rfi 2024-04-23 10:05:21



Migration

UK Parliament approves controversial Rwanda deportation bill

Controversial UK government plans for deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda cleared their final hurdle on Monday, after a marathon tussle between the upper and lower chambers of parliament lasting late into the night. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says deportation flights would begin in July.   

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his ruling Conservatives have been seeking to push through legislation that will compel judges to regard the east African nation as a safe third country.

They also want to give decision-makers on asylum applications the power to disregard sections of international and domestic human rights law to get around a UK Supreme Court ruling that sending migrants on a one-way ticket to Kigali was illegal.

But the government faced a parliamentary battle to do so, with the upper chamber House of Lords, which scrutinises bills, repeatedly sending the proposed legislation back to the lower House of Commons with amendments.

Peers, who have criticised the bill as inadequate, notably wanted a requirement that Rwanda could not be treated as safe until an independent monitoring body said so.

They also wanted an exemption for agents, allies and employees of the UK overseas, including Afghans who fought alongside British armed forces, from being removed.

Europe’s highest rights body on Tuesday called on Britain to scrap a controversial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, after the measure cleared parliament.

“The United Kingdom government should refrain from removing people under the Rwanda policy and reverse the Bill’s effective infringement of judicial independence,” the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael O’Flaherty, said in a statement.

Parliamentary ping pong

MPs in the Commons, where the Tories have a majority, voted down every amendment and asked the Lords to think again in a back-and-forth process known as “parliamentary ping pong”.

The unelected upper chamber, where there is no overall majority for any party, dug in their heels.

But shortly before midnight they eventually conceded to the will of elected MPs and agreed to make no further amendments, ending the deadlock and ensuring the bill will now receive royal assent to pass into law.

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

Sunak’s government has been under mounting pressure to cut record numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Channel from northern France in small boats, particularly following a promise of a tougher approach to immigration after the UK left the European Union.

The Rwanda scheme – criticised by UN human rights experts and groups supporting asylum seekers – has been beset by legal challenges since it was first proposed in 2022.

That year, the first deportees were pulled off a flight at the last minute after an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights. Two years on, no migrants have been sent.

  • UK signs new migration treaty with Rwanda

The National Audit Office, a public spending watchdog, has estimated it will cost the UK £540 million (€625 million) to deport the first 300 migrants – nearly £2 million (€2.3 million) per person.

Charities have said the scheme is unworkable and, given the small numbers involved, would do little to cut the backlog of asylum claims.

Other critics say it sets a dangerous precedent of parliament legislating on an issue already deemed illegal by the courts, and will damage the UK’s international standing and moral authority.

First flights in 10 to 12 weeks

Rwanda – a tiny nation of 13 million people – lays claim to being one of the most stable countries in Africa. But rights groups accuse veteran President Paul Kagame of ruling in a climate of fear, stifling dissent and free speech.

Sunak announced earlier on Monday that the government was ready and had plans in place for the first flights to take off in 10 to 12 weeks, promising a wave of deportations “come what may” over the summer months.

The Prime Minister is banking on the flagship “stop the boats” policy to act as a deterrent and give his beleaguered Tory party an electoral boost as the country prepares to go to the polls later this year.

The Conservatives have consistently trailed the main opposition Labour party in opinion polls and are on course to be dumped out of power after 14 years.

Sunak’s plans could still be held up by legal challenges, and UN rights experts have suggested that airlines and aviation regulators could fall foul of internationally protected human rights laws if they take part in deportations.

(with AFP)


Diplomacy

Senegal’s new leader calls for a rethink of the country’s relationship with the EU

Senegal’s new leader Bassirou Diomaye Faye has called for a rethink of the country’s relationship with the EU during a visit by European Council President Charles Michel.

Faye, who was inaugurated as president on 2 April, was elected on pledges of radical reform and promises to restore national “sovereignty” over key industries.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Michel on Monday night, Faye said cooperation between Senegal and Europe was “dense and multifaceted, but together we want a rethought, renovated partnership”, one “capable of supporting the innovative dynamic we want to imprint on our relations”.

 As part of his promised reforms, Faye recently announced the renegotiation of oil and gas contracts, and hopes to do the same with fishing agreements signed with the European Union.

Fishing is a significant part of Senegal‘s economy, but the industry is grappling with the effects of overexploitation of marine stocks.

Improvements for both sides

Michel said the two parties “should not dread” broaching difficult subjects if it meant “bringing about improvements for both sides”, pointing to the fisheries issue in particular.

Faye said his government would pursue a model of boosting development from within, focusing on agriculture, livestock and fishing, while also strengthening infrastructure such as railways, electrical grids, telecommunications and roads.

  • AU/EU summit interview: Africa needs to find its own way, NGO director says

“European investors whose companies have recognised skills in these different sectors are welcome,” he added.

Michel said Europe had an “objective interest in Senegal being able to meet the challenges of development, economic emergence and improvement of the living conditions of the people”.

“The world order is the result of political choices that were made in the last century in a totally different world”, which is why the European Union “supports more justice and more inclusion”, Michel said.

(with AFP)


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris museum takes NYC breakdance off the streets, and into the spotlight

For the first time in Olympics history, breakdance – the hip-hop dance style that grew out of New York City in the 1970s – willl take centre stage at the Paris Olympic Games this summer. To mark the occasion, the Carnavalet Museum is hosting breakdance performances and workshops.

The Carnavalet Museum is dedicated to the history of Paris, from prehistory to the present day.  Located in the central Marais district, it is one of the most visited museums in the French capital.

“Breakdancing is completely part of this Parisian history, or at least the history of the Grand Paris project and its suburbs,” Maxime Boulegroun-Ruyssen, project superviser at  Carnavalet Museum, told RFI.

“We wanted to show how breakdance could be brought into the museum as part of this rather exceptional event, the Olympic Games,” she explains.

As part of the “Cultural Olympiad“, the museum offers breakdance workshops for school groups and those with little or no cultural experience.



  • Hip-hop turns 50: How French rap became the ‘second nation’ under a groove

Dancing in a museum

Quentin – known as Qujo Amphbian – has been a professional breakdancer for 10 years and a member of Relief dance company.

Earlier this month, he hosted a workshop at Carnavalet to a crowd who wouldn’t normally come to the museum, let alone have an interest in breakdance.

“I tried to explain hip-hop culture to the participants …what are the moves and the groove”, he said.

“And they realised that breaking is not just about twisting your body … ‘breaking’ your body. It’s also a groove, an attitude and a way of life.”

Inès, a participant from the Aurore charity – an organisation that helps people in precarious situations or suffering from exclusion – was suprised to see a dance workshop taking place in a museum: “I’m used to doing it in a sports hall, but in a museum … that’s new and original.”

For Quentin, it was challenging too: “In hip-hop, we are used to [dancing] on the streets, to dance in different areas and to be challenged by the environment. 

“I did some parts of my performance on the stairs … being surrounded by art work inspired me. It’s a beautiful place and it was a real pleasure to dance in this museum.”

  • Sophie Bramly’s photos capture vibrant 1980s hip-hop scene in Paris exhibition

Breakdancing at the Olympics

As to breakdance being part of the Paris Olympics, opinion is divided on whether it should be included as a sport.

Known as “breaking” the competition will feature two events—one for men and one for women – where 16 B-Boys and 16 B-Girls will face off in spectacular solo battles.

“It’s really good for our art, our culture. It will bring students to our classes,” Quentin explains.

“At the same time, it’s a bit difficult because it will resonate with an image of breakdance being a sport. I think that this is art before everything …I hope we don’t lose our soul”.

During the summer Olympics, breakdance battles will take place on 9 and 10 August at Place de la Concorde in the centre of Paris.


Israel – Hamas conflict

‘Neutrality’ issues found at UN agency for Palestinians, but no terrorism proof

An independent review group on the UN agency for Palestinians – led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna – found “neutrality-related issues” but noted Israel had yet to provide evidence for allegations that a significant number of its staff were members of terrorist organisations.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) remains “irreplaceable and indispensable to Palestinians’ human and economic development,” added the report, which was released late Monday.

The review group was created following allegations made by Israel in January that 12 UNRWA staff may have participated in the 7 October, 2023 Hamas attacks. In the weeks that followed, numerous donor states suspended or paused some $450 million (€422 million) in funding.

Many have since resumed funding, including Sweden, Canada, Japan, the EU, France and more – while others, including the United States and Britain – have not. Congress passed a law last month preventing the US from funding UNRWA until March 2025.

Those pauses to the main aid organ in Gaza come as months of Israeli military operations have turned the territory into a “humanitarian hellscape,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said recently, with its 2.3 million people in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medicine.

Colonna’s team was tasked with assessing whether UNRWA was “doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality,” while Guterres activated a second investigation to probe Israel‘s allegations.

Problematic content

The review noted that “neutrality-related issues persist,” including instances of staff sharing biased political posts on social media and the use of a small number of textbooks with “problematic content” in some UNRWA schools.

But it added “Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence” for a recent claim that UNRWA employs more than 400 “terrorists.”

“Most alleged neutrality breaches relate to social media posts” which often follow incidents of violence affecting colleagues or relatives, the review found.

  • UN chief calls on countries to resume funding Gaza aid agency after allegations of militant ties

“One preventive action could be to ensure that personnel are given space to discuss these traumatic incidents,” added the report, which was co-authored with three Nordic rights groups.

The report praised the progress made by UNRWA in preventing biased texts from being used in its schools, which are critical to educating hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children.

But it cited a recent assessment that found 3.85 percent of textbook pages contained content of concern.

These included “the use of historical maps in a non-historical context, e.g. without labeling Israel” referring to Israel as the “Zionist occupation” and “naming Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.”

Recommendations

The authors also identified concerns over the politicization of staff unions, which have “resisted management disciplinary actions” including on neutrality, and are male-dominated, despite the agency itself being gender-balanced.

They offered a number of recommendations including expanding the review of school texts and enhancing transparency with donors in order to tackle the trust deficit.

But dismantling UNRWA, as sought by Israel, would accelerate Gaza‘s slide into famine and doom generations of children to despair, the organisation’s head Philippe Lazzarini warned last week.

UNRWA began operations in 1950 and provides services to nearly 6 million people across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

(with AFP)


YOUTH VIOLENCE

French PM says boarding school key step in preventing juvenile violence

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal continued his offensive against juvenile delinquency in Nice, with a visit to an experimental educational boarding school to illustrate the prevention aspects of a plan he unveiled last week in Paris.

The French prime minister visited the Lycée du Parc Impérial in Nice on Monday, where an educational boarding school is being tested during the school holidays.

Attal took part in a discussion with teenagers taking part in the course – some of whom were reluctant – as well as with parents, local political leaders and volunteers  participating in the experiment.

“We must not be afraid of words, there is a problem of violence among young people” and “tackling this problem is one of my government’s top priorities”, Attal declared at the end of the discussion.



Investing in prevention

Last Thursday, Attal announced the launch of “very strong measures in terms of punishment” in the combat against delinquency during a visit to the southern Paris suburb of Viry-Châtillon.

It was here where 15-year-old Shemseddine was beatten to death by a gang on 5 April.

Attal condemned the “addiction of some of our adolescents to violence”, calling for “a real surge of authority… to curb violence”.

  • French PM seeks ‘jolt of authority’ in bid to tame violent teenagers
  • France deploys armoured vehicles to contain riots over police shooting

The French head of government pushed ahead with his message in Nice, saying: “if we concentrate on intervention at the time of punishment – in response to acts of delinquency and violence – we would be missing a large part of the issue: ensuring that these acts of violence and delinquency do not happen [in the first place]”.

“This means investing more in prevention as early as possible to prevent young people from falling into delinquency”, he continued.

Attal has particularly advocated the boarding school solution: “We have around 50,000 empty boarding places in France today, which is crazy when you think about it, even though we know that there are many parents who are overwhelmed and who could [see] an advantage in it”, he said.

“During the year, we are going to place many more young people in boarding schools to prevent them from drifting, but also during the holidays … breakaway stays like this could be a solution”, he concluded. 

Attal also said he was in favour of speeding up punishment for certain misdemeanors, for example confiscating scooters from reckless drivers and applying “immediate fines” rather than wait for a judge’s decision.

Attal also announced that the Minister of Justice, Eric Dupond-Moretti would sign off on a legal text that would allow children under 16  to be put into “work camps” during the holidays. Until now, this was only reserved for children over 16.

Government gets tough, post-riots

Since riots swept across France last summer, the government has vowed to get tougher on juvenile delinquents – with the support of the army if necessary – and hold parents responsible for their children’s actions.

The riots and looting – France’s worst in almost two decades – broke out after a teenager of North African descent was shot dead by police after he failed to stop for a traffic check in the multi-ethnic working class suburb of Nanterre, near Paris.

The violence spread throughout France, affecting some small towns in rural areas – several of which introduced curfews.


Assisted dying

French MPs start to weigh up issues over assisted dying

A French parliamentary commission on Monday began the long task of examining proposals to be included in a controversial bill backed by French President Emmanuel Macron that would allow citizens to apply for assisted dying.

The initiative is the brainchild of Health Minister Catherine Vautrin, who said a commission-approved text would be submitted to the full parliament on 27 May. A final vote is unlikely before 2025.

Macron said last month that France needed the law. “There are situations you cannot humanely accept. The goal is to reconcile the autonomy of the individual with the solidarity of the nation,” he added.

However, he says he only wants people suffering incurable illnesses and intense physical or psychological pain to have the right to ask for help to die.

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

Over the coming weeks, the parliamentary commission will take in recommendations from doctors, religious leaders and psychologists. Leading philosophers, sociologists are also expected to be consulted.

“We need to listen to everybody,” said commission head Agnes Firmin de Bodo, a former junior health minister.

Eligibility

Vautrin told the Corse Matin newspaper that the text was “extremely balanced”, notably thanks to the strict conditions for its application.

Only people born in France or long-term residents will be allowed to apply for assisted dying.

Eligible patients will have to be over 18, able to clearly express their wishes and suffer from a condition that limits their life expectancy to the short or medium term.

Psychiatric illnesses are specifically ruled out from the bill, as are neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

  • French euthanasia activist Alain Cocq dies in Switzerland

If approved, the law would represent progress and humanity, said Olivier Falorni, the commission’s spokesman.

Firmin de Bodo added that she hoped for calm exchanges in parliament. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal urged lawmakers to show the greatest respect towards everybody’s convictions.

Lobbies

Macron’s centrist allies and left-wing lawmakers are expected to argue in favour of the bill, with right-wing and far-right parliamentarians broadly hostile.

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

  • Macron’s euthanasia bill prompts anger from health workers, church

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

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

Choice

Parliamentary leaders of all parties in the National Assembly have said that they will not pressure their MPs to follow the party line.

Until now, French patients in pain wishing to end their lives have had to travel abroad, including to neighbouring Belgium and Switzerland.

A 2005 law legalised passive euthanasia, such as withholding artificial life support, and doctors are allowed to induce “deep and continuous sedation” for terminally ill patients in pain.

But active euthanasia, whereby doctors administer lethal doses of drugs to patients, is illegal. Assisted suicide – meaning patients can receive help to voluntarily take their own life – is also banned.

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

(with newswires)


Environment

World’s top private firms fail to commit to net-zero emissions: report

Only 40 of the world’s 100 largest private firms have set net-zero carbon emissions targets to fight climate change, lagging far behind public companies. This is according to a report by the Net Zero Tracker group released on Monday.

For the world to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming 1.5C, all companies need to reduce their planet-heating emissions, according to the report.

The lack of market and reputational pressures on private firms compared to those publicly listed, along with an absence of regulation are to blame for their slow uptake of climate commitments, John Lange of Net Zero Tracker told French newswire service AFP.

“I think things are changing on all three of those fronts,” he added.



‘Naked PR stunt’

The report compared 200 of the world’s largest public and private companies based on their reported emissions reduction strategies and net-zero targets.

It found that only 40 of the 100 private firms assessed had net zero targets, compared to 70 of 100 publicly-listed companies.

Of the private companies that have set targets, just eight have published plans on how they will meet them.

“A pledge without a plan is not a pledge – it is a naked PR stunt,” the report said.

The firms analysed account for roughly 23 percent of the global economy, with the majority based in either China, the United States or EU states – the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

  • Shell appeals court ruling ordering it to slash emissions by 2030

Regulations coming

The report reveals only two firms – furnishing giant Ikea and US engineering giant Bechtel – ruled out using controversial carbon credits to achieve their net-zero goals.

Carbon credits allow businesses offset their emissions by directing money toward a project that reduces or avoids emissions, such as protecting forests – but critics say they allow companies to keep polluting.

Several jurisdictions have adopted climate disclosure regulations, while others have regulations on the horizon – business hubs of California and Singapore requiring greenhouse gas emissions reporting from 2027.

The European Union also introduced two climate regulations – the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive  – which will soon require thousands of large companies to report their climate impacts and emissions, and to take action to curtail them.

  • ArcelorMittal to invest €1.8bn to decarbonise its northern France site

French supermarket chain singled out

The EU policies are expected to have far-reaching effects in particular, targeting firms not only based in the bloc but those that may be headquartered elsewhere with branches or subsidiaries within the member states.

Yet two European private firms, including French hypermarket chain E. Leclerc, were singled out in the report for not having set any emission reduction targets at all.

Although E.Leclerc maintains the company has made efforts toward more sustainable practices like eliminating the use of single-use plastic bags, and is “committed to setting near-term company-wide emissions reduction targets”.

But with the enforcement of EU regulations looming, firms will no longer be able to “dodge” climate targets, Sybrig Smit of the NewClimate Institute told AFP.

“It’s actually quite watertight. If companies want to do business in Europe, they are going to have to face the consequences,” she said.

(with AFP)


GABON

French court rejects corruption charges against daughter of Gabon’s ex-president

A French court on Monday cleared the eldest daughter of Gabon’s former leader Omar Bongo of accepting bribes to help secure public contracts in the country.

The Paris criminal court found Pascaline Bongo not guilty, alongside French construction firm Egis Route and five individuals.

Pascaline Bongo, who was her father’s chief of staff until his death in 2009, was accused of helping Egis Route secure public contracts in Gabon between 2010 and 2011, when her brother Ali Bongo had taken over as president.

Prosecutors alleged that she accepted a promise of €8 million in kickbacks. They wanted Bongo to be sentenced to three years in prison, with two years suspended. 

But the court found that Bongo’s position as “high personal representative of the president” did not grant her the ability to award the contract in question.

Ruling

“Nothing in the case enables us to prove an intervention in favour of Edis Route using her ties to the president,” the presiding judge added.

She also highlighted that the French law making it an offence to bribe a foreign public official did not exist at the time of the alleged infraction.

“It’s reassuring that the court made a fair reading of the situation. This is a victory for the law,” said Bongo’s lawyer Corinne Dreyfus-Schmidt.

Two former senior Egis Route managers and its current sales chief Christian Laugier – formerly in charge of the firm’s Africa business and chief executive – were also in the dock.

The three men were accused of offering Pascaline Bongo the €8 million kickback for the public works contract.

Legal battle

Revealed by French newspaper Libération, the charges relate to contracts to consult on the creation of a national agency in charge of public infrastructure projects.

The agency was overseen by Ali Bongo, who became president when his father died in 2009. 

The trial opened at the end of January, with lawyers for Bongo arguing for the case to be thrown out on the grounds that it did not fall under French jurisdiction and that the alleged misdeeds were outside the statute of limitations.

They also claimed that evidence had been seized illegally. 

The judge nonetheless allowed hearings to continue, promising to address their objections in the final ruling. 

Rare charges

France rarely pursues corruption charges against foreign officials or French companies operating overseas, according to Sara Brimbeuf of Transparency International France.

Speaking to RFI at the start of Bongo’s trial, she said the anti-corruption watchdog would be following it closely to see if it could set a precedent for other potential prosecutions.

In 2010, the French judiciary opened a so-called “ill-gotten gains” enquiry into the origin of the fortune Omar Bongo used to buy assets in France.

Spanning 15 years, the probe resulted in the seizure of several properties and embezzlement charges against several of Bongo’s children – though not Ali Bongo, who as a sitting president benefited from immunity.

  • Coup highlights France’s enduring friendship with longtime rulers of Gabon

Family affair

Several members of the Bongo family have been charged in Gabon since Ali Bongo was forced from power in August 2023. 

His wife, Sylvia Bongo Valentin, was charged the following month with money laundering, forgery and falsification of records and subsequently jailed.

Their son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, has been charged with corruption and embezzling public funds.

He and several Bongo allies were arrested shortly after military leaders ousted the former leader on 30 August, moments after he was proclaimed the winner of a third presidential election.

(with AFP)


Conservation

Green groups denounce ‘flawed’ French plan to save emblematic forest bird

Environmental groups in France have filed a court challenge against plans to reintroduce the threatened western capercaillie, a type of wood grouse, to the Vosges mountains. The bird is emblematic of the region but has been all but wiped out because of climate change and growing tourism.  

Five NGOs said they had lodged an appeal against the government’s repopulation project, arguing that the underlying issues that first caused the bird’s disappearance remain unchanged.   

Of particular concern were ongoing plans to develop tourism, local ecosystem challenges and a failure to manage game animals that eat the capercaillies’ natural food sources, such as blueberries. 

“While we’re obviously not opposed to bringing back the capercaillie, reintroducing a wild species to an area that it recently disappeared from due to habitat degradation poses significant concerns,” said Dominique Humbert, president of SOS Massif des Vosges, one of the NGOs. 

  • How jackals’ taste for melons helps fruit flourish in Namibian desert

Iconic forest birds

Western capercaillies are known for their striking appearance, with the iridescent blue and green males almost twice the size of the females. 

They’re iconic birds in European forests, where they play a significant role in maintaining woodland ecosystems.  

France’s repopulation plan involves capturing capercaillies of the same genetic strain in Norway, where the birds’ population exceeds 200,000, and releasing them locally.  

Only about 10 of the birds remain in the Vosges mountains.

Local authorities last week approved the capture of 40 capercaillies per year over a period of five years, despite objections by the Regional Scientific Council for Natural Heritage and France’s National Council for Nature Protection. 

The so-called “capercaillie reinforcement strategy” is to be led by government authorities and the Ballons des Vosges Regional Natural Park at an annual cost of €200,000. 

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

Preventable ‘sacrifice’

In their court appeal, filed in Nancy, the green groups warned the plan amounted to a “foreseen environmental and financial catastrophe”.

This was despite assurances from Vosges authorities that the concerns of scientists from the heritage and nature councils had been taken on board and used to improve the project. 

Wildlife photographer Vincent Munier, who specialises in capturing images of capercaillies, joined the NGOs in criticising the move to bring the birds back to a habitat that is no longer suitable.

“They are ready to sacrifice birds … to let them die in an environment that is not theirs and that we have been unable to protect,” he told regional daily Vosges Matin.


Guadeloupe

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

A curfew for minors in Pointe-à-Pitre, the economic capital of Guadeloupe, will come into effect Monday evening in an attempt to address a crimewave in the French overseas department. It was announced during a visit by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin last week.

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 last week 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 on Monday evening 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)


CLIMATE CHANGE

Heat-related deaths rise by 30 percent in Europe due to extreme weather

Data published by two leading climate monitors this Monday says that Europe endured a record number of ‘extreme heat stress’ days in 2023, underscoring the threat of increasingly deadly summers across the continent.

In a year of contrasting extremes, Europe witnessed scorching heatwaves but also catastrophic flooding, withering droughts, violent storms and its largest wildfire.

According to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization in a new joint report published this Monday, these disasters inflicted billions of dollars in damages and impacted more than two million people.

The consequences for health were particularly acute, with heat singled out by these agencies as the biggest climate-related threat as global warming drives ever-hotter European summers.



Thermal Climate Index

“We’re seeing an increasing trend in the number of days with heat stress across Europe and 2023 was no exception, with Europe seeing a record number of days with extreme heat stress,” said Rebecca Emerton, a climate scientist at Copernicus.

For this study, Copernicus and WMO used the Universal Thermal Climate Index, which measures the effect of the environment on the human body.

It takes into account not just high temperatures but also humidity, wind speed, sunshine, and heat emitted by the surroundings. 

The index has 10 different categories of heat and cold stress, with units of degrees Celsius representing a ‘feels-like’ temperature.

Extreme heat stress “is equivalent to a ‘feels-like’ temperature of more than 46 degrees Celsius, at which point it’s imperative to take actions to avoid health risks such as heat stroke”, Emerton said.

  • UN warns of ‘climate breakdown’ after searing summer heat

‘Extended summer’

Prolonged exposure to heat stress is particularly dangerous for vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions, with the effects extreme heat much stronger in cities.

Twenty-three of the 30 worst heatwaves on record in Europe have occurred this century and heat-related deaths have soared around 30 percent in the past 20 years, the report said.

2023 was not the hottest summer in Europe – it was, in fact the fifth hottest – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t blazing.

Much of Europe sweltered from heatwaves during an “extended summer” between June and September, Emerton said.

September was the warmest on record for Europe as a whole, she added.

  • France records hottest September ever as warm weather persists

Serious consequences

Scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet, causing more intense and frequent extreme weather events.

Europe is warming twice as fast as the global average and heatwaves will become longer and more powerful in future, the report said.

This – coupled with ageing populations and more people moving to cities – will have “serious consequences for public health”, it added.

2023 was the hottest year globally on record and oceans, which absorb 90 percent of excess heat produced by carbon dioxide emissions, also warmed to new highs.

Glaciers in all parts of Europe saw a loss of ice, while Greece suffered the largest wildfire in the history of the EU.

2023 was also one of Europe’s wettest years, with major flooding affecting 1.6 million people, and storms a further 550,000.

Emerton said that economic cost of these extreme events was over €13 billion – about 80 percent attributed to flooding.


Tennis

Djokovic skips Madrid to concentrate on Roman conquest before French Open

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic on Monday confirmed his absence from the Madrid Masters tournament – one of the three most prestigious clay court competitions on the circuit in the prelude to the French Open in Paris.

Djokovic, 36, skipped the Barcelona Open last week after taking part in the Monte Carlo Masters where he reached the semi-finals.

It is believed Djokovic will continue his preparations to defend his French Open crown by competing at the Italian Open which starts in Rome on 6 May.

In Djokovic’s absence, Jannik Sinner will lead the seedings in Madrid.

The 22-year-old Italian will open his campaign in the second round either against compatriot Lorenzo Sonego or a qualifier.

Doubt

Local hero Carlos Alcaraz – the world number three – will be second seed should he recover from an arm injury which forced him to miss the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open.

Former world number one Rafael Nadal will take on 16-year-old Darwin Blanch from the United States in the first round.

Nadal, 37, a five-time winner at the Caja Magica, returned to action at the Barcelona Open where he fell in the second round to the Australian Alex de Minaur.

Should Nadal advance past Blanch, the Spaniard will face de Minaur for a place in the third round.

Nadal announced last May that 2024 was likely to be his last season on the ATP circuit.

The winner of 22 Grand Slam tournaments including 14 French Opens has been plagued by foot and stomach injuries over the last few years. He says he wants to spend more time with his family and devote himself to promoting his tennis academy.

In the women’s draw, top seed Iga Swiatek will open her quest for a first title in Madrid against Xiyu Wang from China or Ana Bogdan from Romania.

Defending champion Aryna Sabalenka will start against Magda Linette from Poland or the Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto.

International report

Turkey’s Erdogan targets support against Kurdish rebels during Iraq trip

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Iraq on Monday for the first time in 12 years. He’ll be seeking support for Ankara’s war against Kurdish rebels in Iraq as well as deeper economic ties. 

With Turkish forces continuing their build-up for a major offensive against the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, enlisting Iraq’s support is expected to top Erdogan’s agenda in Baghdad.

The PKK has for decades used Iraqi territory to wage war against the Turkish state. Erdogan’s visit is part of a new approach to Baghdad in fighting the PKK.

“Turkey wants to start a comprehensive strategy that has an economic, social, and security base,” said Murat Aslan, a senior security analyst for the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, an Ankara-based think tank.

“In the meantime, expanding the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces may make Iraq much safer, and Turkey may feel more secure.”

Breakthrough

Last month, Ankara achieved a diplomatic breakthrough when Baghdad banned the PKK.

Erdogan will have also leverage when he visits Iraq. Iraq is suffering a severe drought and Baghdad has repeatedly called on Ankara to release more water from dams controlling rivers serving Iraq.

This week, Erdogan said he is ready to consider Baghdad’s pleas.

“One of the most important agenda items of our visit is the water issue,” Erdogan told reporters.

“Baghdad has made some requests regarding water and we are working on these issues.

“We will make efforts to resolve this issue with them. They already want to resolve this matter. We will take steps in this direction.”

Bilateral trade

Deepening bilateral trade is also a key part of the Turkish leader’s visit. Ankara seeks to increase international transit through Iraq as part of a planned new trade route between China and Europe.

“The main backbone of this upcoming presidential visit to Iraq, to Baghdad and Erbil, will be the new so-called development road,” said Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who served in Iraq.

“It will connect the port of Basra to the Turkish border, to Habur, or to a new border gate. Perhaps it will have a railroad, and then parallel to it, there will be a highway. And that will be an oil and gas pipeline.”

Erdogan also said he may visit Erbil, the capital of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, with whom the Turkish leader has developed close ties.

However, Iran could thwart the goal of expanding Turkish influence in Iraq.

“In Baghdad, the sun does not shine without the approval of Iran, of course,” warned Selcen, who works as a foreign policy analyst for Turkey’s Medyascope news portal.

“So how will Ankara be able to align all these stars and build a capacity to cooperate with it? It’s still debatable to me, and it looks unrealistic to me.”

Balance

However, some experts say Baghdad is looking to Ankara to balance Tehran’s influence, especially as speculation grows over the withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq, one of the few checks to Iran.

“My hunch is that the Iraqi government wishes to free itself at least somewhat from the grip of Iranian influence and Turkey can be a balancer,” said Soli Ozel, who teaches international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

 “I think Turkey would like to be a balancer here because Turkey, just like every other country in the region, is not all that happy with the kind of power that Iran has in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.” 


Protests – France

Parisians protest against Islamophobia amid Gaza war tensions

A crowd of around 2,000 people protested in Paris against racism, Islamophobia and violence against children on Sunday after a court allowed their demonstration to go ahead.

Demonstrators gathered in Paris were holding banners including one reading “long live the resistance of the Palestinian people” during a protest “against racism, against Islamophobia” at the call of various organisations in Paris on 21 April 2024.

Bans on protests have been more frequent in France in recent months amid tensions stirred by Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.

In a country that is home to large Muslim and Jewish communities, authorities have banned many pro-Palestinian demonstrations and public gatherings, citing the risk of antisemitic hate crimes and violence.

On Sunday, the protesters marched peacefully in Paris from the multi-ethnic Barbes neighbourhood towards Place de la Republique.

 

Many chanted slogans remembering Nahel, a 17-year-old of North African descent who was fatally shot during a police traffic stop last year.

  • Thousands rally in France to protest police violence and racism

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez told broadcaster BFM TV he initially chose to ban the march because in announcing the protest the organisers had likened French police violence to the war in Gaza, and he felt the event could cause a threat to public order.

That argument was rejected by Paris’s administrative court in a fast-track decision.

“Fighting and mobilising for the protection of all children is normal, it should be,” said Yessa Belkgodja, one of the organisers of the march, welcoming the court’s decision.

“If we are banned from protesting, it means we don’t have the right to express ourselves in France. We are being monitored on social media.

That’s enough, leave us alone”, said Yamina Ayad, a retiree who was wrapped in Palestine flag.

 (with Reuters)


FRENCH HISTORY

Women’s long battle to vote in France and the generations who fought it

This 21 April marks 80 years since women secured the right to vote in France. A wartime decree finally granted equal suffrage in 1944 – decades later than other European countries, and only after generations of women had demanded their democratic rights.

From Denmark to Azerbaijan, Germany to Georgia, Russia to the United Kingdom, swathes of Europe established at least limited voting rights for women in the 1910s.

Finland enfranchised women even earlier, in 1906. On the other side of the world, Australia and New Zealand had opened voting to certain women in 1902 and 1893 respectively. 

Yet in 1932, a French senator was still arguing in all seriousness: “Giving women the right to vote is a gamble, a leap into the unknown, and we have a duty not to rush into this venture.”

Sure enough, France went slow. It would be another 12 years before Charles de Gaulle’s government in exile passed the decree that, on 21 April 1944, declared women eligible to take part in elections on the same terms as men. 

What took so long? 

Currents of history

“It’s true that it’s a long, long story, and it’s not just 1944,” says Anne-Sarah Moalic, a historian whose book La Marche des Citoyennes (“The March of Women Citizens”) traces the history of the suffrage movement in France.

She is keen to correct the notion that women in France were slow to demand their rights. Equal treatment had been a matter for debate since the French Revolution, with thinkers such as Olympe de Gouges arguing for women to play a role in politics from the 1790s. 

But it was an era of revolution and counter-revolution, when breakneck progress was followed by reactionary backlash.

By 1848, after the conservative monarchy had been restored and toppled once again, a new provisional government declared that all French men could vote from the age of 21 – a suffrage they called “universal”, but that specifically excluded women. 

Bold pioneers

Women began to object immediately, says Moalic – women such as Eugénie Niboyet, who founded France’s first feminist daily newspaper, La Voix des Femmes (“The Women’s Voice”), just weeks later. 

The following year one of her fellow campaigners, a seamstress, schoolteacher and socialist named Jeanne Deroin, became the first woman to run for parliament in France.

“You sincerely want the full consequences of your great principles liberté, égalité, fraternité, and it is in the name of these principles, which do not admit unjust exclusion, that I am standing as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly,” she declared.

Ridiculed in the press and heckled at hustings, Deroin did not win a seat; even if she had, the law wouldn’t have allowed her to take it.

“We have to imagine how difficult it would have been for her,” says Moalic, who marvels at Deroin’s courage.

“But we cannot say that it was really the beginning of a big movement.”

By 1851 a coup d’état had re-established imperial rule and a crackdown was underway on socialists like Deroin, who left France for England and never returned.   

“So we had to wait for the feminists of the Third Republic from 1870, 1875, to find the strong movement for women’s rights in France,” Moalic says.

The first suffragists

The rights they were demanding weren’t just political. A growing number of social reformers were campaigning for better access to education, legalised divorce and broader property rights, among other changes, which they believed would make life fairer and freer for women and girls in France.

But Hubertine Auclert – “the first French suffragist, the big one”, in Moalic’s words – drew a line between reforming the laws and making them in the first place.

“Auclert said the vote was a priority, because if you don’t vote you’re not considered,” says Moalic. 

In 1876, Auclert founded the first French group dedicated to campaigning for women’s suffrage. 

She adopted tactics more militant than any yet seen in France, including refusing to pay taxes and sabotaging ballot boxes at the 1908 municipal elections.

“We could not imagine today that a woman [of the time] was that bold, that audacious in the way she campaigned,” comments Moalic.

Within the law

On the whole, though, French activists were less radical than the suffragettes who were beginning to force the issue to the fore in the UK – chaining themselves to railings, smashing windows, scrapping with police, going on hunger strike and eventually mounting bomb and arson attacks.

“In France, women weren’t using the same kind of action,” says Moalic. “They preferred this respectable, legalist approach, to show that they could be part of the Republic and would obey the law.”

Auclert’s successors, suffragists of the 1910s and ’20s such as Cécile Brunschvicg and Maria Vérone, shunned civil disobedience in favour of peaceful protests and petitions.

Even later activists remained more or less respectable. 

In the 1930s, journalist Louise Weiss grabbed headlines with stunts including staging mock ballots, blocking traffic, burning newspapers, marching onto a racecourse, airdropping pamphlets over a football match and covering policemen in talcum powder.

But though inspired by British suffragettes, the pranks were more playful than confrontational.

“I felt that in France, if the people who laugh are on your side you’re almost sure to win, and we got the laughers on our side,” Weiss later said.

Institutional gatekeepers

It was a time when respect for institutions was especially sacred in France, which was finally in a period of stability after more than a century of upheavals.

That also helps explain why, as French suffragists persuaded MPs to take up their cause in parliament, lawmakers were leery.

Starting in 1901, women’s suffrage was discussed – and dismissed – in the lower house several times. MPs eventually voted in favour for the first time in May 1919. But the upper house, the Senate, took until 1922 to consider the proposal – and then rejected it.

The same thing would happen repeatedly over the following decade. By 1936 the National Assembly had voted for women’s suffrage six times, the Senate not once.

Senators – who at the time, unlike lower-house lawmakers, were not directly elected – saw themselves as the guardians of a delicate status quo, Moalic explains. 

Fearing further tumult, she says, “they have this reaction of protection, and they say: ‘What would they vote for, these women?'”

Opponents claimed women would struggle to vote responsibly or be unduly influenced by husbands – or worse, by priests.

Moalic says: “They’re afraid of what could happen with that vote, so they prefer to keep the situation as it is.”

Sea change

But equal franchise was rarely gained without tumult, Moalic points out. 

Most European countries extended suffrage soon after World War I, when empires were crumbling and new constitutions being written.

“And in France, it’s just the same,” says Moalic. “In 1918 the institutions were strong enough not to be broken by the First World War. And after that we had great stability in our institutions in France for all this period between the two wars.”

That was shattered by World War II. 

“And so, on the ruins of this Third Republic, we had to build something new – and that is the moment of 1944 when the vote is granted at last to French women.”

France was one of a fresh wave of countries, including Italy, Belgium and Japan, that rewrote their voting laws in the wake of World War II.

Even then, de Gaulle’s provisional government didn’t approve the reform unanimously. But women had worked alongside and instead of men and fought in the Resistance.

The argument that they weren’t capable of voting was no longer tenable.

From ballots to seats

The first chance they got to vote was in 1945, first in municipal elections and later in parliamentary ones.

“Women did vote, and that was a very important point, because many people said that women weren’t interested in voting,” says Moalic.

“Where the inequality was stronger, and still is, is with the fact of being elected.”

Just 33 of the 586 lawmakers elected to the National Assembly in 1945 were women; in 1958, it was eight. Today, 215 female MPs make up just over 37 percent of France’s National Assembly.

  • Drop in number of female MPs shows ongoing battle for gender parity in French politics

But in women’s long, unfinished struggle for equality, the right to vote was a milestone – a right not given, but claimed. 

“These women, these feminists, they were looking for a better world,” says Moalic. “They wanted to be included in the ‘republic’. And not as women – they just wanted to be part of this big and beautiful thing that is democracy and republic.

“And I think today, where some ideas and ideologies in society are quite sad and separatist, with everyone looking for their own little right, it’s really important to celebrate this reform, and all these women who gave many of their years and their attention to make a change.”


France – Books

French publishers voice concerns over rise in used book sales

French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement of a new tax on used book sales to protect new books is the latest proposal from a government with a history of intervening in the publishing industry to keep it afloat.

While the used book market is on the rise in France, the Emmaus charity – a third of whose online revenue comes from books – is raising the alarm over unfair competition from online retailers.

Macron has proposed adding a tax to used book sales, which he says would help publishers, authors and translators.

Speaking at the annual Paris book fair last weekend, Macron said that used books – most of which are sold on major online retail platforms like Amazon – posed a competitive threat to the price of new books in France.

Culture Minister Rachida Dati would give details of how this contribution would work at a future date, he added.



Used books on rise

Used books do compete with publishers, with lower prices that have become more attractive during times of inflation.

A study by the Culture Ministry and the French authors’ rights association Sofia published earlier this month found that the number of people buying used books is going up, while the number of new book sales are staying flat.

Nearly 20 percent of books sold in 2022 were used, though the market value is much lower because of their lower prices.

By some estimates, the used book market is €888 million compared to the €4.3 billion market for new books.

Consumers’ reasons for buying used books is driven by price, and not for environmental concerns, which could drive purchases of other types of second-hand items.

  • Riverside booksellers in Paris refuse to clear out for Olympics

Tax should not affect price

The president of the French publishers’ association, SNE, says a tax on used books would be minimal.

The used book market is dominated by “major international actors that do not pay taxes in France,” Vincent Montagne on France Culture radio last week, making reference to online retail platforms like Amazon, Rakuten or eBay.

The tax would only apply to them, he said, and not independent used book sellers, like the bouquinistes along the Seine in Paris, or charity shops.

French publishers are protective of their market, as they have the right to set the retail price of their books – including e-books – and sellers cannot offer more than five percent off the cover price.

This comes from a 1981 law passed in response to the threat posed to bookstores by the chain store Fnac and large supermarket retailers, which offered discounts on books that smaller stores could not.

  • France’s royal library welcomes families after majestic makeover

Unfair competition

But the used book market is not subject to the same rules, and some resellers are concerned that they cannot compete in the face of online retailers.

The Emmaus charity, which started selling second hand items online via its Label Emmaus online platform in 2016, has launched a campaign calling out what it says is “unlawful competition” from platforms like Amazon, as well as Shein, Temu and Ali-Express.

A third of sales on the charity’s online platform are used books, and it has seen a 20 percent drop in visitors at the start of 2024.

Called “all our books are equal”, the campaign juxtaposes the covers of two biographies, one Emmaus founder Abbé Pierre, and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.

Director Maud Sarda attributes drops in sales to inflation, but also to the “harmful” strategies of the platforms, including constant advertisement, increasingly rapid delivery, and lower prices.

Last month the National Assembly passed a bill to make fast-fashion less attractive, including a ban on advertising for the cheapest clothes, and an environmental tax added to low-cost items. The Senate has yet to vote on the proposal.

Sarda would like to see laws that would prohibit free delivery, which has been prohibited for new book orders of under €35 since last year.

It is important to act, says Sarda, otherwise the Emmaus model of sustainable consumption will be compromised.

“There is an urgency to fight against these harmful sales practices and prioritise sustainable and fair [consumer] solutions, which run the risk, otherwise of disappearing well and truly.”


ART and CULTURE

African feminism pumps the heart of Benin’s debut at Venice Biennale

For the first time since its inception in 1895, the Venice Biennale contemporary art fair has invited the West African nation of Benin to host a pavilion. Curator Azu Nwagbogu and his team of four artists have created a warm, homely space where visitors are encouraged to slow down, reconnect with what unites humanity and explore the roots of African feminism.

Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Nwagbogu is one of the art world’s most sought-after curators. He was asked personally by the President of Benin, Patrice Talon, to head up the team dedicated to making the national pavilion come to life.

“I really hope there will be a reflection around Benin’s history and feminism … something that we can all relate to and brings us back to the thing that makes us all feel human,” Nwagbogu told RFI ahead of the opening of the Venice Biennale which runs from 20 April until 24 November.

According to Nwagbogu, the momentum of getting Benin into the international spotlight began with a political turn of events in 2021: the identification and final restitution of 26 precious traditional objects to Benin from Paris’s Quai Branly Museum.

Nwagbogu was present at the historic exhibition that took place in 2022 at the presidential palace in Cotonou. People of all walks of life came and queued up to see the artefacts, he says, underlining the symbolic importance of this event.

Hope on the horizon

“The remarkable thing was that it was curated to present the work of contemporary artists in the same space.

“It was easy to see the genetic connection between the work of these contemporary artists and the work of our forebears that were made 200 or 500 years ago.

“I believe that exhibition really created a general sense of purpose, hope and positive anticipation for what was to come next.”

The artistic team was commissioned to explore several themes for the Benin pavilion at the Venice Biennale: spirituality, Vodun, the figure of the Amazon, and the slave trade.

  • Benin opens exhibition of stolen art treasures returned by France

Nwagbogu says he carried out extensive research, travelling around the country to meet “the custodians of Benin’s culture”, referring to the representatives of the Vodun religion and the King of Dahomey.

All of them reinforced the idea that “nature is fecund, the earth is fecund. That life and nature are feminine,” he explains.

“The reason the world is out of kilter is because we’ve embraced this other sort of rootlessness that is lacking in care.”

The final result is an exhibition called “Everything Precious is Fragile” – a chance to come back to the essential and “reflect on the way we treat the things that are most important to us,” Nwagbogu says.

The title is in fact the literal translation of the term Gelede, one of Benin’s key cultural traditions.

The Gelede is a ceremony performed by the Yoruba-Nago community that is spread over Benin, Nigeria and Togo and pays tribute to the primordial mother Iya Nla and to the role women play in society.

Moving forward

“I’d settled on working on the idea of African feminism, something that was tangible and real and was manifest especially before colonial times,” he says, underlining the need to reach back into the past to move forward.

Nwagbogu and his team – co-curator Yassine Lassissi and scenographer Franck Houndégla – selected four major artists to provide works for the pavilion: Chloé Quenum, Moufouli Bello, Ishola Akpo, and Romuald Hazoumè.

He says each artist was chosen “not only for their individual artistic prowess but also for the unique ways in which their works and methodologies complement each other” within the themes explored.

  • Franco-Senegalese documentary ‘Dahomey’ wins Berlin’s Golden Bear

“We didn’t want to get into the debate over the Western logic around feminism, instead we wanted to stay with what we knew was real and what really connects humanity and everyone can relate to it,” he says.

The strength of women throughout Benin’s history is contrasted with the fragility of life and vulnerability, a state of being that Nwagbogu insists must be embraced, not feared.

“I think the thematic approach allows us to deal with a lot of the urgent issues of the world today: ecology, economy, loss of biodiversity, memory, restitution. All of these things are super fragile but are fading away from us.”

He describes a central dome which makes the pavilion feel like a sacred space. He says he hopes the atmosphere will provide a counterbalance to the frenetic pace of our daily lives and reinstate the importance of the word “care”.

“I’m hoping people will come to the Benin pavilion and really slow down and say to themselves, I want to hang out here because there is knowledge here,“ Nwagbogu says.

“I want it to feel homely, I want people to feel like this is an ideal or a vision for the museum of the 21st century.”

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. 


Sudan crisis

Why aid isn’t a lasting solution for millions facing famine in war-torn Sudan

After a year of war, millions of people in Sudan are facing displacement, violence and hunger. While the world has pledged billions in aid, the United Nations says the crisis can only be solved if Sudanese people are given the means to rebuild and produce their own food again.

Internally displaced people and refugees are impacting the already fragile economies of Sudan and its neighbours.

A conference in Paris on Monday raised more than €2 billion in international pledges that come one year after the start of fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

It’s a conflict that has forced millions to flee and brought the population to the brink of famine. 

Donor countries at the Paris event recognise the seriousness of Sudan’s crisis and are genuine in their desire to take meaningful action, the UN Development Programme (UNDP)’s Abdallah Al Dardari, told RFI.

They know the situation in Sudan will spillover and affect the entire region.

“Investing in Sudan is actually a global public good. There is finally a sense of urgency on the issue,” Al Dardari said.

  • Sudan on its knees after one year of brutal civil war

Urgent need for agriculture

But emergency handouts will not offer a lasting solution. The UN needs to revive agriculture in Sudan and to bring back food production, jobs and incomes.

“Forty percent of farmers in Sudan this year could not plant their seeds,” Al Dardari said, adding that food security was a major obstacle.

“There will not be a harvest next year, which means this is very serious.”



UNDP figures, meanwhile, show that 50 percent of salaried employees in Sudan have lost their incomes.

Even if there was food available, half of the population would lack the money to buy it.

“What we are suggesting is a comprehensive approach that takes into consideration the immediate humanitarian needs but also [the need] to bring back livelihoods,” Al Dardari said.

The logic is that investing in livelihoods will in turn reduce reliance on aid, and much of Sudan stands to benefit from the right sorts of investment.

“If we produce food in Sudan today, and if we invest in local infrastructure, bring back the microfinance markets and allow farmers to buy their inputs and so on – in areas where safety and security allow for that – it will reduce the humanitarian burden,” Al Dardari said.

It would also signal to Sudanese that they aren’t merely seen as victims of a human catastrophe, but as people with agency and with active voices.

  • UN says 5 million at risk of starvation in Sudan

International pressure

When fighting broke out on 15 April, 2023, most diplomats and aid workers left Sudan – effectively ceasing to serve those most vulnerable. 

With the country on the brink of famine, the UN says it has been able to reach only 10 percent of Sudan’s 48 million people.

Those still working on the ground already see “children dying of malnutrition every day”, said Isobel Coleman of USAID, the United States’ international development agency.

The international community has a role to play in stopping the fighting, she told RFI after attending the conference this week. 

Conflicting parties must be brought back to the negotiating table, Coleman said, adding that a ceasefire would allow for full humanitarian aid access and avert an even more serious crisis. 

“The sooner the better, because the suffering is immense. Most parts of the country are on the verge of famine,” she said.



The US is considering further sanctions against Sudanese commanders and hopes that other countries will do the same, according to Coleman. 

She said she was optimistic about the reopening of peace talks, which are expected to resume in Saudi Arabia.

“We don’t yet have a precise date, but I hope that we will know soon so we can bring all the parties involved in this crisis around the table.

“This is the only way to move forward.”


Coup in Niger

US to withdraw military personnel from Niger

The United States will withdraw its troops from Niger, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters late on Friday, adding an agreement was reached between US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and Niger’s leadership.

There were a little over 1,000 US troops in Niger as of last year, where the US military operated out of two bases, including a drone base known as Air Base 201 built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of more than $100 million.

Since 2018, the base has been used to target Islamic State militants and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, an al Qaeda affiliate, in the Sahel region.

Last year, Niger‘s army seized power in a coup. Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of the United States and France.

  • Niger no closer to restoring order as Ecowas deadline looms

But the new authorities in Niger joined juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in ending military deals with one-time Western allies like Washington and Paris, quitting the regional political and economic bloc Ecowas and fostering closer ties with Russia.

In the coming days, there will be conversations about how that drawdown of troops will look, the source told Reuters, asking not to identified.

The source said there would still be diplomatic and economic relationships between the US and Niger despite this step.

The New York Times earlier on Friday reported more than 1,000 American military personnel will leave Niger in the coming months.

Last month, Niger’s ruling junta said it revoked with immediate effect, a military accord that allowed military personnel and civilian staff from the US Department of Defense on its soil.

  • Niger’s junta revokes military deal with US

The Pentagon had said thereafter it was seeking clarification, about the way ahead. It added the US government had “direct and frank” conversations in Niger ahead of the junta’s announcement, and was continuing to communicate with Niger’s ruling military council.

Hundreds took to the streets of Niger’s capital last week to demand the departure of US troops, after the ruling junta further shifted its strategy by ending the military accord with the United States and welcoming Russian military instructors.

Eight coups in West and Central Africa over four years, including in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, but also Gabon, have prompted growing concerns over democratic backsliding in the region.

  • Listen to: Podcast – After Senegal’s success, can Mali and Niger also hope for elections?

 (with Reuters) 


CHAD

Chad is ‘not a slave who wants to change masters’, says president

Chad goes to the polls next month for a presidential election hoped to mark a return to democratic rule three years after military leaders seized power. Growing Russian influence in Africa, meanwhile, is shaking up historical ties to France. Transitional ruler Mahamat Idriss Deby, who is running to stay in power, spoke to RFI and sister station France 24 about the vote, Russia and the future of Chad’s relations with France.

RFI/France 24: Chad’s presidential election is scheduled for 6 May and some observers say the outcome is already a foregone conclusion. Members of the opposition are calling it a sham, claiming that you control all the electoral institutions.

Will Chad hold a real election?

Mahamat Idriss Deby: We’ve come a long way with the whole political class and also a large part of the ex-politico-military [former rebels]. And all the institutions created by the new constitution are independent.

The most important is the Agence nationale de gestion des élections, ANGE… Today, ANGE is independent.

So I think that those who say that this is a sham or that the election has already been decided, well, I understand: that’s what politics is all about, it’s fair game.

But I have confidence in the [election] agency, which will play its role fully and independently.

You will see that, on 6 May, the people of Chad will choose. They will elect a president who will lead this country for the next five years and the people’s choice will be respected.



RFI/F24: On 28 February 2024, opposition politician Yaya Dillo was killed in an assault by the Chadian army on his party’s headquarters. His party has called it an execution and Human Rights Watch says his body had a single shot to the head.

How do you respond to claims that you had your fiercest opponent taken out?

MID: Yaya Dillo and his militants attacked the headquarters of the intelligence services with weapons of war. Does a political party have the right to bear arms? Do the militants of a political party have the right to have weapons? That’s the question.

During this macabre attack, there were deaths: deaths on the side of the defence and security forces, and also among the militants of [Dillo’s party] the PSF.

So it was perfectly normal for the state to expect that the person who carried out this attack should be arrested to answer for his actions.

The police intervened to arrest him. He refused to comply. On the contrary, he fired at the police and the police fired back. There were deaths on both sides.

The case is now in the hands of the courts. We are going to wait for the court’s decision.

And we have made it very clear that we are also open to an independent investigation, which means that we have nothing to hide.

RFI/F24: You are open to an investigation?

MID: An international investigation.

RFI/F24: How soon?

From the outset, we issued a press release to explain to those at home and abroad what happened. And we also called for an independent inquiry.

  • Concerns ahead of Chad elections after death of main opposition figure
  • Chad excludes military rulers’ main opponents from presidential vote

RFI/F24: You paid a high-profile visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of January 2024, calling Russia a “brother country”. Do you envisage military cooperation with Moscow of the kind that that Niger recently agreed? 

MID: We held very fruitful discussions with President Putin, based on mutual respect and on issues on which we agree. On issues that concern us, between two sovereign states.

RFI/F24: Does that include security cooperation?

MID: It’s not just military cooperation. There are other areas of cooperation. Why do we always talk about military cooperation when it comes to African countries?

There are other forms of cooperation: economic cooperation, which is very important today for our countries.

We talked about lots of things: military cooperation, economic cooperation, diplomatic cooperation… I can tell you that I am satisfied with the visit.

RFI/F24: Are you considering a change of military alliance? Are you considering dropping your alliance with France and forging an alliance with Russia?

MID: Chad is an independent, free and sovereign country. We are not like a slave who wants to change master. We intend to work with all the nations of the world, all the nations that respect us and want to work with us with mutual respect.

  • Diplomatic dip for France as African nations seek out stronger partners
  • Chad’s opposition fears France will maintain status quo after elections

RFI/F24: In practical terms, does this mean that the French contingent of over 1,000 troops and the three French military bases currently in Chad will remain?

MID: [France’s special envoy for Africa] Jean-Marie Bockel recently visited Chad. We discussed the future of our cooperation.

We had discussions, we are going to continue our discussions and together, with sovereignty, we are going to decide on our future cooperation.

And this cooperation must not be limited to defence. There are other areas of cooperation too, notably economic. Economic cooperation is more important to us today than defence cooperation.

RFI/F24: This election raises a question. Are you committed to standing for only one or two terms or – as some people fear – is a “Deby dynasty” taking hold?

First of all, you have to realise that I am a candidate and I have an ambitious programme that I am going to present to the Chadian people.

Then it’s up to the Chadian people to decide, even if I’m confident. I am confident in my programme in terms of all the things I have done, in terms of respecting the commitments I made for the transition: in particular organising an inclusive national dialogue and constitutional referendum.

The people of Chad know that I am a man of action and a man of my word. If I am elected, I will serve my five-year term and at the end of my term, it will be up to the people to judge me…

As for a dynasty, our constitution is very clear – a candidate cannot serve more than two successive terms.

I would like to reassure the people of Chad that I and everyone will respect the constitution that was adopted and voted for by the Chadian people.


This interview has been edited from the original French for length and clarity.

International report

Turkey’s Erdogan targets support against Kurdish rebels during Iraq trip

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Iraq on Monday for the first time in 12 years. He’ll be seeking support for Ankara’s war against Kurdish rebels in Iraq as well as deeper economic ties. 

With Turkish forces continuing their build-up for a major offensive against the Kurdish rebel group the PKK, enlisting Iraq’s support is expected to top Erdogan’s agenda in Baghdad.

The PKK has for decades used Iraqi territory to wage war against the Turkish state. Erdogan’s visit is part of a new approach to Baghdad in fighting the PKK.

“Turkey wants to start a comprehensive strategy that has an economic, social, and security base,” said Murat Aslan, a senior security analyst for the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, an Ankara-based think tank.

“In the meantime, expanding the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces may make Iraq much safer, and Turkey may feel more secure.”

Breakthrough

Last month, Ankara achieved a diplomatic breakthrough when Baghdad banned the PKK.

Erdogan will have also leverage when he visits Iraq. Iraq is suffering a severe drought and Baghdad has repeatedly called on Ankara to release more water from dams controlling rivers serving Iraq.

This week, Erdogan said he is ready to consider Baghdad’s pleas.

“One of the most important agenda items of our visit is the water issue,” Erdogan told reporters.

“Baghdad has made some requests regarding water and we are working on these issues.

“We will make efforts to resolve this issue with them. They already want to resolve this matter. We will take steps in this direction.”

Bilateral trade

Deepening bilateral trade is also a key part of the Turkish leader’s visit. Ankara seeks to increase international transit through Iraq as part of a planned new trade route between China and Europe.

“The main backbone of this upcoming presidential visit to Iraq, to Baghdad and Erbil, will be the new so-called development road,” said Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who served in Iraq.

“It will connect the port of Basra to the Turkish border, to Habur, or to a new border gate. Perhaps it will have a railroad, and then parallel to it, there will be a highway. And that will be an oil and gas pipeline.”

Erdogan also said he may visit Erbil, the capital of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, with whom the Turkish leader has developed close ties.

However, Iran could thwart the goal of expanding Turkish influence in Iraq.

“In Baghdad, the sun does not shine without the approval of Iran, of course,” warned Selcen, who works as a foreign policy analyst for Turkey’s Medyascope news portal.

“So how will Ankara be able to align all these stars and build a capacity to cooperate with it? It’s still debatable to me, and it looks unrealistic to me.”

Balance

However, some experts say Baghdad is looking to Ankara to balance Tehran’s influence, especially as speculation grows over the withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq, one of the few checks to Iran.

“My hunch is that the Iraqi government wishes to free itself at least somewhat from the grip of Iranian influence and Turkey can be a balancer,” said Soli Ozel, who teaches international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

 “I think Turkey would like to be a balancer here because Turkey, just like every other country in the region, is not all that happy with the kind of power that Iran has in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.” 

The Sound Kitchen

Sailing on the Seine

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the Paris Olympics Opening Ceremony. There’s a surprise guest with good news, “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.

We have a new/old podcast! RFI English has revived our monthly podcast Spotlight on Africa. It’s produced and hosted by Melissa Chemam from our newsroom’s Africa desk. Every month, Melissa will take an in-depth look at one of the leading stories on the continent today, with interviews and analysis from on-the-ground specialists.

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, Spotlight on Africa, 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!

We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Rodrigo Hunrichse from Ciudad de Concepción, Chile.

Welcome, Rodrigo! So glad you have joined us!

You too can be a member of the RFI Listeners Club – just write to me at english.service@rfi.fr and tell me you want to join, and I’ll send you a membership number. It’s that easy. When you win a Sound Kitchen quiz as an RFI Listeners Club member, you’ll receive a premium prize. 

This week’s quiz: On 9 March, I asked you a question about our article “Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets”. Earlier that week, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin gave the exact number of tickets for the Opening Ceremony: 326,000 –  which is a significant scale back from the original amount, 600,000. The scale-back is due to security issues. 

Remember, this is the very first time that an Olympics Opening Ceremony has been held outdoors and not in a sports arena. And on the water, at that!

You were to refer to our article and answer these questions: How many boats will sail in the ceremony, and on how many of those boats will there be athletes?

The answer is, to quote our article: “A total of 180 boats are set to sail around six kilometres down the Seine, of which 94 will contain athletes.”

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Alan Holder from the Isle of Wight, England: “Are you superstitious?  Give examples of the steps you take to avoid any bad luck.”

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Radhakrishna Pillai from Kerala State, India. Radhakrishna is also the winner of this week’s bonus question – congratulations, Radhakrishna!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are RFI Listeners Club members Shadman Hosen Ayon from Kishoreganj, Bangladesh; Sagor Mia, also from Kishoreganj – and the president of the Let’s Go on the Right Path and Tell the Truth Radio Listener Club, as well as Hans Verner Lollike from Hedehusene, Denmark.

Last but assuredly not least, faithful RFI English listener Rafiq Khondaker from Naogaon, Bangladesh.

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Chopin’s Charleston Dream” written by Alfredo Gattari, and performed by the composer and Gottlieb Wallisch; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Popurri des Boleros”, sung by Gina Leon.

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 Melissa Chemam’s article “Sudan conference opens in Paris to try and fix ‘forgotten’ crisis”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 13 May to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 18 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, or form your own official RFI Club, click here. 

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.” 

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

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

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

All eyes on Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

The Sound Kitchen

Eid Mubarak! Shuba Naba Barsaw!

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about French girls, maths, and the role model in a recent French film. There’s The Sound Kitchen mailbag, “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, a delicious dessert from Erwan Rome on “Music from Erwan”, and of course, the new quiz and bonus questions too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations winners!

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

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

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Paul Myers’ article “History of Olympic gold, silver and bronze glitters in Paris museum”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 6 May to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 10 May podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

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International report

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

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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.


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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.