretty isolated.

“On the other hand, the rough sleepers I meet, who have none of those tools and are facing a tough reality, are capable of kindness we’ve probably never shown to others.”



Another volunteer, Rabia, said that helping people in need broadens her perspective.

“I was surprised to see young delivery bike or scooter riders, wondering what they are doing at the stand. Then I remembered an article describing how they are struggling,” she said.

Saif Thabet, an Instagram content creator who covered the Iftar for All event, told RFI it got an enthusiastic response from his followers.

“Most of them said they wish they’d known sooner so that they could join in, and they liked that it was an operation open to all and not sectarian at all,” he said.

Melissa Nedjam, a quality manager at Hmarket who helped distribute food in Paris, reflected: “I will go to bed thinking that I have been useful today.”


Society

France’s winter housing ‘truce’ ends, advocates warn of record evictions

Housing advocates in France are sounding the alarm over what they say is a worrying increase in the number of people who could end up kicked out of their housing as the yearly winter eviction moratorium comes to an end. People who are unable to pay rent are once facing police evictions and many will find themselves on the street for lack of other housing options.

The annual five-month winter housing truce came to an end Sunday, and advocates are warning that some 140,000 people are facing eviction notices in 2024.

“For households at the bottom of the ladder, it’s difficult to meet their needs at the end of the month, and in the end, the risks of not paying rent can turn into legal procedures and evictions by police,” Manuel Domergue, research director at the Abbé Pierre foundation that works on housing and poverty issues, told RFI.

The number of evictions has increased dramatically in recent years, with a record number of 21,500 evictions carried out in 2023.

This was 23 percent higher than the previous year, and seven times more than 30 to 40 years ago, says Domergue, who points to rising rent prices as well as inflation and increased energy prices as reasons that people cannot pay their rent.

Landlord-friendly law

He and other advocates also point to a law passed in July that makes it easier for landlords to serve eviction notices and criminalizes squatters living in empty buildings.

People who are evicted are supposed to be provided with temporary housing, but services are overwhelmed.

  • Homeless charities warn of ‘social cleansing’ ahead of Paris Olympics

“We know there is a lack of social housing or temporary housing, so there are people who end up on the street with no other options,” said Domergue, adding that one third of households are unable to find new accommodation one to three years after their evictions.

The two thirds of households who do find housing only do so after a year of cycling through hotel rooms and stays with friends and family.

Olympic housing

Housing activists are also concerned about the Olympic Games coming to Paris this summer, which has driven up the price of hotels and has put a strain on the already tight housing market in the capital.

The Droit au logement (DAL) housing activist group has called out what they call “fraudulent” evictions by landlords who are looking to rent out their properties at higher prices to tourists.

The Adil housing information agency in Paris found that 28 percent of eviction notices were invalid from September 2023 to February 2024, compared to 19 percent in the same period the year before.


Migration

UK says Channel crossings on small boats hit a record this winter

Channel arrivals on small boats to the UK hit a record in the first quarter of 2024 with a nearly 42 percent rise over last year, British officials said Monday.

The UK interior ministry said 5,373 migrants landed on the shores of southeast England in the first three months of the year after crossing the Channel in small vessels.

This compares to 3,793 making the perilous journey from January to March in 2023 – a 41.7 percent rise and the highest figure ever for the opening quarter of any year.

Nearly 800 arrived on 16 small boats over just the Easter weekend.

This is a serious political problem for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a general election year, after the embattled Conservative leader repeatedly vowed to “stop the boats“.

  • Nearly 30,000 migrants crossed Channel to UK last year

He claimed to be succeeding when the annual total fell by around a third last year, but the trend has reversed dramatically so far in 2024.

Sunak is facing a daunting task keeping his Tories – in power since 2010 – in charge after the next election, which he must call at some point this year.

After nearly two years lagging well behind the main Labour opposition, two weekend surveys showed a further deterioration in support for the Conservatives.

Rwanda deal still on the cards

One study, involving more than 18,000 voters in multiple polls over recent weeks, forecasts the party will suffer its worst election defeat in history, reduced to just 80 MPs while Labour wins a record 470.

The small boat arrivals, and broader concerns among some voters about levels of immigration, are blamed for contributing to the predicted exodus of former Tory voters.

The interior ministry has said that smugglers organising the Channel crossings are adapting their methods, using bigger boats and packing more people.

  • UK accused of not doing enough to stop Channel migrant crossings

Interior Minister James Cleverly told the BBC this week that the government is now “going after the boats upstream in the supply chain”.

Sunak is also pushing ahead with controversial proposals to deter the cross-Channel journeys by trying to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The UK Supreme Court blocked the plan over safety fears but the government has introduced contentious legislation to override that by declaring Rwanda “safe” and agreeing a new treaty with the east African country.

Flights could take off within months if lawmakers approve the draft law in the coming weeks.

(with AFP)


Togo

Opponents slam Togo’s new constitution as ploy for Gnassingbé to stay in power

Togo’s presidency has asked the parliament for a “second reading” of a controversial constitutional reform approved last week following public outcry over what opponents say is a ploy by President Faure Gnassingbé to hold onto power and extend his nearly two-decade-long rule.

A “second reading” of the reform was justified by the “interest of the public aroused by the text since its adoption” last week, Gnassingbé’s office said in a statement published Friday.

The constitutional reform, which was approved with 89 votes in favour, one against and one abstention, would grant parliament the power to choose the President, doing away with direct elections.

This would make it likely that Gnassingbé, whose party controls the parliament, would be re-elected in next year’s presidential election.

‘Avoiding’ voters

The move towards a parliamentary system is a way for Gnassingbé to avoid facing voters at the polls, says Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson, of the opposition Democratic convention of the African people (CDPA).

“This is being done to avoid direct voting for the president, because the person holding power knows very well that it will be difficult to continue to cheat and tamper with presidential elections,” she told RFI.

“He was never elected, you know, and he knows that the Togolese people are lying in wait for him in the next election”.

Gnassingbé has ruled the country for 19 years, since 2005 when he took over after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who seized power in a coup in 1967. The last elections date back to 2020.

Gnassingbé faced widespread demonstrations in 2017 and 2018 calling for an end to his family’s rule. A crackdown on protests including internet shutdown helped Gnassingbé survive the demonstrations and in May 2019 his government voted in a change to Togo’s constitution potentially enabling him to remain in office until 2030.

Several other African countries have pushed through constitutional and legal changes in recent years, allowing their presidents to extend their terms in office.

Parliamentary system

Togo‘s new constitution, which would mark its fifth republic, would also limit the power of the presidency – which would be reduced to a single six-year term – and create the position of President of the council of ministers, who would have “full authority and power to manage the affairs of the government”.

The role, similar to that of a Prime Minister, would go to the leader of the party or majority coalition of parties following legislative elections.

Adjamagbo-Johnson says that while parliamentary systems like this exist elsewhere, the reform in Togo would not work in the current context.

  • Togolese opposition cries foul over detention of leaders opposing Gnassingbe

“The problem is that we are faced with a system that is resistant to democracy and that has done everything it can for several years to prevent political change,” she said.

She doubts a parliamentary system would have any more legitimacy than the presidential system that has been in place until now.

“This surreal debate is occurring in a country where we know that elections have never been transparent,” she said.

“This is a diversion to scheme to hold on to power indefinitely”.

Elections coming up

Parliamentary and regional elections are coming up on 20 April and Adjamagbo-Johnson is coordinating an opposition campaign, after having boycotted the elections in 2018.

It is unclear when lawmakers would start a second reading of the constitutional reform and whether there would be amendments added.

The date on which the reform would take effect has also not been communicated.

(with newswires)


France

Remains found of toddler missing from French village

The remains of young boy who went missing last summer from a village in the French Alps were found this weekend, in the first major breakthrough in the case that has gripped France. Investigators are now trying to determine how he died.

Prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon said genetic testing on bones found near the tiny village of Le Vernet showed they were the remains of Emile, who went missing on 8 July 2023.

The two-and-a-half-year-old had been with his grandparents in the village of 25 residents, where he had come to stay at their second home for the holidays.

The bones were reportedly found by a hiker, and Blachon said that forensic investigators were analysing them to determine the cause of death.

Police had opened a criminal investigation into a possible abduction, and had also considered the possibility that the boy fell or had an accident.

Around a hundred gendarmes from the criminal research institute and a team of sniffer dogs will be deployed on Monday to search the area.



Revisiting the day

On Sunday police set up a roadblock on the only road into Le Vernet, and investigators started re-interviewing 17 people, including family members, neighbours and witnesses to revisit the moments before Emile went missing.

The last people to have seen him were two neighbours who saw him walking alone on a street.

  • Missing UK teen found in France returned to Britain for better ‘future’

A massive search was launched after he disappeared, involving police, soldiers, sniffer dogs, a helicopter and drones, which all failed to find any sign of him.

Time for mourning

“This heartbreaking news was feared,” Emile’s parents said about the discovery of the bones in a statement released by their lawyer, Jerome Triomphe.

The statement said that the parents, both devout Catholics “now know on this Resurrection Sunday that Emile watches over them in the light and tenderness of God”, adding that “the pain and sorrow remain”.

(with AFP)


Diplomacy

French Foreign Minister expects ‘clear messages’ from China to Russia on Ukraine

After meeting his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Beijing Monday, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said China could play a “key role” in negotiating peace in Ukraine.

“We are convinced that there will be no lasting peace if it is not negotiated with the Ukrainians,” he told reporters at a press conference, alongside Wang.

“There will be no security for Europeans if there is no peace in accordance with international law,” he continued. And China, he said, could play a “key role” in ensuring respect for international law is maintained.

Improving relations

While trying to improve ties with China, France has also been pushing Beijing over its relationship with Moscow, which has deepened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Many western countries have asked China to play a more active role in resolving the conflict.

Séjourné said Monday that France wants China “to send very clear messages to Russia” over the war in Ukraine.

  • Six decades of rocky relations between France and China

Séjourné’s is the second visit by a French foreign minister to China in less than six months, after his predecessor, Catherine Colonna, travelled there in November.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit France and Italy in May.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Beijing and France.

China vs EU

France’s attempts to improve ties comes as the European Union is looking to distance itself from overly relying on China.

But Séjourné reiterated that édecouplingé – a term that describes the aim of some policy makers in the United States to cut trade ties and isolate China – was not on the table.

Instead, he said an “economic rebalancing” was needed to ensure trade is “healthy and sustainable”.

“It is not possible to decouple from China, and decoupling from China is the biggest risk,” Wang said, after noting his appreciation of Sejourne’s rejection of the concept.

“China is an opportunity and not a risk for Europe,” he said. “Both sides are partners and not rivals.”

(with AFP)


French football

Drama around goal-shy Mbappé upstages PSG’s fight for unprecedented triple crown

Paris Saint-Germain on Monday started their preparations for a crucial 10 days of domestic and European action in Ligue 1, the Coupe de France and the Champions League with question marks over the form and attitude of stand-in skipper and star striker Kylian Mbappé.

The 25-year-old was substituted mid way through the second-half of the Ligue 1 clash at Marseille on Sunday night with his side down to 10 men following the dismissal of Lucas Beraldo just before half-time but leading 1-0.

Mbappé’s replacement, Gonçalo Ramos, scored five minutes from time at the Vélodrome to add to Vitinha’s 52nd-minute opener and seal the win that kept PSG 12 points clear of Brest with seven games remaining of the season.

It was Mbappé’s third game without a goal after firing blanks in France’s friendly matches against Germany and Chile on 23 and 26 March respectively.

Under scrutiny

The victory also allowed PSG to equal Lyon’s Ligue 1 record of playing 21 matches between March 2005 and April 2006 without losing an away game.

But despite the twin peaks, PSG boss Luis Enrique came under scrutiny for his decision to remove Mbappé who has told PSG executives that he wants to leave at the end of the season.

“Look, it’s the same thing each time that I do something like this,” the 53-year-old Spaniard told broadcaster Prime Video.

“Frankly, it’s boring. I’m the coach of the club and I make the decisions. And that is exactly what I’ll keep doing while I’m here.

Control

“I’m trying to do the best thing for the sake of the team. And if you really can’t understand that, well I really just don’t care.”

Enrique’s line-up for the semi-final of the Coupe de France against Rennes at the Parc des Princes on 3 April will be eagerly awaited after Mbappé’s less than magnanimous reaction to being substituted along with Fabian Ruiz and Ousmane Dembélé.

Mbappé, who was leading the side in the absence of the injured Marquinhos, failed to make contact with his coach after leaving the fray.

Ramos, who arrived in August on loan from the Portuguese outfit Benfica, has struggled to make an impact. But he clinically dispatched his fifth goal in nine appearances.



Barring the grandmother of all meltdowns, PSG will claim a 10th Ligue 1 crown in the 13 years since the Qatar-based QSI group took full control of the club.

On Wednesday night, PSG will attempt to reach the final of the Coupe de France for the first time since beating Monaco 2-0 in the 2021 final to lift the trophy for a record-extending 14th time.

And three days later, PSG host bottom-of-the-table Clermont for what should be a routine victorious work-out before they face tougher opposition at the Parc des Princes in the shape of Barcelona for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on 10 April.

Drive

On taking over the club, QSI prioritised winning European club football’s most prestigious competition for the first time. But successive high-profile managers have failed to satisfy the craving.

Enrique raised eyebrows at the start of the Champions League group stages when he said that fixating on glory in the tournament was unhealthy for a club. 

“When any person, or any club, becomes obsessed with something, it is not a good sign,” said Enrique who steered Barcelona to the Champions League title in 2015.

“We need to be hopeful, ambitious too, but becoming obsessed does not work in any area of life,” added the former Spain boss.

His no-nonsense approach appears to be bearing fruit. His side is involved in all three major competitions at the business end of the 2023/24 campaign.

“I’m sure our supporters will be very happy with this win,” Enrique told PSG TV after the Marseille game.

“We will play in front of them on Wednesday night in the Coupe de France and I’m sure they will help us get to another final.”


Tennis

Sinner leapfrogs Alcaraz in men’s rankings after Miami Open blast past Dimitrov

Italy’s Jannik Sinner rose on Monday to second place in the tennis world rankings following his straight sets win over Grigor Dimitrov to claim the Miami Open.

The 22-year-old beat the Bulgarian 6-3, 6-1 on Sunday evening to lift his third title of the season following victories at the Australian Open in January and in Rotterdam in February.

“I’m very happy to be in this position,” said the Italian after securing the crown in Miami for the first time and a second victory at a Masters 1000 tournament which are considered the most prestigious titles on the circuit after the four Grand Slam events in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.

“I’m just enjoying every moment. These are special days winning a tournament. Doesn’t matter what kind of tournament, it’s a special day. It means a lot to me.”

Sinner’s victory means he will go above Carlos Alcaraz in the ATP rankings to occupy second spot for the first time since turning professional in 2018.

Rise

“When you win, you realise that it’s really special,” he said. “But it’s a moment. So there is not so much time to enjoy this.

“That’s where I feel like that I have improved a lot. After winning the title in Australia, I live these moments, three or four days, and then after, I get back to work. It was the same in Rotterdam and it’s the same here, because you don’t have to time to enjoy.”

Sinner, who has reached the last eight at the French Open in Paris, will move to the clay court swing of the season as one of the form players with a record of 22 wins and one defeat.

Should Novak Djokovic play in Monaco at the Monte Carlo Masters next week, Sinner will be seeded to meet the world number one in the final.

“I know that I don’t have so much time to prepare for Monaco, so this is now obviously the next goal, trying to get confident with the clay.”

Dimitrov’s surge to the final, which included wins over top seed Alcaraz as well as the fourth seed Alexander Zverev, pushed him back into the top 10 for the first time since 2018.

Shine

“Clearly it’s Jannik’s week,” Dimitrov said. “He’s been playing amazing tennis. It’s really impressive how he’s been able to keep that way of playing.

“Maybe next time when I play him I will try to do something else but I was unable to match his game and even to match his shots. I think for a little bit I was doing well, but a lot of the important moments went his way.”

On Saturday evening, Florida-born Danielle Collins won the women’s event. The 30-year-old, who has announced she will retire at the end of the season, beat the fourth seed Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-3 to lift the Miami Open for the first time.

“What a dream come true to have played at the level that I have played consistently over the last two weeks,” Collins said.

“It’s just been amazing to go out and to have felt the energy that I felt from the fans, and literally feel like I’m playing in front of thousands of my best friends, that was just surreal. I will never forget this day because of that.”

Collins became the first American woman to take home the Miami Open title since Sloane Stephens in 2018. 

She moved up 31 places to 22 in the new women’s rankings published on Monday.


NEW CALEDONIA

France mulls New Caledonia electoral reform ahead of key vote

The future of New Caledonia’s electoral system is up for debate as the French Senate examines a constitutional reform that would broaden the roll of eligible voters ahead of provincial polls in the French overseas territory.

Some 17,000 kilometres from the New Caledonian capital Nouméa, French senators made various changes to the government’s proposed reforms to the territory’s electoral system last week, and are due to adopt them in a formal vote on 2 April.

The elections – due by mid-December – are crucial for New Caledonia, where the regional provinces hold a large proportion of the territory’s powers.

The national government’s proposals aim to expand the electoral roll for the provincial elections has so far proved a sticking point in discussions on the future status of the archipelago.

Currently reserved for certain people who have been living on the islands since before 1998 as well as their descendants, the next elections would be opened to people with at least ten years’ residence in New Caledonia.

The change, which requires an amendment to the French Constitution, could allow an extra 11,000 people to vote.

Impasse

The fact that the electoral roll has been frozen for more than 25 years means that almost one in five voters has been excluded from elections, which would run the risk of rendering the next ballot unconstitutional.

According to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who has travelled extensively to the region, residents need to “correct a distortion that is not in keeping with the exercise of the right to vote in a territory of the Republic”.

But pro-independence senator Robert Xowie, who has repeatedly denounced what he calls a “murderous” and “colonialist” approach to the territory, declared: “This bill confirms the adage ‘divide and conquer'”.

  • French mission to New Caledonia unable to solve historic problems

The Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (Flinks), an umbrella coalition of pro-independence movements, is opposed to the electoral reforms and last week demanded their “definitive withdrawal”.

However, a motion to reject the bill tabled by the Flinks group at the French Senate on Tuesday was overwhelmingly defeated.

With negotiations between loyalists and pro-independence groups at an impasse, pro-independence parties are also calling for mediation “to guarantee the impartiality of the State and encourage the resumption of discussions” on the institutional future of the archipelago.

Meanwhile protests against a disputed tax reform are ongoing, fuel depots remain blocked and a recovery plan for the crisis-hit nickel industry is struggling to get off the ground. 

‘Impartial’

During last week’s Senate debate, several senators stressed the importance of parliament remaining “impartial”.

A number of the house’s amendments aimed to facilitate dialogue, including extending the window for constitutional reform to be suspended from July to 10 days before the next elections, provided an agreement is reached.

For the constitution to be amended, the proposed text must be approved by both houses of parliament before going before a special joint session where it must win a three-fifths majority.

Read also:

  • Why are talks between Paris and New Caledonia’s rival groups deadlocked?
  • Macron’s visit to New Caledonia shows Paris’ concern over Chinese influence

UKRAINE – WAR

France to send ageing armored vehicles, advanced missiles to Ukraine

Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu has confirmed France will deliver hundreds of old armoured vehicles and new surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine for its war against Russia.

In an interview with La Tribune Dimanche, Lecornu said that President Emmanuel Macron – following talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy – had asked him to prepare a new aid package, which will include old but still functional French equipment.

“The Ukrainian army needs to defend a very long front line, which requires armoured vehicles; this is absolutely crucial for troop mobility and is part of the Ukrainian requests,” he told the newspaper.

He said France was looking at providing hundreds of VAB (Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé) front-line troop carriers in 2024 and early 2025.

France’s army is gradually replacing its thousands of VABs, which first went into operation in the late 1970s, with a new multi-role troop carrier.



Ground-air defence 

Lecornu added that France was also preparing to release a new batch of Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles for the SAMP/T system provided to Kyiv.

The Aster 30 can intercept warplanes, drones and cruise missiles within a range of 120 km.

“Ukraine has an urgent need for better ground-air defence … Russia is intensifying its strikes, in particular on civilians and civil infrastructure,” he said.

Lecornu said he had asked government defence procurement agency DGA (Direction Generale de l’Armement) to make proposals to accelerate production of Aster missiles, manufactured by European group MBDA.

  • France’s Macron says ground operations in Ukraine possible ‘at some point’
  • France blames Houthis for escalation of war, defends Red Sea operations

More munitions for Kyiv

Aster missiles are also being used in the Red Sea, where French frigates defend maritime traffic against attacks from Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, he said.

Lecornu said last week a decree was published giving the ministry powers to impose stock levels and prioritise contracts.

France is also speeding up the development of remotely operated ammunition for delivery to Ukraine as early as this summer, Lecornu said.

Last month, President Macron suggested the possibility of European nations sending troops to Ukraine, although he cautioned that there was no consensus as allies agreed to ramp up efforts to deliver more munitions to Kyiv.


CANNABIS

Strasbourg looks to launch legal cannabis experiment, as German laws change on 1 April

As Germany authorises the consumption and cultivation of cannabis from 1 April, the mayor of Strasbourg is calling for the introduction of a local ‘experiment’ to move away from France’s repressive approach to marijuana.

According to Mayor Jeanne Barseghian: “In a shared catchment area, we are going to have two different sets of regulations, almost diametrically opposed, between Germany, which authorises the recreational use of cannabis, and France, which has one of the most repressive sets of laws in Europe”.

“Obviously, this raises questions,” she told French news agency AFP, “and it’s bound to raise questions among the population”, stressing the flow of people and commerce between the two countries via Strasbourg – a border town whose transport network extends across the Rhine and leads many users to travel there on a daily basis to work or do their shopping.

“The fact that a European country like Germany, which is committed to public order and public health, has decided to change its legislation clearly shows that a purely repressive policy did not seem satisfactory or effective. In my opinion, this should provide food for thought” about French policy choices in this area.

She cites figures from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, according to which 47 percent of French adults say they have already used cannabis, a higher figure than in any other EU country.

France has 5 million cannabis users, according to the French Drugs Observatory.

“As the mayor of a large city, I am confronted on a daily basis with calls from residents who are legitimately concerned about [drug] trafficking, which generates feelings of insecurity, and even delinquency and a parallel economy”, she says. 



No coffee shops

Barseghian is keeping a close eye on changes in German legislation and their possible consequences on the French side of the border.

“This has been a point of attention for over a year. Together with the mayor of Kehl [a neighbouring German town], we took the initiative of calling on the German authorities to consider cross-border areas like ours”, she explains.

The new law, passed by the Bundestag at the end of February, authorises people living in Germany for at least six months to grow up to three plants at home for their own use, or to buy up to 50 grammes of dried cannabis per month from the new “Cannabis Club” non-profit associations.

“It’s going to be very tightly controlled, much less permissive than in the Netherlands,” says Barseghian.

“These clubs will not be places where people consume cannabis, there will be no coffee shops“, she insists.

  • Germany gives green light to ‘controlled’ use of cannabis
  • France bans sale of HHC, the first semi-synthetic cannabis found in Europe

Pioneering city

The mayor believes it would be interesting to launch a cannabis experiment on a local, cross-border scale, which would enable the authorities in Strasbourg to test what is going to be implemented on the German side of the border. 

She defends this approach by highlighting the experience and local know-how in the field of prevention and support for drug users, Strasbourg and Paris being the only two cities in France to have two low-risk drug consumption rooms.

“The city of Strasbourg has been a pioneer in harm reduction and the fight against addiction for several mandates now, with a policy that has set an example at national, European and international level”, she points out.

“We have a whole ecosystem of associations, doctors and elected representatives who see this issue not in terms of repression, but in terms of health: a person in a situation of addiction is a public health problem, and we need to be able to support them to get out of addiction”.

However, the launch such an experiment is not up to the local authorities and Barseghian is hoping to find support on a national level and is counting on the Treaty of Aachen – signed in 2019 between France and Germany – which authorises “waivers” for the implementation of cross-border projects, particularly in the field of health.


EASTER SUNDAY

Pope calls for Gaza ceasefire, Ukraine-Russia prisoner exchange in Easter message

Rallying from a winter-long bout of respiratory problems, Pope Francis has led some 30,000 people in Easter celebration, making a strong appeal for a cease-fire in Gaza and a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine.

Pope Francis presided over Easter Sunday Mass in a flower-decked St. Peter’s Square and then delivered a heartfelt prayer for peace in his annual roundup of global crises delivered from the loggia overlooking the piazza.

In between, he made several loops around the gathering in his popemobile, greeting well-wishers.

“Peace is never made with weapons, but with outstretched hands and open hearts,” Francis said, to applause from the wind-swept crowd below.

Francis appeared in good form, despite having celebrated the 2½-hour nighttime Easter Vigil just hours before.

The pontiff, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling respiratory problems all winter.



‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing

Easter Mass is one of the most important dates on the liturgical calendar, celebrating what the faithful believe was Jesus’ resurrection after his crucifixion.

The Mass precedes the pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” –to the city and the world – blessing, in which the pope traditionally offers list of the threats afflicting humanity.

This year, Francis said his thoughts went particularly to people in Ukraine and Gaza and all those facing war – particularly the children who he said had “forgotten how to smile.”

“In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for the sake of all!” he said. 

He called for the “prompt” release of prisoners taken from Israel on 7 October, an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and for humanitarian access to reach Palestinians. 

“Let us not allow the current hostilities to continue to have grave repercussions on the civil population, by now at the limit of its endurance, and above all on the children,” he said in a speech that also touched on the plight of Haitians, the Rohingya in Myanmar and victims of human trafficking. 

  • Pope Francis urges bishops to make Catholic Church ‘open to all’
  • Pope calls for peace in Europe at opening of World Youth Day celebrations

Health concerns

For the past few weeks, Francis has generally avoided delivering long speeches to avoid the strain on his breathing.

He shelved his Palm Sunday homily last week and decided at the last minute to stay home from the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum.

The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was made to “conserve his health.”

The decision clearly paid off, as Francis was able to recite the prayers of the lengthy Saturday night Easter Vigil service, including administering the sacraments of baptism and First Communion to eight new Catholics, and preside over Easter Sunday Mass and deliver his speech.

After a busy Holy Week, Francis should have some time to recover as there are no major foreign trips scheduled for several months.


TIME – PHYSICS

Timekeepers in a tizzy as climate change alters speed of Earth’s rotation

Struggling to wrap your head around daylight savings time this weekend? Spare a thought for the world’s timekeepers, who are trying to work out how climate change is affecting the Earth’s rotation – and in turn, how we keep track of time.

The Earth’s speeding rotation is threatening to mess with time, clocks and computers in an unprecedented way.

For the first time in history, world timekeepers may have to consider resetting our clocks because the planet is rotating faster than it used to.

Yet a new study suggests that climate change is slowing it down – pushing back the point at which the world’s atomic clocks will have to skip back for what scientists call a “negative leap second”.

Out of sync

Throughout history, time has been measured by the rotation of the Earth.

However, in 1967, scientists embraced atomic clocks – which use the frequency of atoms as their tick-tock – ushering in a more precise era of timekeeping.

Nonetheless timekeeping has remained aligned with the Earth’s rotation for historical and navigational reasons.

But our planet is an unreliable clock, and has long been rotating slightly slower than atomic time – meaning the two measurements were out of sync.

So a compromise was struck. Whenever the difference between the two measurements approached 0.9 of a second, a “leap second” was added to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) – the internationally agreed standard by which the world sets its clocks.

  • Why the sun is setting on summer later than usual this year

Though most people likely have not noticed, 27 leap seconds have been added to UTC since 1972, the last one coming in 2016.

But in recent years a new problem has emerged that few saw coming: Earth’s rotation has been speeding up, overtaking atomic time.

This means that to synchronise the two measurements, timekeepers may have to introduce the first ever negative leap second – a minute with only 59 seconds.



Unpredictable planet

“This has never happened before, and poses a major challenge to making sure that all parts of the global timing infrastructure show the same time,” according to Duncan Agnew, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

“Many computer programs for leap seconds assume they are all positive, so these would have to be rewritten,” he told French news agency AFP.

Partly using satellite data, Agnew looked at the rate of the Earth’s rotation for a new study published in the journal Nature.

Complex geophysical processes work to change the time the planet takes to rotate, which has gradually slowed over millennia. But in recent decades, its rotation rate has been accelerating.

  • EU turns back the clock on daylight savings

Now the study suggests that starting from 1990, melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica has slowed down the Earth’s rotation by redistributing mass from the poles to lower latitudes.

“When the ice melts, the water spreads out over the whole ocean; this increases the moment of inertia, which slows the Earth down,” Agnew said.

This human-induced process has had the knock-on effect of reducing the gap between atomic and standard time, effectively delaying the need for a negative leap second until at least 2029.

He determined that if not for climate change, a negative leap second might have needed to be added to UTC as soon as 2026.

Scrapping the leap second

Some experts fear that introducing a negative leap second into standard time could wreak havoc on computer systems across the world. Even positive leap seconds have previously caused problems for systems that require precise timekeeping. 

That’s partly why the world’s timekeepers agreed in 2022 to scrap the leap second by 2035. 

From that year, the plan is to allow the difference between atomic time and the Earth’s rotation to grow up to a minute. 

A subsequent leap minute to bring them into sync is not expected to be needed in the next century. 

And “a negative leap minute is very, very unlikely”, Agnew said.

He hopes his research will prompt the world’s timekeepers to consider dropping the leap second sooner than 2035.

(with AFP)


Refugee crisis

CAR refugees face hardship and uncertainty both at home and abroad

Cameroon – Of the 300,000 refugees who have fled to Cameroon from the Central African Republic, most arrived with painful memories of their lives in the CAR. But displacement has added to their trauma, say those living in the Gado-Badgere refugee camp. Rife sexual violence and poor living conditions have left many weighing up whether they should return home. 

Ndoti-Djo Ismail, one refugee in Cameroon, said his four young daughters were raped by armed men in the CAR. 

“When my children finally joined me here, they were frail,” Ismail told RFI. “It was sad, very sad.” 

Following decades of instability, conflict in the CAR exploded once again in 2013 following the overthrow of president Francois Bozize by Muslim Seleka rebels.

Since then, the government has struggled to exercise authority outside of Bangui, the capital, with retaliatory violence between rebels and anti-Balaka, a Christian youth militia

The fighting has forced millions to flee and take refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I was raped and my daughter was raped,” says Rahamadou Bidem, who fled to Cameroon seven years ago after witnessing her husband’s murder. 

“How do you ever forget that?” she said.

Offering a lifeline

Gado-Badgere village chief Martin Azia Sodea has welcomed thousands of refugees.

The retired gendarmerie officer, experienced in UN peacekeeping missions, has provided an area of 60 square kilometres with UNHCR-supplied tents.

The area accommodates almost 10 percent of refugees that fled the CAR to Cameroon – around 26,000 people. 

Sodea has also offered farming spaces to produce food and other structures for social cohesion.

“These are people who might have lost everything, people who are suffering,” Sodea told RFI.

“We even have a football team made up of refugees and our youths. They play together, and that has given us a sense that we are one big family.” 

Saoudatou Bah Mansare, head of UNHCR in Bertoua, says Sodea’s approach is “salutary”.

“We would love to see it replicated in other contexts where there are refugees and budgets are running thin,” she said.  

Camp life

But the camp in eastern Cameroon has not necessarily improved the lives of CAR refugees.

Bidem said access to essential services has reduced as funding from NGOs runs thin. 

“It is difficult to get food and to get healthcare when you are sick. When it rains, we can’t sleep because everywhere gets soaked,” Bidem said of the conditions in Gado-Badgere. 

She said fights over water, food and land frequently break out, often resulting in gendered violence. 

“If you go in search of water, food or firewood, you could be attacked, beaten or raped. If you get pregnant, nobody accepts responsibility,” she told RFI. 

Her teenage daughter is now the mother of three children, all a result of rape.

“[They] all denied they raped and impregnated her, and I have the added burden of catering for the kids,” Bidem said. 

Voluntary return 

On 6 March, nearly 300 refugees living in Gado-Badgere returned to the CAR. A similar number left other areas, with a total of 600 leaving Cameroon in that day alone.

A larger planned repatriation group of 2,500 was departing between March and April, according to Mansare.

“It is wholly voluntary. If at any one time any of the refugees opts not to return for whatever reason, they cannot be forced,” she said.

Ismail, a former CAR politician facing fatal threats from his opponents, said he cannot return to his home country.  

“I still have my children to take care of. It’s better to be alive in hardship than die in search of comfort,” he said. 

Likewise, Bidem plans to stay.

She told RFI: “If I were to go back, where do I start? My husband killed, our property destroyed, where do you begin? I can’t return. It will only revive old wounds.”

Sodea said he feels hurt seeing refugees leave.

“Some of them have gotten married to our people and they have children. It is very difficult and sad to go this way,” he said.


Looted art

French antique art dealers lobby against EU rules that threaten trade

Antique art dealers in France are campaigning against forthcoming EU regulations that aim to restrict illicit imports of cultural artefacts, but which critics say risk criminalising legitimate traders too. 

The European Commission says that the new rules will prevent the import of looted cultural goods that finance terrorism. 

The regulation requires new documentation for imported archaeological, antique and art objects found or made outside the EU. 

France’s National Union of Antiques Dealers (SNA) gave a press conference in Paris last month to push back against what speakers called “unreasonable and disproportionate” criteria.  

The SNA warns that the new rules, in effect from mid-2025, will have a “dramatic and damaging impact” on the EU’s art market. 

They also said that the legal onus for highly accurate provenance will unfairly criminalise many in the trade. 

‘Illicit unless proven otherwise’ 

According to UK-based consultant and adviser to art trade associations Ivan Macquisten, the law “deems an imported item illicit, unless proven otherwise”. 

He adds that this means a “reversal of the burden of proof”, effectively scrapping common property law that assumes the owner’s good faith. 

The SNA, which lobbies on behalf of around 300 French antique and art dealers, said that the regulation will also make it difficult for owners to donate cultural objects – like fossils, antiquities, texts and art – to museums.  

Owners of items over 200 years old that are valued above €18,000 will need an “importer statement”. They’ll also need an import licence for other items over 250 years old. 

Critics say finding the proof required for these documents will be costly or impossible.

SNA board member Anthony Meyer added that many owners have had items “for years”. 

“No one ever requested any form of information, any paper trail, because there was no obligation to do so. It was moral and legal at the time,” Meyer said.

“Today, the mentality has changed, and we are changing with it.” 

Looted art 

The EU says Europe’s large art market and close proximity to the Middle East and Africa make it a target for illicit trade.

The European Commission hopes that the law will curb a rise in looting in war-stricken countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. 

It’s also meant to address reports that goods imported and sold in the EU are financing terrorist activities, according to the commission’s website.

The SNA refuted the EU’s claims, citing two studies that the illicit art trade is smaller and less organised than reported.

“The fantasy that the art market is financing terrorism doesn’t exist,” said Yves-Bernard Debie, a Belgian art lawyer representing the SNA, claiming that the legislation responds to “fake news”. 

  • Outrage as 2,200-year-old shipwreck looted off French Riviera
  • Rare Roman statue returned to French museum 50 years after heist

Compromised market 

While EU-wide, the rules will hit hard in France, the world’s fourth-largest art market and the EU’s largest for such imports.

Meyer added that the SNA and other international trade groups want to work with lawmakers in Brussels to adjust the laws and add exclusions. 

According to the commission, exceptions will be made for objects that only briefly enter the EU, for example at institutional displays and commercial fairs. However, dealers say there’s no incentive to bring objects to a fair if they lack the licence to sell them.

“We’re trying to save all of our jobs, our market, [and] save the possibility for people to appreciate art and to own art,” said Meyer. 

“The antique market is one of the great purveyors of cultural information and knowledge. If you kill the market, you’re going to kill all of that information and appreciation.”

But with the regulation approved in 2019, the SNA has acknowledged that their lobbying has come late.

(with newswires)


Science

Push for UN protection of clouds driven by ‘weather weaponisation’ fears

The French National Assembly was confronted with a demand this week to have the clouds in our skies protected by Unesco. The move comes amid concerns that weather systems could be scientifically manipulated for military or civilian use. 

Who owns the clouds? A group of high school students, fearing the potential weaponisation of weather systems, put this question to the French parliament.

They were accompanied by French author and lawyer Mathieu Simonet who, in his book The End of Clouds, argues they are a precious natural resource in need of protection. 

“Since the 1940s, experiments have been carried out on clouds in around 50 countries with the aim of manipulating the climate,” Simonet told French daily Le Parisien.

The technique consists of injecting silver iodide or other substances into clouds from aeroplanes or canons on the ground, producing crystals of ice, Laurent Deguillaume, a physician at Clermont-Auvergne University, explained.

“They absorb humidity and turn into snow, ice or rain,” he added.  

Another technique involves injecting salt into clouds at high altitudes so water particles grow and are released faster. 

“The impact of these experiments is not yet well documented, and the idea could lead to exacerbating tensions between states,” Simonet warned.

He cited the 2018 example of an Iranian general who accused Israel of “stealing clouds”. The cliam was quickly refuted.

War tactics

There was also “Operation Popeye“, run by the Americans during the Vietnam War.

Between 1967 and 1972, the US carried out cloud seeding over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They caused floods that disrupted North Vietnamese military supplies by causing landslides.

The tactic created a scandal that resulted in a UN convention banning the “weaponisation of clouds”.

France was not a signatory. 

  • Adapting to climate change is like climbing a slippery slope: IPCC author

Rosa, a 15-year-old student from a school in a suburb near Paris, asked: “Who owns the clouds if they don’t belong to the Earth?”

“At first I wasn’t concerned about this subject, but then I realised it could be dangerous to have experiments going on,” she told Le Parisien.

“We have no real understanding of the effects this may have on military operations or the climate.”

Harmful consequences

As droughts worsen with global warming, more countries are turning to cloud seeding.

“If everyone starts bombing the atmosphere with silver iodide, then it will undoubtedly have harmful consequences due to the stocking of chemicals in the ground,” Deguillaume warned.

China, meanwhile, has invested more than a billion dollars into research. In 2022 Chinese authorities bombed the atmosphere to provoke rainfall over the Yangtze River to counter a historical drought, Simonet said.

Other Southeast Asian nations, like Indonesia, have turned to the technology to combat forest fires and smog.

Geoengineering has evolved considerably since World War II.

“In the last five years there has been a sharp increase in the number of countries using cloud seeding and the techniques are evolving quickly,” Simonet told RFI.

Last year saw 70 projects linked to environmental manipulation, many focused on clouds and solar energy.

The United Arab Emirates regularly uses cloud seeding techniques. In Dubai, drones are sent into the clouds to set off electric shocks to force rainfall.

But many scientists agree that when it comes to consequences there is much uncertainty.

Climatologist and member of the International Panel on Climate Change Robert Vautard said that allowing “apprentice wizards” to experiment sets a dangerous precedent.

Large quantities of chemicals would need to be used over two decades before visible effects could be measured. In the meantime, we can’t see the full impact on clouds, rainfall cycles and carbon emissions, Vautard said.

  • Extreme weather blamed for 195,000 deaths, €560 billion in damage over past 40 years: Report

Petition

More than 450 scientists and climate experts signed a petition in 2022 against geoengineering experiments of this kind, citing the “risks of uncontrollable side effects”.

Even if outright bans might not be possible, Simonet said, at the very least there should be best practice rules with future procedures documented and monitored by the scientific community.

He suggested that a parliamentary inquiry be launched in France to address the issue.

Gaëtan de Royer, the president of Koz, a consulting firm for public affairs supporting Simonet, said the request to Unesco makes sense.

“Our dream is that the Declaration of Human Rights will be revisited to include the rights of nature,” he told Le Parisien.

“By asking MPs to consider jurisdiction for the protection of the sky, we’re asking them an offbeat albeit serious question: doesn’t this cause deserve support seeing as the clouds are shared by all of humanity?”


Ocean mining

India dives into deep sea mining as it battles for a clean future

India hopes to widen an undersea hunt for limitless metals that hold the key to clean energy. The move comes amid warnings from France and others that harvesting the seas could devastate ecosystems.

India, already the holder of two exploration rights, has sought two more from the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

The country wishes to expand its hunt for cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese – materials that are essential for making solar panels, electric vehicles and defence systems.

India’s latest applications seek permissions to explore a vast patch of 75,000 square kilometres of the metal-rich Indian Ocean covering 70.5 million square kilometres of the planet.

More than 1.5 million square kilometres of the international seabed have already been marked for exploration.

A clearance by the Jamaica based ISA will make India’s seabed permit count climb to four, bringing it on par with Russia and one behind China, a nation opposed to any pause to underwater activity. 

Sri Lanka has also staked a claim on a patch in the Bay of Bengal.

Several countries have opposed the mad rush by maritime prospectors. French President Emmanuel Macron, in 2022, became the first head of state to seek an outright ban on undersea mining in international waters, though this has not yet eventuated. 

Natural historian David Attenborough lent his voice as he, too, wants a halt to deep sea mining, describing it as the destruction of “an ecosystem about which we know pathetically little”. 



Seabed sprint

All eyes are on ISA for the 1.2 million square kilometres of seabed it has opened for exploration with 30 licences granted since 2001.

The UN-backed organisation is set to publish mining regulations next year. 

“We are at the threshold of a new era of deep seabed mining,” said ISA secretary general Michael Lodge, predicting a fevered race among stakeholders.

Analysts say India’s move to seek new licences will provoke China – a country with 17 percent of the licensed area.

“China will have rights to 92,000 square miles of seabed once commercial mining gets the green light,” a Delhi-based Asian ambassador said.

“It is an excellent idea to have countries like India and others to act as a counterweight to our Communist friend,” the diplomat added on the condition of anonymity.

“China must know that it takes two to tango,” they said on the anticipated race between nations to take claims to maritime windfalls worth tens of billions of euros.

Marine riches

India estimates that 380 million tonnes of rare deposits in the Indian Ocean basin will easily cross the staggering mark of 102 billion euros.

A bonus of gold and silver is also likely among the treasure trove, according to India’s government, which in 2019 forked over 887 million euros for exploration.

Another sum of 452 million euros was set aside in 2021 for five years.

The appetite for marine reserves has prompted several countries, including India, to start developing submersibles to carry humans to a depth of six kilometres.

ISA says the limitless deposits in the Indian Ocean can make India self-sufficient and help the world’s third largest emitter reach its promised net zero target by 2070.


Paris Olympics 2024

Olympics windfall brings prospects of happy days to Paris suburbs

Olympics naysayers would be given short shrift at the moment in and around the Paris suburbs of Le Bourget and Dugny.

Following the formal launch a €650 million regeneration project of 70 hectares, the self and the external perception of this flat plains hinterland some 20 kilometres to the north of Paris will undergo an existential change.

The new Gymnase Marie Paradis – named in homage of the first woman to climb Mont Blanc – forms the centrepiece of a revamped sports complex in the Le Bourget end of the grandly titled Cluster des Médias.

Cross a new footbridge over the A1 motorway into Dugny and voilà Le Plateau and L’Air des Vents – two tranches of land dotted with slick new apartment blocks providing just over 1,000 new abodes in what has been anointed the Village des Médias.

Aptly named too. For the first technicians will arrive from abroad over the next few days to use the homes as lodgings while they toil at the nearby International Broadcast Centre at the Le Bourget Exhibition Centre during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Once they’ve all gone home, the homes will be spruced up and sold as part of the fabled legacy strand of the contemporary Olympics extravaganza.

Chance

“It’s essentially an opportunity for people from Dugny to buy a home … especially those who couldn’t necessarily afford one,” said Quentin Gesell, the mayor of Dugny.

“It’s a chance for people from Dugny as well as from all over the Seine Saint Denis region to get larger homes to accommodate their growing families.”

Gesell – born and bred in Dugny – knows the misfortunes of living in an outback squeezed in between Le Bourget airport and the 400-hectare Georges Valbron park. Promises. Promises. Promises. So many made over the years, he recounts.

“The Universal Exhibition in 2004 was supposed to take place on the site of the media village, but unfortunately it was abandoned,” lamented the 30-year-old.

“But the Olympic Games has been the project that has made the regeneration happen. And it’s something to be proud of. In the town where I grew up, we’re going to welcome the whole world here.”

After the Games, another 13 hectares will be added to Georges Valbron park following the clean-up and landscaping of the former military oil and gas storage site Le Terrain des Essences. The 20-hectare Air des Vents – which has been mainly used as a car park for the Le Bourget Air show a – will become a separate park.

During the games, the climbing walls inside the Gymnase Marie Paradis will act as a warm-up and training zone for the sport climbing which will take place on the specially constructed walls outside between between 5 and 10 August.

And though the walls outside will disappear along with the temporary stands, the climbing walls inside the gym will remain for use by the soon to be installed Le Bourget sport climbing club.

Traditional gymnasium sports such as badminton, volleyball, handball and basketball will share the space which acted as an impromptu salon for the inauguration of the Cluster des Medias.

Pride

“I take my hat off to you all,” sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said in front of 200 or so engineers, landscapers and artisans who had worked on the revamp.

As industry minister Roland Lesclure stood approvingly at her side, she added: “You’ve worked very hard over the years and now you’re delivering a whole complex, a whole extraordinary area, on time. 

“It will allow us to be extremely proud to welcome more than 1,500 journalists and technicians from all over the world.”

If the Cluster des Médias serves as a microcosm of French technical diligence and wondrousness, security concerns highlighted the fragilities swirling amid the pomp and circumstance.

Fear

France has asked its foreign allies to send several thousand members of their security services to help guard the Olympic, it emerged on Thursday.

Poland’s defence minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz confirmed his country was joining an international coalition established for the Olympics.

It is understood that the French government has asked 46 allies to send just over 2,000 police reinforcements to join up to 45,000 French police and gendarmes who will be deployed each day during the Olympics between 26 July and 11 August.  Another 20,000 private security guards will be on the ground for the Games.

“The terrorist threat is real,” French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on Monday as he announced that the country’s security forces had been placed on emergency alert – the highest level – following a terrorist attack in Moscow on 22 March that left more than 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Future

Thoughts of such atrocities were far from the thoughts of the local and regional dignitaries standing or glad-handing their way around the Gymnase Marie Paradis as Oudéa-Castéra and Lesclure concluded their cheerleading.

Gesell, though, was happily landlocked and loaded to enjoy the future.  

“We’ve not been well known as a town,” he conceded. “But now we find ourselves at the centre of the universe due to the Cluster des Médias.

“And we’re also getting closer to Paris too. In three years, we’ll have the Grand Paris Express railway and the automatic metro lines 16 and 17. So it’s a really great opportunity to come and live in Dugny.”

Cheaper housing costs will certainly embellish the allure as prices within the confines of inner Paris continue to rise.  

Gesell added confidently: “We’ll be able to come to this area in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years and say that the Paris 2024 Olympic Games were here and look at what’s left.”


ENVIRONMENT – POLITICS

Green credentials at stake as EU scrambles to save nature restoration law

The European Union’s green commitments are on shaky ground as countries remain split over the bloc’s flagship nature restoration law – one of the biggest environmental policies ever put forward. The divisions underscore the profound impact that protests by farmers have had on EU politics. 

Aimed at reversing decades of damage to the EU’s land and water habitats, the law is a crucial pillar of the EU’s ambitious climate agenda.  

It obliges countries to restore nature on a fifth of land and sea ecosystems by 2030. This rises to 60 percent by 2040 and at least 90 percent by 2050.  

The law, which took two years to engineer, was approved by the EU parliament in February – despite a last-minute revolt by the centre-right European People’s Party.  

It was on its way to being rubber-stamped during a final vote by environmental ministers – usually a formality – on Monday when Hungary suddenly withdrew its support. 

This meant the policy no longer had the requisite backing of at least 55 percent of EU countries that represent 65 percent of the population – so the vote on it was indefinitely postponed. 

Hungary joins Finland, Poland, Belgium and Austria as countries who say they’ll abstain, while Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands continue to staunchly oppose the policy. 

  • Greater biodiversity shields forests from climate extremes, say scientists

Reputation at stake

Now, it appears, everything is back on the table – despite the many months of hoop-jumping, text rewrites, backroom negotiations, compromises, and kowtowing to farmers worried about the impacts on industry.  

Abandoning policy at such a late stage in the EU lawmaking process is highly unusual. Environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius warned that shelving the law will put the bloc’s international reputation on the line. 

“I cannot avoid expressing my deep regret. The current stalemate raises serious questions about the coherence and stability of EU decision-making,” Sinkevicius told ministers following the unexpected about-face by Budapest. 

Having positioned itself as a global leader on climate policy – and pushing other countries to back stronger targets to protect nature – the EU, he said, risked going “empty-handed” to the next Cop16 biodiversity summit in November. 

“We are fooling ourselves if we pretend that we can win our fight against climate change without nature,” Sinkevicius added. 

  • One in five migratory species faces extinction, UN report warns

Failing habitats

Data shows more than 80 percent of Europe’s habitats are in poor condition. Scientists say that reversing this damage will help ensure food security, protect against extreme weather events and reduce emissions.  

Ministers from member states who support the nature restoration law – also intended to help Europe achieve its aim of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 – have been outspoken over its scuppering. 

“How could we say we’ve decided not to restore nature?” Irish Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said. “Not to deliver on the protection of biodiversity is a shocking statement to the rest of the world.” 

Spanish Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera said it was worrying to see that obstructionism was becoming “customary” in the EU Council. 

Meanwhile Greenpeace said that governments “torpedoing the first tiny steps towards restoring European nature” was disgraceful.

  • France presents strategy to protect biodiversity without ‘brutality’

Farmer protests

The nature law is one of several environmental policies in EU nations to come under fire as governments seek to quell months of angry protests by farmers who say overly strict rules are bankrupting them at a time when food security is being compromised by the Ukraine war. 

“The agricultural sector is a very important sector, not only in Hungary, but everywhere in Europe,” Hungarian environment minister Aniko Raisz said. 

The deadlock over the law’s future comes as the EU gears up for parliamentary elections in June – polls that are widely expected to see a shift to the right as conservative parties appeal to rural voters who object to excessive red tape from Brussels. 

It’s now up to Belgium, holder of the rotating EU Council presidency, to engineer a consensus among member states.  

Belgium itself has said it will abstain from the vote. 


Senegal

Change afoot for Senegal as Bassirou Diomaye Faye readies for power

Five days after Senegal’s landmark presidential vote, elected leader Bassirou Diomaye Faye is getting ready for a swift transition – promising to overhaul the way the country is run.

Outgoing president Macky Sall held his last government meeting in the capital Dakar this week with both Faye and fellow opposition figure Ousmane Sonko.

Sall’s last-minute postponement of the vote and the ensuing rushed electoral timetable had cast doubt over whether the handover could take place before the end of his term on 2 April.

A swift transfer of power in Senegal, described as a beacon of democracy in West Africa, would help build stability in the coup-hit region.

Faye and his team, formed from members of the Pastef party, say they’re be ready for next week’s handover, which is rumoured to happen the day Sall steps down.

The president-elect has said he will form his first government on 5 April – the day after Senegal celebrates its independence from France.

‘Surprise’ win

“Faye’s victory took many by surprise,” security analyst Babacar Ndiaye, from the Timbuktu Institute, told RFI. “The days after the election have been really peaceful so it’s a success for democracy.”

Faye’s win largely came about because of people’s anger against Sall’s autocratic and oppressive drift, Ndiaye added.

Now he and Sonko must deliver the change they promised.

Having never held elected office, Faye is set to become the fifth president of Senegal, which has a population of around 18 million people.

On Monday he promised to restore national “sovereignty” and implement his programme of “leftwing pan-Africanism“. He said he would prioritise national reconciliation, rebuilding institutions and reducing the cost of living.

Faye’s presidency could herald a profound overhaul of Senegal’s institutions.

He has spoken of reducing so-called “hyper-presidentialism” and of reintroducing the position of vice president. Some say that role might be offered to Sonko, his mentor and former Pastef party leader.

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

Faye has said he wants to slim down the government by getting rid of positions and institutions seen as useless, including the Social and Economic Council, and the High Council for Local Governments.

“This could save billions a year – money that could be used for programmes targeted at reducing inequality,” Ndiaye said.

Faye’s policies could also have regional impacts: he has promised a change in the monetary system, dropping the colonial CFA franc and switching to an Ecowas-led currency first, the “eco”. If this doesn’t come about, he’ll introduce a national currency.

“This could change Senegal by addressing the needs of the people – especially the poorest and the weakest,” Ndiaye said.

It also puts a lot of responsibility on the presidency.

“It’s one thing to be popular, but another to deliver and show good management skills.”


artificial intelligence

France appoints engineer to lead artificial intelligence safety summit

French President Emmanuel Macron has tasked engineer Anne Bouverot with organising the world’s next Artificial Intelligence (AI) safety summit, which is set to take place in France.

Bouverot has been asked to continue “ongoing international initiatives to contribute to an open and democratic global governance of AI”.

The first such summit was organised by the UK in November last year in Bletchley Park, of World War II code-breaker fame. It resulted in the Bletchley Declaration, which was signed by 28 countries.

The declaration states that AI has the potential to “transform and enhance human wellbeing, peace and prosperity”, but adds that it should be “designed, developed, deployed and used in a manner that is safe … human-centric, trustworthy and responsible”.

There has been much excitement over the development of artificial intelligence since OpenAI’s ChatGPT arrived on the scene in late 2022, but the concerns over the potential harm the technology could cause have grown in parallel.

Disinformation

For example, the EU called on Facebook, TikTok and other tech giants on Tuesday this week to crack down on deepfakes and other AI-generated content by using clear labels ahead of Europe-wide polls in June.

Brussels especially fears the impact of Russian manipulation and disinformation on the elections, taking place in the bloc’s 27 member states.

The EU has unleashed a string of measures under its newly approved Digital Services Act (DSA) to clamp down on big tech – especially regarding content moderation.

  • Political and tech leaders tackle AI safety at inaugural summit
  • Macron promises to boost investment in French artificial intelligence

Bouverot did her PhD in AI at the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) university, where she is also chairwoman of the board of directors.

She also co-chairs the 15-member Generative AI Committee, which was established on in September 2023 by then prime minister Elisabeth Borne.

The committee has recommended that France invest €5 billion yearly over five years to keep up with the United States and China.

France’s summit will be proceeded by a mini virtual summit on AI to be hosted in May by South Korea, where the Bletchley Declaration and follow-up actions will be discussed.

Earlier this month the G7 – which includes the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada – said there were ongoing efforts to “advance and reinforce inter-operability between AI governance frameworks”.

(with newswires)

The Sound Kitchen

The Bocuse d’Or International Cooking Competition

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This week on The Sound Kitchen, a special treat: You’ll hear about the European final from one of the world’s most prestigious cooking competitions. 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 about a European “cook-off”: 20 young chefs from Europe compete for the chance to make it to the international finals of the cooking competition founded by the beloved French chef, Paul Bocuse. 

The quiz will be back next Saturday, 6 April. Be sure and tune in! 

Spotlight on France

Podcast: France-Russia relations, hair discrimination, tax history

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How France’s new hardline position on Russia marks a major shift away from decades of pro-Russia policies. The fight to make hair discrimination illegal. And why VAT – a tax introduced 70 years ago – is so important to French finances, despite being deeply unequal.

French President Emmanuel Macron has recently done a U-turn on Russia:  having argued against humiliating Russia following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he has now become one of President Vladimir Putin’s biggest critics. Journalist Elsa Vidal, the head of RFI’s Russia service, author of La fascination russe (The fascination with Russia), talks about France’s long history of Russophile foreign policy and how it has been coloured by a certain anti-Americanism. It led to complacency – even blindness – over Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule. (Listen @0’30)

France’s parliament has begun debating legislation against a form of discrimination that’s often overlooked: prejudicial treatment on the basis of hair. The bill is inspired by laws in the United States, where anti-racism campaigners have long argued that black people face unfair pressure to change their natural hair. Artist and activist Guylaine Conquet, who first came up with the idea for the French bill, explains why France is taking a different approach from the US: her proposal would classify hair discrimination as discrimination on the basis of physical appearance, not race. That’s in line with France’s universalist, “colour-blind” approach to racial discrimination, but also broadens the application of the law to everyone. (Listen @21’10) 

France was the first country to introduce a Value Added Tax (VAT), on 10 April 1954. 70 years later, the tax brings in more than half of France’s revenue, and far more than income tax. Economist Julien Blasco explains that while VAT is regressive, it serves to fund crucial social welfare programmes. (Listen @16’30)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

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

International report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue-water navy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions with Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Drone diplomacy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sound Kitchen

There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 34

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

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday. This week, you’ll hear musical requests from your fellow listeners Bidhan Chandra Sanyal from West Bengal, India, Helmut Matt from Herbolzheim, Germany, and Jayanta Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India.

Be sure you send in your music requests! Write to me at  thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Aaj Na Chhodenge” by Rahul Dev Burman, sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar; Simple Symphony by Benjamin Britten, performed by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer, and “Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley, performed by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

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

Spotlight on Africa

The long path to Senegal’s troubled presidential elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also read:

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

     


 

Episode mixed by Guillaume Buffet. 

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 

International report

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

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

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

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

Deepfake videos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call for action

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

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

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

  • 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.


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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.