rfi 2024-04-19 10:06:03



FRANCE – LEBANON

Macron hosts Lebanese PM as Israeli strike on Iran further shakes Middle East

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun in Paris on Friday to discuss ways to stabilise the region as Israel reportedly carries out retaliatory strikes on Iran. 

Macron’s meeting with Mikati comes as explosions were reported from Iran’s central Isfahan province, with US officials telling news outlets that Israel had launched drone attacks.

The attack comes less than a week after Tehran fired a barrage of more than 300 drones and missiles in its first-ever direct assault on Israeli soil.

That move was itself a reprisal for an earlier strike in Syria widely blamed on Israel.

The escalating tit-for-tat between the arch-rivals has prompted global powers to urge caution and appeal on both sides to not allow frictions underlying the war in Gaza to unravel into a wider conflict across the Middle East.



  • France intercepted Iranian drones during attack on Israel
  • France joins other countries condemning Iranian drone attacks on Israel

Hezbollah clashes

Meanwhile, Iran-backed Hezbollah forces based in Lebanon have clashed with the Israeli army in recent weeks, marking their most serious hostilities since a war between them in 2006.

“We need to keep a close eye on the stability of Lebanon,” Macron said on Thursday at the end of a European Union summit, at which EU leaders backed new sanctions on Iran after its attack upon Israel.

“The European Council decided to increase its support for the Lebanese armed forces, and aid will be given to put in place vital steps needed for its economy and so it can deal with Syrian refugees.

Macron said that during his meeting with Mikati Aoun ihe would seek to “clarify a roadmap” on the matter.


INDIA ELECTIONS

Nearly a billion people to vote as India kicks off colossal elections

India on Friday launched the largest elections in human history, with ruling Hindu nationalists expected to win a third term in power with an even larger majority than in 2019.

India’s opposition has been shoring up its tattered frontlines of late, with some leaders including two chief ministers in prison and dozens of MPs suspended from parliament ahead of the seven-phase polls starting this Friday in 21 of India’s 28 states.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s untainted popularity has secured his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a head start in polls held ahead of the elections, which will involve some 970 million voters – including 26 million young adults who will be casting their ballots for the first time. 

The opposition Indian National Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi alleges a crackdown has been launched to ensure the elections are a one-sided affair for the BJP during the 44-days of polls, to be overseen by 15 million officials.

“All our bank accounts are frozen, we can do no campaign work, we cannot support our workers and this is being done two months before the election,” Gandhi said, joining a chorus of protest from several opposition groups facing police suppression.

In 2019, the BJP and its allies won 303 of the total 543 seats in parliament’s lower house and Modi hopes for a 400-plus tally after the 44-day event with final results due to be announced by 4 June.



High security 

This Friday, 20,000 troopers will oversee voting in north-eastern state of Manipur where 220 people have died, scores of women have been raped and 5,000 homes burned down in year-long ethnic clashes.

Seventy-thousand soldiers will be also deployed in Kashmir for the state’s first election to take place since Delhi revoked its semi-autonomous privileges, effectively splitting the state into two.

“The trends show the BJP will be back in power in India but with a fairly large reduction of seats in parliament,” Siddiq Wahid, a former Harvard University teacher, told RFI.

“Broken promises will be in focus.”

Wahid was alluding to Modi’s previous election vows of creating 20 million jobs a year, doubling farm income and a one-time allowance of €17,000 for each of India’s 1.4 billion people.

Wahid said voters in Kashmir were likely to approve either the main opposition Congress Party or a regional group, which have promised the speedy restoration of democratic institutions in the Muslim-majority state.

  • Indian opposition leader’s arrest before elections draws international rebuke

Credibility concerns

In 2023, the US-based Freedom House think-tank ranked India as “partly free” for the third year in a row while in 2018 Sweden’s V-Dem downgraded it as an “electoral autocracy” branding New Delhi “one of the worst autocratisers” six years later.

The BJP has rejected the rankings as a plot to discredit the Modi-led government.

Meanwhile, Modi has implemented a divisive citizenship law that analysts say is likely to play a key role in unifying Hindu voters in favour of the BJP.

Political analyst Shivaji Sarkar told RFI a 41-party opposition alliance led by the Congress Party would try and discredit the BJP on its unfulfilled pledges.

“The BJP currently ahead of the opposition, but an [opposition] alliance is slowly coming together and could spring surprises,” says Sarkar, a former dean of the Mangalayatan University

Ethnic tenstions in Manipur state will hit the BJP’s fortunes in 26 north-eastern constituencies, while the nationalists are unlikely to easily break into a fortress of 174 seats where local governments are part of the opposition alliance, he added.

  • India’s top court untangles nexus between politicians and businesses

‘Democracy on the line’

Meanwhile, the husband of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has warned that India’s “map will change” and democracy will “perish” if the BJP is returned to power.

“Of course, Modi’s a dictator; he’s dragging India back to the dark ages. His return to power would be a disaster for India,” said Parakala Prabhakar, Sitharaman’s husband.

Prabhakar, a scholar from London School of Economics, also attacked the BJP government for turning into law a scheme for political donations which was struck down in February by the courts.

“It is not only the biggest scam in India but is the biggest scam in the world,” Prabhakar added.

Modi insists the now-scrapped electoral bond scheme was actually designed to combat political corruption.


KENYA

Kenya mourns defence chief killed in helicopter crash

Nairobi (AFP) – Kenya began three days of mourning on Friday after its defence chief and nine other senior military officers were killed in a helicopter crash, the latest accident to blight the nation’s military.

General Francis Omondi Ogolla, the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), was killed when his helicopter went down shortly after takeoff in a remote area of northwestern Kenya on Thursday.

“A distinguished four-star general has fallen in the course of duty and service of the country,” President William Ruto said as he announced the deaths that evening.

He said the nation would observe three days of mourning from Friday, with the national flag flying at half mast across the country and at Kenyan missions abroad.

“Final salute” was the front-page headline in the leading Daily Nation newspaper.

Bodies recovered

The bodies of the victims, draped in Kenyan flags, were returned to a military base in Nairobi on an air force plane late Thursday.

Ogolla, who was born in 1962, had been appointed to the post by Ruto just a year ago and was about to mark 40 years of military service.

His daughter Lorna Ogolla said in a poignant post on Linkedin that her father died “doing what he did best for the better part of the last 40 years – trying to keep Kenya safe”.

  • France to build balanced partnerships with Africa, says FM on Kenya visit
  • Inside Mitahato, the Kenyan village where residents speak French

Messages of condolence were sent from across the region and foreign diplomatic missions in Kenya.

Ogolla had been visiting troops deployed in Operation Maliza Uhalifu (Operation End Crime in Swahili) in the North Rift region, where insecurity caused by armed bandits and cattle rustlers is rife.

Ruto said the Air Force had dispatched an investigation team to establish the cause of the crash that involved a “Huey” helicopter.

Kenyan media reports said it was the fifth armed forces chopper crash in 12 months, with claims that the country’s military aircraft were old and poorly maintained.

In June 2021, at least 10 soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed during a training exercise south of Nairobi.


France

French PM seeks ‘jolt of authority’ in bid to tame violent teenagers

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has called attention to youth violence on his 100th day in office, laying plans for a “jolt of authority” in the face of what he says is increasing disregard by teenagers.

Attal marked his 100th day as PM with a speech in Viry-Châtillon, the southern Paris suburb where a 15-year-old boy was beaten to death two weeks ago outside his middle school.

It was the latest in a series of attacks on schoolchildren by their peers.

“What is needed is a jolt of authority. We are ready to give it,” Attal said, accompanied by Education Minister Nicole Belloubet and Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.

Common rules were too often defied by a minority of adolescents, Attal added as he repeated a phrase he’s used before: “You break it, you fix it; you make a mess, you clean it up; you defy authority, we teach you to respect it.”

The 35-year-old said there were twice as many teens involved in assault cases, four times more in drug trafficking, and seven times more in armed robberies than in the general population.

He also noted increased Islamist influences.

Attal called on France to mobilise on the issue, confirming there would be an eight-week public consultation to come up with concrete measures – an answer to President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a consultation on the “surge of ultraviolence” among young people.

  • France imposes curfew on minors in Guadeloupe in bid to cut crime

Flexing on security

In his own brief stint as education minister, Attal focused on restoring authority in schools – making waves with a move to ban schoolgirls from wearing abayas, long robes that he said were religious symbols.

As prime minister, Attal heads a government that is looking ahead to European elections in two months. Polls indicate a strong showing for the far right, which has accused the government of not doing enough on security.

Among the measures proposed by Attal is increasing referrals to boarding schools for disruptive students to remove them from the “bad influences” around them, as well as imposing community service on “negligent” parents.

Another proposal is to flag “troublemaker” behaviour in the final marks of particularly disruptive students, a move that could impact their future education prospects.

Attal also spoke about the need to regulate social media and young people’s access to screens – an issue already raised by Macron, who is waiting for an expert commission to report on possible measures at the end of the month.

(with newswires)

Spotlight on Africa

After Senegal’s success, can Mali and Niger also hope for elections?

Issued on:

The delayed March presidential vote in Senegal confirmed the country remains a beacon of democracy in a region facing increasing instability. RFI looks at how the peaceful victory of Bassirou Diomaye Faye and mentor Ousmane Sonko stands to influence the politics of neighbouring Sahel nations.

This edition of Spotlight on Africa looks at the vast and diverse West Africa region, from Senegal to Benin to Niger and Mali.

It’s a big election year for Africa in general, with no fewer than 16 countries heading to the polls.

These include a complicated parliamentary vote in Togo on 19 April, general elections on South Africa on 29 May, presidential elections in Algeria in September, and presidential elections in Ghana in December.

But for Sahel nations Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, elections appear a distant dream as the military juntas in power delay processes for a return to civilian rule.

Many hope the inspiring outcome of the Senegalese election can galvanise the region.

Speaking to RFI about the polls are former Senegalese diplomat Babacar Ndiaye and Nigerien researcher Seidik Abba.

Meanwhile Yvonne Ndege, of the International Organisation for Migration, looks at the issue of migration on the continent.

And finally Azu Nwagbogu, curator of the Benin pavilion for the Venice Biennale, speaks to RFI’s Ollia Horton ahead of the event’s opening on Saturday.

Read also:

  • Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential election
  • Insecurity erodes chances of return to civilian rule in Niger and Mali

Episode mixed by Erwan Rome.

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 


Caucasus

France, Russia stand on opposite sides of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Azerbaijan has accused France of threatening the country after Paris recalled its ambassador and accused Baku of damaging relations. Meanwhile Russian peacekeepers have begun withdrawing from the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which Azerbaijan recaptured from Armenian separatists last year.

Azerbaijan on Wednesday accused France of pressuring and threatening the country after Paris recalled its ambassador, Anne Boillon, and accused Baku of damaging bilateral ties.

Azerbaijan has slammed France on multiple occasions over what it sees as the country’s support for rival Armenia in a long-running stand-off between the neighbours.

“France’s actions over the past three and a half years have seriously put under question the efforts to normalise relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia based on sovereignty and territorial integrity, and contributed to the escalation of the situation,” according to a statement by the Azeri foreign ministry.

“It is clear as day that the actions of France, which is extensively arming Armenia and promoting militarism in the region, do not serve peace.”

Rising tensions

French President Emmanuel Macron had recalled Boillon to Paris to discuss ties with Azerbaijan, France’s foreign ministry said.

“France has decided to recall its ambassador to Azerbaijan for consultations due to unilateral actions taken by Azerbaijan in recent months, which are damaging to our two countries,” according to a statement shared on social media.



Tensions between Baku and Paris rose as a result of Azerbaijan’s actions in Nagorno-Karabakh and France’s support for Armenia. Baku accused France of seeking to “fuel tensions in the South Caucasus“.

A French national, Martin Ryan, was arrested on 4 December last year on suspicion of “espionage”, according to Azerbaijan authorities.

Paris has criticised his detention as “arbitrary”, a claim that Baku called “null and void”.

  • Azerbaijan warns France not to ‘intervene’ in espionage case

Russian withdrawal

France – home to a large Armenian diaspora – in February agreed to sell arms to Armenia and train Armenian officers as it continues to boost military ties with the country.

It comes as Yerevan seeks to reduce its dependence on Moscow, traditionally Armenia’s ally.

Russia has peacekeeping troops in the region, but they did nothing to prevent Azerbaijan’s army retaking Nagorno-Karabakh last September.

On Wednesday, peacekeepers began withdrawing from the enclave.

Azerbaijani state media reported that Russian troops had begun leaving positions held as part of a Moscow-brokered 2020 ceasefire between Baku and Yerevan.

They posted videos and photos showing armoured vehicles with Russian flags purportedly driving out of the territory.

Asked about the reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said they were true.

Fallout

Russia had deployed a 2,000-strong peacekeeping force as part of a deal to end a six-week offensive in 2020 that saw Azerbaijani forces seize swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said recently that Yerevan has de facto suspended its participation in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a defence alliance that also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

He has repeatedly criticised Russia for not stepping in to support his country in the face of what he says is Azerbaijani aggression.

  • Armenia joining ICC signals a growing schism with Russia

And, against Moscow’s wishes, Yerevan has joined the International Criminal Court, a move which obligates it to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin should he visit Armenia after the court issued a warrant against the Russian leader.

Arch-foes Armenia and Azerbaijan are currently trying to broker a broader peace agreement that could see Baku gain control of yet more disputed territory.

Clashes and shootouts between troops stationed along the mountainous border are relatively common.

(with newswires)


Climate change

Sahel heatwave made worse by climate change, scientists warn

An extreme heatwave in the Sahel region in March and April would not have been as lethal without human-caused climate change, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) group of climate researchers has found. It warned of an increase in extreme weather if carbon emissions are not rapidly reduced.

The heatwave would have been cooler if humans had not warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels, wrote the WWA, an international network of scientists focusing on extreme weather events, in a study published Thursday.

While periods of high temperatures are common the Sahel at this time of year, the report said a five-day heatwave in Mali and Burkina Faso from 1-5 April would have been 1.4-1.5C cooler without climate change.

Mali and Burkina Faso experienced temperatures above 45C, with Mali registering the hottest day in its history on 3 April as temperatures hit 48.5C in the western city of Kayes.

The length and severity of the heatwave made it difficult for people to cope, the WWA said, adding that the number of deaths and hospitalisations had risen.

The group said there were likely hundreds, if not thousands, of heat-related casualties given the death toll is often under-reported.

The Gabriel-Touré hospital in Mali’s capital, Bamako, reported 102 deaths over the first four days of April. That’s nearly as many as the 130 reported over the entire month in 2023.

Local news reported mortuaries in Bamako overflowing, with people needing to keep the dead at home.

Adapting infrastructure

The heat shocks may have been compounded by power cuts that left people without fans and air conditioning to cool themselves down.

The scientists noted that the loss of green spaces in cities such as Bamako and Ouagadougou have increased the “urban heat island effect”. They recommended that urban planners take this into account in the face of ongoing rising temperatures.

Scientists predict a 10-fold increase in the frequency of extreme heatwaves if global warming reaches 2C above preindustrial levels, as is expected to happen by the 2040s or 50s if emissions are not cut rapidly.

Governments must adapt electricity and water infrastructure to face this unstable future.

In a separate study released Thursday, the WWA found that drought in southern Africa was driven by El Niño, a natural climate phenomenon that is associated with an increase in global temperatures.

The authors urge countries to implement early warning systems and strengthen food security systems in the face of future El Niño events.

(with AFP)


Guadeloupe

France imposes curfew on minors in Guadeloupe in bid to cut crime

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has ordered a curfew for minors in Pointe-à-Pitre, the economic capital of Guadeloupe, in an attempt to address a crimewave in the French overseas department.

Darmanin announced the 8pm curfew as part of the government’s response to a rise in crime in the archipelago since the beginning of the year.

According to the prefecture, there are six times more homicides, nine times more attempted murders and 20 times more armed robberies in Guadeloupe than the national average in France.

Much of the violence has been blamed on young people.

“Previously minors made up 12 percent of those who committed crimes. Now it’s 38 percent,” said Pointe-à-Pitre mayor Harry Durimel, who has been sounding the alarm for weeks.

Clampdown

Darmanin, on a two-day visit to Guadeloupe with Overseas Minister Marie Guévenoux, said he was “very struck” by the high number of minors involved in petty crime in Guadeloupe in general, and Pointe-à-Pitre in particular.

“The state will not ignore crimes that are increasingly carried out by young, armed people,” he told journalists as he walked through the streets of the city.

“We cannot allow children of 12, 13 and 14 years old, with weapons, move about in the street at 10pm, attacking police officers and tourists and passers-by.”

Last month cruise ship tourists were injured by a woman suffering from psychological troubles, while a shop owner was killed during a robbery.

‘Concrete’ response

The curfew comes into effect next week, on 22 April, and will apply to anyone 18 and younger.

Durimel welcomed the move, praising it as “something concrete” being done to address the problem.

“If children are with their parents at night, they will not burn 70 garbage bins as they did in Pointe-à-Pitre last week,” he said.

Violence committed by minors has become a major concern for the French government after several incidents around the country in recent months, with President Emmanuel Macron calling for a consultation on the issue.

Darmanin said he met with police officers involved in operations in Pointe-à-Pitre.

He told reporters that such operations would be increased throughout the month to fight against both drugs and the circulation of weapons, which were “without a doubt the main problem facing Guadeloupe today”.

A new security contract like the one in the neighbouring department of Martinique would be implemented, Darmanin said, adding it had been proven to lower petty crime rates.

He also urged international cooperation on illegal immigration, drug and arms dealing with the neighbouring islands of Saint Lucia and the Dominica islands.

(with AFP)


Burkina Faso – FRANCE

Burkina Faso expels French diplomats for ‘subversive activities’

Ouagadougou (AFP) – Burkina Faso has expelled three French diplomats for “subversive activities”, according to a foreign ministry note seen by AFP on Thursday, in a further sign of mounting tensions between the African state and its former colonial master.

The three were declared “persona non grata” and told to leave the country in 48 hours, said a foreign ministry note dated Tuesday that was sent to the French embassy.

According to the Burkina ministry, the diplomats are Gwenaelle Habouzit, Herve Fournier and Guillaume Reisacher.

The French foreign ministry in Paris did not immediately comment on the expulsions.

Since coming to power in a September 2022 coup, the junta led by Captain Ibrahim Traore has distanced the West African nation from France, which ruled the country until 1960.

The French ambassador was withdrawn after the takeover, Burkina Faso cancelled a 1961 military accord between the two countries, ordered a withdrawal of French troops and turned increasingly to Russia for security support.

A number of French media outlets have been banned, while Russia has also agreed to build a nuclear power station for the African country.

  • Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso to launch anti-jihadist force
  • Ecowas’ future in jeopardy after Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso leave group  

Allegations of espionage

On 1 December, four French officials were arrested, charged and imprisoned in the capital Ouagadougou, according to a French source.

The Burkinabe authorities said they were intelligence agents, but the French source said they were IT support staff.

The four are now under house arrest, according to Burkina security sources.

In December 2022, Ouagadougou expelled two French nationals working for a Burkina Faso company for alleged espionage.

France has ended anti-jihadist military missions in Mali and Burkina Faso and more recently began to withdraw forces from Niger – all three countries where juntas now rule following coups.

For several years, all three countries have faced recurrent jihadist attacks by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

In Burkina Faso alone, around 20,000 people have been killed and around two million people have been displaced since 2015.

The three military regimes formed a defence and economic pact, the Alliance of Sahel States, in September, and in February announced their withdrawal from the West African bloc Ecowas.

Mali‘s Defence Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, has said that the alliance is a “combination of military and economic efforts between the three countries” and that its priority was to “fight against terrorism in the three countries”.


Iran sanctions

European leaders agree to new sanctions on Iran after attack on Israel

European Union leaders have agreed to increase sanctions on Iran after its missile and drone attack on Israel. The move is an attempt to limit any Israeli retaliation and prevent a wider conflict in the Middle East as the war in Gaza continues.

Meeting Wednesday for the first time since Iran’s attack on Israel, the EU’s 27 leaders condemned the Iranian attack, reaffirmed their commitment to Israel’s security and called on all sides to prevent more tensions, including in Lebanon.

“We feel it’s very important to do everything to isolate Iran,” said summit chair Charles Michel.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was important that Israel “does not respond with a massive attack of its own.”

Israel has signalled it will retaliate but has not said how.

New sanctions

The new sanctions will target companies involved in the production of drones and missiles.

The EU already has multiple programmes that target Iran for human rights abuses, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and Tehran’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Several EU countries, France and Germany, are considering expanding an existing scheme that seeks to curb the supply of Iranian drones to Russia, to include the provision of missiles and cover deliveries to Iranian proxies in the Middle East.

Belgium backed introducing sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps but Scholz said that required further legal checks, and such a move could only happen if the corps was found to have been directly involved in terrorist activity.

G7 backs limiting weapons

Finance leaders from the Group of Seven industrial democracies, meeting separately in Washington Wednesday, on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, said they would cooperate on sanctions.

In a joint statement with central bank governors, the G7 finance ministers said they would “ensure close coordination of any future measure to diminish Iran’s ability to acquire, produce, or transfer weapons to support destabilising regional activities.”

Analysts say Iran is unlikely to face more severe economic punishment because of worries about increasing oil prices and angering top buyer China.

(with Reuters)


SWITZERLAND

Swiss parliament votes to ban extremist symbols and gestures

Geneva (AFP) – Swiss lawmakers have voted in favour of banning the display of extremist and racist symbols, starting with those of a Nazi nature.

The National Council lower house of parliament on Wednesday voted by 133 to 38 in favour of banning the public use of racist, violence-promoting and extremist symbols, such as Nazi symbols.

Switzerland, which stayed neutral during World War II, has come under pressure to fall in line with a number of other European countries in banning Nazi symbols.

Full bans are in place in Germany, Poland and several other eastern European nations.

The Swiss parliament as a whole is now in favour, after the Council of States upper house voted for such a ban in December.

The legislation would also cover gestures, words, salutes or flags.

The National Council also voted by 132 to 40 for the measures to be introduced in stages – a move the government supports.

A ban on easily-identifiable Nazi symbols could be implemented quickly, while other racist and extremist symbols could be identified and banned further down the line.

“We don’t want a swastika or a Hitler salute in our country, ever!” said Green lawmaker Raphael Mahaim.

“Today, in Switzerland, it is possible, it is even permitted, to display a flag with a swastika on your balcony. It is possible to put a flag bearing the image of the SS on the windshield of your car. It is possible to give the Hitler salute in public spaces.

“This situation is intolerable.”

  • France begins exhuming Nazi soldiers executed by French Resistance

Debate on other symbols

Justice minister Beat Jans said the government, called the Federal Council, had hitherto relied on prevention as the main pillar against racism, but now thinks legal measures are needed.

“Anti-Semitic incidents, particularly those involving the use of Nazi symbols, have increased sharply in recent times,” he said.

“Against this background, the Federal Council decided last week that it is positive about the gradual implementation of the motion.”

He said the government wanted to introduce a special law which would mean fines could be imposed.

As for banning Nazi symbols first, Mahaim accepted that debates on other symbols “will be much more difficult”.

“For example, what about the Z symbol of Putin’s army of aggression? What about the Ku Klux Klan symbol? What about the hammer and sickle symbol?” he said.

  • France’s Macron launches season of WWII commemorative events

Resistance from the right

The no votes and abstentions all came from the hard-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which is the largest faction in the lower chamber.

SVP lawmaker Barbara Steinemann said Switzerland had successfully been able to keep extremism down to “a base of a few meaningless weirdos”.

She said a ban on symbols would not prevent the “rampant” anti-Semitic attitudes in universities and “intellectual milieus”, insisting that Nazi symbolism had been on the rise since the Gaza war erupted in October.

“Even if you don’t like to hear it, this is the influence of immigration from non-European cultures,” she said. “We are literally engaging in symbolic politics, and we shouldn’t be doing that.”


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

Police clear France’s largest squat ahead of Paris Olympics

France’s largest squat, which housed up to 450 mostly legal immigrants, was on Wednesday evacuated in the southern suburbs of Paris – 100 days ahead of the Olympic Games.

The operation to evict people from a disused factory in Vitry-sur-Seine reportedly took place without incident, with some occupants already having left the premises in anticipation of the arrival of police.

Some 250 officers were mobilised according to the Val-de-Marne prefecture. Shelters were planned for those evicted, both in the Ile-de-France area surrounding Paris and other regions, such as Bordeaux.

Carrying their belongings, the 300 or so remaining occupants – men, women and children – left the premises shortly after 8am. 

Some had been living at the site for several months, either unable to find accommodation in the private sector or still awaiting social housing.

According to the United Migrants NGO, which regularly provides assistance, 80 percent of migrants are legally residents of France.

The Revers de la Médaille (Flip Side of the Coin) group, which brings together NGOs that help people living on the streets, has for months warned of the plight of the homeless, whose makeshift camps are being dismantled as the Olympic Games approach.

Mohammed Sayed, an Eritrean, had been living in the squat for three years.

He has refugee status and works in electrical maintenance for the construction company Eiffage on a permanent contract, but has been unable to find accommodation.

“It’s not that I’m happy to be here, but where am I going to go?” the 40-year-old asked the AFP news agency, his large suitcase beside him.

  • Rights body to probe Paris homeless ‘clean-up’ before Olympics
  • Migrant transfers from Paris ahead of Olympics anger French mayors and NGOs

Several squats evacuated

Once the headquarters of a bus company, the building in Vitry-sur-Seine has gradually been taken over by people who have been evicted from other squats in the Paris region.

At the end of March, residents said they were unable to find accommodation elsewhere and were forced to set up beds and mattresses on the floors of the near-derelict, multi-storey building.

In 2023, police evacuated the disused former headquarters of Unibéton in Seine-Saint-Denis – close to the future athletes’ village for the Paris Olympics – where 500 migrants were living.

In July, a further 150 people who had taken refuge in an abandoned retirement home in a suburb in Val-de-Marne were also evicted.


Paris 2024 Olympics

Doubts over launch site cloud 100-day countdown to Paris Olympics

Organisers of the Paris Olympic Games began their 100-day countdown on Wednesday amid uncertainty over the site of the Opening Ceremony on 26 July.

Since December 2021, a six-kilometre slice of the River Seine has been the hallowed venue for a sound and light spectacular involving the 11,000 athletes and a flotilla of barges ferrying them along past some of the world’s most famous monuments.

Preening over the first opening ceremony to take place outside a main stadium, has been evident from the announcement of the extravaganza



But less than a week after Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin highlighted fears over a terrorist attack at Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League match against Barcelona, President Emmanuel Macron raised the prospect of taking the Opening Ceremony back indoors to the Stade de France.

In a TV interview on Monday, Macron said: “There are plan Bs and plan Cs; we are preparing them in parallel. We will analyse this in real time.” 

  • Olympic flame begins long journey from Greek birthplace to Paris

Seine the preferred option

With appropriate decorum, organising committee chief Tony Estanguet said the status symbol outdoor splash was the very probable option.

“The main objective is to achieve a very beautiful, absolutely unique Opening Ceremony, the first time that it will be held outside a stadium, in the centre of Paris on the Seine,” said Estanguet, who was attending the lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia, Greece.

“All of our energy and all of the means at our disposal are being employed to make this very beautiful ceremony a success.

“In parallel to that, we are looking at all the contingency plans to adapt to the context, because that is our responsibility.”

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, appeared equally malleable. 

“The only plan I know is Plan A,” she said. “The message I prefer to send is that we are ready and we are going to welcome the world.”

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

Countdown

With 100 days to go before the official start – the event gets underway a few days earlier with some games in the football tournament – organisers are at pains to ensure that the country is mobilised and ready to receive visitors.

“It’s my role to explain that it’s a fantastic opportunity for our country to host this event,” said Estanguet.

“We all know that before this kind of big event, there are always many questions, many concerns.”

The construction work is on track and the budget looks set to be relatively contained compared to the huge blow-outs seen at the Athens, London or Rio de Janeiro Games.

Before proffering a change of opening venue, Marcon hailed the wondrousness of the engineers and designers who have been restoring Le Grand Palais.

Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, it is into the third year of a four-year restoration project.

Work will stop to allow the venue to be deployed as the site for the fencing and taekwondo from 27 July. 

“Four years ago, we were told that it was still crazy,” said Macron of the restoration project. “But now the whole world will rediscover the Grand Palais as a place of creation, of exhibition, of knowledge, and of welcoming the public.”

It will be formally handed over to the Paris Olympics organising committee on Friday.

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra has been as effusive as her boss on her peregrinations for handovers of infrastructure to the organising committee.

  • Architecture students design Olympic fan zones for Paris suburbs

Salute

Late last month – some 20 kilometres north of Paris – for the inauguration of the apartment blocks which will house foreign technical staff in Dugny as well as a new gymnasium in adjacent Le Bourget, she saluted the efforts of the teams involved in the 650 million-euro transformation of some 70 hectares.

“What you have done is absolutely exemplary,” Oudéa-Castéra told the 200-odd workers who had gathered inside the gymnasium which will be used for sports such as badminton, handball and volleyball as well as sport climbing during and after the Games.

Flanked by the industry minister Roland Lescure, she added: “You’ve worked very hard over the years and you’ve delivered a whole complex on time and a whole extraordinary area that will enable us to be extremely proud to welcome people from all over the world.”

But for all such crescendos, fears remain that the Olympic flag-waving for the start of the 100-day countdown will merely increase the animosity over issues such as the official Games poster, to the choice of artists for the Opening Ceremony.

The prospect of an appearance by the Franco-Malian singer Aya Nakamura caused an uproar among conservatives who have denounced her for being vulgar.

Veteran sociologist Hervé Le Bras said he was sceptical that the Olympics could serve as a moment of national celebration.

“Instead, there are lots of suggestions that they will underline the major fractures in France – notably the fracture between Paris and the rest of the country,” he told the French news agency AFP.

In another era during the decades of post-war expansion in France, the country might have been more ready to celebrate the Olympics, Le Bras suggested.

Regional crises

The Olympics will come in 100 days, while the war in Ukraine continues to rage and tensions in the Middle East flare.

In France some trade union leaders are suggesting strikes over more pay.

Although past polls have shown majority support for the Olympics, a survey on 25 March by the Viavoice group found that 57 percent of respondents felt little or no enthusiasm about the Games in Paris.

Twenty kilometres north in Dugny, such souls would be outliers.

“The Olympic Games has been the project that has made the regeneration happen,” said Quentin Gesell, mayor of Dugny.

“And it’s something to be proud of. In the town where I grew up, we’re going to welcome the whole world here.”

With 100 days to go, the venues have been built and kitted out for the hordes.

Around 13 million are expected. The site and grandeur of the Opening Ceremony will be of little concern to the vast majority of them.


Paris Olympics 2024

Man behind recycled plastic seats in Olympic venues plots ways to stop the trash

Marius Hamelot recalls his fine April morning at the inauguration of the Olympic Aquatics Centre chatting to President Emmanuel Macron as well as a phalanx of politicians and Paris Olympics officials with a mixture of pride, astonishment and self-deprecation.

The 29-year-old was part of the stellar delegation as boss of Le Pavé – the company that produced the 11,000 recycled plastic seats that will be used during the competitions at the venue in Saint Denis, as well as a few kilometres to the south at the La Chapelle Arena.

“I knew that I would have to make a presentation to the president so that was really great to get the opportunity. Something you do once in a lifetime,” he beams.

“But afterwards … walking behind the president … I didn’t know that I would have to stay with everyone.

“It was surprising for me to be there. But I was grateful to see that the message that what we’ve been trying to put across has been heard and acknowledged.”

Countdown

As Macron contemplates a whirl of launches during the 100-day countdown to the start of the Olympic Games, Hamelot can look back and smile wryly at his post-presentation gawkiness.

His own 100-day countdown to the launch of the Olympic extravaganza on 26 July offers, he says, a period of reflection and projection.

Just six years out of the Versailles School of Architecture, the rising son of architects from Argentré-du-Plessis in Brittany will, in just over three months, see the fruits of his labours beamed into millions of homes around the planet.

Thousands of spectators will profit from his innovations during the summer as they sit enthralled at the action unfolding in front of them.

“Of course I’m proud,” he says as he perches on a recycled plastic seat around a recycled plastic table in a downstairs meeting room at Le Pavé’s bustling headquarters in Aubervilliers on the northern fringes of Paris.

Young team

“I felt like the inauguration of the Aquatics Centre was the end of five years of hard work for this project. It was the end of a really important step for the company.

“But I feel like there is so much to do still.”

Having launched Le Pavé in 2018 with childhood chum Jim Pasquet and Judith Sebban, the staff has grown during nearly a dozen moves around Paris to embrace 35 souls.

“It’s a really young team,” Hamelot says. “And I feel like everyone is motivated to work and to solve the problems we’re finding.”

Marketing won’t be one of the bugbears. During the production of the seats for the Olympic venues, 60 collection points were set up in the region around Paris.

“We asked the inhabitants to bring plastic caps,” Hamelot explains. “So that was a part of the project.”

The next generation was also drafted in and acquainted with the environmental benefits of recycling, with collecting points in schools around Aubervilliers.

Of the 100 tonnes of plastic collected for the 11,000 seats, 80 percent hails from the area around the capital.

Plastic mix

In the Aquatics Centre, the white seats have come from a mix of the plastics from shampoo and washing up liquid bottles. The tinge of yellow arrives courtesy of bottle caps.

The black seats in La Chapelle Arena? A simple witch’s brew of coloured plastics.

The upshot is pure magic. Trash sticks around. “This is really important,” Hamelot says.

“Countries don’t want to see trash and so we send it to other countries but then since we do that, we are participating. We are creating something that is everywhere.

“It’s a nonsense. What we want to do with the project is recycle the trash that is local.” 

To that end, a factory has been set up near Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy, some 300 kilometres to the south of Paris. Plants are planned for the south and west of France as the company attempts to operate at a national level.

Future benefits

“The seats was a really interesting project because it was kind of a manifesto of what we wanted to show on a national and international scale,” Hamelot says.

“And we were speaking about something with both sustainable impact and social impact.”

Such features chime with the ethos of the Paris Olympics. Organisers have highlighted that new buildings – such as the 180-million euro Aquatics Centre – will have enduring validity once the Games have left town. 

Macron underlined the point during his eulogy to the workers who constructed the pools which will serve an area of 1.6 million people where statistics had revealed that nearly half of 11-year-olds could not swim. 

“We’ll have the Olympic Games,” he told around 1,000 people congregated in the stands around the main pool. “But after that this centre will be yours. That’s how we wanted it and that’s how we planned it.”

Hamelot says Le Pavé will benefit too.

Giving back

“After this summer, we’ll be able to go to the Aquatics Centre and to the La Chapelle Arena and show our clients how our material can be used.

“It’s a part of the heritage of this event in an area that really needs some of this infrastructure.

“We’re located in this area so I feel like we’re bringing something that we will also benefit from for a long time.”

Rarely has such ado about plastic sounded so fantastic. But it is founded on busy times. “Not only because of the seats but because of the demand of our clients,” Hamelot says. “At the moment we’re distributing the product everywhere in France.”

So much for Hamelot’s next 100 days.

“When we had the first conversation with the architects, it was really challenging because we had just created the company.

“We didn’t have any anything, it was just an idea but the more we passed from prototype to prototype we understood that maybe we will do it and then it became a bit stressful because it was the Olympics.

“So we really had to be on time because it was the reputation of the company that we were creating.

“But getting the opportunity to do just a small part of such an event – it’s once in a lifetime.” 

But there’s a snag amid the Olympic idyll: no places for the outfit that created the seats.

“At one point it was was like, yeah, we we did the seats, so maybe we deserve to have a ticket.

“But then I just realised that hundreds of people worked days and night on the buildings and that they deserved it more than us.”

That really is putting the friendly into eco.


CLIMATE – POLITICS

Climate finance and debt relief loom large at World Bank, IMF meetings

The urgent issues of climate financing and global inequality will underpin this week’s spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – coming amid growing calls for a shake-up of those institutions to avoid a climate-driven “economic catastrophe”.  

The debt burden on developing countries, most of which are suffering disproportionate climate shocks, is an issue that’s gained traction at successive climate talks – with a Loss and Damages Fund hailed as a major success at last year’s Cop28 conference in Dubai. 

Finding the trillions of dollars needed for broader climate finance is a challenging question that will be addressed at the Washington meetings, which come as the World Bank and IMF – the Bretton Woods institutions – mark 80 years of promoting international monetary cooperation. 

Created by 44 Allied nations in the aftermath of World War II to prevent the sort of economic instability that contributed to the Great Depression as well as the war, the institutions are now tasked with modernising themselves as fresh challenges threaten the global economy. 

‘Quantum leap’

The head of the UNFCCC climate body, Simon Stiell, last week warned that a “quantum leap” in climate finance was needed to avoid a scenario in which the world’s economy is brought to a devastating halt. 

Without this revolutionary progress, he said, many countries will be unable to implement strong new climate plans in early 2025, when the next round of NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) is due.  

“It’s hard for any government to invest in renewables or climate resilience when the treasury coffers are bare, debt servicing costs have overtaken health spending, new borrowing is impossible and the wolves of poverty are at the door,” Stiell said in a speech at London’s Chatham House think tank. 

  • Extreme drought in southern Africa triggers hunger crisis for millions

Climate finance traditionally means rich nations and multilateral development banks allocating money – drawn from public, private and alternative sources – to developing countries to help them cut emissions and adapt to climate change. 

The World Bank, which was chosen to manage the Loss and Damages Fund, and the IMF will be instrumental in determining whether poorer nations can access the finance they need. 

“That’s why the collaboration of the IMF and multilateral development banks is so important,” former French diplomat Laurence Tubiana, now chair of the European Climate Foundation, told a recent press conference.

Ensuring poorer countries have speedy access to debt-free financing was crucial, she added. 

Fresh tactics

Both the IMF and World Bank have sought to draw in private capital at much higher levels because donations from wealthy nations will never be able to cover the burgeoning cost of the climate crisis.

At Cop28, the World Bank set itself an objective to devote 45 percent of its financing to climate-related projects by 2025. To make that happen, president Ajay Banga is calling on the private sector. 

The institution has estimated that developing countries will need about $2.4 trillion each year between now and 2030 in order to meet challenges that include conflict and pandemics as well as climate change.

Steill urged the World Bank to step up the pace on climate finance solutions – including by looking at alternative funding sources such as a levy on frequent flyers and taxing shipping emissions. 

  • Staff at France’s EDF question involvement in futuristic Saudi city

Internal change

An overall reform of development banks was crucial, he said, such as changing their lending practices to allow for debt relief.

Steill called for a new target that meets the needs of developing countries to be agreed at the Cop29 climate talks in Baku later this year – where financing for energy transition and climate adaptation will be central themes – before adding that this too would fall short. 

“It’s not enough to agree a target. We need a new deal on climate finance between developed and developing countries,” Stiell said.  

“The spring meetings are not a dress rehearsal. Averting a climate-driven economic catastrophe is core business. It can’t slip between the cracks of different mandates.” 


ETHIOPIA

UN falls short of billion-dollar pledge to tackle Ethiopia’s hunger crisis

A UN donor conference held in Geneva had hoped to raise significant pledges towards a $1 billion target (€940 million) to address the “critical” humanitarian situation in Ethiopia over the next three months. However pledges fell short at €570 million.

More than 21 million people need urgent aid in Ethiopia, where a food crisis is deepening.

Organisers said ahead of the conference they did not expect to raise the full amount by Tuesday, but rather to begin closing the gap between needs and funding.

“We understand this is just the beginning, and we hope for continued and increased support throughout the year,” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya said in a statement.

Twenty countries made new pledges, with Ethiopia’s top donor – the United States – saying it had pledged an additional €145 million.

Britain, which co-hosted Tuesday’s conference, pledged over €117 million, while the European Union said that with member states it had pledged more than €131 million.



Funding gap

Ethiopians are facing ongoing internal conflicts amid economic and climate shocks and an increasingly dire food and malnutrition crisis.

The UN has said over €3 billion is needed this year alone, including to assist some four million internally displaced people.

But before Tuesday’s event, that rescue plan was less than 5 percent funded.

“The gap remains very wide … We have really to act before it is too late,” Shiferaw Teklemariam, commissioner of the Ethiopian Disaster Risk Management Commission, told reporters in Geneva before the start of the conference.

The UN said an initial billion-dollar sum was needed for an urgent aid response through to the end of June.

It is also needed to prepare for the so-called “lean season” from July to September, when around 11 million people are projected to be critically food insecure.

  • A year after the ceasefire in Tigray, Ethiopia is little closer to peace
  • UN’s World Food Programme resumes food aid delivery in Ethiopia

‘Very fragile’

“The humanitarian situation in Ethiopia is critical – but there is a window to act right now to break the downward spiral,” the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said.

Britain’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Mitchell said the situation was “extremely worrying“, but added the international community, working closely with the Ethiopian government, was “in a position to head it off”.

Washington also stressed the need for rapid action.

“We have millions and millions of people in Ethiopia facing very severe food insecurity,” USAID deputy administrator Isobel Coleman said ahead of the conference, warning “the humanitarian situation in the country remains very, very fragile”.

Without more aid “the consequences could be very dire”, she said.



‘Not enough aid to distribute’

Coleman also stressed that strong measures would be needed to ensure the aid reaches its intended destination.

Last year, USAID and the UN’s World Food Programme temporarily halted all food aid to Ethiopia, alleging a “widespread and coordinated” campaign to divert donated supplies – something Ethiopia’s government denied.

Authorities in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region warned last December it was on the brink of famine. 

“So much of this food insecurity is being driven by conflict,” Coleman said.

“Until we have peace and security in the country, which allows full access for humanitarian players we’re really not going to be able to get a full handle on this humanitarian crisis.”  


Climate change

World oceans summit nets $10bn in sustainability pledges

More than 400 commitments amounting to $10 billion were made this week at an international summit on saving the oceans, host country Greece has said.

The annual fundraiser, now in its ninth year, is the first such event to address all issues related to oceans.

This year’s three-day conference began Monday with delegates from around 120 countries.

The European Union has pledged €3.5 billion to protect the world’s oceans and promote sustainability through a series of initiatives.

In Greece, 21 initiatives with a budget of €780 million are underway as part of a structured strategy for the protection of Greek marine biodiversity.

The government also announced the creation of two new national parks, one in the Ionian Sea for marine mammals and turtles, and another in the Aegean Sea for seabirds.

The aim of the conference is to promote and support the idea of the “blue economy”, which the World Bank defines as “sustainable use of ocean resources to benefit economies, livelihoods and ocean ecosystem health.”

  • Oceans break record for highest temperatures five years in a row
  • UN adopts first-ever treaty to protect high seas marine life

Reducing plastics

“Concrete initiatives are urgently needed on all major issues such as climate change, marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, sustainable blue economy, maritime safety and marine pollution,” said Greek Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis.

This year’s summit highlights issues of sustainable tourism in coastal and island regions, green maritime transport, reducing plastics and microplastics, and the green transition of the Mediterranean.

Last year’s conference, hosted in Panama, saw participants pledge $19 billion toward projects addressing sustainable fishing, pollution, maritime security and protected.

​​​​​(with newswires)


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)

Spotlight on Africa

After Senegal’s success, can Mali and Niger also hope for elections?

Issued on:

The delayed March presidential vote in Senegal confirmed the country remains a beacon of democracy in a region facing increasing instability. RFI looks at how the peaceful victory of Bassirou Diomaye Faye and mentor Ousmane Sonko stands to influence the politics of neighbouring Sahel nations.

This edition of Spotlight on Africa looks at the vast and diverse West Africa region, from Senegal to Benin to Niger and Mali.

It’s a big election year for Africa in general, with no fewer than 16 countries heading to the polls.

These include a complicated parliamentary vote in Togo on 19 April, general elections on South Africa on 29 May, presidential elections in Algeria in September, and presidential elections in Ghana in December.

But for Sahel nations Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, elections appear a distant dream as the military juntas in power delay processes for a return to civilian rule.

Many hope the inspiring outcome of the Senegalese election can galvanise the region.

Speaking to RFI about the polls are former Senegalese diplomat Babacar Ndiaye and Nigerien researcher Seidik Abba.

Meanwhile Yvonne Ndege, of the International Organisation for Migration, looks at the issue of migration on the continent.

And finally Azu Nwagbogu, curator of the Benin pavilion for the Venice Biennale, speaks to RFI’s Ollia Horton ahead of the event’s opening on Saturday.

Read also:

  • Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential election
  • Insecurity erodes chances of return to civilian rule in Niger and Mali

Episode mixed by Erwan Rome.

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 

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.” 

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“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.”

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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


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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.