rfi 2024-04-25 01:05:31



Justice

French court confirms former PM Fillon’s ‘fake jobs’ conviction

Former French prime minister François Fillon is to face a third trial after the Court of Cassation on Wednesday confirmed his guilt in the case of a fictitious jobs scandal involving his wife. However the court also overturned an earlier appeals decision on sentencing and damages. 

The 70-year-old was sentenced in May 2022 to four years in jail, one of which could be served at home wearing a bracelet, for his part in defrauding the French state of more than a million euros. He was fined €375,000.  

Fillon’s British-born wife Penelope, then a local councillor, received a two-year suspended prison sentence, while his former deputy MP for the Sarthe department, Marc Joulaud, was given three years suspended. 

While recognising the guilt of François Fillon’s guilt, the Court of Cassation – France’s Supreme  Court – ordered a fresh trial before a court of appeal to redefine the penalties and damages. 

  • French former PM Fillon gets four years jail, fine, for fake jobs scam
  • Former French presidential hopeful François Fillon in court in bid to clear his name

Compliance ruling

The court had been called upon to rule on compliance with the rules of law, and not the merits of the case itself. 

Fillon, who brought the case to the court, argued that he would not have benefited from an impartial trial. 

While the court did not agree with him, it ruled that the sentences handed down against Fillon were not appropriate. 

Its decision concerning the opening of a third trial was eagerly awaited seven years after the so-called “Penelopegate” rocked the 2017 presidential campaign, during which Fillon was the candidate for the conservative Republicans party. 

On top of jail time and fines, the Fillons and Joulaud were ordered to repay more than one million euros to France’s National Assembly. 

Fillon was banned holding public office for 10 years, while his wife was banned for two. 


FRANCE

Far-right French mayor imposes curfew on children to tackle ‘violence’

A far-right French mayor has announced the introduction of a nighttime curfew for children under 13 in a bid to curb alleged youth violence, which has become a political issue in the run-up to European elections in June. 

Robert Ménard, the independent mayor of the southern town of Beziers, on Tuesday said the curfew would be effective every night in three neighbourhoods from 11pm to 6am until 30 September. 

Children may only be outside if accompanied by an adult. 

In cases of emergency or “immediate danger to themselves or others”, minors may be either escorted home or to a police station, a decree filed with the police prefecture said.  

Parents of the children concerned may face criminal charges.

Ménard, former associate of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, said the move was needed to combat urban violence – namely the burning of a school in 2019 and riots in July 2023 – and because an increasing number of minors were being “left to themselves in the middle of the night”. 

  • French PM seeks ‘jolt of authority’ in bid to tame violent teenagers
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Youth ‘blind spot’

The curfew comes 10 years after Ménard enacted a similar decree that was later rejected by the Council of State because it failed to provide evidence to support the existence of particular risks relating to minors under 13. 

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Ménard said the delinquency of minors under 13 was a “blind spot” in statistics because they were not brought before a court and not sentenced. 

As many as 3,000 people marched in Beziers on Tuesday against the policies of the far-right mayor. 

France last week ordered a curfew on children under 18 in its overseas territory of Guadeloupe to address a wave of crime. 

Christian Estrosi, mayor of the southern city of Nice, told BFM television he was considering reinstating a curfew for under-13s in his city of more than 300,000 people. 

Several French cities have installed nighttime curfews for children for limited periods in the past. 

(with AFP)


FOOD SECURITY

Global food insecurity surges as almost 300 million face ‘acute hunger’: report

UN agencies and development groups have reported that food insecurity worsened around the world in 2023, with some 282 million people suffering from acute hunger due to conflicts, particularly in Gaza and Sudan.

The report, which described the global outlook as “bleak” for this year, is produced for an international alliance bringing together UN agencies, the European Union and governmental and non-governmental bodies.

2023 was the fifth consecutive year of rises in the number of people suffering acute food insecurity – defined as when populations face food deprivation that threatens lives or livelihoods, regardless of the causes or length of time.

Extreme weather events and economic shocks also added to the number of those facing acute food insecurity, which grew by 24 million people compared with 2022, according to the latest global report on food crises from the Food Security Information Network.



Much of last year’s increase was due to report’s expanded geographic coverage, as well as deteriorating conditions in 12 countries.

More geographical areas experienced “new or intensified shocks” while there was a “marked deterioration in key food crisis contexts such as Sudan and the Gaza Strip”, said Fleur Wouterse, deputy director of the emergencies office within the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Some 700,000 people, including 600,000 in Gaza, were on the brink of starvation last year, a figure that has since climbed yet higher to over 1 million in the war-torn Palestinian enclave. 

  • US warns Gaza facing ‘acute food insecurity’ as UN declares famine ‘imminent’

Children starving

Since the first report by the Global Food Crisis Network covering 2016, the number of food-insecure people has risen from 108 million to 282 million, Wouterse said. 

Meanwhile, the share of the population affected within the areas concerned has doubled 11 percent to 22 percent, she added. 

Protracted major food crises are ongoing in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Syria and Yemen.

“In a world of plenty, children are starving to death,” wrote UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the report’s foreword. 

“War, climate chaos and a cost-of-living crisis – combined with inadequate action – mean that almost 300 million people faced acute food crisis in 2023”. 

“Funding is not keeping pace with need,” he added.

This is especially true as the costs of distributing aid have risen. 

For 2024, progress will depend on the end of hostilities, said Wouterse, who stressed that aid could “rapidly alleviate” the crisis in Gaza or Sudan, for example, once humanitarian access to the areas is possible. 

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

Floods and droughts

Worsening conditions in Haiti were due to political instability and reduced agricultural production, “where in the breadbasket of the Artibonite Valley, armed groups have seized agricultural land and stolen crops”, Wouterse said.

The El Niño weather phenomenon could also lead to severe drought in West and Southern Africa.

According to the report, situations of conflict or insecurity have become the main cause of acute hunger in 20 countries or territories, where 135 million people have suffered. 

Extreme climatic events such as floods or droughts were the main cause of acute food insecurity for 72 million people in 18 countries, while economic shocks pushed 75 million people into this situation in 21 countries.

On a positive note, the situation improved in 17 countries in 2023, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ukraine, the report found. 


French football

Monaco beat Lille to boost Champions League hopes and delay PSG’s title party

Monaco edged past Lille 1-0 on Wednesday night to take a big step towards next season’s Champions League and postpone Paris Saint-Germain’s title celebrations.

Monaco went into the clash at the Stade Louis II knowing that a stalemate would allow PSG to claim the crown after the pacesetters had thrashed Lorient 4-1 in the night’s early kick-off.

For the first hour of the game, PSG were preparing the champagne but Monaco midfielder Youssouf Fofana latched onto a loose ball at the edge of the Lille penalty area and flashed a shot past the Lille goalkeeper Lucas Chevalier.

It was the France international’s third goal of the season. Wissam Ben Yedder should have made it 2-0 for the hosts in the 69th minute when he was put through with only Chevalier to beat but the striker fluffed his attempt to dribble around the goalkeeper.

Monaco held on to secure the victory which keeps them second with 58 points. Adi Hutter’s men boast a five-point lead over Brest while Lille lie in fourth with 52 points with four games remaining.

Time

PSG’s France internationals Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé – who were both rested for last Sunday’s 4-1 romp past Lyon at the Parc des Princes – returned to the starting line-up for the trip to Lorient.

And both stars bagged a brace as their side won 4-1 for the third successive game. Dembélé opened the scoring at the Stade du Moustoir in the 19th minute and Mbappé doubled the advantage three minutes later.

Dembélé bagged his brace on the hour mark to effectively seal the game. And after Mohamed Bamba had reduced the deficit, Mbappé added the gloss with his second in the closing minutes.

PSG, who notched up a Ligue 1 record with their 22nd away game unbeaten, will claim a record 12th top flight title with victory over Le Havre on Saturday night at the Parc des Princes.



“It wasn’t straightforward to play in these circumstances because I made a lot of changes to the side that started against Lyon,”  PSG boss Luis Enrique told broadcaster Amazon Prime.

“But the whole team is working and it’s going well, so of course I’m happy.”

PSG remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple.

In January, Enrique steered the side to the French Super Cup with a 2-0 cruise past the Coupe de France winners Toulouse. PSG play Lyon in the final of the Coupe de France on 25 May and take on Borussia Dortmund in the semi-final of the Champions League.


FRANCE – PROTESTS

Amnesty denounces ‘ongoing erosion’ of human rights in France

French authorities in 2023 imposed excessive and illegitimate restrictions on people’s right to demonstrate, the rights group Amnesty International said in a report published Wednesday.  

It pointed in particular to clampdowns on protests that saw arrests and the use of force during rallies against issues such as the government’s unpopular pensions reform, plans to build “mega-basin” water reservoirs in rural France, and the war in Gaza. 

Amnesty’s 2023 annual report accuses the government of systemic racism and discrimination, as well as stifling civil liberties.  

“French authorities repeatedly imposed excessive, disproportionate, and illegitimate restrictions on the right to demonstrate,” the report said.

“In October, the Minister of the Interior sent a message to police prefects asking them to ban any demonstration organised in solidarity with Palestine, which constituted a disproportionate and discriminatory attack on the right to peaceful assembly,” the report said.

  • Rights court faults France for police ‘kettling’ tactic at 2010 protest
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‘Racial profiling’

Restrictions on protests, it added, were taking place alongside persistent racial profiling and discrimination against religious minorities.

Muslim women and individuals perceived as black or Arab were identified as particular targets. 

Amnesty denounced what it said were aggressive policing tactics including the arbitrary confiscation of protest equipment and the dispersion of gatherings through the use of force, including indiscriminate baton charges. 

The government, it added, had failed to address racism within law enforcement agencies. 

“French authorities have failed to acknowledge the systemic nature of racial profiling, discrimination against religious minorities, and excessive use of force during protests,” said Nathalie Godard, director of action at Amnesty France. 

The report also raises concerns about the erosion of civil liberties, citing the introduction of AI-powered surveillance and vague laws on terrorism propaganda, which it said risked infringing on freedom of expression. 


Assyrian genocide

Armenian genocide remembered as Assyrians fight for acknowledgement of their plight

Overshadowed by the Armenian genocide that cost the lives of some 1,5 million people, and which is commemorated on 24 April, the experience of other minorities that were targeted by the Ottoman Empire is often forgotten. Yet a smaller group, which was almost wiped out is now trying to gain recognition for its plight.

“A lady, a relative of mine, escaped with her two daughters. Soon after, they were recaptured, and the two girls were carried away to slavery. Their mother died,” writes Yonan Shahbaz, a Persian Baptist minister in his harrowing, 1918 diary.

The Armenian genocide

His is one of the rare eyewitness accounts of the genocide of Oriental Christians – Assyrians – by Ottoman and Kurdish troops in 1915 and the years that followed in Urmia in present-day Iran.

“A neighbor of mine was soaked in oil and burned. A minister, more than eighty years of age, had his legs and arms sawed off. Another minister was murdered in the most horrible and revolting manner while his wife was compelled to witness the foul deed from the roof of their home. She died from the shock a little later.

“My own home was looted, then burned. The intruders burned all of my books, my most valued treasure,” Shahbaz added.

Protected by an American passport, he managed to escape the onslaught unleashed on Armenians, Assyrians (Oriental Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well as Nestorians and Protestants) and Pontic Greeks, whom the Turks, fighting WW1 at the side of the Germans, suspected of being disloyal to the Ottoman government.

He got out with his wife and one of his two children. The other one disappeared in the chaos and was never heard of again.

Similar accounts – the gruesome and detailed descriptions by French Dominican father Jacques Rhétoré and the diary of then US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau – substantiate the reports. 

But memories of the mass killing of Oriental Christians, or “Seyfo” (“Sword”) as the Assyrian genocide is called, quickly faded.  

Assyrian confusion

When talking about Oriental Christians, “Assyrian,” “Syriac,” “Chaldean” and “Aramean” or combinations like “Assyro-Chaldean” are being used, sometimes interchangeably, sometimes in reference to specific characteristics.

Assyrians

Refers to the Assyrian People who trace their roots back to the Assyrian Empire, which is currently in northern Iraq, eastern Syria, south-eastern Turkey, and Urmia in Iran. Religion: the Nestorian Assyrian Church of the East.

Arameans

An ethnic group originating in an area straddling southwest Syria, northern Israel, and northern Jordan. They can be traced back to the Kingdom of Aram (ca 3000 BC) and speak Aramaic.

Chaldeans

Descendants of the Neo-Babylonian who are currently linked to the Chaldean Catholic Church with its See in Baghdad.

Syriac

1. a liturgical language spoken by Assyrians, Arameans, and Chaldeans. It can refer to all of these ethnicities jointly, to make Arameans and Chaldeans,

2. Christians who are from an area between the western edge of Assyria and the eastern edge of Aram, in what is currently central Syria.

3. identifies Syriac Catholic or Orthodox Churches that use a liturgy in the Syriac language

Today, many countries around the world recognise the “Armenian genocide,” where, according to figures published by the Yerevan-based Genocide Museum/Institute Foundation, some 1,5 million people died.

France  recognised the  Armenian massacre in a law in 2001, and designated 24 April as day of yearly commemoration in 2019. 

Less, though, is known to the outside world, of the Oriental Christians who also lost some 250,000 people, or 75 percent of the total population. 

Why didn’t they speak out?

“It was fear,” Professor Efrim Yildiz, founder of the Niniveh Chair of Salamanca University, told RFI. “Assyrians in the diaspora were aware that the small part that has survived and stayed on (in Turkey) would be victimised.”

Unlike Armenia, which has its own country and a diaspora that is unified and well established in many western countries, the Assyrians don’t have their own place, and are divided in factions that don’t always go along.  

Today things are changing. According to Yildiz, there are only around 2,000 Assyrians left in Turkey, while the diaspora established the “Seyfo Center,” which raises awareness about the Assyrian genocide.

Then in 2015 Oriental Christians stepped into the limelight when reports appeared of  persecution by the Islamic State of Christian Yazidis in Iraq. Currently, France is at the forefront of pushing for an official recognition of the Assyrian genocide.

Why France?

Paris feels a special responsibility for the Oriental Christians, who are also called “Assyrians,” “Assyro-Chaldeans” or “Syriacs,” depending on which group you talk to.

By1916, the UK and France had divided the Ottoman empire between them under the then secretive Sykes-Picot agreement. The region where most of the Oriental Christians lived was under the French governorship.

After the end of WW1,  lobbying was carried out by a number of minority groups (Kurds, Assyrians, Circassians, Armenians) in an attempt to establish or expand their own territory. The Assyrians presented a map and were later promised a degree of autonomy in the Sèvres Treaty, signed in 1920.

The Sèvres Treaty stated that a combined French-English-Italian commission would travel to the region and draft a “scheme of local autonomy” containing “full safeguards for the protection of the Assyro-Chaldeans and other racial or religious minorities within these areas,” which largely fitted the demands of the Assyrian delegation. 

The treaty also provided for a large extension westwards of Armenia. Large parts of the west-coast, including Izmir were allotted to Greece, and Russia  took control of Constantinople.

But the Sèvres Treaty was never ratified after major power shifts within Turkey which brought to power Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who solidified Turkey’s present borders with the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, that nullified the Sèvres document. The Assyrians, but also the Kurds and the Armenians, were left in limbo. 

Today, France is home to some 30,000 Assyrians. The first arrived in Marseille France in the 1920s as refugees from the “Seyfo” and the town still has the largest concentration in France.

On 11 March 2015, at the request of the Association of Assyrian-Chaldeans in France (AACF), the then UMP lawmaker (and Marseille-based) Valerie Boyer and 14 others submitted a bill recognising the Assyrian genocide and asked for the 24 April to be designated as a date of commemoration – coinciding with the commemoration of the Armenian genocide which became official in 2019.

  • Who gets to be remembered under France’s contentious ‘memory laws’?

“The inclusion of Assyrians shows that there is now a consciousness in France that what happened in 1915 not only concerned Armenians, but also other Pontic Greeks and Assyrians,” says Christophe Premat, a former lawmaker for France’s Socialist Party and now an Assistant Professor with Stockholm University.

“The war in Iraq had an effect on this consciousness because people saw the issue of Oriental Christians. And that’s why they wanted to enlarge the focus on the victims by naming the others. So that’s a, a strong step forward.

France’s “special responsability”

The bill noted that the Syria/Iraq-based Islamic State armed group started persecuting local Christians, giving them the choice to convert to Islam, pay a special tax for non-Muslims,flee and abandon everything or “stay and be executed ‘by the sword.'”

It then digs deep into history, citing France’s “special responsibility” going back to the 1535 alliance between French Emperor François I with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, when the Ottoman empire helped the French to fight Austria-Hungary, while protecting Christians under Ottoman rule.

Boyer’s bill demands that “France publicly recognises the Assyrian genocide perpetrated during the First World War” and that 24 April  be appointed as a day of commemoration.



In January 2023, the French Senate adopted the bill with 300 for and two votes against. One month later, MP Raphael Schellenberger (LR) presented the Assemblée Nationale with a bill, which, curiously, and unlike the first Boyer bill which cites the Lausanne Treaty, quotes the -now defunct- Sèvres treaty.

The bills are backed by -mainly right-wing- heavy weight politicians suchs as former Prime Minister François Fillon and ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, the discussions on the 1915 genocide repeatedly lead to frictions between Paris and Ankara. Turkey consequently talks about the “events of 1915” and rejects any criticism of the genocide as “null and void”.

After the introduction of one of the French bills, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic remarked that the claims “lacking legal and historical basis” and that “Turkey does not need to take history lessons from anyone.”


French Open 2024

French Open legend Nadal admits desire to say goodbye on court firing final tour

Former world number one Rafael Nadal conceded on Wednesday his farewell tour was not proceeding to plan but his wish to compete one last time at cherished tournaments such as the French Open where he has claimed 14 titles was pushing him through the pain barrier.

The Spaniard will continue his comeback from injury at the Madrid Masters on Thursday where he is scheduled to play the American 16-year-old Darwin Blanch who has been given an invitation to play in the main draw at one of the most prestigious clay court competitions of the season.

Nadal, 37, who has lifted the title in Madrid five times, said: “A few weeks ago, I didn’t know if I would be able to play again on the professional tour.

“It’s not perfect, of course not perfect,” he added. “But at least I am playing and I can enjoy again, especially in the few tournaments that are so emotional for me.

“I’m able to enjoy the fact that I can say probably good-bye on court.”

Last May, Nadal said that 2024 would be his final year on the ATP circuit where he has won 92 tournaments including 22 trophies at the Grand Slam venues in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.

He won his first Grand Slam tournament trophy in Paris in 2005 and picked up his 14th French Open in 2022. 

“If I arrive in Paris the way I feel today, I will not play. I will play Roland Garros if I feel competitive,” said Nadal.

Return

After most of 2023 on the sidelines, he returned to action at the Brisbane International in January but was injured and pulled out of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Following a three-month lay-off, he was ousted in the second round at the Barcelona Open – the scene for 12 of his trophies.

“It’s been a good week in some respects, not so good in others,” added Nadal who trained for just over an hour to prepare for his match against Blanch.

“I don’t think I’m ready to play at 100 percent but I’m ready to take to the court for my first match. It’s important for me to be able to play for the last time here in Madrid. It means a lot to me.”

On Thursday, French Open organisers are due to unveil the latest innovations for the second Grand Slam competition of the season.

Vision

The centrepiece of the new look will be a retractable roof on the second show court Suzanne Lenglen. Four years ago centre court – Philippe Chatrier – was kitted out with a similar cover to shield players and spectators from the rain.

Nadal missed last year’s French Open due to injury and though he is no longer considered a likely candidate for the coveted Coupe des Mousquetaires, he remains a star attraction.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next three weeks,” said Nadal. “I’m going to fight and do what I think I have to do to be able to try and play in Paris.”


EU – China

EU launches probe into Chinese medical device market

Brussels (AFP) – The European Union on Wednesday announced a probe into China’s public procurement of medical devices, prompting an immediate accusation from Beijing that the bloc was engaging in “protectionism”.

Brussels fears China is favouring its own suppliers when it comes to the procurement of medical devices. The EU’s official administrative journal, announcing the probe, set out ways that could be happening, including through a “Buy China” policy.

The EU also has concerns that China may have restrictions on imports as well as imposing conditions “leading to abnormally low bids that cannot be sustained by profit-oriented companies,” the notice in the journal said.

Beijing lashed out at the investigation, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying it would “damage the EU’s image”.

“All the outside world sees is it (the EU) gradually moving towards protectionism,” said the ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, calling on Brussels to “stop using any excuse to groundlessly suppress and restrict Chinese business”.

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Market worth €135bn

China’s medical devices market is the second largest after the United States, worth around €135 billion in 2022, according to a 2023 report by China-focused think tank MERICS.

The EU probe is the first under the bloc’s International Procurement Instrument which seeks to promote reciprocity in access to international public procurement markets.

“The… restrictive measures and practices put at a significant and systemic disadvantage (European) Union economic operators, goods and services as they systematically favour the procurement of domestic products to the detriment of imported ones,” the official journal said.

If the investigation finds unfair behaviour by China, the EU can limit Chinese companies’ access to the 27-nation bloc’s public procurement market.

The journal said the investigation is to conclude within nine months, although the European Commission can extend this by another extra five months.

Beijing is “invited to submit its views and to provide relevant information” and can hold consultations with the European Commission – the EU’s trade authority – “to eliminate or remedy the alleged measures and practices,” the text said.

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

Slew of probes

Brussels has launched a wave of investigations targeting China over the past few months, looking into green tech subsidies.

The EU provoked Beijing’s ire earlier in April after announcing an investigation into Chinese wind turbine suppliers.

Other probes have focused on Chinese subsidies for solar panels, electric cars and trains as Brussels seeks to move away from excessive reliance on cheaper Chinese technology.

On Tuesday, the commission announced surprise raids were carried out in the EU offices of an unidentified company that makes and sells “security equipment” as part of a probe into foreign subsidies.

The Chinese chamber of commerce in the EU denounced the raids in the Netherlands and Poland.

EU officials have repeatedly said they want to “derisk” their economic ties to China after Moscow’s assault on Ukraine exposed the Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

The EU has also adopted laws that often have China in their sights.

The European Parliament on Tuesday approved a ban on products made using forced labour. Supporters hope it will be used to block goods from China’s Xinjiang region where the Uyghur Muslim minority is said to endure many rights abuses.

The latest investigation was announced after German authorities arrested an aide to a far-right German MEP, Maximilian Krah, on suspicion of spying for China.


Paris 2024 Olympics

Louvre exhibition zooms in on history and those behind the modern Olympics

Three months before the start of the Paris Olympics, the Louvre will add its cultural heft to the prelude with the launch on Wednesday of an exhibition glorifying the museum’s role in the birth of the modern Games. It features the academics, artists and politicians whose dynamism defined the Olympics at its rebirth in 1896.

“Olympism, a Modern Creation, an Ancient Heritage” runs until 16 September in the Galerie Richelieu and gathers 120 vases, pictures, drawings, stamps and letters from the Louvre, private collections as well as the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, the British Museum and the Ecole Française in Athens.

It also parades the contributions of the artist Emile Gilliéron, who studied in Paris and roamed the Louvre galleries, and the academic Edmond Pottier, a conservationist and teacher at the museum.

It was Gilliéron – installed in Athens since 1876 as an art teacher in the court of King George I – who delved into images of ancient Greece to inspire commemorative stamps for the 1896 Games in Athens.

The roles of the Greek writer Dimitrios Vikelas, the first president of the International Olympic Committee, and the academic turned politician Spyridon Lambros, are also highlighted.

There is also a nod to the philologist Michel Bréal, whose way with words managed to charm organisers of the 1896 Games into including the marathon race.

Bréal’s specially commissioned silver cup that was awarded to marathon winner Spyridon Louis is on show for the first time in Paris courtesy of a loan from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation in Athens.

“The exhibition adds depth to our knowledge of the Games,” said Louvre chief Laurence des Cars.

“It reminds us of the origins of the modern Olympic Games and what they owe to the collections from our museum.

“Just as it is in the arts, its the same thing in sports: there’s inspiration in the galleries of the museum and that comes back to us with benefits.”

Gender injustice

Fittingly, latter-day marathon runners will pass through the Louvre’s grounds during the men’s race on 10 August and the women’s race on the final day of the Olympics on 11 August.

The exhibition also embraces the injustices of the early Olympics. No women competed in the inaugural Games in 1896, and only 22 women were involved in the 1900 Paris Games in tennis, golf, croquet, sailing and equestrianism.

They were allowed into the archery events in 1904 as well as swimming and diving in 1912.

By the London 2012 Olympics, 44 percent of the athletes were women. Those Games were anointed the “Women’s Games” to salute the first time that every participating country had female athletes in their teams.

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Twelve years on, Paris will be the first Games to have equal representation of men and women.

“It’s been a long road,” said exhibition co-curator Alexandre Farnoux, a professor of archaeology and Greek art history at the Sorbonne.

“And it’s worth pointing out that apart from the Olympics – and this is also the paradox – women were allowed to take part in international competitions even before the First World War.

“Immediately afterwards, they had international competitions, including rugby, and we are showing through a whole series of archive photos that women’s sport became established very quickly but the Olympics remained completely closed for a very long time.”

Sporting theme

The Louvre exhibition is the latest addition to a series of cultural events with a sporting theme around the French capital.

Last September, the Pompidou Centre started guided tours on Saturday afternoons of pieces from its modern and contemporary art collection which feature sports.

Since February the Musée de l’Orangerie and Musée D’Orsay have also weighed in, with dancers and musicians performing just metres from some of the world’s most celebrated paintings and sculptures.

“When we were appointed, the whole team decided to do something specific for the Olympic Games and dedicated to urban culture and sport,” said Musée d’Orsay boss Pierre-Emmanuel Lecerf.

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“We wanted to show the relationship between sport and our space – which can be the architecture or the collection.”

In ancient times that connection was a matter of life and death.

“Physical training meant getting the citizen ready to be an infantryman in the army at some point,” added Farnoux,

“Cities were defended by the citizens themselves and a citizen had to be able to carry weapons weighing between 15 and 20 kilograms and possibly have to run for a few kilometres with that load on their back.

“You just can’t do that if you don’t do sports. And so the gymnasiums that were created in the cities were to help people stay in shape for the day they might be mobilised.”

Farnoux added wryly: “Our sporting society is very much linked to spectacle.”


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

France commends Morocco’s support in counterterrorism efforts ahead of 2024 Paris Olympics

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has praised Morocco’s cooperation in the fight against terrorism, amid security concerns over the 2024 Paris Olympic Games taking place this summer.

During an official visit to Morocco on Monday, Darmanin lauded the kingdom’s help in fighting terrorism in France as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Olympics.

The French interior minister’s visit to the capital Rabat comes amid efforts to bring the two countries closer after a series of diplomatic spats and the deterioration in France’s relations with countries across the Sahel.

“Without the Moroccan intelligence services, France would be more affected by terrorism,” Darmanin said in a meeting with Moroccan Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit. 

“We thank them greatly, particularly in anticipation of the Olympic Games,” which start in late July, Darmanin added.

Security cooperation

According to the minister, Paris and Rabat will be helping each other “during the major sporting events that we will be hosting, in particular the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer and the African Cup of Nations in Morocco in 2025″. 

France has reportedly requested the support of several dozen countries – including Morocco – in terms of security ahead of the Olympics.

“Police officers of various nationalities – including Moroccan – will be mobilised during the Games to support the work of the French security forces”, he added.

In the fight against terrorism, Darmanin also said that Paris was keeping a close eye on information provided by Morocco concerning “the threat penetrating the Sahel-Saharan strip” against a backdrop of a diplomatic collapse between France and former colonies in the Sahel.

France was forced to withdraw troops from Mali in 2022 and from Niger and Burkina Faso last year after a succession of coups saw relations nosedive, giving way to increased Russian military involvement.

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  • Algeria closes airspace to all Moroccan planes as Western Sahara dispute deepens

Diplomatic drive

Gérald Darmnain is the third French minister to visit the kingdom in three months, following Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné’s stopover in mid-February, and the Minister for Foreign Trade Franck Riester’s trip at the beginning of April. 

French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau is also currently visiting Morocco until 23 April, while his Minister for the Economy Bruno Lemaire is expected back in Morocco later this week. 

According to Darmanin, the aim of these visits is to give impetus to “a profound renewal and modernisation of Franco-Moroccan relations”, who held also talks with Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Taoufiq later in the day.  

Tensions between Rabat and Paris flared over visa restrictions imposed by France on Moroccan nationals in 2021.

The kingdom has also been upset by French President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomatic overtures towards Algeria, Morocco’s regional rival.


Crimes against humanity

Who gets to be remembered under France’s contentious ‘memory laws’?

In France, 24 April is a national day of remembrance for the Armenian genocide of 1915, when Ottoman troops killed hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Other groups who were victimised want their plight recognised too – but getting a place in France’s “memory laws” is controversial, and not an easy process.

“Memory laws are about recognition,” says Christophe Premat, a former MP for the French Socialist Party and now an expert in memory studies at Stockholm University.

Under a 2019 French law, 24 April is designated the official day for the yearly commemoration of the Armenian genocide.

The date marks the beginning of the arrest, deportation and execution of Armenian intellectuals by Turkish forces on the night of 24 April 1915, which over the following years would turn into a concerted campaign that Armenia says eventually cost the lives of as many as 1.5 million people.

Oriental Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians were also subjected to mass murder and expulsion as part of the same drive to create a nationalist Turkish state.

At the time, thousands of Armenians fled abroad and pushed the story into international media, where the genocide was widely reported.

Many went to France, which became home to Europe’s largest Armenian diaspora. Along with Russia and the United Kingdom, France condemned the events as “crimes against humanity and civilisation” as early as May 1915.

But it was only in 2001 that France officially recognised the massacres as genocide, making it the first major European power to do so. Its first national commemoration took place in 2019.

Legislating memory

The Armenian genocide and its commemoration are part of a larger debate on the role of politics in marking – or taking a stance on – historical events.

Such debates reached their zenith in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“In the beginning, it was about the Holocaust, the Second World War,” Premat told RFI.

In 1990 France passed the Gayssot Law, which made denial of the Jewish Holocaust a criminal offence.

“But then progressively new actors started promoting minority rights, tackling slavery and seeing the possibility for the recognition of past crimes,” Premat said.

Memory laws in France

1915: France, England and Russia condemn massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as a “crime against humanity”

1939: Marchandeau Decree bans hate speech

1954: Last Sunday of April designated day of remembrance for people who were deported by the Nazis during WWII

1972: Pleven Law against racism

1987: European Parliament issues a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide

1990: Gayssot Law penalises racism, anti-semitism and xenophobia

2001: France recognises the Armenian genocide

2001: Taubira Act defines slave trade and slavery as crimes against humanity

2005: Mekachera Law on French colonialism called on schoolteachers and textbooks to acknowledge “the positive role of the French presence abroad, especially in North Africa” (measure repealed in 2006)

2006: Lower house of parliament adopts law criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide

2008: Hundreds of historians make an appeal against France’s memory laws

2008: Special commission of the French Parliament advises against further memory laws

2012: Law criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide is ruled unconstitutional by France’s Constitutional Council

2019: France declares 24 April a “national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide”, angering Turkey

Eventually the discussions resulted in parliamentary debates and proposals on the Armenian genocide, the slave trade, the Algerian war of independence and the Ottomans’ massacres of Assyrian-Chaldean Christians.

But while drafting bills that asked for recognition of crimes was fairly simple, punishing denial was more problematic.

  • Why descendants of France’s slaves are still fighting for their memory
  • France and Algeria revisit painful past in battle to mend colonial wounds

Backlash from historians

In 2005, a group of French historians led by Pierre Nora founded the collective Liberté pour l’Histoire (“Freedom for History”), which was critical of the idea that governments should determine the historical record.

In an appeal issued by the collective in 2008 and signed by some 750 historians from all over Europe, they expressed concern about the “retrospective moralisation of history” and “intellectual censorship”.

“History must not be a slave to contemporary politics,” they wrote. 

“In a free state, no political authority has the right to define historical truth and to restrain the freedom of the historian with the threat of penal sanctions.”

The petition led to a special parliamentary commission, which later that year advised lawmakers against any new legislation qualifying the past – while leaving existing memory laws intact. 

The effect was soon felt. In January 2012, both houses of the French parliament passed a bill outlawing the denial of all genocides officially recognised by France, including the Armenian genocide.

But the Constitutional Council followed up, and the next month ruled that punishing denial of the Armenian genocide was a “violation of the freedom of expression” and thus unconstitutional. 

Political leverage

This was repeated in 2016, when the French Parliament supported a government-sponsored bill to punish “the denial of crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity”. That proposal was struck down by the Constitutional Council one year later.

According to Nikolay Koposov, a professor of European history and author of Memory Laws, Memory Wars, this “sent a message to French politicians: only crimes against humanity defined as such by a legal tribunal could be subject to memory laws”.

As such, he says, banning denial of crimes committed in the Crusades, the slave trade and the Armenian genocide was effectively ruled out.

While there is a broad consensus of the facts of the Jewish Holocaust, researchers point out, other crimes – such as the Armenian genocide – are contested, and may be used as political tools.

“Turkey contests the notion of genocide [when] applied to what happened in 1915,” says Premat. “So that’s a source of disagreement.”

Meanwhile, Turkey recognising the Armenian genocide is being used as a pressure point for Ankara’s admission to EU membership.

Negotiations have been frozen for many years, “and France is not really promoting that decision”, Premat says. 

Drive for remembrance 

Yet victimised groups continue to push for official recognition of their suffering.

Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, part of the Oriental Orthodox Church, want France to commemorate the massacre of some 250,000 members under Ottoman rule in 1915-18.

Their supporters have proposed a new memory law that would declare the murders genocide and make 24 April a joint day of remembrance for Armenian and Assyrian-Chaldean Christian victims.

The bill was approved by the Senate in February 2023 and is currently awaiting a vote by the National Assembly. 

As the proposal only calls for recognition, not a ban on denial, it runs less risk of being judged unconstitutional.


Technology

French government will use AI to modernise public services

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on Tuesday said that a French-made artificial intelligence (AI) system will be used to simplify administrative procedures moving forward. He also announced the creation of 300 additional France Services centres by 2027.

The French government is pushing forward with efforts to upgrade and simplify access to administrative services, often bogged down by lack of technology or personnel.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal was in the Hauts-de-Seine area northwest of the capital on Tuesday to visit one of the 2,700 France Services centres.

The government has promised it will open around 300 branches of this type of ‘one-stop-shop’ for public services by 2027, many of them in regional cities.

One of the major changes in public services is access to voting by proxy, or power of attorney.

  • Big tech told to identify and label AI deepfakes ahead of EU elections

The government wants people to be able to delegate their voting rights via a fully online process for all future elections, starting this June, Attal’s office said on Monday.

Since mid-April, it has been possible, with a new version of the French identity card to give your proxy for the European elections on 9 June online, without having to get validation from a police station or gendarmerie, as was previously the case.

This method will also be available for the next municipal elections in 2026 and the presidential election in 2027, Attal’s office indicated.

‘Albert’ to the rescue

Attal also unveiled an artificial intelligence tool, developed internally, which will help public officials answer frequently-asked questions, and save considerable time.

The French programme, called “Albert” will be used by tax agents for example, to deal with the approximately 16 million queries they receive each year.

Each response will nevertheless be validated or modified if necessary by an agent.

“The analysis of regulations will be automated, responses drastically accelerated and the work of agents made less painful and more interesting,” Attal told the press.

Likewise, 4,000 environmental projects submitted each year to regional environmental directorates will now be “pre-instructed by an AI”, such as wind farm or urban development projects.

The AI tool will also be used “from the end of the year” to automate the transcription of legal hearings, the filing of complaints or medical reports.

Audit of administrative processes

It will also be used for the detection of forest fires or the HR management of civil servants.

“The boring tasks are for AI, and the link with our fellow citizens will be for public officials,” Attal promised.

  • Macron promises to boost investment in French artificial intelligence

There are other initiatives afoot to simplify everyday paperwork issues which create headaches for busy families and workers. 

Attal said an audit would be carried out “ministry by ministry, to review all online content and forms” to make administrative language “intelligible, accessible”.

In some cases, people won’t need to fill out forms at all.

At the start of the school year in September, school grants will be paid automatically to the 1.5 million beneficiaries without them having to fill out any forms.

A plan to help simplify procedures for businesses will be presented to the Council of Ministers on Wednesday.

(with newswires)


Migration

Five migrants including a child die in attempted Channel crossing from France

At least five migrants, including a child, died overnight trying to cross the Channel from France to Britain on their overcrowded small boat, local authorities said on Tuesday. 

Three men and a woman were also among those killed on the dinghy carrying 110 people from the beach in the town of Wimereux, close to the resort of Boulogne-sur-Mer, the local government office told French news agency AFP.

“After hitting a sand bank, the boat made it back out to sea. A crush then appears to have happened on board the overcrowded boat, leading to several casualties,” they said, without providing further details.

On Tuesday morning, police had cordoned off the beach, an AFP journalist said. Two ambulance helicopters were stationed nearby.

The migrants had attempted to cross when the sea was calm but the temperature was barely above zero degrees Celsius.

It is the latest in a series of such tragedies as migrants, many from the Middle East and Africa, attempt the perilous sea crossing for what they hope will be a better future in Britain.

So far this year at least 15 people have died trying to reach English shores, according to an AFP tally.

Stepped-up patrols

On 3 March, a seven-year-old Iraqi girl named Rola drowned in the capsizing of an overcrowded migrant boat in the Aa canal, around 30 kilometres inland from France’s northern coast. Her parents and brothers survived.

People attempting to reach Britain have increasingly been boarding boats on inland waterways to avoid stepped-up patrols on the French coast.

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

In late February, a 22-year-old Turkish man died and two more people went missing in the Channel off Calais.

In January, five people including a 14-year-old Syrian died in Wimereux as they waded through chilly seawater to reach a boat off the coast.

Twelve migrants lost their lives last year trying to cross the Channel, French authorities say.

British officials processed 5,373 migrants landing on the shores of southeast England in the first three months of this year after crossing the Channel in small vessels, the British interior ministry says.

Tougher approach

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has been under mounting pressure to stem the number of crossings, particularly following a promise of a tougher approach to immigration after the United Kingdom left the European Union.

“These tragedies have to stop. I will not accept a status quo which costs so many lives,” UK interior minister James Cleverley said on X.

“This government is doing everything we can to end this trade, stop the boats and ultimately break the business model of the evil people smuggling gangs, so they no longer put lives at risk.”

The news of the latest migrant deaths comes after controversial UK government plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda cleared a final hurdle in parliament on Monday.

The United Nations and Europe’s highest rights body have urged Britain to scrap the plan.

(with AFP)


Mental health

EU grills Tiktok over ‘addictive features’ amid child safety concerns

The EU has launched a probe into TikTok’s spinoff Lite app and threatened to suspend an “addictive” feature on it that rewards users for watching and liking videos, amid child-safety concerns.

TikTok Lite arrived in France and Spain in March allowing users aged 18 and over to earn points that can be exchanged for )goods like vouchers or gift cards through the app’s rewards programme.

The European Commission said in a statement on Monday it has concerns about the app’s “risks of serious damage for the mental health of users”, including minors.

TikTok Lite is a smaller version of the popular TikTok app, taking up less memory in a smartphone and made to perform over slower internet connections.

TikTok last week failed to provide a risk assessment for the spinoff app by an 18 April deadline, the commission said, demanding the company now hand it over by Tuesday.

It is threatening to impose interim measures including suspending the rewards programme in the European Union “pending the assessment of its safety”.

TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, has until Wednesday to present a formal defence against such a measure.

Toxic and addictive

The commission also warned if TikTok failed to reply to the request, it could impose fines of up to one percent of its total annual income or of its global turnover and periodic penalties up to five percent of its average daily income or annual turnover worldwide.

TikTok said it would continue discussions with the commission but insisted the programme was not available to minors.

“We are disappointed with this decision – the TikTok Lite rewards hub is not available to under 18s, and there is a daily limit on video watch tasks,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.

The probe is the EU’s second against TikTok under a sweeping new law, the Digital Services Act (DSA), that demands digital firms do more to police content online.

“We suspect TikTok ‘Lite’ could be as toxic and addictive as cigarettes ‘light’,” said the European Commission’s top tech enforcer, Thierry Breton.

  • EU opens probe into TikTok, YouTube and Google over child protection

“Unless TikTok provides compelling proof of its safety, which it has failed to do until now, we stand ready to trigger DSA interim measures including the suspension of TikTok Lite features,” Breton said.

The commission also quizzed TikTok about its measures to mitigate “systemic risks” in its Lite app and gave the platform until 3 May to respond.

TikTok Lite users can win rewards if they log in daily for 10 days, if they spend time watching videos (with an upper limit of 60 to 85 minutes per day) and if they undertake certain actions, such as liking videos and following content creators.

The commission said it believes TikTok launched the app “without prior diligent assessment of the risks it entails, in particular those related to the addictive effect of the platforms, and without taking effective risk mitigating measures”.

TikTok is among 22 “very large” digital platforms, including Amazon, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, that must comply with stricter rules under the DSA since August last year.

Heavy fines

The law gives the EU the power to slap companies with heavy fines that could reach as high as six percent of a digital firm’s global annual revenues.

Repeat offenders can even see their platforms blocked in the 27-country European Union.

In February, the commission opened a formal probe into TikTok under the DSA over alleged violations of its obligations to protect minors online.

  • France bans TikTok, WhatsApp, Netflix from state employees’ phones

It has separately launched other investigations into X, formerly known as Twitter, and Chinese internet retailer AliExpress.

TikTok is also being squeezed across the Atlantic.

The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Saturday that would force TikTok to divest from ByteDance or face a nationwide ban in the United States, where it has around 170 million users.

(with AFP)


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Homage to Japanese legends at the 77th Cannes Film Festival

This year’s Cannes Film Festival will pay homage to Japan’s contribution to film over the years. The poster for the Cannes Film Festival, for example, is inspired by the film Rhapsody in August by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, while an honorary Palme d’Or will be awarded to Japanese animators Studio Ghibli, creators of Oscar-winning The Boy and the Heron.

Kurosawa was 81 at the time his film Rhapsody in August was presented Out of Competition in at the Cannes festival in 1991.

Based on the novel Nabe no naka by Kiyoko Murata, it tells the story of a grandmother who lost her husband in the 9 August 1945 atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki by the United States.

While caring for her four grandchildren over that summer, she finds out she has a long-lost brother, Suzujiro, living in Hawaii who wants her to visit him before he dies. American film star Richard Gere appears as Suzujiro’s son Clark.

Despite the suffering, she shares a message of faith in love and integrity as a bulwark against war.

The image for the poster, in several hues of blue, shows the cast from behind, contemplating an evening sky, with the Cannes palm logo shining down at them like a moon.

It was designed by Lionel Avignon and Stefan de Vivies from the Hartland Villa studio, the same company who designed the festival poster in 2023 with Catherine Deneuve and with Spike Lee in 2021.

Cinema to combat oblivion

The organisers said they wanted to communicate the Seventh Art as a place of peace, where “everyone has a voice.

“Because it [cinema] remembers wounds, it combats oblivion. Because it bears witness to perils, it calls for union. Because it soothes trauma, it helps repair the living. 

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

“In a fragile world that constantly questions otherness, the Festival de Cannes reaffirms a conviction: cinema is a universal sanctuary for expression and sharing,” the press statement reads.

Rhapsody in August was the second last film to be made by the director of Sanshiro SugataRashomonSeven SamuraiDersu Uzala and Dodes’ka-den.

Kurosawa won the Palme d’Or in 1980 for Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior) and in 1983, designed the poster for the Cannes Film Festival.

Meanwhile, another genre of Japanese filmmaking is also being honoured this year.

The Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli, co-founded by Hayao Miyazaki 40 years ago, will be awarded an honorary Palme d’Or for its contribution to cinema.

It will mark the first time that that Cannes is giving an award to a collective rather than an individual.

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Ghibli is known worldwide for its masterpieces like Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Miyazaki makes few public appearances and his long-time collaborator Isao Takahata died in 2018.

Bridging tradition and modernity

The other founder, producer Toshio Suzuki, said he was “truly honoured and delighted” to be receiving the award.

Ghibli’s “characters populate our imaginations with prolific, colourful universes and sensitive, engaging narrations,” said the Cannes organisers in a statement.

“With Ghibli, Japanese animation stands as one of the great adventures of cinephilia, between tradition and modernity,” they added.

Miyazaki, now 83, has announced his retirement more than once, but was back in cinemas last year with The Boy and the Heron, which won the Oscar for best animated film last month, his second after Spirited Away in 2003.

It had previously been announced that another huge figure in cinematic storytelling, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, would also receive an honorary Palme at this year’s festival, which runs from 14 – 25 May.

(with newswires)


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)


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)


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)

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.

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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.