rfi 2024-04-13 01:05:58



Geopolitics

Brussels aims to remove Chinese energy giants from the EU market

Beijing said Wednesday it was “highly concerned” over a European Union probe into Chinese wind turbine suppliers.

The probe is just the latest move by Brussels targeting the country over green tech subsidies suspected of undermining fair competition.

The European Commission will look into conditions for the development of wind parks in France, Spain, Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria.

EU anti-trust commissioner Margrethe Vestager said on Tuesday that the Commission is putting into effect a law that was designed to decrease imports of products by companies that are subsidised by their home countries.

Vestager did not name the Chinese companies which will be investigated by the European Union’s executive during a lecture delivered on Tuesday at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in the United States.



An investigation carried out under the Foreign Subsidies Regulation (FSR,) which was introduced on 12 July 2023, allows Brussels to probe companies bidding in public tenders in the bloc larger than €250 million. 

French energy companies

“We fully understand the Commission’s rationale,” says Giles Dickson, the CEO of WindEurope, a lobby group for the industry.

“Chinese wind turbine manufacturers are offering much lower prices than European manufacturers and incredibly generous financing terms with up to three years deferred payment,” he says.

“You can’t do that without unfair public subsidy. What’s more the European manufacturers aren’t allowed to offer deferred payment like that under OECD rules.”

The investigation and steps that may follow, are likely to affect the French energy companies in their choice of material.

In November, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that French energy provider Neoen was “waiting for ‘green light’ from banks to buy Chinese wind turbines,” as turbines manufactured by western companies are “persistently expensive due to inflated raw materials costs.”

Quoting Neoen’s CEO Xavier Barbaro, S&P said that “Neoen is already dependent on China for its supply of solar panels and, as such, is on board with the prospect of Chinese turbines and their bankability.”

But this may change if the EU investigation points out that prospective Chinese partners are receiving state subsidies.

Angry reaction

China doesn’t agree. In a first, angry reaction, the Brussels-based China Chamber of Commerce to the EU (CCCEU) Beijing issued a statement, saying that they “firmly oppose” the investigation.

“While deliberately ignoring the significant subsidies granted by certain countries to their emerging green industries, the European side has imposed obstacles and market barriers against Chinese enterprises operating in the green sector,” according to the CCCEU.

“This not only contravenes the principles of fair market competition, but also undermines the EU’s commitment to enhancing international cooperation in global emission reduction and low-carbon coordination.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning criticised EU “protectionism”, telling journalists it “protects backwardness… and causes multiple losses”.

“China is highly concerned about the discriminatory measures taken by the European side against Chinese enterprises and even industries,” she added, “protectionism does not solve one’s own problems.”

  • Expansion of North Sea wind farms tops the agenda at Ostend energy summit
  • EU seeks to protect sensitive technology from Chinese buyers

Solar panels and EV’s

It is the third time that Brussels is applying the FSR against China.

Earlier FSR investigations targeted Chinese subsidies for solar panels, electric cars and trains.

The EU opened its first probe under the FSR in February, targeting a subsidiary of Chinese rail giant CRRC, the world’s largest rolling stock manufacturer in terms of revenue.

That investigation was closed after the subsidiary withdrew from a tender in Bulgaria to supply electric trains.

A second probe announced last week targets two Chinese-owned solar panel manufacturers seeking to build and operate a photovoltaic park in Romania, partly financed by European funds, Longi Green Energy Technology, the world’s biggest solar panel manufacturer and the state-owned Shanghai Electric group.

Earlier on, the EU carried out investigations into the imports of Chinese electric vehicles (evs.)

Last month, the EU Commission said it found evidence of “massive imports” of the Chinese electric vehicles in a relatively short period of time, including a “substantial increase” of 14% since the investigation was launched in September, and on March 5, Brussels published rules to limit the import of evs from China.


France – Canada

French PM defends Ceta trade deal on visit to Canada, despite lawmakers’ rejection

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau defended the free-trade agreement between the European Union and Canada, which Attal called a “win-win deal” for both sides, but whose full implementation has been stalled by French lawmakers.

“Ceta is a win-win deal,” Attal said on Thursday at a news conference with Trudeau in Ottawa during a three-day visit to Canada, insisting that the deal, which was approved at the EU level, still applies despite French lawmakers rejection.

“Since it came into force, trade between our two countries has progressed by more than a third,” Attal said, adding that the deal has been particularly beneficial to French farmers.

Following weeks of protests by farmers against free trade policies they say hurt their bottom line, the French Senate last month voted against ratifying the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which was approved by the European parliament in early 2017.

  • Is France misguided to keep rejecting the EU-Mercosur trade deal?

Attal said that French lawmakers would be asked to vote again on the ratification, without giving any details.

Trudeau said Canada would continue to “demonstrate the positive impact on citizens of trade and responsible commerce between friends and allies who share the same values.”

France is one of ten European countries that have not ratified the agreement, which includes preferential access to Canadian minerals, such as uranium or lithium, which are critical for energy transition.

Trade between the EU and Canada has increased since the war in Ukraine, as European countries substituted Russian imports for Canadian products.

During Attal’s visit, the two leaders talked about the war in Ukraine, as well as the crisis in Haiti and the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

(with newswires)


France

Food deliveries to be top activity for French postal service by 2035, says CEO

With fewer people sending each other letters, France’s post office will change its strategic plan for the next ten years, looking to significantly increase its home meal delivery business – aimed in particular at elderly people – and to continue to deliver parcels.

“We are committed to our public service missions,” Philippe Wahl, the CEO of France’s postal service, La Poste, told the French Senate on Wednesday, but “[we] are under pressure”.

Wahl said letter and parcel deliveries dropped from 70 percent of France’s post office business in 1990 to just 15 percent by the end of 2024, as letters have been replaced by e-mails and most invoices are now digital.

The steady decline over the last ten years has left a €6 billion gap in the group’s business.

Five million meals in 2023

The challenge is to ensure that La Poste’s 65,000 employees “continue to serve the country, even when there are no more letters”, said Wahl, adding that La Poste is making a “strategic gamble” with parcel and meal delivery, which it “is in the process of winning”.

With its several parcel delivery services – Colissimo, Chronopost and DPD – La Poste is “by far” the biggest player in the French domestic parcel delivery market.

France’s post office also also carries out ten percent of food deliveries nationwide.

Working with community centres, hospitals and caterers, drivers bring more than 15,000 meals per day to mostly elderly people, Wahl said.

La Poste delivered 5 million meals last year and hopes to double that figure for 2024.

By 2035 Wahl predicted that “food deliveries will be the top activity for postal workers”.

  • France’s state finances deteriorate as it misses target on cutting deficit
  • Deliveroo in France ordered to pay substantial fine for not declaring gig economy workers

Mobile offices in rural areas

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of post offices are closing, much to the dismay of the local populations they serve.

There are only 7,000 post offices left in France, compared with 14,000 at the end of the 1990s.

For 40 percent of village post offices, fewer than five customers turn up a day.

Wahl said La Poste is consulting with local mayors on the issue, and said the group planned to launch “yellow lorries”, or mobile multiservice offices, in rural areas, which should be on the road by the end of April.

(With newswires)


Mali

Mali political parties to challenge junta’s order suspending political activities

Political parties and civil society groups in Mali have rejected the suspension of political activities by the country’s military rulers and plan to mount a legal challenge to the order from the junta which also banned media coverage of political parties.

In a declaration, parties and civil society groups said they were astonished by the decree issued Wednesday suspending all activities by political parties and groups, until further notice.

The signatories to the declaration called the decision a “serious violation… of democratic freedoms.”

The junta justified suspending political activities in order to maintain public order, though the decree comes as political groups and civil society organisations have been pushing for the junta to organise elections, to return the country to civilian rule.

Mali has been under military rule since a first coup in 2020. In September the junta indefinitely postponed elections promised for February, citing technical reasons.

In an online post senior opposition politician Housseini Guindo called out “dictatorial drift” and said it was time for people “to resist this ignominy and initiate civil disobedience until the fall of the illegal and illegitimate regime”.

On Thursday Mali’s high authority for communication issued a statement calling on “all media (radio, television, written press and online) to halt broadcast and publication of the activities of political parties and the activities of a political nature of associations”.

It did not indicate what would happen to media organisations that did not observe the ban.

The political parties and civil society groups said they would challenge the decree in court, and refuse to participate in any government activity, including ongoing national talks.

(with Reuters)


Cannes Festival

Cannes reveals 19-film line-up featuring Coppola and Cronenberg

Nineteen films have been picked to compete for the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France in May. The prize can give a major boost for arthouse films such as last year’s winner Anatomy of a Fall that went on to win an avalanche of awards, including best original screenplay at the Oscars.

The 77th edition of the festival on the French Cote d’Azur, considered the most prestigious in the film industry, runs from May 14 to 25. 

This year’s competition for the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize, includes another team-up between Emma Stone and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos – Kinds of Kindness – just weeks after Stone’s Oscar win for their Frankenstein-style satire Poor Things.

The Apprentice, a biopic about the early years of Donald Trump by Iran-born director Ali Abbasi, is also expected to draw attention. 

And there’s sure to be a buzz around Coppola’s Megalopolis, that marks the return of The Godfather director to Cannes at the age of 85. 

‘Honoured’ to premier Coppola

Coppola has twice won the Palme d’Or – for The Conversation (1974) and, controversially, for Apocalypse Now, which was not even finished when it premiered at the festival in 1979.

The self-funded Megalopolis is said to be a Roman political drama transplanted to modern-day New York, featuring Adam Driver and Forest Whitaker. 

“We are overjoyed that he has done us the honour of coming to present this film,” festival director Thierry Fremaux told reporters.



Just 4 female directors

The festival opens with Le Deuxième Acte (Second Act) by Quentin Dupieux, out of competition.

This year’s jury is led by Barbie director Greta Gerwig, who “embodies perfectly the soul of the festival”, said Cannes president Iris Knobloch.

Two highly topical films will have special screenings –La Belle de Gaza follows transsexual Palestinians moving to Israel, while The Invasion by Sergei Loznitsa centres on the war in his native Ukraine

The much-awaited Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga by George Miller is among those premiering, but out of competition.

Only 19 entries competing for the top prize were announced Thursday – there are usually around 22 – though more may be added. 

While the festival set a record last year in terms of female representation, with seven female directors in the official competition, this year only four out of the 19 entries are directed by women. 

Films in competition for Palme d’Or (Golden Palm):

  • The Apprentice by Ali Abbasi
  • Motel Destino by Karim Ainouz
  • Bird by Andrea Arnold
  • Emilia Perez by Jacques Audiard
  • Anora by Sean Baker
  • Megalopolis by Francis Ford Coppola
  • The Shrouds by David Cronenberg
  • The Substance by Coralie Fargeat
  • Grand Tour by Miguel Gomes
  • Marcello Mio by Christophe Honore
  • Caught By The Tides by Jia Zhang-Ke
  • All We Imagine As Light by Payal Kapadia
  • Kinds of Kindness by Yorgos Lanthimos
  • L’Amour Ouf (lit. Crazy Love) by Gilles Lellouche
  • Wild Diamond by Agathe Riedinger
  • Oh Canada by Paul Schrader
  • Liminov – The Ballad by Kirill Serebrennikov
  • Parthenope by Paolo Sorrentino
  • The Girl With The Needle by Magnus von Horn   

Premiering at Cannes but out of competition:

  • Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga by George Miller
  • Horizon, An American Saga by Kevin Costner
  • A Second Act by Quentin Dupieux
  • She’s Got No Name by Peter Ho-Sun Chan
  • Rumours by Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson and Guy Maddin

Competing in the Un certain regard festival, presided by Xavier Dolan:

  • Norah by Tawfik Alzaidi
  • The Shameless  by Konstantin Bojanov
  • Le Royaume by Julien Colonna | 1st film
  • Vingt Deux ! by Louise Courvoisier | 1st film
  • Le procès du chien by Laetitia Dosch | 1st film (Who let the dog bite?)
  • Gou Zhen by Guan Hu (Black Dog)
  • The village next to paradise by Mo Harawe | 1st film
  • September says by Ariane Labed | 1st film
  • L’histoire de Souleymane by Boris Lojkine
  • The Damned by Roberto Minervini
  • On Becoming a guinea fowl by Rungano Nyoni
  • Boku No Ohisama by Hiroshi Okuyama (My Sunshine)
  • Santosh by Sandhya
  • Suri Viet and Nam by Truong Minh Quý
  • Armand by Halfdan Ullmann Tondel | 1st film

(With AFP)


Migration policies

EU parliament approves landmark overhaul of asylum rules

The EU parliament on Wednesday adopted a contentious reform of Europe’s asylum policies that will harden border procedures and force all the bloc’s 27 nations to share responsibility.

The parliament’s main political groups overcame opposition from far-right and far-left parties to pass the EU Asylum and Migration Pact – a sweeping reform nearly a decade in the making.

It will come into force in 2026, after the European Commission sets out in coming months how it would be implemented.

New border centres will hold irregular migrants while their asylum requests are vetted, and speed up deportations of those deemed inadmissible.

It will also require EU countries to take in thousands of asylum-seekers from “frontline” states such as Italy and Greece. Alternatively, they could provide money or other resources to the under-pressure nations.

A controversial measure is the sending of asylum-seekers to countries outside the EU that are deemed “safe”, if the migrant has sufficient ties to that country.

Parliament reactions

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the new rules a “historic, indispensable step” for the European Union.



The migration minister for Greece, one of the countries worst affected by arrivals of growing numbers of undocumented migrants, echoed this comment.

“This is a major breakthrough and a very important step towards a common, and therefore more effective, management of the migration challenges of our time,” Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, said the adoption of this reform was a “huge achievement for Europe”. “Today is indeed a historic day,” she added.

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said the bloc “will be able to better protect our external borders, the vulnerable and refugees, swiftly return those not eligible to stay” and introduce “mandatory solidarity” between member states.

  • EU risks becoming ‘complicit’ in migrant deaths, watchdog warns
  • UN says 2023 was the deadliest year on record for migrants

UNHCR backs reform

Outside the Brussels parliament building, dozens of demonstrators protested against the vote, echoing criticism from more than 160 migrant charities and non-governmental organisations who view it as a betrayal of European Union values.

In a sign of the fierce opposition, the start of voting was interrupted by protesters in the public gallery yelling “This pact kills – vote no!” until the chamber was brought to order.

But the UNHCR refugee agency’s chief has endorsed the reform, drawn up by the European Commission since massive inflows jolted the bloc in 2015.

Opposition to reforms

For the far-left, the reforms, which include building border centres to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside “safe” countries, were incompatible with Europe’s commitment to upholding human rights.

It was “a pact with the devil,” said Damien Careme, a lawmaker from the Greens group.



Far-right lawmakers complained the overhaul did not go far enough to block access to irregular migrants, whom they accuse of spreading insecurity and threatening to “submerge” European identity.

“We won’t allow ourselves to be replaced or submerged,” Jordan Bardella, a lawmaker heading France’s far-right National Rally party whose figurehead is Marine Le Pen, said in the pre-vote debate.

‘Problematic elements’

The mainstream centrist right and left in parliament had called for the pact to be passed as an improvement over the current situation.

Last year 380,000 people entered the EU illegally, the highest number since 2016.

They warned that failure to pass the reforms would boost the far-right, predicted to become a bigger force in the European Parliament following June elections.



Sophie In ‘T Veld, a key figure pushing the package through, acknowledged “problematic elements, risks and weaknesses”, but said that overall it marked a step forward.

Deals with neighbours

The pact has wended through years of thorny talks and compromises ever since the bloc was confronted with large numbers of irregular migrants who arrived in 2015, many from war-torn Syria.

Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers, and returning those deemed inadmissable. That has put southern states under pressure and fuelled far-right sentiment.

A political breakthrough came in December when a weighted majority of EU countries backed the reforms, overcoming opposition from Hungary and Poland.

  • EU countries strike deal for major overhaul of asylum system

In parallel with the reform, the EU has been multiplying the same sort of deal it struck with Turkey in 2016 to stem migratory flows.

It has reached accords with Tunisia and, most recently Egypt, that are portrayed as broader cooperation arrangements. Many lawmakers have, however, criticised the deals.

(With newswires)


France

Rights groups complain to UN over French police racial profiling

Rights watchdogs including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Thursday said they were seeking UN help to end racial profiling by the French police.

Evidence and testimonies from victims and police show that in France “racial profiling particularly targets black and Arab young men and boys or those perceived as such, including children as young as 10,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

“These abusive and illegal identity checks, which are widespread throughout the country and deeply rooted in police practices, constitute systemic racial discrimination.”

HRW and Amnesty International France, as well as three other French groups, lodged a complaint with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.



France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), in October last year found that racial profiling by the police was not limited to “isolated cases”.

But “the government has taken no action to address the problem,” said HRW.

“By failing to take the necessary measures to put an end to this practice, the French government is failing to meet its obligations under several international treaties,” it added.

The UN committee monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which France has signed.

‘Excessive use of force’

In July last year, it had already raised concern about “excessive use of force by law enforcement” in France and called on the country to ban racial profiling.

The comments came after the fatal police shooting the previous month of a 17-year-old teenager named Nahel during a traffic stop, in an incident that revived long-standing grievances about policing in low-income and multi-ethnic neighbourhoods.

France’s rights ombudsman in 2017 found that a young person “perceived as black or Arab” was 20 times more likely to face an identity check than the rest of the population.

(with AFP)


Cryptocurrencies

FTX crypto exchange founder appeals fraud conviction, 25-year prison sentence

Former billionaire crypto trader Sam Bankman-Fried has filed an appeal against his fraud conviction and 25-year jail sentence for stealing $8 billion from customers of the now-bankrupt FTX cryptocurrency exchange he founded in one of the biggest financial frauds in the history of the United States, which impacted victims all over the world, including France.

Lawyers filed the appeal Thursday, two weeks after US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan set the prison term for Bankman-Fried and ordered him to pay $11 billion in forfeiture.

A federal jury in New York found him guilty of seven counts of fraud and conspiracy in November 2023.

But Bankman-Fried’s lawyers argue that Kaplan made significant errors that made the trial unfair, and deprived their client of his legal rights.

Bankman-Fried’s downfall came in November 2022, when the cryptocurrency exchange he co-founded three years earlier filed for bankruptcy after a run of customer withdrawals, following revelations that billions of dollars had been illegally moved from FTX to Bankman-Fried’s personal hedge fund, Alameda Research.

Millions of people around the world lost money, some their life savings, including tens of thousands in France.

  • Podcast: Cryptocurrency woes

‘Bad decisions’

During the trial, Bankman-Fried, testifying in his own defense, acknowledged he made mistakes managing risk, but denied he stole money.

During the sentencing hearing, he expressed regret about the disappearance of the company, which also affected many colleagues.

“It haunts me every day,” he said. “I made a series of bad decisions. They weren’t selfish decisions. They weren’t selfless decisions. They were bad decisions.”

Judge Kaplan said Bankman-Fried had not fully accepted responsibility for what he characterized as “brazen” violations, and said he had an “exceptional flexibility” with the truth.

Appeal could take years

Bankman-Fried’s lawyers have complained that prosecutors worked too closely with FTX’s bankruptcy estate, and asked it to hand over only information that would help their case.

Three former associates testified as prosecution witnesses against Bankman-Fried, saying he ordered them to use FTX funds to pay Alameda’s debts, make political donations and buy luxury real estate in the Bahamas. They pleaded guilty to fraud and are awaiting sentencing.

Bankman-Fried’s appeal could take years, with the case potentially ending up in front of the US Supreme Court.

(with newswires)


Assisted dying

French government presents bill to let terminally ill patients end their lives

France’s government has presented a controversial bill on assisted dying that would allow terminally ill patients to take lethal medication, as public demands grow for legal options for aid in dying.

French people seeking to end their lives are travelling to neighbouring countries, such as Belgium or Switzerland, where medically assisted suicide is legal.

In early March, President Emmanuel Macron announced that a “French-style” bill was in the pipeline, with strict conditions for accessing aid in dying, though he refrained from using the terms assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Sketching out the contours of the future law on Wednesday, health Minister Catherine Vautrin said it provided for the introduction of “aid in dying” under certain conditions for patients at the end of their lives who are affected by “physical or psychological suffering” as a result of their illness.

Strict conditions

To benefit from the newly proposed measure, patients would need to be over 18 and be French citizens or live in France, and the prognosis would have to be terminal in the short to medium term, Vautrin said following a Cabinet meeting.

A team of medical professionals would need to confirm that the patient has a grave and incurable illness, is suffering from intolerable and untreatable pain, and is seeking lethal medication of their own free will.

The latter condition will effectively exclude patients suffering from psychiatric conditions or neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The patient would initiate the request for lethal medication and confirm the request following a period of reflection, Vautrin said.

If approved, a doctor would then deliver a prescription, valid for three months, for the lethal medication.

People would be able to take it at home, at a nursing home or a health care facility.

If they are unable to do so – as for people suffering from Charcot’s disease –  they can appoint a third party to carry out the procedure.

  • French euthanasia activist Alain Cocq dies in Switzerland

Important first step

The Catholic church and some healthworkers are opposed to the bill, but the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADMD) said it was “a first step towards a new right at the end of life”.

“This is the first time in France that a government has introduced legislation to legalise active assistance in dying,” ADMD said in a statement.

However, it said it would oppose the reference to “terminal prognosis in the short or medium term” since it “effectively excludes all slowly progressing illnesses which are accompanied by significant deterioration in the advanced stages”.

MPs will begin discussing the bill in May.

Vautrin urged “an enormous amount of listening, an enormous amount of humility (…) and an enormous amount of respect for freedom of conscience”.

She also announced 1.1 billion euros in new spending on palliative and other end-of-life care.

Public support

A report last year indicated that most French citizens back legalising end-of-life options, and opinion polls show growing support over the past 20 years.

A 2016 French law provides that doctors can keep terminally ill patients sedated before death but stops short of allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia.

In April 2023, the Citizens’ Convention on the End of Life, made up of 182 randomly selected citizens voted by a majority of 76 percent in favour of some form of euthanasia or assisted dying under certain conditions. 

  • French citizens group in favour of allowing euthanasia, assisted suicide

Assisted suicide is allowed in Switzerland and Portugal and several US states.

Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands, Spain, Canada, Australia, Colombia, Belgium and Luxembourg under certain conditions.

(with newswires)


Notre-Dame-des-Landes

French court rejects developers’ demand for compensation over scrapped airport

A French court has rejected a demand by construction company Vinci for nearly 1.6 billion euros from the government for the abandonment of a controversial project to build an airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, in the west of France. It nonetheless opened the door to a “termination indemnity” for the group.

“The State did not commit a fault by abandoning, for reasons of general interest, the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project,” the court’s statement reads.

“The concessionaire company can therefore only claim a termination indemnity and compensation for its loss of earning,” the court said in a statement.

“The termination of the concession [of the airport] is justified by reasons of general interest,” it concluded.

The amount of any indemnity will be determined later, with the court taking into account gains obtained by Aéroport du Grand Ouest or its shareholder companies by their possible designation as new concessionaires of the current Nantes-Atlantique airport.

Over a billion euros demanded

Vinci said that the legal dispute would continue before the administrative court until it rules on the substance of the case. This is unlikely to happen before 2026 or 2027.

The company had sought nearly 1.6 billion euros in compensation after the government definitively cancelled the project in January 2018.

As early as 2019, the then transport minister Elisabeth Borne had indicated that the government was negotiating with Vinci for compensation related to the abandonment of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project, which Vinci formally denied.

  • Thousands protest against new airport in western France

First conceived in the 1960s and revived in 2000, the project has become a symbol of ecological struggles in France following the occupation of the site by environmental activists.

The Vinci Group manages 12 airports in France, including Lyon-Saint Exupéry, Rennes Bretagne, Toulon-Hyères and Nantes-Atlantique, as well as 70 others worldwide, according to its official website.

(with AFP) 


Paris 2024 Olympic Games

Paris Olympic organisers trumpet their readiness as 100-day countdown looms

Paris 2024 Olympic chiefs on Wednesday declared themselves primed and prepared for any last-minute hitches ahead of the formal 100-day countdown celebrations before the start of the Games on 26 July.

Speaking at the nerve centre of their operations in the northern Parisian suburb of Auberviliers, organising committee boss Tony Estanguet hailed the diligence of an array of administrators and logistical staff who have been working on the project since Paris was awarded the 2024 Olympic Games in September 2017.

“We have this conviction that all the basic steps have been taken by the Paris 2024 teams,” said Estanguet.

“Our deadlines have been met, one after the other, whether in terms of infrastructure or the revenue that has been secured, or ticketing, which has been a great success to date.

“We’re ready to face this final stretch with the confidence we’ve built up over the last few years. And humility too, because we have no doubt whatsoever that it won’t be plain sailing all the way to the end and that there will undoubtedly still be new challenges to face.

“But the Paris 2024 teams are preparing themselves to deal with all the fine-tuning that may be necessary.”

Fear

Concern over security at the Olympic and Paralympic Games has increased ince the Islamic State group carried out a terrorist attack last month at a concert hall in Moscow that left 144 people dead and hundreds injured.

In the aftermath of the atrocity, the French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced that French security services would implement the highest state of alert.

On Tuesday, Gérald Darmanin, the French Interior Minister, heightened fears over the imminence of an attack in Paris.

He said security would be stepped up in the capital on Wednesday as nearly 50,000 people travel to the western fringes of the city to watch the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

The move followed the emergence of a video purporting to be from Islamic State that said venues of Champions League games in Paris, London and Madrid were targets for attacks.

“We have anticipated the issue of security since we started organising the Games,” said Estanguet.

Care

“We decided to bid for the event just after the terrorist attacks around in the city in 2015 so all the security measures that have been implemented for these Games have been at maximum level.

“Never before has France anticipated so much and deployed so many security resources. I have every confidence in our country’s law enforcement agencies to provide security for these Games.”

Estanguet’s conviction came a few hours before a committee of senior French politicians in the Senate delivered their year-long inquiry into whether France – including its foreign territories – could safely deliver an international sporting event of such magnitude.

Scrutiny

Questions arose over the country’s capacity after the Champions League final at the Stade de France in May 2022 between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

Liverpool supporters narrowly avoided a catastrophic crush after they were hemmed in and they were also subjected to physical assaults and robberies by gangs of passing criminals.

Several French politicians – including Darmanin and the sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra – blamed ticketless Liverpool supporters for the chaos and the delayed start to the game.

Their clumsiness was later exposed when an initial Senate investigation cleared Liverpool fans of the disorder.

“An enormous amount of extremely detailed work is being done at the highest levels of government to guarantee the safety of the athletes from all the delegations, and also the spectators from all the countries,” Estanguet added.

“There is a lot of talk about the opening ceremony but the reality is that it’s a whole area that needs to be made safe, and nothing is left to chance.

“Our job as organisers is obviously to give maximum value, ambition and boldness to this project so that it is exceptional.

‘But if there is no safety. Everything else is pointless. So if there’s one subject on which we’ve never cut corners, it’s safety.”


Eiffel Tower

French athlete breaks world rope climbing record in Eiffel Tower escapade

France’s two-time world obstacle course champion Anouk Garnier roped her way 110m up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday, laying down a new world record and sending out a strong symbol of sporting achievement in the run-up to the Paris Games.

Garnier spent more than a year preparing to climb Paris’s “iron lady” but it took her just 18 minutes to reach the second floor – 110m above the ground.

A climb that could would give most common mortals vertigo, but Garnier said she didn’t suffer too much.

“I’m very focused on what I have to do, where I put my feet, I release a bit of tension in my arms, I take little breaks to relax. At that stage, I don’t feel dizzy,”  she told BFM television.

The moment when she reached the top and had to let go of the rope did make her head spin a bit. But “it was such an amazing experience, an unbelievable opportunity, I really made the most of it”, she said.

Garnier uses the moniker “the unstoppable” on her Instagram account, and her activities include mental strength coaching.

The Eiffel Tower challenge was also about raising funds for a cause close to her heart.

“My mother is suffering from cancer so it was important for me to push my limits for a good cause – to advance research into cancer treatment,” she told the tv station.



Crazy challenges

Paris’s emblematic Eiffel Tower has long been a magnet for tourists, but it also draws people looking for “crazy challenges”  François Martins, president of the monument’s operating company (SETE), told BFM.

In 1889 when Gustave Eiffel unveiled the monument to the world, Sylvain Dornon, a baker and former shepherd from the  Arcachon region near Bordeaux, made his way up the 674 steps from the ground to the second floor on stilts.

Then, as part of the 2000th anniversary of Paris in 1951, American acrobats performed a trapeze number 120 metres above the ground without a safety net.



In May 2010, the triple rolling skating champion Taïg Khris took a leap of faith, jumping from the Eiffel Tower onto a 40-metre ramp built alongside the famous landmark.

His record-breaking drop of 12.5m was the highest ever inline skate drop into a halfpipe.



Garnier’s new record may be less dramatic, but her achievement through hard work and determination sends out a strong symbolic message in the lead-up to the Paris Olympics, where she will carry the Olympic flame.

“We’re getting ready to be, if not at the centre of the Games, a unique vantage point,” Martins said. “The Tower is getting in tune with this Olympic year.”

Earlier this week, SETE announced that the five Olympic rings will be displayed on the Eiffel Tower, on the side facing the Seine river.

Martins said work to set the rings on the tower would begin at the end of the month after the Olympic torch has left ancient Olympia in Greece

  • Hundred-year-old French cycling champion to take part in Olympic torch relay

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s new gold-backed currency gets off to a chaotic start

Zimbabwe’s new gold-backed currency is designed to fight inflation and wean the economy off the US dollar, but it has suffered a chaotic start with shops accepting only US dollars on Tuesday and Zimbabweans queuing up outside banks for hours to access their savings. 

The ZiG – short for Zimbabwe Gold – officially started trading on Monday, just days after the country’s central bank announced it would replace the Zimbabwean dollar, which has tumbled in value over the past year.

In March, inflation reached a seven-month high of 55 percent.

It’s Zimbabwe’s sixth attempt at creating a new currency since 2008, and many in the country were not prepared for the switch.  

Most banks had their systems offline on Tuesday, as they worked to transition them to ZiG.  

This caused long queues outside some branches in the capital Harare, with hundreds of people waiting for hours to withdraw cash or access their funds. 



Worthless overnight 

The currency swap saw old banknotes – already of little value – become worthless overnight. 

In the Harare suburb of Kambuzuma, children played in the streets with wads of cash. 

Other notes laid abandoned on the pavements of the central business district, no one stopping to pick them up. 

Getting hold of new ones was impossible. 

On Saturday, the central bank said they were still being printed and would become available only on 30 April.

Push for local currency 

Zimbabwe has applied for membership to the BRICS’s New Development Bank, which aims to expand the use of local currency loans.

The central bank hopes the ZiG, which is backed by a basket of reserves comprising foreign currency and precious metals – mainly gold – would help stabilise the struggling economy.

But some financial experts have expressed doubts that ZiG is the solution.

“Zimbabwe has an insufficient $285 million of hard currency and gold reserves,” wrote Hasnain Malik of research firm Tellimer, as reported by Reuters news agency. 

“Zimbabwe’s economy needs fundamental fixes like reductions in fiscal deficit and external debt, not a new currency.” 

  • Zimbabwe inflation soars to 175 percent in 2019
  • Focus on Africa: Zimbabwe puts trust in old dollar

The Zimbabwean dollar has lost almost 100 percent of its value against its US counterpart over the past year, resulting in sky-high inflation. 

Soaring prices have piled pressure on Zimbabwe’s 16 million people who already face widespread poverty, high unemployment and a severe drought induced by the El Nino weather pattern.

(with newswires)


Finance

France’s state finances deteriorate as it misses target on cutting deficit

France’s finance ministry will raise its deficit target for 2024 to the equivalent of between 5 percent and 5.1 of GDP on Wednesday, up from an original target of 4.4 percent due to a rapid deterioration of state finances, reported a leading French financial newspaper.

At the end of 2023, France’s public deficit stood at €3 trillion, making it one of the most indebted countries in the EU

According to Les Echos daily, President Emmanuel Macron and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire are at loggerheads over how to bring state finances back on track, with Le Maire arguing for stronger budget cuts and rejecting any increase in income tax.

The paper said the new target would require additional spending cuts worth €10 bn, on top of the €10 bn of spending cuts announced in February.

Paris is due to send a revised deficit reduction plan to Brussels in the next few days.

  • French budget deficit widens but government promises no tax hike

Credit ratings at risk

Les Echos, quoting unnamed government sources, said the government is considering a further freeze of government spending, a possible increase in the tax on energy companies’ profits and the possibility of freezing some social security spending, notably on health insurance.

The paper reported that, officially, the objective of returning to below 3 percent in 2027 remains in place, even if most economists are sceptical.

Following decades of exploding the state spending budget, France is under pressure to show it will avoid a budget crunch that is putting its credit ratings at risk.

Statistics agency INSEE said on 26 March the deficit ended 2023 at 5.5 percent of GDP, overshooting the 4.9 percent target.

For 2025, France is targeting a 4.1 percent deficit, revised up from an earlier target of 3.7 percent, Les Echos reported.

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

     

(with Reuters)


Champions League

Raphinha’s brace gives Barcelona slight advantage over PSG in Champions League

Just as Paris Saint-Germain seemed set to overwhelm Barcelona on Wednesday night following two goals in three minutes early in the second-half, they lost control of their Champions League quarter-final with sloppy defending.

Ousmane Dembélé thrashed home PSG’s equaliser in the 48th minute at the Parc des Princes to cancel out Raphinha’s coolly taken opener for the visitors just before the pause.

Before Barcelona could recover from their former player’s strike, they were trailing to a goal that would have graced their own playbook from the days when their coach Xavi called the shots in midfield with Andres Iniesta and a certain Lionel Messi.

Lee Kang-in surged from midfield down the right and fed the ball to Fabian Ruiz on the edge of the penalty area.

The Spaniard looked up and slipped it through to Vitinha who calmly slotted under goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Such savage simplicity. 

The home faithful sang joyously at the whirlwind turnaround to 2-1.

And Barcelona looked shocked under the lightning suddenly descending upon them.

But Xavi’s charges had been warned.

PSG, seeking a place in the last four for the first time since 2021, started brightly with Nuno Mendes down the left and Dembélé on the right trying out their tricks and faithfully executing coach Luis Enrique’s pre-match command to be ambitious.

Veteran

But the crucial opening goal in the eagerly anticipated first leg failed to materialise for the hosts. And gradually Barcelona settled as France defender Jules Koundé and his cohorts neutralised Kylian Mbappé’s swashbuckling down PSG’s left flank.

It was the old stager Robert Lewandowski who created Raphinha’s first goal with some quick feet to open up the midfield as Barcelona countered.

The 35-year-old Pole passed to Lamine Yamal on the right but the 16-year-old’s attempted return to Lewandowski was palmed away by the PSG goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma but only as far as Raphinha alone on the left of the penalty area.

He adjusted his feet and calmly planted the ball between the PSG defenders Lucas Beraldo and Lucas Hernandez.

It was a cruel blow on the Ligue 1 pacesetters who showed fortitude to recover and take the lead.

Raphina bagged his brace in the 62nd minute. Pedri, who had just entered the fray in place of Sergi Roberto, floated a ball over the PSG backline for Raphinha to run onto.

The Brazilian obliged and, without any marshals, volleyed gleefully past an abandoned Donnarumma.

Andreas Christiansen nodded in the winner from Ilkay Gundogan’s corner 13 minutes from time to eclipse PSG’s earlier double blow.

“I thought we were doing well during the match and playing the way we wanted,” Mendes told French broadcaster Canal +.

“But unfortunately we’ve come away with a defeat. We’ve got another chance to put things right. The tie isn’t over yet.”

Xavi concurred. “PSG still have every chance on Tuesday, but we have a one-goal advantage and we will be playing at home.

“I am very proud. It is a great victory against one of the best teams in the world, but we are only halfway there.”


French taxes

VAT turns 70 and still brings in much of France’s tax revenue

The Value Added Tax, introduced to simplify revenue collection after WWII, is a mainstay of France – and Europe’s – fiscal policy, bringing in a large part of state revenue. As an ‘invisible’ consumption tax that applies to everyone regardless of income, some consider it unjust, but it does allow France to fund its generous social welfare programmes.

“It’s an indirect tax, so we don’t always think of it as a tax, and sometimes we don’t think about it at all,” explains economist Julien Blasco of Sciences Po university.

The VAT is included in the price of anything you buy in France, or in any European country.

Because it is paid by the consumer, it does not appear to be very different from a sales tax, but it has some distinct differences.

“What’s very specific about this tax is that it is measured and collected by each intermediate business in the production process,” says Blasco. “So that means that every actor has to measure the value of what they are producing and they have to report it. That makes it a very powerful tool for the administration.”

The power is in the money it brings in: over 176 billion euros in 2023 – over half of France’s tax revenue – according to economy ministry figures published by the Insee statistics agency.

Listen to the history of the VAT, in the Spotlight on France podcast

France introduced the world’s first VAT through a law passed in 1954 that attempted to simplify what had become a jumble of taxes after the Second World War.

The country was rebuilding and trying to raise money, but artisans and small business owners considered they were carrying most of the weight and started rebelling against what they called a “vampire state” sucking all of their profits away.

Maurice Lauré, who became head of the newly-formed DGI tax directorate in 1952, set out to reduce the tax burden on businesses. He was inspired by a concept from German industrialist Wilhelm von Siemens who in the 1920s proposed the idea of a tax that touched on every stage of the production process.

VAT beyond France

The concept was not initially embraced in France, but lawmakers eventually passed a first version of a VAT on 10 April 1954. It applied only to the relatively small number of companies registered with the tax office.

By the end of the 1960s VAT was expanded to all businesses, and it was quickly adopted in countries around the world.

Today over 150 countries have VAT, and it is a criteria for countries wanting to join the European Union.

“It’s quite complex tax, but when it is in place, a one percent increase actually raises a lot of money, so it becomes a very powerful tool for governments,” says Blasco.

Regressive tax

In France, VAT brings in more than income tax, and in the EU those taxes represent up to a fifth of all public finances,

However, the tax is contested – unlike income tax, which increases the more you earn, VAT applies to all consumers regardless of their income.

“The richer you are, the less consumption taxes represent a share of your income,” Blasco says.

“Poorest households spend all their income. While richest households can save up to 50 percent of their income.

“When you have a fixed VAT rate, it is applied only on what you consume, not what you earn. So for the poorest households who spend all of their income, the 20 percent VAT rate is 20 percent of their income. While if you only consume 50 percent of what you earn, that 20 percent VAT becomes 20 percent on half of your income.”

Tradeoff

While much of France’s tax and social policies are progressive – they change depending on income – the decision to maintain VAT is a tradeoff, says Blasco. 

“VAT is a regressive tax, but it actually raises a lot of money, which is used by the welfare state for social transfers and public services,” he notes.

His research has shown that countries with higher consumption taxes – mostly European countries – have more social programmes, so “you can say that taxes such as VAT are necessary in order to support significant welfare states”.

Progressive VAT?

VAT could be made more progressive, by setting different rates for different goods and services.

“If you really focus on what kind of goods are consumed by different levels of income, you can build a more progressive consumption tax, or at least a less aggressive one,” says Blasco.

France has four levels of VAT, with a basic 20 percent rate on most things, whereas food, basic necessities and medicine are taxed at the lowest brackets (5.5 and 2.1 percent).

But decisions such as reducing VAT for restaurants and cafes to 10 percent have been made for reasons other than making the tax more progressive.


Listen to the history of VAT in the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 109. Listen here


South Africa elections

South Africa’s Zuma wins court bid to run in May election

A court in South Africa has ruled that former president Jacob Zuma can stand in next month’s general elections, overturning a decision by electoral authorities to bar him over a criminal conviction.

The electoral court on Tuesday overruled a decision by electoral authorities to bar the 81-year-old former president Jacob Zuma from running in the 29 May election, where the ruling ANC could lose its absolute majority for the first time since 1994.

“The decision of the Electoral Commission … is set aside,” the court wrote in a ruling seen by France’s AFP agency. 

It did not say how the verdict was reached.  

South Africans will vote on 29 May for a new parliament, which will then elect the president.

Competitive elections

The elections are expected to be the most competitive since the advent of democracy in 1994 and Zuma’s presence in the campaign could prove a key factor. 

Jacob Zuma is fronting uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), a new opposition party that could cut into the vote share of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – the ex-president’s former political home.

MK hailed the ruling as a “triumph” over what it said were ANC-led efforts to marginalise it.

“This victory extends beyond President Zuma and the MK Party as it symbolises a victory for every South African who believes in fairness, democracy, and the inviolable right to elect leaders of their choice, free from undue interference,” it said.

The electoral commission said it had taken note of the decision but asked the reasons for it be made public. 

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

Corruption and cronyism

Zuma was the fourth president of democratic South Africa from 2009 to 2018.

Last month, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) excluded him from the race, saying the constitution barred anyone sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment.

In 2021, he was handed a 15-month sentence after refusing to testify to a panel investigating corruption and cronyism under his government.

But Zuma’s lawyers have argued that he was not disqualified from running in the general elections, since the sentence followed civil rather than criminal proceedings and it had been shortened by a remission.

 Zuma was freed on medical parole just two months into his jail term.

(with AFP)


Migration

Thirty-eight migrants found drowned after shipwreck off Djibouti

Thirty-eight bodies, including those of children, have been found after a shipwreck off the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, the UN’s International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday.

The IOM said in a post on X that at least six other people were missing and presumed dead after the “tragic shipwreck”, while 22 survivors were being helped by its Djibouti office as well as the local authorities.

The Ethiopian embassy in Djibouti said the accident occurred on Monday and involved a boat that was carrying 60 Ethiopian migrants from Djibouti to Yemen.



Hundreds of thousands of African migrants each year brave the perilous “Eastern Route” across the Red Sea and through war-scarred Yemen to reach Saudi Arabia, a desperate ploy to pull their families out of grinding poverty.

The IOM’s Djibouti office said on X that almost 1,000 migrants have died or gone missing on the Eastern Route since 2014.

  • At least 63 migrants feared dead after boat found off Cape Verde

 

(With agencies)

International report

Erdogan’s local election defeat reshapes Turkey’s political landscape

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s worst electoral defeat in nationwide municipal elections has changed Turkey’s political landscape. However, the Opposition’s victory came at an awkward time. Turkey’s Western allies were looking to strengthen ties with the Turkish President. 

Turkey’s main opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) gains in nationwide local elections are a significant reversal of the party’s fortunes after Erdogan’s resounding reelection last May.

“After the opposition’s loss in the May elections, everybody thought the opposition was in a state of despair,” explains Can Selcuki, head of Istanbul polling firm Economics Research.

“But that doesn’t seem to be the case, and it’s a turning point for the Turkish political landscape.

“It’s the first time since 1977 that CHP has managed to come out number one in the popular vote.”

Threat of authoritarianism

With much of the media under his control and the judiciary targeting dissent, critics claim Erdogan’s grip on power is tightening.

Addressing supporters on election night Ekrem Imamoglu, the re-elected CHP mayor for Istanbul who Erdogan personally tried to unseat, claimed his victory was a stand against the global threat of authoritarianism.

“Today is a pivotal moment not only for Istanbul, but for democracy itself. As we celebrate our victory, we send a message that will reverberate worldwide,” Imamoglu told thousands of jubilant supporters.

“Democracy’s decline is now ending,” continued the mayor, “Istanbul stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to the resilience of democratic values in the face of growing authoritarianism.”

  • Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul
  • Turkey’s embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries u
  • Prosecutor seeks prison terms for alleged PKK members on trial in Paris

Muted reactions

Despite this,Turkey’s Western allies’ response to the CHP’s resounding victory was muted.

“There were no congratulations extended, even to Turkey’s democracy, let alone to the opposition itself,” Sezin Oney, a commentator for Turkey’s Politikyol news portal, said.

“[This] is a big contrast compared to the May elections because right after the May elections, the Western leaders, one after the other, extended their congratulations to Erdogan.

“So there is a recognition that Erdogan is here to stay, and they don’t want to make him cross. And given that there is the Ukraine war on one side and the Gaza war on the other, they want a stable Turkey.”

Turkey’s location, bordering the Middle East and Russia, makes Ankara a critical ally for Europe and the United States in international efforts to control migration and contain Russia.

Ahead of the March polls, Erdogan had been engaged in rapprochement with his Western allies, with Washington even inviting the Turkish President for a summit in May.

However, Erdogan could still pose a headache to his Western allies as he ramps up his nationalist rhetoric in the aftermath of his defeat.

“We are determined to show that terrorism has no place in the future of Türkiye and the region,” Erdogan said Thursday. “With the recent elections, this determination has been further strengthened.”

Massive military offensive

Meanwhile, Erdogan has warned that his army is poised to launch a massive military offensive into Northern Iraq and Syria against the Kurdish group PKK, including affiliates that work with American forces in fighting the Islamic State.

A crackdown on the PKK, analysts say, will play well with conservative nationalist voters. Those voters were the ones with which the opposition scored its biggest successes in Central Turkey – a region known as Anatolia – for the first time in a generation.

“CHP has never been successful in those places before. These are places that are considered to be religiously conservative, or at least conservative,” Istar Gozaydin, a Turkish religion and state relations expert at Istanbul’s Istinye University, said.

“And that’s also valid for Central Anatolia. Central Anatolia is usually much more nationalist and much more religiously sensitive, but for the first time, they’ve been successful.”

It is not the first time Erdogan has sought to play the nationalist card. After the 2015 general election in which the president’s AK Party lost its parliamentary majority, Erdogan launched military operations against the PKK across Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish region, leveling many city centres.

Erdogan’s action resulted in his AK Party taking power in a second election later that year.

Fix the economy

“I’m sure there’s a temptation,” said analyst Can Selcuki, “but the facts on the ground do not allow it. Erdogan needs to fix the economy.”

Turkey’s near 70% inflation and 50% interest rates, were widely seen as key factors in AK Party’s defeat. But analyst Sezin Oney of Turkey’s Politikyol news portal says a new conflict could change the political rules of the game.

“The economy is a concern, but there is a war psyche, then he [Erdogan] might be propagating,” Oney added..

Some Turkish analysts say the opposition victory will be viewed privately as inconvenient by some of Turkey’s Western allies coming at a time of growing cooperation with Erdogan, with the fear now that Erdogan’s resounding defeat could make the Turkish leader unpredictable at a critical time in both the Middle East and Russia’s war with Ukraine.


Rwandan genocide

NGO files complaint over two French officers slain in Rwandan genocide

A French NGO has filed a complaint seeking a probe into the deaths of two French officers killed in the early days of the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The Survie NGO that advocates for better relations between France and Africa, and two relatives, on Monday sought answers over the deaths of two military police members Rene Maier and Alain Didot, as well as his wife Gilda Didot, in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

Exactly three decades on, “this complaint aims to establish responsibilities in the death of two French gendarmes and the wife of one of them in Kigali […] in circumstances that remain mysterious,” Survie said in a statement.

It claimed a French intelligence note that year suggested “the three French nationals could have been eliminated after they were witnesses” of the 6 April, 1994 assassination of Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana.

The downing of his plane over Kigali triggered the genocide that killed more than 800,000 people between April and July 1994, mostly from the Tutsi minority but also moderate Hutus.

The massacres of Tutsis started the day after Habyarimana’s assassination.

  • Rwanda marks 30 years since genocide that horrified the world

A day after that, the Didot couple were reported dead on 8 April, 1994.

Didot, a radio technician, had arrived in 1992 to advise the Rwandan army and secure the French embassy’s communications, according to the complaint.

Maier, an assistant technician, arrived in 1993.

‘No autopsy or investigation’

UN peacekeepers from Belgium retrieved their bodies on 12 April. They found the remains of Maier the next day.

The plaintiffs say the bodies were then repatriated via the Central African Republic, where death certificates were issued. But they say a total of eight inconsistent certificates exist for the three people.

No autopsy or investigation was ever conducted, they say.

Rwanda‘s President Paul Kagame – whose militia helped to stop the massacres – on Sunday said the international community had “failed” his country during the 1994 genocide as he paid tribute to victims 30 years after Hutu extremists tore apart the nation.

(with AFP)


Climate change

Top Europe rights court condemns Switzerland in landmark climate ruling

Europe’s top rights court ruled on Tuesday that Switzerland is not doing enough to tackle climate change, in its first such ruling against a state on the subject.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued its decision after a Swiss association of older women concerned about the consequences of global warming argued that the Swiss authorities were not taking enough action to mitigate climate change.

It found that the Swiss state had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the “right to respect for private and family life”, according to the judgement published by the ECtHR.



The court however threw out two other cases also concerning government policies on climate change on procedural grounds.

It dismissed a petition from six Portuguese people, aged 12 to 24, against 32 states including their own as the case had not exhausted all remedies at the national level.

In a third case, the court rejected a claim from a former French mayor that the inaction of the French state posed the risk of his town being submerged under the North Sea.

The court found that he was not a victim in the case as he had moved to Brussels.

Case by case:

The cases before the 17-judge ECtHR panel join a growing trend of communities bringing climate lawsuits against governments with arguments resting on human rights law.

In the winning case of Verein KlimaSeniorinnen Schweiz vs Switzerland, more than 2,000 elderly Swiss women argue that their government’s “woefully inadequate” efforts to fight the heating of the planet put them at risk of dying during heatwaves. They seek a ruling that could force Bern to cut fossil fuel emissions much faster than planned.

The unsuccesful case brought by Duarte Agostinho and five other young Portuguese accuse the 32 countries that are Europe’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases of failing to avert catastrophic global warming, which they say threatens their right to life, saying that “heatwaves, wildfires, and wildfire smoke which they say impact their lives, well-being, mental health and their homes.”

They did not ask for financial compensation, but for governments to drastically cut emissions.

In the final case, which was rejected, Damien Carême, former mayor of the French commune of Grande-Synthe and now a member of the European Parliament for the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance challenged Paris’s refusal to take more ambitious measures to curtail climate change.

All three cases were heard by the ECtHR’s top bench, the Grand Chamber, in 2023.

Some of the governments argued the cases are inadmissible. Switzerland has said it is not the ECtHR’s job to be “supreme court” on environmental matters or to enforce climate treaties.

Climate litigation expands

The verdict in favour of the Swiss claimants sets a precedent for the 46 signatories of the European Human Rights Convention.

Countries may now need to update their plans for reining in climate-warming emissions in the near term. Failure to comply could result in further national litigation, and courts could issue financial penalties.

The rulings, which cannot be appealed, are also likely to serve as a guide for the fast-growing field of climate litigation.

In the last five years, the number of climate-related court cases filed around the world has more than doubled, according to a 2023 report by the U.N. Environment Programme and New York’s Columbia University.

“It’s not like tort law that has hundreds of years of precedent,” said Ruth Delbaere, legal campaigns director at global civic movement Avaaz. “This is kind of new, and so judges and courts are looking at each other.”

Three other international tribunals — the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea — are currently writing advisory opinions on states’ obligations on climate change.

“This ruling will almost certainly have a ripple effect across the world, not just Europe but everywhere,” Delbaere said.

  • European citizens sue their governments over climate change failures

(With agencies)

International report

Erdogan’s local election defeat reshapes Turkey’s political landscape

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s worst electoral defeat in nationwide municipal elections has changed Turkey’s political landscape. However, the Opposition’s victory came at an awkward time. Turkey’s Western allies were looking to strengthen ties with the Turkish President. 

Turkey’s main opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) gains in nationwide local elections are a significant reversal of the party’s fortunes after Erdogan’s resounding reelection last May.

“After the opposition’s loss in the May elections, everybody thought the opposition was in a state of despair,” explains Can Selcuki, head of Istanbul polling firm Economics Research.

“But that doesn’t seem to be the case, and it’s a turning point for the Turkish political landscape.

“It’s the first time since 1977 that CHP has managed to come out number one in the popular vote.”

Threat of authoritarianism

With much of the media under his control and the judiciary targeting dissent, critics claim Erdogan’s grip on power is tightening.

Addressing supporters on election night Ekrem Imamoglu, the re-elected CHP mayor for Istanbul who Erdogan personally tried to unseat, claimed his victory was a stand against the global threat of authoritarianism.

“Today is a pivotal moment not only for Istanbul, but for democracy itself. As we celebrate our victory, we send a message that will reverberate worldwide,” Imamoglu told thousands of jubilant supporters.

“Democracy’s decline is now ending,” continued the mayor, “Istanbul stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to the resilience of democratic values in the face of growing authoritarianism.”

  • Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul
  • Turkey’s embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries u
  • Prosecutor seeks prison terms for alleged PKK members on trial in Paris

Muted reactions

Despite this,Turkey’s Western allies’ response to the CHP’s resounding victory was muted.

“There were no congratulations extended, even to Turkey’s democracy, let alone to the opposition itself,” Sezin Oney, a commentator for Turkey’s Politikyol news portal, said.

“[This] is a big contrast compared to the May elections because right after the May elections, the Western leaders, one after the other, extended their congratulations to Erdogan.

“So there is a recognition that Erdogan is here to stay, and they don’t want to make him cross. And given that there is the Ukraine war on one side and the Gaza war on the other, they want a stable Turkey.”

Turkey’s location, bordering the Middle East and Russia, makes Ankara a critical ally for Europe and the United States in international efforts to control migration and contain Russia.

Ahead of the March polls, Erdogan had been engaged in rapprochement with his Western allies, with Washington even inviting the Turkish President for a summit in May.

However, Erdogan could still pose a headache to his Western allies as he ramps up his nationalist rhetoric in the aftermath of his defeat.

“We are determined to show that terrorism has no place in the future of Türkiye and the region,” Erdogan said Thursday. “With the recent elections, this determination has been further strengthened.”

Massive military offensive

Meanwhile, Erdogan has warned that his army is poised to launch a massive military offensive into Northern Iraq and Syria against the Kurdish group PKK, including affiliates that work with American forces in fighting the Islamic State.

A crackdown on the PKK, analysts say, will play well with conservative nationalist voters. Those voters were the ones with which the opposition scored its biggest successes in Central Turkey – a region known as Anatolia – for the first time in a generation.

“CHP has never been successful in those places before. These are places that are considered to be religiously conservative, or at least conservative,” Istar Gozaydin, a Turkish religion and state relations expert at Istanbul’s Istinye University, said.

“And that’s also valid for Central Anatolia. Central Anatolia is usually much more nationalist and much more religiously sensitive, but for the first time, they’ve been successful.”

It is not the first time Erdogan has sought to play the nationalist card. After the 2015 general election in which the president’s AK Party lost its parliamentary majority, Erdogan launched military operations against the PKK across Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish region, leveling many city centres.

Erdogan’s action resulted in his AK Party taking power in a second election later that year.

Fix the economy

“I’m sure there’s a temptation,” said analyst Can Selcuki, “but the facts on the ground do not allow it. Erdogan needs to fix the economy.”

Turkey’s near 70% inflation and 50% interest rates, were widely seen as key factors in AK Party’s defeat. But analyst Sezin Oney of Turkey’s Politikyol news portal says a new conflict could change the political rules of the game.

“The economy is a concern, but there is a war psyche, then he [Erdogan] might be propagating,” Oney added..

Some Turkish analysts say the opposition victory will be viewed privately as inconvenient by some of Turkey’s Western allies coming at a time of growing cooperation with Erdogan, with the fear now that Erdogan’s resounding defeat could make the Turkish leader unpredictable at a critical time in both the Middle East and Russia’s war with Ukraine.

The Sound Kitchen

Côte d’Ivoire’s “triple crown”

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the Africa Cup of Nations trophy. There’s “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, a delicious dessert from Erwan Rome on “Music from Erwan”, and of course, the new quiz and bonus question, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s quiz: On 17 February, I asked you a question about Paul Myers’ final article on the Africa Cup of Nations, which he had been covering for us for a month in Côte d’Ivoire. Côte d’Ivoire won their third “continental crown”, as Paul put it – they beat Nigeria 2-1 in the final.

You were to send in the answer to this question: “What is the name of the Côte d’Ivoire player who was the first to hold the Africa Cup of Nations 2023 trophy?”

The answer is: Max Gradel. As Paul wrote in his article: “It was also a nice touch to allow Max Gradel – the oldest player in the Cote d’Ivoire squad – the honour of being the first player to hoist the 2023 Cup of Nations trophy.”

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Debashis Gope from West Bengal, India: “What are you doing to prevent climate change?” 

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

The winners are: Hari Madugula, the president of the Young Stars Radio Club in Hyderabad, India. Hari is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Hari!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week is Kolimuddin, a member of the RFI International DX Radio Listeners Club in West Bengal, India, and RFI English listeners Bidhan Chandra Sanyal, also from West Bengal; Faiza Zainab, a member of the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan, and Tara Regmi from Biratnagar, Nepal.  

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Joy” by Avishai Cohen, performed by the Avishai Cohen Trio; “Smoking Guns” by Steve Shehan, performed by Steve Shehan and Friends; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Setembro” by Gilson Peranzzetta and Ivan Lins, performed by the Ivan Lins Orchestra.

Do you have a music request? Send it to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “French Foreign Minister expects ‘clear messages’ from China to Russia on Ukraine”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 29 April to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 4 May podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

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

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

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

The Sound Kitchen

Striking French farmers and their European allies

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the French farmer’s political action campaign and the other European farmers who have joined in. There’s “On This Day”, “The Listener’s Corner”, Ollia Horton’s “Happy Moment” and Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan” – all that and the new quiz question too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome Orlando! So glad you have joined us!

This week’s quiz: On 3 February, I asked you a question about the French farmers and their political action campaign – which has not cooled off. You were to re-read our article “France seeks change to EU nature laws in bid to appease farmers” and answer this question: in which other European countries are farmers striking?

The answer is, to quote our article: “While farmers in Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Belgium have also taken to the streets, those in France – Europe’s largest agriculture producer – complain they are being further penalised by restrictions on pesticides that are harsher than in neighbouring countries.”

Farmers in other countries than those above have been striking, too – Hans Verner Lollike noted that Denmark’s farmers were, but that there was too much snow for them to drive their tractors to the capitol or block roads!

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Rodrigo Hunrichse from Ciudad de Concepción in Chile: “For you, which age is the best? Childhood? Teenager? Young Adult? Adult? Middle Age? Senior? Old Age? Why?” 

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Nasyr Muhammad from Katsina State, Nigeria. Nasyr is also this week’s bonus question winner. Congratulations, Nasyr!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Saleem Akhtar Chadhar, the president of the RFI Seven Stars Radio Listeners Club in District Chiniot, Pakistan, and Nuraiz Bin Zaman, who’s a member of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

There’s also RFI Listeners Club member Habib ur Rehman Sehal, who is also the president of the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan.  Last but not least, RFI English listener Adiba Ava, from Munshiganj, Bangladesh.  

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: The “Prelude” to the Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E, BWV 1006 by Johann Sebastien Bach, performed by Philippe Honoré; “Take me home, country roads” by John Denver, arranged by Graham Byrd; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer; “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and “Hommage aux Chanteuses Kabyles Anciennes” by Ferroudja Saidani, performed by Saidani and her ensemble.

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets” which will help you with the answer.

You have until 1 April to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 6 April podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

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

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

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

The Sound Kitchen

The Bocuse d’Or International Cooking Competition

Issued on:

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

Issued on:

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

Issued on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue-water navy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions with Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Drone diplomacy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.