rfi 2024-04-17 01:05:53



World War II

Russia welcome but Putin not invited to French D-Day anniversary

Russia but not President Vladimir Putin will be invited to the French ceremony marking 80 years since the World War II D-Day landings in Normandy, organisers said Tuesday.

A host of world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, are expected to attend the 6 June commemoration marking the 80th anniversary of the 1944 Normandy landings.

“In view of the circumstances, President Putin will not be invited to take part,” the Liberation Mission organising committee said, referring to Russia’s “war of aggression” in Ukraine.

“Russia will however be invited … to honour the importance of the commitment and sacrifices of the Soviet people, as well as its contribution to the 1945 victory.”

A representative of the Russian embassy in Paris said they would not comment at this stage.

In 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

  • Macron joins Trump, Queen in moving D-Day commemorations
  • D-Day veteran remembers Sword Beach 70 years on

‘Not a game-changer’

The Russian leader was also not invited to attend ceremonies for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019.

At the time, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the Normandy landings were “not a game-changer” for the outcome of WWII and the Great Patriotic War”, as it is called in Russia.

The spokesperson said the outcome was instead determined by the Red Army’s victories in Stalingrad and Kursk.

A 2019 poll by French daily Le Figaro found that 81 percent of the 92,000 respondents thought Putin should have been invited.

The Russian leader did get an invitation for D-Day’s 60th anniversary in 2014, when he also discussed a possible ceasefire in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels fought against Ukrainian troops.

The talks between Putin and former French, German and Ukrainian leaders François Hollande, Angela Merkel and Petro Poroshenko became known as the “Normandy Format”, but in the end yielded no results.

​​​​​​(with newswires)


WORLD WAR II

Macron hails Resistance martyrs ahead of 80th anniversary of D-Day landings

President Emmanuel Macron visited the southern French town of Vassieux-en-Vercors on Tuesday to lead a tribute to the local Maquis Resistance fighters who launched an attack against pro-Nazi forces 80 years ago – before a final counter-attack by German troops. 

Macron’s trip to the small village in the Drôme mountains, which was completely destroyed during World War II, is part of a series of commemorative visits to mark the 80th anniversary of the liberation of France from Nazi occupation.

Earlier this month, the French president visited the Plateau des Glières – the site of another Maquis guerrilla force that was decimated – and the Maison d’Izieu, where Jewish children were rounded up by the Gestapo.

The climax of the commemorations will take place in June in Normandy, in memory of the D-Day landings by Allied forces – the largest seaborne invasion in history. 

  • France’s Macron launches season of WWII commemorative events

The two-part ceremony, got underway at 3pm at the Resistance cemetery and then in front of a monument to the martyrs – a bas-relief listing the names of the victims in the main square – where the president gave a speech, emphasising the “exemplary” nature of the Maquis, that has been praised as “the embodiment of a France inseparable from Republican values”.



Exposing ‘grey areas’ of WWII history

Tuesday’s commemoration was a unique event, as Macron became the first French president to pay tribute there.

While the remembrance of the Vercors Maquis is traditionally celebrated on 21 July – the date of the final assault by German troops in which 840 Resistance fighters and civilians were killed – the choice of 16 April marked the first attack by the French militia.

The commemoration was also seen as an opportunity to revisit “a time when the French didn’t like each other … which means exposing all the grey areas”, a source close to the presidency told the AFP newswire.

The Maquis was formed when the Vichy-led “free zone” was invaded by Nazi and Italian fascist forces in November 1942, in response to the Allied invasion of French North Africa.

  • France pays tribute to ‘youngest resistant’ who has died aged 91

Initially made up of people looking to avoid the compulsory labour service set up by the Vichy Government for the benefit of the occupying forces, the Maquis reportedly numbered some 4,000 men – including around 50 Senegalese riflemen and around 30 Polish high school students.

Vassieux-en-Vercors is one of five French towns to have been awarded the title of Compagnon de la Libération, along with Paris, Nantes, Ile de Sein and Grenoble.


Champions League

Mbappé strikes twice to lead PSG past Barcelona into Champions League semis

Kylian Mbappé bagged a brace on Tuesday night as Paris Saint-Germain overturned a two-goal aggregate deficit to beat Barcelona and advance to the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2021.

Barcelona went into the second leg at the Estadio Olimpico Lluis Companys with a 3-2 lead from last week’s first leg at the Parc des Princes in Paris.

On the eve of the clash in Barcelona, the PSG boss Luis Enrique said his players would overcome the setback and dispatch his former club.

His boast soon appeared ill-judged. Raphinha, author of a brace in the first leg, opened the scoring in the 12th minute to give the hosts a 4-2 aggregate advantage.

But with nearly half an hour gone, they imploded. Ronald Araujo was given a straight red card for a foul on the PSG winger Bradley Barcola.

Though nothing came of the subsequent free-kick, Barcola set up Ousmane Dembélé for PSG’s equaliser on the night and his second goal of the tie just before half-time.

Change

Nine minutes after the restart, it was 2-1 and all square on aggregate. Vitinha, who like Dembélé scored in the first leg, fired home from the edge of the Barcelona penalty area after being set up by Achraf Hakimi.

A couple of minutes later, the Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez was dismissed and on the hour mark his team was behind.

Joao Cancelo upended Dembélé in the penalty area and Mbappé rifled the spot kick high past the Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to make it 3-1.

At 5-4 on aggregate, a Barcelona goal would have taken the tie into extra-time but they could not engineer the levelly amid the fury.

Mbappé killed them off in the 89th minute following a counter-attack.

“Everyone believed in it and we didn’t give up,” Dembélé told Canal+

“We knew we were going to score goals. It was great work from the whole team. The coach’s tactics were perfect. We made a great effort after conceding the first goal.

“Qualifying for the semi-final is a big thing,” the France international added.

“We’re crossing our fingers to make it to the final.”

PSG will face Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals after they beat Atletico Madrid 4-2 at the Signal Iduna Park to advance 5-4 on aggregate.


Paris Olympics 2024

Olympic flame begins long journey from Greek birthplace to Paris

The flame for this summer’s Paris Olympics was lit at a ceremony at the ancient site of Olympia in Greece on Tuesday, ahead of a torch relay that will start in Athens. After a 12,000-kilometre journey through mainland France and the overseas French territories, it will arrive in Paris for the Games’ opening on 26 July.

Some 600 dignitaries attended the flame-lighting ceremony headed by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.

The ceremony was held at the ruins of the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera, and sets off the Olympic torch relay that marks the countdown for each Games.

Actresses in the role of ancient priestesses coaxed the flame into life with the help of a parabolic polished mirror in Olympia, south-western Greece, where the Games were born in 776 BC.

American mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato delivered the Olympic anthem.

Sacred tradition

The torch harks back to the ancient Olympics, when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games. The tradition was revived in 1936 for the Berlin Games.

The first relay runner was Greece’s 2020 Olympics rowing champion Stefanos Douskos.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) confirmed Monday that retired French swimmer Laure Manaudou, who won her first gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, will follow Douskos as France’s first torchbearer in Olympia.

European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas will follow as the third torchbearer, the HOC said.

For the first time since the Covid pandemic imposed toned-down events for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, spectators will be able to attend the torch relay events.

During the 11-day relay on Greek soil, some 600 torchbearers will carry the flame over a distance of 5,000 kilometres through 41 municipalities.

  • A dozen people excluded from Paris Olympic torch relay for drugs, Islamism

Carried by ship

The Olympic flame will be handed over to Paris 2024 organisers in a ceremony at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Olympic Games of 1896, on 26 April.

Nana Mouskouri, the 89-year-old Greek singer with a worldwide following, has been invited to perform at the ceremony.

On 27 April, the flame will begin its journey to France on board the 19th-century three-masted barque Belem, which was launched just weeks after the Athens 1896 Games.

A French historical monument, the Belem carried out trade journeys to Brazil, Guyana and the West Indies for nearly two decades.

France’s last surviving three-mast steel-hulled boat, it is expected to arrive in Marseille on 8 May.

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

Ten thousand torchbearers will then carry the flame across 64 French territories.

It will travel through 400 towns and dozens of tourist attractions during its 12,000-kilometre journey through mainland France and overseas French territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific.

In the French capital, the Olympic flame will pass by the site of the 2015 Islamist attack on the Bataclan concert hall as well as the Shoah Memorial, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said on Tuesday from the Olympia ceremony.

“This torch is a message of peace, a message of friendship between peoples, which is all the stronger at a time when the world is in such bad shape,” Hidalgo told France 2 TV.

On 26 July, the flame will form the centrepiece of the Paris Olympics opening ceremony on the river Seine – the first time it has not been held inside the Games’ main stadium.

(with AFP)


Mayotte

Second major security operation begins in France’s Mayotte

A new operation against insecurity, illegal immigration and unsanitary housing was launched on Tuesday in the French overseas department of Mayotte – a year after the start of the first intervention, Wuambushu.

Some 1,700 gendarmes, police and soldiers will be deployed in the clean-up operation dubbed “Mayotte Place Nette” (Clean Up Mayotte), which will last 11 weeks.

It follows on from last year’s Operation Wuambushu (“Take Back” in Mahorian), aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, delinquency and destroying shanty towns.

The Minister for Overseas Territories, Marie Guévenoux, told France 2 television that two operations involving 400 police officers and gendarmes began early Tuesday morning at two different locations on the island.

She said a hundred “specialised” reinforcements – notably border police officers and judicial police officers – would assist in the operation.

“We must show that Mayotte is the [French] republic. This is the first message,” Guévenoux said.

  • Money from France will not help Comoros swallow the Wuambushu pill

Gang activity

Known as the 101st French department, Mayotte is also the poorest and has seen months of unrest linked to gang activity despite the presence of 1,600 gendarmes and police officers stationed there on a regular basis.

According to national statistics office Insee, 77 percent of the 310,000 inhabitants live in poverty. That’s five times the national average.

The Indian Ocean archipelago is also facing the fallout of its worst drought since 1997, exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure and investment.

According to the Overseas Territories Ministry, police aim to arrest 60 gang leaders during the operation and destroy around 1,300 bangas, or unsanitary makeshift shelters in which many undocumented migrants live.

The government estimates that around 30 percent of housing is considered unsanitary.

The ministry said €5 million have been earmarked for the emergency accommodation of migrants arrested as part of the operation, while those living illegally would be deported.

Criticized for its lacklustre results after the start of Wuambushu, the central government wants to show that it is not giving up on the situation.

  • How overseas Mayotte became ‘a department apart’ within France

Clear signal

In February, François-Xavier Bieuville was appointed as the new police chief to oversee Mayotte Place Nette. 

“For a month, we have been doing preparation work with the actors who experienced Wuambushu,” he told French news agency AFP.

“We learned lessons from it. We brought in teams from mainland France to reinforce our actions.”

Guévenoux also indicated that the controversial project to end access to birthright citizenship in Mayotte was still on the table.

Once the reform takes effect, only children born to French parents in Mayotte will have the right to French nationality. 

The change, confirmed by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin during a visit in February, is part of efforts to stem migration from the neighbouring Comoros islands amid flaring tensions between locals and immigrants. 

“We need a very clear and very firm signal sent to the countries of the area,” she said.

(with AFP)


Geopolitics

Germany’s Scholz presses China over Russian threat to global security

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Tuesday that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine threatens global security. The move was an apparent call for China to apply greater pressure on its neighbor and close partner to resolve the conflict.

Scholz also told Xi the potential use of nuclear weapons in the two-year war should not be spoken of, German media reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last month that Russia was ready to use nuclear weapons if its sovereignty or independence was threatened.

Scholz told Xi that Germany’s “core interests” were impacted by the war against Ukraine, which has threatened to spread into a regional conflict while disrupting energy and global food supplies and other trade.

Russia’s actions “violate a principle of the United Nations Charter and the principle of the inviolability of national borders”, Scholz was quoted as saying by German media.

China has refused to criticise the invasion and has maintained ties with Russia. While China says it is not sending military aid to Moscow, it has provided it with an economic lifeline to help it cope with sanctions from the West.

‘Unfair support’

Scholz’ visit coincided with EU concerns about the threat to European businesses from Chinese goods, including electric vehicles and other green technologies, flooding its markets.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has complained about China’s overproduction being unfairly supported by “massive” state subsidies.

“China’s exports of electric vehicles, lithium batteries and photovoltaic products have not only enriched global supply and alleviated inflationary pressure, but also contributed greatly to the response to climate change and green and low-carbon transformation,” Xi told Scholz.

“(Germany and China) should be vigilant against rising protectionism, look at the issue of production capacity objectively and dialectically from a market-oriented and global perspective,” Xi said.

  • Brussels aims to remove Chinese energy giants from the EU market
  • Germany’s Chancellor Scholz travels to China to discuss trade and Ukraine

Top trading partner

Despite the political and trade frictions, China was Germany’s top trading partner for the eighth straight year in 2023, with €254.1 billion in goods and services exchanged between the sides, slightly more than what Germany traded with the U.S. but a 15.5 percent contraction from the year before.

This is Scholz’s second trip to China since he became chancellor in late 2021. His previous visit was in November 2022 and essentially was a one-day trip because of the strict Covid restrictions still in place at the time.

It is his first visit since the German government last year presented its China strategy, which met with criticism from Beijing. Premier Li and a delegation of senior officials visited Berlin in June.

Human rights

On the eve of the visit, Human Rights Watch wrote an open letter to Scholz urging him to tell China to release hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, as well as end its “relentless repression” of peaceful activists across China.

The rights body also said China must revoke the “two draconian national security laws it imposes in Hong Kong”.

Given the thin line Germany walks between criticising China and maintaining good trade relations, however, criticism on China’s human rights record may not have been high on the agenda.

(with newswires)


AUSTRALIA

Hero Frenchman who confronted Sydney attacker offered Australian citizenship

Australia’s prime minister on Tuesday said a visiting Frenchman who heroically fended off a knife-wielding Sydney mall attacker using a bollard would be welcomed as an Australian citizen.

Damien Guerot has been dubbed “bollard man” and a “hero” of Saturday’s attack that killed six people and wounded a dozen more.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese singled Guerot out for praise, thanking him for his “extraordinary bravery” in confronting Joel Cauchi on an escalator and preventing the 40-year-old from reaching more victims.

“I say this to Damien Guerot, who is dealing with his visa applications, that you are welcome here. You are welcome to stay for as long as you like,” Albanese said.

“This is someone who we would welcome becoming an Australian citizen, although that would of course be a loss for France. We thank him for his extraordinary bravery.”

“It says a lot about the nature of humanity at a time when we are facing difficult issues, that someone who is not a citizen of this country stood bravely at the top of those escalators and stopped this perpetrator from getting onto another floor and potentially inflicting further carnage on citizens,” Albanese said.

French President Emmanuel Macron also took to social media to congratulate two French nationals who intervened. Guerot was at the mall with compatriot Silas Despreaux, who reportedly also confronted Cauchi with a bollard. 

“Two of our compatriots behaved like true heroes. A source of great pride and gratitude,” Macron wrote on X, addressing his “condolences” to the “Australians struck by the attack”.



Australians have been shocked by the Saturday attack that took place in a busy shopping mall in the city’s eastern suburbs.

Five women and one Pakistani security guard were killed during the rampage, which has not been blamed on terrorism.

Police are investigating whether Cauchi, who had a history of mental illness, targeted women specifically.

But Australians and Albanese took some succour from strangers aiding each other during the attack and from the bravery of policewoman Amy Scott, who tracked Cauchi down and shot him dead.

“I think that on Saturday we saw some of the best of human character at the same time as we saw such devastating tragedy,” Albanese said.

Second knife attack

Meanwhile, locals in a different suburb, west of Sydney, are reeling after a separate knife attack.

Two people were stabbed when a 16-year-old suspect rushed the dais at an Assyrian church in Wakeley late Monday, injuring a bishop who was giving a sermon.

The teen was immediately subdued by outraged congregants and taken into police custody.

Australian police on Tuesday said it was a religiously motivated “terrorist” act, as they urged calm from the angered local community.

The alleged perpetrator was “known to police” but was not on any terror watchlists, senior officers said.

(with AFP)


Sudan crisis

Paris conference raises more than €2bn in aid for war-torn Sudan

French President Macron said Monday’s Paris conference raised more than €2 billion in aid to help Sudan and its neighbouring countries. The international pledges come exactly a year after the start of the conflict between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which has forced millions to flee and brought the population to the brink of famine. 

“This support will be able to respond to the most urgent needs” for Sudan’s population ranging from a food crisis to education, Macron said late Monday, adding that European Union countries had pledged nearly half the humanitarian aid total.

“It is a conflict imposed on the people that only produces grief and suffering, provoking one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world,” Macron also said.

“There is a terrible cynicism behind this war,” he added, accusing regional powers of seeking to exploit the situation for their own interests.

With the conference “our duty was to show that we are not forgetting what is going on in Sudan and there are no double standards” as the world focuses on other crises.

Macron, who in May 2021 had hosted a conference in Paris on Sudan’s democratic transition, paid tribute to the 2018 uprising against authoritarian rule that many hoped would usher in a new future for the country.

“No one forgot the revolution of 2018 which raised up so much hope. It was ruined by cynicism… We will get there,” he said.

Act together now

The EU has pledged €350 million, while France has added €110 million, three sources said.

Germany already pledged €244 million earlier on Monday.

The United States said it will invest a total of $147 million (€138 million).

  • Sudan conference opens in Paris to try and fix ‘forgotten’ crisis

“We can manage together to avoid a terrible famine catastrophe, but only if we get active together now,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said, adding that, in the worst-case scenario, one million people could die of hunger this year.

The internal conflict has killed over 14,000 people and displaced over 10 million people, according to the UN.

Humanitarian catastrophe

Efforts to help millions of people driven to the verge of famine by the war have been held up by continued fighting, restrictions imposed by the warring sides for a year, and demands on donors from other global disasters.

  • Sudan on its knees after one year of brutal civil war
  • France pledges billion euro loan to Sudan’s transitional government

Yet, this conflict in Sudan is threatening to expand, with fighting heating up in and around al-Fashir, a besieged aid hub and the last city in the western Darfur region. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have sought refuge in the area.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among the many NGOs that have been raising alarm.



“It is obvious that the series of crises – I am thinking of Gaza and Ukraine – have pushed the Sudanese crisis into the background,” French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said at the Paris conference.

The United Nations is seeking $2.7 billion (€2.5 billion) this year for aid inside Sudan, where 25 million people need assistance. An appeal that was just 6 percent funded before the Paris meeting.

It is seeking a further $1.4 billion for assistance in neighbouring countries that have housed hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The international aid effort also faces obstacles in gaining access to the country due to problems obtaining visas and permits from the army and allied government authorities, and the risk of looting in RSF-controlled areas.

The UN chief added at the end of the conference that “crimes against humanity” may have been committed in the acts of war.

 (with newswires) 


    Middle East

    France intercepted Iranian drones during attack on Israel

    France took part in repelling Iran’s attack on Israel Saturday night, shooting down drones over Jordan, President Emmanuel Macron confirmed Monday. He said France would work to avoid any escalation in the Middle East, urging Israel not to retaliate.

    French jets at an air force base in Jordan intercepted Iranian drones and missiles over Jordan’s air space, “at Jordan’s request”, Macron said in an interview with BFM TV on Monday.

    Israel “managed to stop almost all of these missiles and drones. Only seven drones landed,” Macron said, calling the operation a “victory for Israel.”

    He called Iran’s attack, sending more than 300 drones, cruise and ballistic missiles towards Israel, a “disproportionate response” to a strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, earlier this month, which Tehran blamed on Israel.

    “Instead of targeting Israeli interests outside Israel, they went after Israel on its soil, and attacked from their own soil, which is a first,” he said, calling it a “deep rupture”. 

    Edge of a cliff

    However, he said France does not want to see Israel retaliate, and “will do everything to avoid a conflagration” in the region.

    Announcing plans to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu later Monday, Macron said Israel “should not respond by escalating, but rather by isolating Iran, convincing countries in the region that Iran is a danger, increasing sanctions, reinforcing pressure on nuclear activities, and then finding a path to peace in the region”.

    “We need to be by Israel’s side to ensure its protection to the maximum, but also to call for a limit to avoid an escalation,” Macron said.

    Iran claimed the attack “achieved all its objectives”.

    The United States, which Macron tasked with “containing” Iran, has already warned Israel that it would not take part in any retaliatory action.

    The European Union’s foreign policy chief joined calls for restraint.

    “We’re on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told the Spanish Onda Cero radio station. “We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear.”

    (with newswires)


    Paris Olympics 2024

    Macron calls for ‘Olympic truce’, presents alternatives for opening ceremony

    French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to ensure there will be an ‘Olympic truce’ during the Summer Games to be held in Paris in July and August, in the face of ongoing international conflicts, in Gaza, Ukraine and in Sudan. He has also assured that the opening ceremony could be moved away from the Seine river in the case of a security threat.

    “We will do everything to have an Olympic truce, we will work on it,” Macron said in an interview with BFM television on Monday, just over 100 days before the Games’ opening ceremony on 26 July.

    The idea of a an Olympic truce dates back to ancient Greece, when warring rulers agreed to lay down arms – ékécheiria – during the games so that athletes and spectators could travel safely to and from the host country.

    “The Games are also a time for diplomacy, for peace,” said Macron.

    • International sports stars join forces in Paris to promote peace

    “We will work on an Olympic truce. It is something on which I will actually try to engage many of our partners,” he said, referencing Israel’s war in the Gaza strip, the war in Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

    Opening ceremony ‘plan B’

    Macron, who was being interviewed from the Grand Palais exhibition hall, which has just reopened after three years of construction to get it ready to host the fencing and taekwondo competitions, also announced that France has alternatives to the opening ceremony, planned to be held on the Seine river, if there are security concerns.

    The planned ceremony will have some 160 barges set off on a six-kilometre route on the river through the heart of the capital, in front of thousands of spectators, the first opening ceremony to be held outside a stadium setting.

    • France seeks help from allies to bolster security during Paris Olympics

    Macron said security forces will be mobilised at an exceptional level to ensure security, but he said that France is not naïve.

    “If we think there are security risks we’ll have plan Bs, and even plan Cs,” he said.

    In the face of security concerns, organisers could decide to shorten the itinerary of route, and just hold the ceremony around the Eiffel Tower, or even change the venue, and hold the ceremony indoors, in the Stade de France stadium.

    Swimming in the Seine

    Regardless of what happens on the Seine with the opening ceremony, Macron said he would still swim in the river, which he promised would be clean enough for the Olympics.

    Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has also promised to swim in the Seine, despite sewer problems that have cancelled or delayed pre-Olympic events.

    (with newswires)


    NOTRE-DAME RESTORATION

    Five years after devastating fire, race to rebuild Notre-Dame gains pace

    Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, ravaged by a fire in April 2019, is on track to reopen on schedule and under budget by December 2024, five years later, the head of the reconstruction has said.

    “We are meeting deadlines and budget,” Philippe Jost, who heads the public body overseeing the project, told a French Senate committee last week.

    Jost praised the work of the 250 companies and artisan groups involved in the reconstruction, which began in spring 2022 after rubble had been cleared and the foundations secured.

    Signs the that project is nearing completion are clear. In February, some of the scaffolding was removed to unveil the cathedral’s new spire, adorned with a golden rooster and a cross.

    The rooster, reimagined as a dramatic phoenix with licking, flamed feathers, symbolises resilience amid destruction after the devastating fire, officials said.

    An anti-fire misting system is also being added under the cathedral’s roof.

    The installation of the lead roof itself, which melted during the fire, is ongoing. The outer layer will be laid on a solid oak frame, rebuilt with dowelled wood and no metal bolts using techniques dating back hundreds of years.

    Behind the remaining scaffolding, hundreds of workers are still racing against the clock to restore the rest of the cathedral in time for it to reopen its doors to the public.

    • Notre-Dame fire revealed hidden marvels of Gothic building technique

    Multiple delays

    Rebuilding was delayed by decontamination efforts, after more than 300 tonnes of lead from the roof melted in the fire.

    Authorities then had to halt work several times over the first winter due to high winds, before France went into Covid lockdown in early 2020.

    Another setback came when the French army general in charge of the restoration, Jean-Louis Georgelin, died suddenly in August 2023 during a mountain hike. Jost replaced him last year.

    • France pays tribute to General Georgelin, who led reconstruction of Notre-Dame

    The budget for the reconstruction is expected to stay below the €550 million allocated, leaving another €150 million unspent.

    The surplus will go towards “urgent” restoration of the cathedral’s stone exterior to be carried out from 2025, Jost said.

    Reconstruction of Notre Dame in 2021


    This video by RFI shows reconstruction work in 2021.

    Unforgettable fire

    The cathedral was built over two centuries between 1163 and 1345.

    It was first restored in the 19th century under the planning of French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who also helped design the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.

    The fire broke out on the evening of 15 April 2019, beginning in the roof space and raging for around three hours.

    More than 400 firefighters battled to save the monument. While they couldn’t save the spire from collapsing, the cathedral’s two towers remained standing.

    • Notre-Dame fire: ‘I never expected to see something like this’

    Major religious and artistic treasures kept inside the cathedral were carried to safety as the fire began.

    Authorities have not found any evidence to suggest that the blaze was anything other than an accident.

    An initial investigation conducted in the months after the fire concluded it may have been caused by an electrical malfunction. 


    France

    France ups security at synagogues, Jewish schools after Iran’s attack on Israel

    French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has ordered increased security at synagogues and Jewish schools as the Passover holiday approaches, a day after Iran launched a drone and missile attack at Israel.

    In a telegram sent to police prefects, Darmanin asked for “static and visible” security forces to be stationed in front of synagogues and the most “sensitive and emblematic buildings”, to be reinforced by the military’s Sentinelle mission.

    The decision was made in the context of a “very high level of terrorist threat”, wrote Darmanin, and the presence of a “high level of anti-Semitic acts” as well as “international tensions”, including Iran’s attack on Israel on Saturday night.

    As of Monday, “static, systematic guards” will be posted in front of Jewish schools at opening and closing times, and police will regularly patrol kosher stores and other “specialised businesses”.

    A week ahead of the start of Passover, on 22 April, Darmanin asked for particular vigilance around locations that traditionally bring in crowds for the Jewish holiday.

    (with AFP)


    Tennis

    Monte Carlo win gives Tsitsipas rankings boost and lift for tilt at French Open

    Stefanos Tsitsipas on Monday re-entered the world’s top 10 following a spectacular week at the Monte Carlo Masters during which he dispatched three of the best players on the planet to claim a third title in the principality.

    Tsitsipas began the tournament as world number 12 but produced sustained sequences of the dazzling tennis that have taken him as high as number three and to the French Open and Australian Open finals.

    He claimed one of the most prestigious crowns on the men’s tour on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Casper Ruud.

    The 25-year-old Greek swept through the opening set in 36 minutes on the back of punishing forehands.

    He stayed strong towards the end of the second set as his Norwegian opponent increased his intensity in an effort to level the encounter.

    The triumph over the two-time French Open finalist moved Tsitsipas up five places in the ATP listings to seventh – his highest ranking since February. Ruud also rose four slots to sixth following his surge to the final.

    “It’s been very difficult,” said Tsitsipas who has not won a tournament since beating Alex de Minaur in the final at Los Lobos in Mexico in August 2023.

    Return

    “So, to be back on the podiums and winning tournaments, it just feels amazing. I can’t thank enough my family, my friends for making this moment possible.”

    During his run, Tsitsipas beat world number five Alex Zverev in the last eight and the world number two Jannik Sinner in the semi-final.

    “Winning a third title is even more special than the first or the second time,” Tsitsipas added. “This is unbelievable for me.”

    His victory in 96 minutes also allowed him to join Ilie Nastase, Bjorn Borg, Thomas Muster and Rafael Nadal as the only players to have won three or more titles in Monte Carlo since the tournament was inaugurated in 1968.

     

    “I had to go out onto the court and show my tennis as I promised every single one of my team that I would make the most out of the occasion,” Tsitsipas added.

    “I am glad I could do that. I showed some ruthless tennis. From the beginning to the end my play was cohesive and I was able to blend in a lot of different shots.”


    Sudan crisis

    Sudan on its knees after one year of brutal civil war

    A year ago, on 15 April, the civil war in Sudan began. The violence resulted in the displacement of millions. Now, as food shortages get worse, aid is not reaching many of the displaced. In response, France and Germany are hosting a conference in Paris, Monday, to try to raise funds for victims of the conflict.

    The war between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has sparked widespread hunger in the country after destroying infrastructure and markets and displacing more than eight million people.

    The InterAgency Working Group (IAWG), a consortium of both local and international humanitarian organisations, is alerting the international community to the unfolding crisis as France hosts an international summit in Paris.

    • France to host humanitarian conference for Sudan

    The United States  has already promised to add more than a hundred million dollars in additional funding to spur an international response at the donor conference, the US Special Envoy to the North African country Tom Perriello said on Wednesday.

    Sudan’s vast western region of Darfur was still struggling with the aftermath of the conflict which started in 2003 and only finished with a peace agreement in August 2020. This new war broke out in April 2023.

    The first salvos were exchanged on 15 April 2023 between Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s army and Mohammed Hamdan Daglo’s (RSF).

    Diplomats and aid workers immediately left Sudan.

    More than 10 million children in Sudan have been caught in an active warzone and less than five kilometres away from gunfire and shelling during the past year of war, according to the NGO Save the Children.

    Looting, fighting, air strikes between warring factions have isolated every region of the African country located in the northeast of the continent and which is more than three times the size of France.

      Refugees and displaced people

      The conflict has uprooted eight million people in Sudan, displacing 6.7 million inside the country, and 1.8 million in neighbouring countries.

      Some 3.4 million refugees are now in urgent need of humanitarian help in Chad alone following the arrival of large numbers of Sudanese fleeing war.

      • Chad, WFP warn of ‘catastrophic’ food insecurity amid influx of Sudan refugees

      In all, more than 400,000 Sudanese refugees had already fled to Chad between 2003 and 2020, according to the UN.

      “Provinces in the east of Chad are among the country’s most vulnerable zones with poor access to basic services, and the arrival of refugees drastically exacerbates the need,” French NGO Action Contre La Faim (ACF, or Action Against Hunger), said in a statement in April.

      “It is urgent for donors to guarantee sustainable financing of the humanitarian response,” said ACF’s Chad director Henri-Noel Tatangang.

      Only 4.5 percent of requirements are currently covered, he added.

      Chad‘s transitional president Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno declared a “state of food and nutritional emergency” throughout the country in February.

      Hundreds of thousands refugees are also fleeing the conflict to South Sudan and even Egypt. 

      The United Nations had warned in March that life-saving food aid for hundreds of thousands of people pouring out of war-torn Sudan would grind to a halt in April without international funding.

      It added it has been able to reach only ten percent of Sudan’s 48 million people, with the country on the brink of famine.

      ‘Catastrophic hunger’

      The World Food Programme (WFP) recently said it had negotiated the delivery of the first two convoys of food aid into Sudan’s Darfur region in months.

      One convoy, with 1,300 tonnes of supplies, has already arrived via the Adre border crossing with Chad into West and Central Darfur, two areas already experiencing ‘catastrophic hunger’ after being overrun by the Rapid Support Forces. Catastrophic hunger is the the term used for famine conditions by aid agencies.

      Catastrophic hunger is also expected in Khartoum and West Darfur, which have seen the fiercest fighting, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), as well as in many other areas of Darfur that house millions of displaced people.

      More than 18 million people facing acute hunger need assistance, the WFP says.

      “I fear that we will see unprecedented levels of starvation and malnutrition sweep across Sudan this lean season,” said WFP Sudan Country Director, Eddie Rowe, said in his latest statement, referring to the upcoming planting months.

      The last cereal harvest only produced half of previous levels, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said, while prices of some goods have doubled.



      Complicated access to aid

      The belligerents are accused of using hunger as a weapon of war and diverting humanitarian aid.

      This worries donors around the world, and could impact the quantity of aid obtained by humanitarians, according to Anette Hoffmann, an international relations researcher in The Hague, Netherlands.

      She told RFI that she asks actors to adapt their methods. 

      After decades of Omar al Bashir rule, which saw the manipulation and diversion of large amounts of aid, NGOs have learned lessons. 

      “Channeling aid to local responders minimises the risk of seeking aid weaponised by both parties, which is definitely a practice that is ongoing,” she said.

      “Using multiple entry points through the various borders by, cutting out middlemen, working with smaller portions or less concentration of aid, are all mechanisms that can, maybe not eliminate but mitigate the risk of aid diversion and starvation as a weapon of war.”

      “This is the positive note on the 30 years of al-Bashir’s dictatorship, these learnings and this is the time to apply them.”

      Meanwhile, drones hit the Sudanese city of al-Gadaref during the second week of April, eyewitnesses and the local governor said, bringing the country’s devastating war to a calm farming state.

      Almost half a million displaced people have taken refuge in around Gadaref, the capital of al-Gadaref State.

      Eyewitnesses said at least two drones had targeted military installations in Gadaref, which is located just to the east of Gezira.

      They said they heard explosions as well as anti-aircraft missiles being fired from the ground.

      The RSF has taken control of the capital Khartoum, neighbouring Gezira state as well as most of the Darfur and Kordofan regions in the west, while the army holds the north and east of Sudan including its main Red Sea port.

       (with newswires) 


      Geopolitics

      Germany’s Chancellor Scholz travels to China to discuss trade and Ukraine

      Chancellor Olaf Scholz travels to China this weekend in the wake of other EU leaders, in an attempt to develop new economic ties. He is also likely to ask Beijing to put pressure on Moscow over Ukraine.

      With the economies of both China and Germany currently under performing, Scholz will travel with a bumper delegation of ministers and business executives.

      While much of the focus will be on inking new business deals with the Chinese, he is also expected to raise the issue of Chinese subsidies.

      Chinese subsidies

      Just this week, for example, Brussels opened an investigation into alleged unfair competition involving Chinese wind turbine producers who are flooding the EU market with their products while receiving financial support from Beijing.

      • Brussels aims to remove Chinese energy giants from the EU market

      A recent study by the EU Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) concludes that Brussel’s approach to China has been “largely defensive”.

      It points out that the international system “is in a state of flux and [with] the liberal rules-based order being called into question, the EU must develop a strategic vision of its own preferred international order and a guiding foreign policy vision.” 

      A 2019 EU policy paper declared China a “systemic rival”  which led to the  opening of discussions among EU member states about how to deal with Beijing.

      There were two options options discussed. The first is “decoupling”, which means pulling away from China as far as possible and moving economic ties to other regions.

      The second option is to prevent sensitive industries from engaging with China, but enabling the development of ties for the rest.

      In its latest China Strategy, published last year, the German foreign ministry watered down the core EU strategy and changed its position on China. China, the paper argues, should still be seen as a a “systemic rival,”  but also as a “partner” and “competitor”.

      France too is taking a slightly milder approach towards Beijing.

      If Brussels is still seems to be wielding a stick, France is holding a carrot. Last year Macron visited to Beijing, where he said, in a now controversial interview, that Europe should have its own strategic autonomy and “avoid the trap [of being] caught in crises which are not ours,” –  a reference to Taiwan, which is at the core of the current China-US stand-off.

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

      Europe, Ukraine, and China

      And then there is the issue of Ukraine. Speaking about it earlier this month during a visit to China,  French foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné said, “We are convinced that there will be no lasting peace if it is not negotiated with the Ukrainians.

      “There will be no security for Europeans if there is no peace in accordance with international law.”

      Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also visited China at the end of March. 

      The Netherlands and China are at loggerheads over Dutch company ASML, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of semiconductors.

      Earlier this year, it announced that it had been blocked from exporting “a small number” of its advanced machines to China.

      • Netherlands lands in crossfire in US-China trade war

      Chinese president Xi Jinping told Rutte recently that China’s technological progress could “not be held back,” in spite of a US and EU export ban on semiconductors.  

      Rutte told told reporters at a press conference that he couldn’t share details of what had been discussed about the issue.

      Ending the war?

      However,  the main reason for France, Germany and the Netherlands want to maintain good relations with China may be because it hopes Beijing can exert pressure on Russia to stop the war in Ukraine.

      With the possibility of a Trump presidency after US elections in November and the likelihood of less US support for NATO and Ukraine if this happens, the costs for EU member states of maintaining financial and military support for Kyiv would increase substantially.

      The only country Russia might listen to is China. 

      Last month, Wang Yi, meeting the press during the yearly session of China’s parliament, underlined the ties between the two countries, saying that “political mutual trust” between the two countries “is deepening.”

      Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping met each other on several occasions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Putin has been looking at China as an alternative market after Western sanctions hit its oil and gas industry.

      Both leaders talk about the “ironclad” relationship between their countries on a regular basis.

       

      Rutte, the Dutch leader, is also pushing Xi on Russia. “Russia [can] not win. I talked about this with the Chinese leaders and I hope they understand what this means for Europe,” he told students during a visit to Beijing University. 

      But he also admitted that repeated requests by EU leaders to Beijing to exert pressure on Moscow to end the war, as well as complaints about subsidies of Chinese products and violations of intellectual property rights, are not being acted upon.

      “It is not improving, or it improves very slowly,” he was quoted as saying by Dutch daily De Volkskrant

      (With newswires)


      Paris 2024 Olympic Games

      PSG turns to Star Wars amid terror fears as Paris Olympics chiefs brace for launch

      Quite where all this is going boggles the mind. Just over 24 hours after the French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin declared that Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League match against Barcelona at the Parc des Princes had featured on an Islamic State video as a target, PSG and their fans reacted to the terror threat before the game with tunes from the sound track of the Star Wars movies and skits on two of the saga’s main characters.

      As a tifo depicting Darth Vader in a Barcelona shirt was unfurled at one end of the stadium, the interstellar hitman’s Imperial March blared out of the public address system’s weapons-grade speakers.

      Naturally, the tifo of Yoda, the pocket-sized Jedi guru cum galactic do-gooder, was with the diehards down at the other end of the arena as a PSG star striker brandishing a light sabre in each hand in the PSG colours.

      The unfettered zaniness ahead of one of the most prestigious night’s in the European football calendar also seemed incongruous with the air of caution and carefulness promulgated by Darmanin as he toured the river police forces in Paris on Tuesday.

      But PSG during its big spending era has often operated as a hyper space where decorum and logic appear to have been zapped.

      Following the tussle at the Parc des Princes, Vader’s boys will take a 3-2 advantage to Spain where PSG will attempt to stage a rebellion in order to pursue their Champions League destiny.   

      Fortunately, Tony Estanguet, the chief of the Paris Olympics organising committee, struck the right note amid Darmanin’s exhortations.

      Work

      “I can tell you that 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,” said Estanguet during a press conference to highlight the state of Olympic affairs just over 100 days from the opening ceremony on 26 July.

      Looking well-clipped and relaxed in a black T-shirt and dark chinos, the 45-year-old has developed into a well-versed and polished performer. And why not? He was holding court just yards from his offices at the organisers’ nerve centre in Aubervilliers on the northern fringes of Paris.

      “Never before has France been so proactive and deployed so many security resources,” the three-time Olympic gold medallist said.

      “I have every confidence in our country’s law enforcement agencies to ensure the security of these Games.

      “There is a lot of talk about the opening ceremony,” he added. “The reality is that it’s a whole Olympic area that needs to be made safe.

      “If there is no safety, everything else is pointless. So if there’s one subject on which we’ve never taken a risk or ever put ourselves at risk, it’s this one.”

      Teams

      Around 45,000 law enforcement personnel will be deployed along the six-kilometre stretch of the river Seine that will stage the first Olympics opening ceremony to be held outside the main athletics stadium.

      And for the rest of the Games, there will be 30,000 placed around the various Olympic venues in the city centre and just outside in places such as La Defense Arena to the west where the swimming races will be held and to the north at the Aquatics Centre in Saint Denis – the site for the synchronized swimming and diving. 

      Ever the showman, Estanguet used his powwow with reporters to announce that 250,000 tickets will go on sale on 17 April when the 100-day countdown begins with another splash of activities.

      “The tickets will be in all price categories and at all competition venues,” he beamed. “So for those who have missed out so far, there will still be a few opportunities left for all of the sports. “

      In an attempt to deflect criticism about the costs, around half of the tickets will be less than 100 euros. Around 13,000 tickets will be more than 400 euros.

      And to underline the universal nature of the games, Estanguet added: “I note that there are some good prices for the women’s football match between the United States and Germany in Marseille.

      Chance

      “What a wonderful and rare chance to see a high quality encounter on our soil.  I really hope that people take the chance to see these kind of games.

      “We’re facing the final straight,” Estanguet added. “The Paris 2024 teams have been working for several years to organise this wonderful event and we’ve got 100 days to fine-tune the celebration to which all the world will be coming.”

      Sandwiched in between Estanguet’s blandishments and PSG’s bumptiousness, senior French politicians produced their six-month long inquiry into whether the country was actually capable of handling the Games.

      During their travels, senators Agnès Canayer and Marie-Pierre de La Gontrie met nearly 100 people involved in the organisation of the games from private security trainers to operators of video surveillance equipment.

      They also made a half a dozen trips to logistics centres as well as the headquarters of Estanguet’s committee.

      Canayer, like Estanguet, was at pains to highlight the importance of security beyond the opening ceremony. She said the torch relay, which starts on 8 May from Marseille, posed particular problems.

      Range

      “It will pass through more than 400 towns and cities,” she added. “It will have 10,000 torchbearers crossing the route, throughout mainland France and even overseas. This too is a major safety issue.”

      But the team declared that – with one of two pieces of fine-tuning – the land was in good shape to lay on the feast.

      “We believe that we are on the right track,” added Canayer. “We believe that we will be ready when the time comes to ensure that these Olympic and Paralympic Games are a true celebration of sport and that the major risks, whether terrorist, cyber, drone, chemical or nuclear are anticipated as far as possible.”

      France was put on its highest state of alert following Islamic State’s attack on a concert hall just outside Moscow last month which left 144 dead and hundreds wounded. And the vigilance is likely to remain at least until the end of the Paralympic Games in Paris on 8 September as politicians and organisers concede it is impossible to guarantee total security.

      “We take a positive view of everything that has been achieved,” added de La Gontrie. “We have noted the very strong investment of all the state and local authority structures.”

      And yet for all the assertions of diligence, dynamism, confidence and rigour, a Star Wars leitmotiv will overhang the Games – hope.


      India – Pakistan

      US urges India and Pakistan to calm row over alleged overseas assassinations

      Delhi – The United States has urged India and Pakistan to ease tensions following a newspaper report that accused Delhi of ordering 20 killings in Pakistan, which the Indian government rejected as “propaganda”.

      Washington said it preferred a hands-off policy, but that it hoped India and Pakistan would try and resolve the latest row without further trouble.

      “We’re not going to get in the middle of this situation [but] we encourage both sides to avoid escalation and find a resolution through dialogue,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

      The UK’s Guardian newspaper, quoting unnamed operatives, recently reported that officials in Delhi had ordered the murder of nearly 20 individuals in Pakistan since 2020 – around 15 of them last year alone.

      “Interviews with intelligence officials in both countries, as well as documents shared by Pakistani investigators, shed new light on how India’s foreign intelligence agency allegedly began to carry out assassinations abroad as part of an emboldened approach to national security after 2019,” said the article, published last week.

      ‘False and malicious’

      The Guardian claimed that India drew inspiration from spy services in Israel and Russia, and put plans into action after a 2019 suicide attack on an army convoy in Kashmir killed 40 soldiers.

      The lengthy investigation does not have a single named source, but is purportedly based on confidential interviews and “detailed documentation” alleging links between the attacks and an Indian spy agency.

      India’s foreign ministry rejected the report as “false and malicious anti-India propaganda”.

      “The Pakistan intelligence agency is very good at creating narratives… This is another one they have tried,” claimed civil aviation minister VK Singh.

      “The Guardian is a paper which lost its credibility a long time back,” he added.

      Sikhs targeted?

      The newspaper’s investigation followed allegations in September by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Delhi was likely involved in the killing of a Canadian citizen.

      It sparked a row that prompted Canada to withdraw 41 diplomats after India threatened to revoke their chartered privileges.

      • India freezes visas for Canadians amid row over murder of Sikh separatist

      In November, US prosecutors accused an Indian intelligence official of plotting to kill a Sikh dissident in New York.

      Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch demanded a probe after members of the overseas Sikh community staged protests in Britain, Canada and the US.

       

      War of words

      Amid the latest tensions, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh added fuel to the fire by saying that India would enter Pakistan and kill cross-border fugitives who have staged terror attacks in India.

      “If any terrorist disturbs the peace in India, we will give a befitting reply. If they run back to Pakistan, then we will go there and kill them,” Singh declared.

      Islamabad responded sharply to the statement.

      ‘India’s assertion of its preparedness to extrajudicially execute more civilians, arbitrarily pronounced as ‘terrorists’, inside Pakistan constitutes a clear admission of culpability,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.

      “History attests to Pakistan’s firm resolve and ability to protect and defend itself,” it said, and warned that Delhi’s “myopic and irresponsible behaviour” could derail regional peace.



      Ties between the two testy neighbours nosedived after India revoked Kashmir’s special status and split the state into two in August 2019.

      • A mixed bag three years after scrapping of Kashmir’s special status

      India accuses Pakistan of fomenting trouble in Kashmir, where a separatist drive has claimed thousands of lives since 1989.

      Pakistan holds a northern third of Kashmir, but seeks the rest of the Himalayan territory which is under Delhi’s control.

      International report

      Turkish government looks to regain ground by limiting ties with Israel

      Issued on:

      The Turkish government has announced restrictions on Israeli trade, along with the suspension of scheduled flights to Israel. The moves come in the aftermath of a shock defeat for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party in nationwide local elections, in which the opposition targeted trade with Israel amid growing condemnation over the war in Gaza.

      Turkish Airlines announced that it will not resume flights to Israel until March next year.

      At the same time, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan announced sanctions on Israel after aid deliveries to Gaza were blocked by Israel.

      “We have submitted our request to join this aid operation with cargo planes belonging to our air force. We learned today that our request – which had been approved by Jordanian authorities – was rejected by Israel,” Fidan told a press conference.

      “There can be no excuse for Israel preventing our attempts to send aid from the air to our Gazan brothers who are fighting hunger. In response to this situation, we have decided to take a series of new measures against Israel,” he said.

      Ankara has banned the export of 54 products to Israel, including aviation fuel, steel, and cement.

      Fidan said the export ban would remain in force until Israel declares a ceasefire and allows aid to be delivered unhindered.

      • Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a ‘liberation’ group
      • Iran leader to visit Turkey as rapprochement continues over Gaza war

      ‘Hypocritical stance’

      Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz condemned the Turkish sanctions, accusing Ankara of supporting Hamas, and warned of retaliation.

      The trade restrictions come amidst growing criticism in Turkey of the ruling AKP party’s stance of condemning Israel’s war on Hamas but maintaining trade relations, which the opposition claims supports the Israeli military war effort.

      The government’s stance had become untenable, argues Soli Ozel, a lecturer in international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

      There is “pressure from the public over this hypocritical stance on Israel”, he says. “You have all these AKP-related businesses or AKP politicians very closely, intimately trading with Israel and stuff. They [the government] had to respond somewhat; they had to show that they were doing something.”

      Suspending Turkish Airlines flights was the “best, most effective, and most visible way of doing it”, according to Ozel.

      “I think there must be over 30 daily flights, and this was supposed to be one of the most profitable lines that Turkish Airlines operate.”

      Electoral meltdown

      Last month, President Erdogan‘s AKP suffered its worst electoral defeat to date in nationwide local elections.

      The Islamist Yeniden Refah Party – led by Fatih Erbakan, son of Erdogan’s former political mentor Necmettin Erbakan – targeted the AKP’s religious base, focusing his campaign on condemning the Turkish president for continuing to trade with Israel.

      “Fatih Erbakan is once again an important figure apparently,” observes Istar Gozaydin, a specialist on Turkish religion and state relations at Istanbul’s Istinye University.

      “I think the sort of end is near for AKP, but I guess it will be replaced by the Yeniden Refah Party,” he adds.

      Crucial relations

      Protests in Turkey are continuing against relations with Israel. However, Israeli analysts say trade and travel are vital to maintain bilateral ties at times of diplomatic tension. 

      “It’s unprecedented; there’s for so long no flights from Turkey to Israel and from Israel to Turkey, and that’s a damage to the relationship,” warns Gallia Lindenstrauss, an expert with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

      “Also for business relationships, it’s very important to have a regular transport route.” 

      • With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil
      • Turkey talks tough on Israel but resists calls to cut off oil

      “There were things that kept the relations going, even though the political relations were in crisis,” she explains.

      “And one element was the economic relations, and part of this was also the travel connections and the transport connections between Turkey and Israel, and the fact that people-to-people relations were enabled.”

      All eyes on Gaza

      Even when Israeli forces in 2010 killed 10 Turkish citizens delivering aid by ship to Gaza, flights and trade between the countries were unaffected.

      But analysts warn given the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas, this time could be different.

      “This is a goddamn massacre that’s going on for six months that people are watching live,” says international relations expert Ozel.

      “People are watching live, and this is truly unconscionable; that’s why the level of protest on this particular issue of trading with Israel has increased as the devastation became even worse.”

      With Israeli forces poised to launch a new offensive into Gaza, protests against ongoing Turkish trade with Israel are predicted to grow – and add further pressure on Erdogan.


      Ethiopia

      Killing of politician from Ethiopia’s Oromia region sparks fear of unrest

      In Ethiopia, the killing of a senior politician from the Oromo Liberation Front has already led to protests and is likely to aggravate tensions in Oromia, the country’s largest and most populous region. At the same time, all parties agree that his death is a great loss for Ethiopia.

      Bate Urgessa was shot at point-blank range and his body was found the next day on the side of a road outside the town of Meki, south of Addis Ababa.

      “They could not break him, so they killed him,” French journalist Antoine Galindo told RFI on the day of Bate’s funeral, in his hometown of Meki.

      “Bate was picked up late on Tuesday 9 April and he was found dead on Wednesday 10 April, on a road outside Meki, his hands tied behind his back, face down, shot point blank in the head,” said Galindo, the East Africa editor for Africa Intelligence magazine.

      Forty-one-year-old Battee Urgeessaa – the Oromo spelling of his name – was jailed and assaulted on numerous occasions because of his vocal defence of the rights of Oromo people.

      Galindo, who was arrested himself in February on charges of “conspiracy to create chaos”, spent eight days with the Oromo politician in a crowded cell of 30 people in a city police department in the capital.

      ‘Fearless’

      Bate was a veteran member of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), fighting for the Oromo’s rights to self-determination and to establish an independent state of Oromia.

      A widely respected political figure, he was said to be a highly educated, peaceful man, who chose not to take arms to fight the federal government even after the 2018 failed peace agreement between the OLF and the Ethiopian Federal Government.

      “He firmly believed in one thing: the power of the mind over that of the gun,” said Galindo, who shared the “same mattress, same blanket, same food, same clothes” as Bate in prison.

      “He was fearless and unbroken despite countless arrests, attacks on his person and nearly dying in prison in 2022 because he did not receive medical treatment,” the journalist said.

      “They did everything they could, over the years, to break this man and they never managed to.”

      Galindo recalls their first encounter on a sunny terrace at a hotel in Addis on 22 February, where they met for a conversation on background.

      “I asked him if he was aware of the risks to be seen talking to a foreign journalist. He replied that I shouldn’t worry about that.”

      They were arrested together later the same day, charged with “conspiracy to create chaos in Ethiopia” and “working to incite unrest”.

      • French journalist arrested in Ethiopia ‘assault on press freedom’ says RSF

      Snowball effect

      The OLF says its struggle is about inclusion and redress for historical injustices.

      “The Oromo people are far from having their grievances addressed,” according to Galindo.

      “Their anger, whether at home or in the diaspora, is not going to fade away. Of course there is a risk of protests – this man has done nothing wrong, and he has been gunned down, his body thrown in a ditch.”

      He added that large parts of the Oromia region have been incommunicado since Bate’s killing and information is only slowly trickling out.

      “This could feed the ranks of the Oromo Liberation Army, snowball into more unrest which will trigger pressure from the regime,” Galindo commented.

      But, Bate’s death is also mourned by all Ethiopians, across the political spectrum and ethnic groups.

      The French journalist, who lived in Ethiopia from 2013 to 2017, assumes that there will be no proper independent investigation into Bate’s death, “in light of what happened with the death of musician and Oromo activist Hachalu Hundessa in 2020, and many others”.

      “Unfortunately, the killing of the [Oromo] people is the only way to silence them,” Galindo said.

      • Hachalu Hundessa: the Oromo singer who helped transform politics in Ethiopia

      International condemnation

      Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, has called for “a prompt, impartial and full investigation by both the Oromia regional and Ethiopian federal authorities to hold perpetrators to account”.

      Foreign governments, including that of the United Kingdom and the United States, echoed the sentiment.



      The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin, urged Ethiopian authorities to allow “a credible, neutral international body to conduct a thorough investigation” into Bate’s death.

      “Extrajudicial killings, harassment, and political repression have, for far too long, been common place in Oromia,” he said in a statement.


      South Africa elections

      South Africa’s ANC struggles with corruption scandals ahead of key elections

      As South Africa heads toward general elections set for 29 May, the country’s dominant political party, the African National Congress (ANC), finds itself dogged by allegations of deep-rooted corruption.

      Historically, the ANC was associated with Nelson Mandela and the liberation of black people in the “Rainbow Nation”.

      But the party’s name has since been tarred by a string of corruption cases.

      In his book The Enemy Within: How the ANC lost the battle against corruption, journalist and political commentator Mpumelelo Mkhabela argues that the ANC is “consumed by corrupt cadres with the party”.

      According to him, the story started with Mandela and went all the way to former president Jacob Zuma.

      Mkhabela says that ANC, which has governed South Africa since the formal end of Apartheid in 1994, has tolerated corrupt practices and failed to hold wrongdoers to account – even going so far as to shield them.

      Zuma’s return

      Former president Zuma, 81, was forced out of office in 2018 under a cloud of corruption allegations, but he continues to hold sway in South African politics.

      He declared in December that he would campaign for the opposition uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party – a blow for the ANC, as Zuma remains popular with Zulu voters, a key bloc in the upcoming polls.

      Then a court ruled on 9 April that he would be able to stand in next month’s general elections, overturning a decision by electoral authorities to bar him over a criminal conviction.

      • South Africa’s Zuma wins court bid to run in May election
      • Turmoil in South Africa’s ANC party after suspension of former president Zuma

      Fresh scandal

      Earlier in April, prosecutors in charged former parliament speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula with corruption and money laundering.

      She was granted bail by a court in the capital Pretoria shortly after the charges were made public, and denied any wrongdoing.

      An ANC veteran and former defence minister from 2012 to 2021, Mapisa-Nqakula is accused of receiving millions of rand in cash as bribes from a former military contractor.

      She resigned the day before the charges were filed.

      “My resignation is in no way an indication or admission of guilt regarding the allegations being levelled against me,” she insisted.

      The next hearing in her case is scheduled on 4 June, a few days after the general elections.

      Suspicions ignored?

        “We are against any form of corruption or criminality,” insisted Zama Khanyase, a spokesperson for the ANC’s youth wing, “so we welcome the fact that the former speaker has surrendered, so that she can be judged guilty or innocent.”

        But opposition MP Bantu Holomisa, who alerted parliament to suspicions of wrongdoing in March 2021, said the party should have acted sooner.

        “The arrogance of power led the ANC to appoint her speaker of the National Assembly while knowing that she was under serious suspicion,” he told RFI.

        Karam Singh, director of the South African NGO Corruption Watch, agreed. “It does not reflect well on the ANC that an eminent figure is facing such charges when the party has not taken any sanctions against her,” he said.

        Meanwhile the Anti-Corruption Trust for Southern Africa said that it was “gravely concerned” by the case.



        ‘Betrayed’

        A 2022 inquiry into corruption during Zuma’s presidency exposed massive government graft by leaders of the ANC, as well as attempts by wealthy business owners to buy political and economic influence.

        Since then, experts say, the party – now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s former deputy – has failed to root out the problem.

        In March, six ANC officials facing accusations of corruption were included on its list of candidates for this year’s elections.

        Ramaphosa “has betrayed Nelson Mandela’s legacy of human rights and social justice”, declared law professor Orde Kittrie in a recent opinion piece for US-based politics website The Hill.

        “South Africa’s citizens suffer through daily power blackouts of up to 12 hours, days at a time without running water and one of the world’s worst-performing school systems. This is all credibly alleged to be caused by corruption,” Kittrie wrote, urging the US government to impose sanctions.

        How the scandals will affect South African voters remains to be seen at the ballot boxes next month.

        (with Reuters)

        International report

        Turkish government looks to regain ground by limiting ties with Israel

        Issued on:

        The Turkish government has announced restrictions on Israeli trade, along with the suspension of scheduled flights to Israel. The moves come in the aftermath of a shock defeat for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party in nationwide local elections, in which the opposition targeted trade with Israel amid growing condemnation over the war in Gaza.

        Turkish Airlines announced that it will not resume flights to Israel until March next year.

        At the same time, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan announced sanctions on Israel after aid deliveries to Gaza were blocked by Israel.

        “We have submitted our request to join this aid operation with cargo planes belonging to our air force. We learned today that our request – which had been approved by Jordanian authorities – was rejected by Israel,” Fidan told a press conference.

        “There can be no excuse for Israel preventing our attempts to send aid from the air to our Gazan brothers who are fighting hunger. In response to this situation, we have decided to take a series of new measures against Israel,” he said.

        Ankara has banned the export of 54 products to Israel, including aviation fuel, steel, and cement.

        Fidan said the export ban would remain in force until Israel declares a ceasefire and allows aid to be delivered unhindered.

        • Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a ‘liberation’ group
        • Iran leader to visit Turkey as rapprochement continues over Gaza war

        ‘Hypocritical stance’

        Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz condemned the Turkish sanctions, accusing Ankara of supporting Hamas, and warned of retaliation.

        The trade restrictions come amidst growing criticism in Turkey of the ruling AKP party’s stance of condemning Israel’s war on Hamas but maintaining trade relations, which the opposition claims supports the Israeli military war effort.

        The government’s stance had become untenable, argues Soli Ozel, a lecturer in international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

        There is “pressure from the public over this hypocritical stance on Israel”, he says. “You have all these AKP-related businesses or AKP politicians very closely, intimately trading with Israel and stuff. They [the government] had to respond somewhat; they had to show that they were doing something.”

        Suspending Turkish Airlines flights was the “best, most effective, and most visible way of doing it”, according to Ozel.

        “I think there must be over 30 daily flights, and this was supposed to be one of the most profitable lines that Turkish Airlines operate.”

        Electoral meltdown

        Last month, President Erdogan‘s AKP suffered its worst electoral defeat to date in nationwide local elections.

        The Islamist Yeniden Refah Party – led by Fatih Erbakan, son of Erdogan’s former political mentor Necmettin Erbakan – targeted the AKP’s religious base, focusing his campaign on condemning the Turkish president for continuing to trade with Israel.

        “Fatih Erbakan is once again an important figure apparently,” observes Istar Gozaydin, a specialist on Turkish religion and state relations at Istanbul’s Istinye University.

        “I think the sort of end is near for AKP, but I guess it will be replaced by the Yeniden Refah Party,” he adds.

        Crucial relations

        Protests in Turkey are continuing against relations with Israel. However, Israeli analysts say trade and travel are vital to maintain bilateral ties at times of diplomatic tension. 

        “It’s unprecedented; there’s for so long no flights from Turkey to Israel and from Israel to Turkey, and that’s a damage to the relationship,” warns Gallia Lindenstrauss, an expert with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

        “Also for business relationships, it’s very important to have a regular transport route.” 

        • With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil
        • Turkey talks tough on Israel but resists calls to cut off oil

        “There were things that kept the relations going, even though the political relations were in crisis,” she explains.

        “And one element was the economic relations, and part of this was also the travel connections and the transport connections between Turkey and Israel, and the fact that people-to-people relations were enabled.”

        All eyes on Gaza

        Even when Israeli forces in 2010 killed 10 Turkish citizens delivering aid by ship to Gaza, flights and trade between the countries were unaffected.

        But analysts warn given the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas, this time could be different.

        “This is a goddamn massacre that’s going on for six months that people are watching live,” says international relations expert Ozel.

        “People are watching live, and this is truly unconscionable; that’s why the level of protest on this particular issue of trading with Israel has increased as the devastation became even worse.”

        With Israeli forces poised to launch a new offensive into Gaza, protests against ongoing Turkish trade with Israel are predicted to grow – and add further pressure on Erdogan.

        The Sound Kitchen

        Eid Mubarak! Shuba Naba Barsaw!

        Issued on:

        This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about French girls, maths, and the role model in a recent French film. There’s The Sound Kitchen mailbag, “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 questions too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

        More tech news: Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Just go to YouTube and write RFI English in the search bar, and there we are! Be sure and subscribe to see all our videos.

        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 24 February, I asked you to listen to the Spotlight on France podcast 106 – Alison Hird did a story on French girls and mathematics, and how they are not doing well in the subject – in fact, they’re failing maths at an astonishing rate.

        As Alison noted, the reasons for girls not doing as well in maths as boys are multitudinous, most having to do with taught gender roles – but also because there are so few role models.

        She cited a recent but rare type of film about a young Frenchwoman working on her doctorate in mathematics, in a film that made it to Cannes. You were to write in with the name of that film.

        The answer is: The name of the film is Marguerite’s Theorem. It’s about a brilliant young female mathematician; she’s the only girl in a class of boys. A French-Swiss film co-written and directed by Anna Novion, and starring Ella Rumpf as Marguerite Hoffmann, it was featured at the 76th Cannes Film Festival in 2023.

        In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Kashif Khalil from Faisalabad, Pakistan: “What human quality, or characteristic, do you think is necessary to equip you to live a full and honest life?”

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

        The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Helmut Matt from Herbolzheim, Germany. Helmut is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Helmut!

        Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Ferhat Bezazel, the president of the RFI Butterflies Club, Ain Kechera in West Skikda, Algeria; Hasina Zaman Hasi, a member of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh; RFI Listeners Club members Anju Regmi from Biratnagar, Nepal; Zenon Teles, the president of the Christian – Marxist – Leninist – Maoist Association of Listening DX-ers in Goa, India, and RFI English listener Sima Paul from West Bengal, India.

        Congratulations winners!

        Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Monta Re” by Amit Trivedi and Amitabah Bhattacharya, performed by the Hamelin Instrumental Band; The minuets I and II from French Suite No. 1 in d minor, BWV 812 by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Murray Perahia; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and the traditional “El Suïcidi i el Cant”, arranged by Marta Torrella and Helena Ros, and performed by Tarta Relena. 

        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 Paul Myers’ article “History of Olympic gold, silver and bronze glitters in Paris museum”, which will help you with the answer.

        You have until 6 May to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 10 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. 

        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! 


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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.