rfi 2024-04-28 16:06:34



Israel – Hamas conflict

Hopes for Gaza truce after Hamas says it will respond to Israel proposal

A senior Hamas official told French media on Sunday that the group would deliver its response to Israel’s latest counterproposal for a Gaza ceasefire on Monday in Egypt. International mediators have stepped up efforts to reach a deal ahead of an Israeli assault on the southern city of Rafah. 

The Israeli government has come under intense pressure to reach a ceasefire from its global allies, as well as from protesters within Israel demanding the release of hostages seized by Hamas during their 7 October attack that triggered the war.

A Hamas delegation will arrive in Egypt on Monday to deliver the group’s response to Israel’s new hostage and truce counterproposal, a senior official of the militant group told French news agency AFP.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to mediate a new truce ever since a one-week halt to the fighting in November saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Hamas has previously insisted on a permanent ceasefire – a condition that Israel has rejected.

However the Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported that Israel’s latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the “restoration of sustainable calm” in Gaza after hostages are released.

It is the first time in the nearly seven-month war that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said.

A Hamas source close to the negotiations told AFP that the group “is open to discussing the new proposal positively”.

The source added that the group is “keen to reach an agreement that guarantees a permanent ceasefire, the free return of displaced people, an acceptable deal for (prisoner) exchange and ensuring an end to the siege” in Gaza.

Protest rallies

A heated rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night was the latest held by protesters demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strike a deal that would see the hostages released.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Just hours earlier, Hamas released a video featuring two of the hostages, Keith Siegel and Omri Miran, who appeared to speak under duress.

“Keep protesting, so that there will be a deal now,” Miran said in the footage.

“We are in danger here, there are bombs, it is stressful and scary,” said Siegel, a 64-year-old US citizen.

International pressure

The new hopes of a potential truce came as world leaders and humanitarian groups warned that a looming Israeli invasion of the southernmost city of Rafah would lead to massive civilian causalities.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas appealed to the US to stop Israel from invading Rafah, which he said would be “the biggest disaster in the history of the Palestinian people”.

  • EU claims starvation used as ‘weapon of war’ as aid efforts to Gaza persist

The US – Israel’s main ally and weapons supplier – was the only nation capable of preventing Israel from “committing this crime”, Abbas told a global economic summit in Saudi Arabia.

 Abbas spoke at a World Economic Forum (WEF) summit that opened Sunday in Riyadh, which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and high-ranking officials from other countries trying to broker a ceasefire are also due to attend.

While there is no Israeli participation, the other key players will discuss the situation in Gaza, WEF president Borge Brende said.

There was “some new momentum now in the talks around the hostages, and also for… a possible way out of the impasse we are faced with in Gaza,” he said.

(with AFP)


Diplomacy

France’s FM in Lebanon to prevent Israel-Hezbollah conflict escalation

France’s Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné was in Lebanon on Sunday to push proposals to prevent further escalation and a potential war between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah.

As a historical partner to Lebanon, France is seeking to refine a roadmap that both sides could accept to ease tensions.

Israel and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon have exchanged tit for tat strikes in recent months, but these have increased since Iran launched a barrage of missiles on Israel in response to a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus that killed members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps’ overseas Quds Force.

“Today, if I look at the state of the situation, if there had been no war in Gaza, we would perhaps be talking about war in South Lebanon given the state of strikes and impacts in this area”, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said after a visit to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), in Naqoura on Sunday.

“I’ll pass messages and we’ll make proposals here in Beirut to the political authorities to stabilise this area and avoid war and so that everyone takes their responsibilities,” he added.

Keep momentum

Earlier this year, Séjourné proposed an initiative that would see Hezbollah’s elite unit pull back 10 kilometres from the Israeli border, while Israel would halt strikes in southern Lebanon.

France’s proposal, which has been discussed with partners, notably the United States, has not moved forward, but Paris wants to keep momentum in talks and underscore to Lebanese officials that Israeli threats of a military operation in southern Lebanon should be taken seriously.

Hezbollah has maintained it will not enter any concrete discussion until there is a ceasefire in Gaza, where the war between Israel and Islamist militant group Hamas has entered its sixth month.

  • France proposes Hezbollah withdrawal, border talks for Israel-Lebanon truce

Israel has also said it wants to ensure calm is restored on its northern border so that thousands of displaced Israelis can return to the area without fear of rocket attacks from across the border.

“The objective is to prevent a regional conflagration and avoid that the situation deteriorates even more on the border between Israel and Lebanon,” foreign ministry deputy spokesperson Christophe Lemoine said at a news conference.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Nikati and Lebanese army chief Joseph Aoun met French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month, where they discussed the French proposal.

Political deadlock

In a letter addressed to the French embassy in Beirut in March, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Beirut believed the French initiative would be a significant step towards peace and security in Lebanon and the broader region.

French officials say the responses so far have been general and lack consensus among the Lebanese. While they deem it too early for any form of accord, they believe it is vital to engage now so that when the moment comes both sides are ready.

Paris will also underline the urgency of breaking the political deadlock in the country. Lebanon has neither a head of state nor a fully empowered cabinet since Michel Aoun’s term as president ended in October 2022.

Israel has remained cautious on the French initiative, although Israeli and French officials say Israel supports efforts to defuse the cross-border tensions.

  • Why France and the Middle East have such a deep and lingering past

France has 700 troops based in southern Lebanon as part of the 10,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force.

Officials say the UN troops are unable to carry out their mandate and part of France’s proposals are aimed at beefing up the mission by strengthening the Lebanese army.

After Lebanon, Séjourné will head to Saudi Arabia for a regional summit before travelling to Israel.

Arab and Western foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, will hold informal talks on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum event in Riyadh to discuss the Gaza war with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

(with Reuters)


Workers’ rights

Unions want justice for worker who died on Paris Olympic construction site

Trade unionists and relatives of a Malian worker who died on a construction site for the Paris Olympic Games gathered to demand recognition and justice. Their homage came on the eve of World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

In total, around a hundred union activists and family members, some in tears, gathered on Saturday afternoon in the pouring rain at the scene of the tragedy to demand “recognition and justice for Amara”.

51-year-old team leader, Amara Dioumassy died on 16 June, 2023 on the construction site of the Austerlitz basin intended to improve the quality of the Seine river water for swimming events during the Paris Olympics.

The site is due to be inaugurated next week.

An employee of the Darras et Jouanin company, Dioumassy was hit by a construction truck which was reversing without a warning alarm, according to his colleagues who denounced serious safety breaches on the site.

Dangerous deadlines

Lyes Chouaï, CGT union leader from SADE, a subsidiary of Veolia which was working on the site says Diomassy’s death has been pushed under the carpet.

This project “really seemed unacceptable to us in terms of safety standards” Chouaï pointed out to French news agency AFP.

“We had to move quickly to meet deadlines”, he said, adding “there was no marking on the ground of the direction of movement of the vehicles”.

  • Seine pollution too risky for Olympic athletes, warns environmental group
  • Paris mayor to take a dip in the River Seine days before Olympics

Unlike the vast majority of Olympic projects in Ile-de-France managed by Solideo, the public establishment responsible for infrastructure for the competitions, the Austerlitz basin is managed by the Paris town hall.

Investigation

Co-organiser of Saturday’s tribute, Chouaï said unions wanted to appeal to “as many people as possible in relation to this modest death alongside these Games which will be seen by the whole world”.

The ceremony took place on the eve of World Day for Safety and Health at Work, organised by the International Labour Organization.

France the worst record for accidents in the European Union, with two people dying every day in the workplace according to official figures.

  • France among most dangerous places to work in EU, figures show

“No action has been done for the family” and “his children are starving,” denounced his brother, Bally, 38 years old, adding Diomassy was father to 12 children.

Asked by AFP, the Paris town hall and Veolia recalled that the judicial investigation was still underway to “determine responsibilities”, ensuring that they had “fully cooperated”.

In 2021 in France, there were 640,000 work accidents, including 39,000 serious and 696 fatal, according to figures from Health Insurance, the public body which compensates victims.

(with AFP)


Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso junta slams NGO report on massacre as “baseless”

Military-ruled Burkina Faso has rejected as “baseless accusations” a Human Rights Watch report that soldiers killed at least 223 villagers in two attacks on 25 February. 

“The government of Burkina Faso strongly rejects and condemns such baseless accusations,” communications minister Rimtalba Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo said in a statement late on Saturday.

“The killings at Nodin and Soro led to the opening of a legal inquiry,” he said.

The minister expressed his surprise that “while this inquiry is underway to establish the facts and identify the authors, HRW has been able, with boundless imagination, to identify ‘the guilty’ and pronounce its verdict”.

HRW described the massacre as “among the worst army abuse in Burkina Faso since 2015”.

“These mass killings… appear to be part of a widespread military campaign against civilians accused of collaborating with Islamist armed groups, and may amount to crimes against humanity,” the New York-based group said on Thursday.

According to the Burkina statement, “The media campaign orchestrated around these accusations fully shows the unavowed intention … to discredit our fighting forces.”

Media networks suspended

“All the allegations of violations and abuses of human rights reported in the framework of the fight against terrorism are systematically subject to investigations” followed by the government and the UN high commissioner for human rights.

The junta on Thursday suspended the BBC and Voice of America radio networks from broadcasting for two weeks after they aired the report accusing the army of attacks on civilians in the battle against jihadists.

The Burkina Faso communications authority CSC said the report contained “hasty and biased declarations without tangible proof against the Burkinabe army”.

  • Burkina Faso’s army massacred over 200 civilians in village raid: NGO

The UN Human Rights Office said it was “concerned” about the suspension.

“Restrictions on media freedom and civic space must stop immediately,” spokesperson Marta Hurtado said in a statement.

The British and US broadcasters are the latest international media organisations to be targeted since Captain Ibrahim Traoré seized power in the West African country in a September 2022 coup.

French outlets targeted

Under Traore, the junta has distanced Burkina Faso from France, which ruled the country until 1960, and has already targeted a number of French media outlets.

In September, the junta suspended the print and online operations of French media outlet Jeune Afrique in the country after it published two articles about tensions within the military.

  • Burkina Faso expels French diplomats for ‘subversive activities’

In June, it suspended French TV channel LCI for three months.

In March 2023, it also suspended all broadcasts by the France 24 news channel a few months after also suspending Radio France Internationale (RFI). It accused both public media outlets of having relayed jihadist leaders’ messages.

The following month the correspondents of French newspapers Liberation and Le Monde were expelled.

The jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015 has seen thousands of civilians, troops and police killed and two million people have fled their homes.

(with AFP)


Photography

Larger-than-life photos make heroes of France’s amateur athletes

Olympic spirit is the inspiration for this year’s Urban Eye (L’Oeil urbain) photo festival in Corbeil-Essonnes outside Paris. Photographer in residence Cyril Zannettacci chose to celebrate amateur athletes through larger-than-life portraits in his outdoor exhibition “Citius, Altius, Fortius”.

More accustomed to documenting social issues than sports, Zannettacci told RFI it was challenging to come up with a project that matched the festival’s theme.

First and foremost, he knew he wanted to find a way to put ordinary people on a pedestal by combining his loves of portraiture and the urban environment.

His collaborative project allowed him to meet sportspeople of all ages from the working-class suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes, some 30 kilometres south of Paris.

He photographed them practicing all sorts of sports, from billiards to pétanque, football to gymnastics to ping-pong.

Borrowing from a technique he used once before in a series on the fashion industry, he began by taking pictures of the athletes striking action poses in the studio against a black backdrop.

Then, he re-projected the studio images onto the walls of buildings around Corbeil-Essonnes at night and took a photo of each projection – a fun process he says got the whole community involved.

The result is a series of portraits of people leaping over cars, diving off footbridges and slam-dunking apartment balconies, like giants in their city playground.

Extraordinary athletes

“The idea is to pay homage to athletes in the shadows and amateur sports clubs and show how extraordinary they truly are,” Zannettacci told RFI.

“The participants were really happy, very invested and pleased that we were showing an interest in them and their sports,” he says, paying tribute to their dedication and passion.

Like sport, Zannettacci says, taking photos require patience, hard work and self-sacrifice.

He compares both to a marathon: you’re in it for the long haul, and you’ll have to try, fail and try again.

The title of his exhibition comes from the official OIympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius, Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.

In 2021, the International Olympic Committee also added the word Communiter – “Together”. That sits well with Zannettacci’s take.

For him, the Olympic Games are above all a chance to unite people from all walks of life and celebrate sport and its values.

But in practice, he says, the modern event doesn’t always achieve those goals.

  • Paris 2024 Olympics unveil official posters that ‘tell a story’

Social inequalities

“I’m quite critical when it comes to the Games, especially in social terms in a country like this,” Zannettacci says, pointing to the high ticket prices for Paris 2024.

“I think it’s a great event for sport in general,” he insists. “It puts a spotlight on France and Paris, but there are other things happening that I find a bit shocking. I would’ve preferred to see a more inclusive event.”

He points to reports that students will have to move out of their lodgings to make way for Olympic visitors and homeless people “who will be made invisible” by being bussed out of Paris – a critique shared by human rights groups.

  • More than games: photography festival celebrates sport as statement

A seasoned photojournalist for the French and international press, Zannettacci has covered protests, natural disasters and the plight of refugees in France.

Represented by Agence VU’ in Paris, he won the 2022 Caritas Photo Sociale Prize for his documentary series on a homeless shelter during the Covid pandemic.

The Urban Eye festival – made up of 10 free exhibitions, nine of them outdoors – is on until 11 May.

The guest of honour is Raymond Depardon, who shares his striking black-and-white photos of Olympics from Tokyo in 1964 to Moscow in 1980.

Corbeil-Essonnes is one of several towns in the local area that will host 24 disciplines, including basketball and table tennis, for the Paris Olympics and Paralympics this summer.


FRANCE – HISTORY

The real star of the Paris Olympics is the storied River Seine

Paris (AFP) – The Seine will play a starring role in this summer’s Paris Olympics, with the opening ceremony set to take place on the river, which will also host swimming events. Here are things you need to know about the storied waterway.

From wars to revolutions and the Covid-19 pandemic, most of the seismic events in French history have played out along the banks of the Seine.

The Vikings travelled up the river on their longboats in the 9th century, torching Rouen in 841 and later besieging Paris.

In 1944, Allied forces bombed most of the bridges downstream of Nazi-occupied Paris to prepare the ground for the D-Day landings which led to the liberation of western Europe.

A little over a decade later, a young Queen Elizabeth II was treated to a cruise on the Seine for her first state visit to France after taking the throne.

It was also to the Seine that Parisians flocked in 2020 when allowed out for air during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Paris expo recounts global struggles throughout Olympics history
  • Paris mayor to take a dip in the River Seine days before Olympics

Monet’s muse

French impressionist master Claude Monet spent his life painting the river from different viewpoints.

Hollywood starlet Doris Day, British rock singer Marianne Faithfull and US crooner Dean Martin all sang about it.

And during one of her raging rows with her songwriter partner Serge Gainsbourg, singer and actress Jane Birkin jumped into it.

The Seine has long inspired artists, authors, musicians… as well as legions of couples who have sworn their undying love by chaining personalised padlocks to the bridges of Paris.

Barging ahead

Taking a cruise on the Seine is on most visitors’ bucket lists, but the Seine is also a working river, used to transport everything from grain to Ikea furniture to the materials used for the construction of the Olympic Village.

Around 20 million tonnes of goods are transported on France’s second-busiest river each year –the equivalent of about 800,000 lorry-loads.

Diving in

Swimming in the Seine, which was all the rage in the 17th century when people used to dive in naked, has been banned for the past century for health and safety reasons.

But that’s all about to change, with France spending 1.4 billion euros to clean it of faecal matter and other impurities before the Olympics.

The open-water swimming events and triathlon will start at Pont Alexandre III, a marvel of 19th century engineering near the foot of the Champs-Elysees, with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background.

Beyond the Games, Paris wants to open the river to bathers, with President Emmanuel Macron promising he’ll lead the charge and take the plunge.

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

Mind the python

Cleaning up the Seine also has its macabre side. Between 50 and 60 corpses a year are fished out of the water.

Dredging of the river in recent years has also come up with voodoo dolls with pins stuck in them, a (dead) three-metre-long python, an artillery shell dating back to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the trophy of the Six Nations rugby tournament, dropped during a victory party on the river after France’s win in 2022.


Paris Olympics 2024

Olympic flame sets sail for France on historic ship

The Olympic flame set sail from Athens on Saturday on its voyage to France on board the Belem – a historic 19th-century three masted ship. It’s a key stage of the Torch Relay which will travel to French overseas territories before reaching its climax at the Paris Games opening ceremony along the river Seine on 26 July.  

“The feelings are so exceptional. It’s such an emotion for me”, Tony Estanguet, Paris Olympics chief organiser, told reporters before the departure of the ship from Piraeus, outside Athens.

He hailed the “great coincidence” how the Belem was launched just weeks after the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896.

The Belem set sail on a calm sea but under cloudy skies, accompanied off the port of Piraeus by the trireme Olympias of the Greek Navy and 25 sailing boats.

Captain Aymeric Gibet told France Télévisions he was a little stressed before the departure, knowing how important the symbol of the Olympic flame is.

However, he emphaised that the torch would be well looked after on board, thanks to the 16 professional sailors and 16 apprentices selected to participate in the trip.



Moving occasion

“We came here so that the children understand that the Olympic ideal was born in Greece. I’m really moved,” Giorgos Kontopoulos, who watched the ship starting its voyage with his two children, told French news agency AFP.

On Sunday, the ship will pass from the Corinth Canal – a feat of 19th century engineering constructed with the contribution of French banks and engineers.

The Belem is set to reach Marseille – where a Greek colony was founded in around 600 BCE – on 8 May.

  • Architecture students design Olympic fan zones for Paris suburbs

Over 1,000 vessels will accompany its approach to the harbour, local officials have said.

French swimmer Florent Manaudou will be the first torch bearer in Marseille. His sister Laure was the second torch bearer in ancient Olympia, where the flame was lit on 16 April.

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

12,000-kilometre journey

It will travel through more than 450 towns and cities, and dozens of tourist attractions during its 12,000-kilometre journey through mainland France and overseas French territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific.

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

Greece on Friday had handed over the Olympic flame of the 2024 Games, at a ceremony, to Estanguet.

Hellenic Olympic Committee chairman Spyros Capralos handed the torch to Estanguet at the Panathenaic Stadium, where the Olympics were held in 1896.

  • Olympic flame begins long journey from Greek birthplace to Paris

Estanguet said the goal for Paris was to organise “spectacular but also more responsible Games, which will contribute towards a more inclusive society.”

Organisers want to ensure “the biggest event in the world plays an accelerating role in addressing the crucial questions of our time,” said Estanguet, a member of France’s Athens 2004 Olympics team who won gold in the slalom canoe event.

A duo of French champions, Beijing 2022 ice dance gold medallist Gabriella Papadakis and former swimmer Beatrice Hess, one of the most successful Paralympians in history, carried the flame during the final relay leg into the Panathenaic Stadium.

Nana Mouskouri, the 89-year-old Greek singer with a worldwide following, sang the French and Greek anthems at the ceremony.

The Paris Olympics run from 26 July – 11 August and the Paralympics from 28 August – 8 September 2024.

(with AFP)


Justice

France charges IS official’s ex-wife with crimes against humanity

France has charged the ex-wife of a top Islamic State official with crimes against humanity on suspicion of enslaving a teenage Yazidi girl in Syria, French media reported. 

A woman identified as Sonia M., the former wife of the jihadist group’s head of external operations Abdelnasser Benyoucef, was charged on 14 March, Le Parisien daily newspaper reported on Saturday.

The Yazidi woman, who was 16 when she was forced into slavery by Benyoucef, accused Sonia M. of raping her twice and knowing that her husband was raping her, the report said.

The woman, now 25, said she was held for more than a month in 2015 in Syria, where she was not allowed to eat, drink or shower without Sonia M.’s permission.

Sonia M. denied the allegations against her in a 14 March interview with French investigators, saying “only one rape” had been committed by her former husband.

The teenager “left her room freely, ate what she wanted, went to the toilet when she needed to”, she said in her interview, seen by French news agency AFP.

Ongoing investigation

Sonia M.’s lawyer Nabil Boudi slammed the charges as “opportunistic accusations”, saying that prosecutors were seeking “to make her responsible for the most serious crimes, because the courts have not managed to apprehend the real perpetrators”.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Benyoucef, according to a source close to the investigation.

  • Pain of Yazidi genocide remembered in France

France launched an investigation in 2016 into genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria since 2012.

The probe has focused on crimes suffered by members of the Yazidi and Christian communities as well as members of the Sheitat tribe, according to France’s PNAT anti-terror unit.

“The aim is to document these crimes and identify the French perpetrators who belong to the Islamic State organisation,” PNAT told AFP.

(with AFP)


Public transport

French city Montpellier embraces free public transport, but will it cut traffic?

Public transport has been free for residents of Montpellier since December 2023, when the southern French city waived fares in a bid to reduce reliance on cars. Four months into the experiment, how much have travel habits changed?

“I’ve been taking the tram more since it’s been free,” Cécile, who lives on the outskirts of Montpellier, tells RFI.

“It’s really nice to be able to take the tram and not have all the stress of a car.” 

The city’s four tramways and roughly 40 bus lines have been free to the 500,000 people who live in Montpellier and its suburbs since last December.

First trialled on weekends, free rides were made permanent for under-18s and over-65s from September 2021 before being rolled out to all residents.

That decision made Montpellier the biggest metropolitan area in France to date – and one of the biggest in Europe – to experiment with free public transport.

Nearly 140,000 vehicles pass through Montpellier each day, the city estimates, generating traffic, noise and air pollution.

Making trams and buses free will “encourage car users to make the shift to public transport, either partly or entirely”, the council predicts

Julie Frêche, the councillor in charge of transport, says passenger numbers are already up. 

“We’re waiting for the end of the first quarter to set out initial results, but what I can say is that we’ve topped pre-Covid user rates,” she told RFI. 

Environmental benefits unclear 

But transport experts say the numbers need a closer look.

Frédéric Héran, an economist at Lille University who has studied data on travel habits in cities across Europe before and after they made public transport free, told RFI it wasn’t clear the policy ultimately reduces emissions.

“When people say that car users are taking public transport instead, it’s a small number, and it’s never specified whether that’s drivers or passengers. Most likely it’s car passengers who are switching to using free public transport,” he said.

Free transport also draws in pedestrians and cyclists, according to Héran, travellers who don’t have a carbon footprint in the first place.

After Estonia’s capital Tallinn became one of the first big cities to waive fares in 2013, a study a year later found that the number of trips made on foot fell by 40 percent, while trips by car dropped just 5 percent – and tended to cover longer distances.

By 2021 the country’s national audit office concluded that free public transport, despite increasing passenger numbers, ultimately had not reduced driving, with more than half of all journeys to work still made by car.

Based on Héran’s observations, he said, free public transport is “neutral for the environment, but you certainly can’t say it’s good for the environment”.

  • Parisians approve referendum on tripling parking fees for SUVs
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Patchy service 

To convince more drivers to leave cars at home, commuters say public transport has to provide better service.

A collective of Montpellier public transport users says the network was already stretched before fares were scrapped, complaining of crowding, long waits and patchy connections across the growing suburbs.

Now they fear the situation will get even worse as passengers increase and ticket revenues plummet.

The free transport scheme is expected to cost Montpellier some €30 million per year, which the council says will be covered by corporate taxes.

Companies with 11 employees or more – around 2,500 of which are based in the greater urban area – have to pay a 2 percent payroll tax that’s earmarked for the local transport system.

The council says it plans to add an extra tram line and five more bus routes over the coming years, as well as building more than 200 kilometres of new cycle lanes.


French football

PSG fluff chance to claim Ligue 1 title with draw against lowly Le Havre

Pacesetters Paris Saint-Germain botched their opportunity to claim a record 12th Ligue 1 crown in front of their fans on Saturday night with a 3-3 draw against relegation-threatened Le Havre.

The faithful at least heartily applauded the players at the end of the game for battling from 3-1 down to reach parity at a rain-swept Parc des Princes.

With Wednesday’s trip to Dortmund for the Champions League semi-final in mind, PSG boss Luis Enrique kept goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma and strikers Kylian Mbappé and Gonçalo Ramos on the bench.

But his team still boasted seasoned operators. Skipper Marquinhos was in the starting line-up to anchor the defence with Danilo. Vitinha and Warren Zaire-Emery were deployed in midfield to pull the strings.

And the duo duly provided the platform for the early domination. But it failed to yield any clear chances.

In the 19th minute, the hosts paid the price for their lack of incision. On a rare venture into PSG territory, the visitors took the lead.

Emmanuel Sabbi surged down the right and passed to the unmarked Christopher Operi who slotted the ball elegantly past the PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas into the net.

Return

The advantage lasted only 10 minutes. Ousmane Dembélé’s trickery down the right opened up space for Zaire-Emery and the teenager slid a pass across the face of the goal for Bradley Barcola to tap in.

A PSG onslaught seemed imminent. 

But it was Le Havre who struck just before the pause. Loic Nego hustled his way into the PSG penalty area, fed Andre Ayew with a slick back-heel pass and the Ghana international’s shot took a deflection to fly past Navas.

Cavalry

Enrique sent on Mbappé, Kang-in Lee and Senny Mayulu for Dembélé, Marco Asensio and Barcola at the start of the second-half to invigorate his team and seek parity. 

The ploy appeared to be working as Achraf Hakimi and Mbappé went close to levelling.

But on the hour mark, PSG defender Danilo tripped Nego in the penalty area and after consulting the video monitor on the side of the pitch, referee Willy Delajod awarded a spot kick. Abdoulaye Toure converted to make it 3-1.

With 14 minutes remaining Ramos set up Hakimi to finish past Arthur Desmas. And Ramos nodded in the equaliser in stoppage time to deny Le Havre a famous victory which would have lifted them two points clear of the relegation zone.



Boasting 70 points after 31 games, PSG will claim the crown on Sunday if second-placed Monaco fail to win at Lyon.

Should Monaco take the three points, PSG will get another chance to claim Ligue 1 in front of the home faithful on 12 May when they play Toulouse.

Before Qatar Sports Investments took full control of the club in 2011, PSG had claimed two Ligue 1 crowns in their 40 years of existence.

But with a billion euros of investment in the planet’s best players and coaches, they have dominated the domestic firmament. 

In addition to the top flight titles, they have also lifted six Coupe de France and Couple de La Ligue trophies and 10 French Super Cups.

The team can add two more pieces of silverware to the cabinet this campaign.

On 25 May in Lille, they take on Lyon in the final of the 2024 Coupe de France and during the first week of May, they play Borussia Dortmund over two legs for a place in the final of the 2024 Champions League.

With the title effectively decided, intrigue will focus on the race for second and third place – the berths leading to slots in the group stages of next season’s Champions League.

Monaco, with 58 points, are in pole position for one of the places.

Third placed Brest, on 53 points, play at Rennes on Sunday and Lille, who are fourth with 52 points, are in action at Metz who occupy the relegation play-off place with 29 points – the same number as Le Havre.


Agriculture

French PM hopes to end agricultural crisis with new raft of measures

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced on Saturday a new package of 14 measures that he hopes will turn the page on the agricultural crisis, which caused blockades at the start of the year. Major unions welcomed the move but warned they would remain on their guard.

“We are working on concrete measures for our farmers,” Gabriel Attal told reporters during a visit to the local seafood market in Pirou, in the northwestern region of La Manche.

“These additional measures which are added to the 67 measures that I announced on 26 January, demonstrate our determination to meet the needs of our farmers and to guarantee a prosperous future for our agriculture”, he said.

Among these measures is the promised presentation of the final version of the Ecophyto 2030 pesticide reduction plan at the beginning of May, which had been put on hold due to the agricultural crisis.

There is also a new cash flow aid for farms, the acceleration of 100 water storage or irrigation projects starting this year and an aid plan for three departments hit by weather crises such as severe flooding (Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Hérault).

€50 million has been earmarked for projects to adapt to climate change and develop local sectors, the government said.

Cautious optimism

The measures come after unprecedented protests by farmers earlier this year and intense negotiations lasting several months.

The government hopes to enter a new phase with the concrete implementation of each of these measures, which were welcomed the major agricultural unions, the FNSEA and the Young Farmers union on Saturday.

But they promised to be “extremely vigilant”.

  • French farmers stage tractor protests in Paris on eve of Agriculture Fair

“A crisis does not end by snapping your fingers,” deputy secretary general of the FNSEA Christophe Chambon told Franceinfo on Saturday.

“Everything that has been announced for months must trickle down to the farms,” he said.

President of the Coordination Rurale (Rural Coordination) also said there was still a lot to do.

“We are given the feeling of moving quickly, but a lot of measures could have been taken from the start,” she declared.

A meeting with Emmanuel Macron, promised since the Agricultural Show in February, should make it possible to seal the entry into a new phase, but no date has been set.

  • Farmers’ protests in France: a long and sometimes deadly history

Attal said he would not let the farmers down.

“This is a question of trust,” French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said, when asked about future agricultural protests. “We don’t want to get into mutual blackmail with the unions,” he said.

Next week, MPs will be called upon to examine the agricultural orientation bill, that was revised following the crisis.

It will look at simplifying the rules around pesticides and using an European indicator instead of the French used until now.

Some NGOs have criticised the European indicator for less clearly differentiating the harmfulness of pesticides.

The government also confirmed that the reform of agricultural pension funds will apply from 2026, based on the best 25 years of a career.

(with AFP)


Paris 2024 Olympics

Paris expo recounts global struggles throughout Olympics history

French culture chiefs on Friday unveiled their latest blockbuster exhibition aimed at adding a more reflective level to the Olympic and Paralympic fever set to grip France from the middle of July.

Showing at the national History of Immigration Museum in eastern Paris, the exhibition highlights the fractious hinterland of the Games since they were prised out of the ancient history books and repackaged during a Franco-Hellenic love-in at the end of the 19th century.

Developments in social, gender and racial equality are also surveyed through the 600-odd posters, letters and mementos in “Olympism, a History of the World 1896-2024”, which runs until 8 September – the end of the Paralympic Games.

“We talk a lot today about the impact of the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East,” said museum director Constance Rivière.

“As far as the Games are concerned, there is a lot of talk about things like inclusion, the environment and sustainability. But these are issues that have existed almost since the inception of the Games.”

Seven curators have worked for the past five years to sift through a treasure trove of sporting memorabilia.

Each of the 33 Games receives its own array of panels featuring details such as the boycotts of 1976, 1980 and 1984, the star athletes who emerged, and the contemporary geopolitical crises that were burning the firmament or smouldering.

Gender battle

Also outlined are the number of male and female athletes as well as their origins.

Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman who dreamed up the idea of reinvigorating the ancient Greek model, was eventually forced to concede that the inaugural event should take place in Athens.

But his concepts about women remained: they were essentially on earth to bear and look after children. Sporting pursuits would, for him, harm that capacity.

Consequently, no women were among the 241 participants at the 1896 Games, which was exclusively populated by Europeans. There were no Asian or African competitors.

Four years later in Paris, 22 women were allowed to take part in sports such as golf and tennis. Amsterdam in 1928 marked the first time they could compete in athletic events.

“The inclusion of women in the Olympic Games was an extremely slow process,” added Rivière. “And it’s only now, in 2024 that parity is finally being forced through.

“That’s an incredible achievement. And it didn’t happen by itself. It happened because women had the courage to fight for their rights.”

Racial divide

Fittingly for a museum dedicated to the movement of peoples, the black American athlete Jesse Owens leaping to glory in the long jump at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin takes primacy as the poster for the exhibition.

His exploits – featured in extracts from Leni Riefenstahl’s film of those Games – debunked the Übermensch efforts of the Nazi regime to promote its theory of blonde-haired and blue-eyed Aryan power.

Owens, though, for all his wonders and four gold medals in Berlin, returned home to a segregated society.

In Mexico City, just over three decades after Owens’ brilliance, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their hands on the podium following respective gold and bronze medals in the 200m as part of a protest for racial equality in the United States.

“All these struggles have had an impact, whether on the inclusion of women, on the issue of minorities, or on the inclusion of the different continents of the world,” added Rivière.

“At one point, the Olympics were truly the Games of the northern hemisphere. They were also very bourgeois games because you had to be an amateur and professionals weren’t allowed to take part.”

Boycott threats

Nearly 11,000 athletes of all hues and income streams are expected in Paris for the 2024 Olympics – half will be female.

But they will come to an event where organisers have trumpeted the low environmental footprint and the sustainability of the buildings.

Threats of boycotts due to the conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East permeate the prelude.

“A question arises,” said co-curator Sandrine Lemaire, a specialist in French colonial history.

“Can we continue to organise this type of mega-event with the traditional rules of unity of place and unity of time? For example, the next football World Cup has been split up to be in several countries.

“Will the Olympic Games have to do the same thing? Today there are a lot of young people who prefer sport but not as we see it in the Olympic Games. It’s clear that the current model is running out of steam.”


Art

Could Mona Lisa move into a private suite at Le Louvre?

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, the world’s most famous portrait, could get a room of its own in the Louvre, the museum’s president said on Saturday. 

Such a move would give visitors, many of whom visit the Louvre for the iconic painting alone, a better experience, Laurence des Cars told the France Inter broadcaster.

“It’s always frustrating when you don’t give visitors the best possible reception, and that is the case for the Mona Lisa,” she said.

“A better solution seems necessary to me today,” she said, adding that the Louvre was in contact with the culture ministry about potential solutions.

The Louvre, the world’s most popular museum, welcomed close to nine million visitors in 2023.

Thousands of tourists

Des Cars said 80 percent of them – 20,000 people per day – braved the crowd to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, often taking selfies in front of the painting.

Metres of belt-barriers line the room, just like at an airport, to allow everyone in the queue a few seconds to gaze at the painting before moving on.

The Mona Lisa currently hangs in the Louvre’s Salle des Etats (State Room), the museum’s biggest, in a protective glass case, but Da Vinci’s masterwork is not alone there.

It is accompanied by works by 16th-century Venetian masters, and across the room hangs the Louvre‘s biggest painting, The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese.

As well as being on the bucket list for many tourists, the iconic painting has been the target in recent years of envionmental activists.

As recently as January this year, two women from the Riposte Alimentaire (Food Retaliation) group threw soup at the protective glass casing of the masterpiece.

  • Activists splash soup on glass-protected Mona Lisa in Paris

The collective says it is dedicated to advocating for action on climate change and sustainable agriculture.

In a separate incident, someone threw a custard pie at the painting in May 2022.

Le Louvre is gearing up to attract even more visitors as Paris prepares to welcome the Olympic Games in July and August.

The world’s biggest museum announced on Tuesday that it planned to organise yoga and sport sessions in its famed galleries as part of a city-wide cultural programme ahead of the sporting events.

  • Olympic flame to burn in front of Louvre museum during Paris 2024 Games

“The Louvre is physically in the centre of Paris. It will be physically at the centre of the Olympic Games,” des Cars told reporters.

Details of the special sessions and the museum’s new Olympics-themed exhibition are available on its website.

Organisers of the Paris Games have also indicated that the Olympic flame is set to burn in the Tuileries Garden in front of the Louvre museum.

(with AFP)


FRANCE

Blades of Paris landmark Moulin Rouge windmill collapse

The blades of the Moulin Rouge windmill, one of the most famous landmarks in Paris, collapsed overnight Thursday, just months before the French capital hosts the Olympics.

There was no risk of further collapse, Paris firefighters said. The reason for the accident was not yet known.

“Fortunately this happened after closing,” a Moulin Rouge official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

“Every week, the cabaret’s technical teams check the windmill mechanism and did not note any problems,” the source added.

It’s the first time that an accident like this has happened since the cabaret first opened its doors on 6 October, 1889.

Images on social media showed the blade unit lying on the street below, with some of the blades slightly bent from the apparent fall.

  • The Moulin Rouge celebrates 125th birthday
  • Life’s a ball as Moulin Rouge marks 130 years of razzle dazzle

Concerns

The Moulin Rouge cabaret, with its distinctive red windmill blades, is located in northern Paris and is one of the most visited landmarks in the city.

Known as the birthplace of the modern dance form the cancan, it opened its doors in October 1889 at the foot of the Montmartre hill.

It quickly became a hit and a stop to look at its facade or catch a show inside is a must-do on most tourists’ lists of things to do in the French capital.

The accident will add to concerns of whether Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, is ready to host the thousands more that will descent during July-August for the Olympic Games.

The only serious accident the Moulin Rouge has endured was a fire that erupted during works in 1915, which forced the venue to close for nine years.

(with newswires)


History

How Portugal’s Carnation Revolution changed the fate of its colonies in Africa

Portugal this week marked the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution – a pivotal moment in the country’s history and its relationship with its African colonies. 

On 25 April 1974 – after almost half a century of dictatorship – the military coup opened a new era.

Led by low-ranking officers within the Portuguese army and backed by widespread public support, the so-called Carnation Revolution not only toppled Portugal’s authoritarian regime but signalled the end of its colonial wars in Africa.

The dictatorship established by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar had been at war with national movements demanding freedom from the Portuguese empire for more than 10 years.

In the aftermath of the revolution, all five of Portugal’s African colonies – Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola and Sao Tome and Príncipe – swiftly gained independence. 

Those countries’ heads of state were in Lisbon this week to join in the 50th anniversary celebrations – tribute to a struggle for freedom that spanned two continents.



Rebellion in Guinea-Bissau

By the spring of 1974, the battle for decolonisation was furthest advanced in Guinea-Bissau. 

The country had unilaterally declared independence from Portugal in September 1973 as after 10 years of conflict that helped drive Portugal’s own push for freedom.

“Many [officers] had passed through Guinea-Bissau. There were more deaths in Guinea-Bissau than anywhere else,” says Mario Cissoko, who was then part of the PAIGC rebel group

“We had a radio station in Conakry – Radio Libération. We communicated in Creole, Portuguese and the vernacular languages to raise awareness among all the people in areas controlled by the colonial forces,” he told RFI.

“And even the Portuguese troops – we convinced them through the radio.”

Young Portuguese recruits no longer wanted to do four years’ military service in the country at the risk of dying in the name of a dictatorship, Cissoko says – and there were many deserters. 

“We freed them ourselves and handed them over to the International Red Cross. All that played a part in the political mobilisation of Portuguese soldiers.”

  • Lisbon street plaques tell story of Portugal’s forgotten slave trade

Wind of change

In Mozambique, an independence agreement was signed just months after Portugal’s military revolted, in September 1974, and took effect the following year.

Joaquim Chissano, who would go on to be president of Mozambique, was a guerrilla fighter with the pro-independence Frelimo movement at the time.

“We heard about the coup in Portugal on the radio,” he told RFI.

He and his fellow rebels were at a training camp in neighbouring Tanzania, and soon realised the events in Lisbon could create an opening for their fight to decolonise.

At the time, Chissano recalls, “we took the attitude that the coup d’etat would be the end of fascism – perhaps – but we couldn’t assume that it was the end of colonialism.

“So we had to continue the struggle until we had the conditions to have our independence.”

  • Podcast: Germany’s dark past in Africa

Catalyst effect

The events of April 1974 also catalysed Angola’s journey to freedom.

The country had been engaged in a gruelling war for independence since 1961. After the revolution, negotiations between the Portuguese government and Angolan liberation movements gained momentum and led to the signing of independence agreements in 1975.

Angola proclaimed independence on 11 November the same year.

Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe, where the movement for decolonisation had been slowest to advance, also obtained their independence under Portugal’s new leaders in 1975.

While decolonisation would probably have occurred even without the Carnation Revolution, the change in regime helped accelerate the process. 

In the decades that followed, several of the newly independent countries faced a difficult transition through civil wars, corrupt leaders and proxy conflicts.

They remain some of the world’s poorest countries today – while in Portugal, the far right is gaining ground for the first time in decades.


South Africa

South Africa marks Freedom Day ahead of tense election

South Africa on Saturday marks Freedom Day – 30 years since the first multiracial elections and the emergence of democracy after 46 years of apartheid. However the country faces a myriad of economic challenges which will be at the heart of elections next month.

Freedom Day is a public holiday in South Africa and is celebrated on 27 April, the same day Nelson Mandela from the African National Congress (ANC) was elected in 1994.

It commemorates the day the new constitution was introduced, affording all South Africans equal rights, abolishing the racially discriminative system of apartheid.

It is a day where the “unsung heroes and heroines who fought for freedom and paved the way for an equal, representative, non-racial nation” are honoured, the government said in a statement.

List of improvements

President Cyril Ramaphosa touted South Africa’s achievements under his party’s leadership on Saturday just a month before its most consequential election in decades.

“South Africa today is an infinitely better place than it was 30 years ago,” Ramaphosa said in a speech marking “Freedom Day” at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, in Pretoria.

The 71-year-old used the occasion to list improvements shepherded by the ANC, which is struggling in the polls and risks losing its outright parliamentary majority for the first time.

“We have pursued land reform, distributing millions of hectares of land to those who had been forcibly dispossessed,” he said.

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

“We have built houses, clinics, hospitals, roads and constructed bridges, dams, and many other facilities. We have brought electricity, water and sanitation to millions of South African homes.”

An Ipsos poll released on Friday showed support for the ruling party, which won more than 57 percent of the vote at the last national elections in 2019, has fallen to just over 40 percent.

The party’s image has been badly hurt by accusations of graft and its inability to effectively tackle poverty, crime, inequality, and unemployment, which remain staggeringly high.

Ramaphosa acknowledged the problems, but denounced critics as people who wilfully “shut their eyes”.

“We have made much progress and we are determined to do much more,” he said.

Coalition on the cards

For the first time since it came into power in 1994, polls are indicating that the ANC party might receive less than 50 percent of the national vote, which would see it losing power if it does not manage to form a coalition with some smaller parties.

On 13 April, the organisation Defend Our Democracy, held a conference in Johannesburg to discuss the best way to approach possible future negotiations if the ANC does not win an outright majority.

One of the representatives of the Action SA party, Michael Beaumont, spoke to RFI’s correspondent in Johannesburg.

“I think we have to be careful not to develop a ‘Stockholm syndrome’ with regard to the idea of stability,” he said, “because, in fact, [the] creative tensions of a coalition can be something to celebrate.”

Meanwhile, one of the main challenges for parties will be to convince young voters to participate in democracy again, as their parents did with the end of apartheid.

“The majority of youth don’t vote; they are disappointed,” a citizen named Vote Ubisi told news agency Reuters. He considers himself lucky to have a part-time job as a waiter at a safari lodge.

Ubisi was born on 27 April 1994, in a poor village in Mpumalanga province, and his parents named him after a historic day.

He still plans to cast his ballot in May, although he declined to say which party he would vote for.

“You vote for the party that can bring some contribution to the community. That’s what I’m looking for,” he said. “We need the change.”

From progress to decline

South Africa‘s economic development in the last 30 years can be divided into two periods, according to the economist Azar Jammine.

The period before the presidency of the ANC’s Jacob Zuma (2009 – 2018), and the period under Zuma.

“The first fifteen years were quite a success,” Jammine told RFI.

“The country experienced an average growth of three percent per year between 1994 and 2001. Then, almost five percent per year between 2001 and 2007. It coincided with a boom in commodity prices.”

Isobel Frye, director of the Social Policy Initiative (SPI) think tank, explained to RFI that under apartheid, black communities could hardly own land.

“The same for small businesses. People were proletarianised and dependent on their salaries. And wages, for those who are employed, and especially for semi- or low-skilled jobs, are very low. So the introduction of a minimum wage is one of the successes of the ANC,” she said.

South Africa’s social benefit system is also among the most developed on the continent, and a lifeline for the poorest. Almost 30 percent of the population benefits from it, not counting the post-Covid aid still distributed.

Despite progress, South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, according to the Gini index.

From 2012, its economy made very little progress, with a significant decline in growth, Jammine notes.

The “rainbow nation” envisioned by Mandela is nowadays afflicted by poverty, inequality, corruption and crime.

 (with newswires)

Spotlight on France

Podcast: War on youth, Ionesco in Paris, French women’s right to vote

Issued on:

Why French youth are once again under fire as the government vows to crack down on violent crime. The staying power of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano in one of Paris’s smallest theatres. And why French women won the right to vote so much later than many of their European neighbours.

In recent weeks President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Gabriel Attal have been looking for ways to tackle what Macron has called a wave of ultraviolence sweeping the country. They’ve put the focus on young people, but not everyone agrees with the assessment. Critics have denounced the government proposals as reactionary, fuelling yet another “war” on youth. Sociologist Laurent Mucchielli, who says statistics do not show any rise in violent crime committed by youngsters, talks about why France regularly targets young people, and how it is often linked to electoral politics. (Listen @2’15”)

The Bald Soprano and The Lesson, by Romanian-French avant-garde playwright Eugène Ionesco, have been running at the tiny Théatre de la Huchette in Paris five times a week non-stop since 1957. Two million people have flocked to watch the plays, which are performed in their original staging and set. But what’s it like for the 45-member company, some of whom have been acting in Ionesco’s absurdist universe for more than 30 years? We went along to the 20,024th performance to find out. (Listen @18’50”)

French women obtained the right to vote on 21 April 1944, later than most other countries in Europe. Historian Anne-Sarah Moalic talks about the long road to equal suffrage, which required patient activism along with a bit of geopolitical chaos. And a woman who voted in France’s very first elections open to all adults, in April 1945, recalls the excitement and pressure of her maiden trip to the ballot box. (Listen @11’05”)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).


Urban music

Aya Nakamura scoops French music awards, thanks fans for support over racist abuse

French singer Aya Nakamura confirmed her status as queen of the pop music scene, sweeping three big prizes at Les Flammes awards for rap, R&B and pop on Thursday – where she thanked fans for support over racist attacks following rumours she would perform at the Paris Olympics.

The 28-year-old French-Malian pop star dominated the awards in Paris, winning female artist of the year, pop album of the year and international star of the year.

“I’m very honoured,” she said holding one of the trophies. “Being a female artist, and what’s more a black artist, and coming from the banlieues (suburbs) is very difficult.”

She dedicated the awards “to all the blacks, to all the girls that are watching me” and thanked her fans for “the love and messages of support, despite the controversy and criticism”.

Racism row

Nakamura found herself in the midst of a racism row in February after rumours circulated she had discussed singing an Edith Piaf song at the upcoming Paris Olympics during a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron said he backed the idea, though it would be up to the artistic director of the opening and closing ceremonies to decide.

A number of far-right and conservative politicians, including Marine le Pen, founder of the National Rally, openly criticised the French-Malian singer and her music.

  • Aya Nakamura’s Olympic song proposal sparks French far-right backlash

A small extremist group, the Natives, hung a banner by the River Seine that read: “There’s no way Aya. This is Paris, not Bamako market.”

That led to the Paris prosecutor opening an investigation for alleged racist abuse against the singer.



Political overtones

Les Flammes awards were launched last year to showcase rap and other forms of urban music after criticism that the mainstream Victoires de la Musique – the French equivalent of the Grammy awards – lacked diversity.

Thursday’s ceremony had a strong political tone.

Comedian Waly Dia denounced “what they’ve done to Aya this year”, in reference to the racism levelled against her, and called out Culture Minister Rachida Dati for not attending the awards.

Questioned over the Nakamura affair on a Friday morning radio show, Dati praised the singer’s “immense” talent, saying “she has her place, she’s a great artist”.

  • Aya Nakamura: the unstoppable queen of streaming

Rapper Médine performed his 2015 hit song Gaza Soccer Beach, dedicating it to Palestinians.

During the performance, the names and ages of children killed in Gaza in Israeli bombardments following the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel appeared on a screen behind him.

“There isn’t enough room on these theatre walls to write the names of [all] the 35,000 victims,” he said.

Médine, who’s taken a strong pro-Palestinian stance, stirred controversy last August after he posted an allegedly antisemitic message on social media.




ENVIRONMENT

Why climate change is heating Europe faster than the rest of the world

Climate change is causing Europe to heat up more quickly than any other continent – and twice as fast as the global average – with recent studies warning of mounting threats to food, water and energy security, human health, the economy and nature. What makes the continent more vulnerable than others?

The latest five-year averages show that temperatures in Europe are now running 2.3C above pre-industrial levels, compared to 1.3C globally. 

Even in the best-case scenario, the European Commission warned that Europe would “have to learn to live with a climate that is 3 degrees warmer”. 

With its developed infrastructure and resources, Europe may be better equipped to adapt to climate change compared to more vulnerable regions, but it still faces unprecedented uphill challenges. 

In its first-ever European Climate Risk Assessment, the European Environment Agency (EEA) warned the continent was ill prepared for rapidly growing climate risks – extreme heat, drought, wildfires and flooding – that will affect the living conditions of millions. 

  • Adapting to climate change is like climbing a slippery slope: IPCC author

Climate hotspots

“Europe faces urgent climate risks that are growing faster than our societal preparedness,” EEA executive director Leena Ylä-Mononen said when the analysis was published in March, urging governments to get cracking on course-correction policies. 

Scientists speculate that Europe is warming more rapidly because of its proximity to the Arctic, where climate impacts are more keenly felt, and because of warmer ocean and atmospheric currents. 

All parts of Europe will warm by more than 2C regardless of future emissions cuts – while some regions have been identified as hotspots for multiple climate risks. 

Low-lying coastal regions – including many densely populated cities – face flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion threats, while southern Europe is at particular risk from wildfires and impacts of heat and water scarcity on agricultural production. 

The EEA found that many of these risks have already reached critical levels and could become catastrophic without urgent action.  

Separate analysis published this week by Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and the United Nations said the number of heat-related deaths in Europe had increased by at least 30 percent over the past two decades. 

The average sea surface temperature for the ocean across Europe, meanwhile, was the highest on record in 2023. In June of that year, the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland and around the United Kingdom was impacted by an extreme marine heatwave. 

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

Agriculture challenge

Climate shocks in Europe are happening despite ambitious legislation the European Union hopes will establish it as a global leader on climate.

Set in 2021, the goal to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by the end of the decade is a binding commitment under the EU’s Climate Law – which also commits to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. 

While Europe is making progress in some areas – with more energy generated from renewables than from fossil fuels for a second year running – farmer protests have seen a rollback of rules aimed at cutting emissions from agriculture. 

It promises to be a hot-button issue at Europe’s parliamentary elections in June as conservative parties champion the cause of farmers who say the climate measures are not being backed up with support for those working in the sector. 

Reducing agricultural pollution “should be a priority” to increase Europe’s resilience to climate change, the EEA found in its assessment.   

Taking decisive action after the elections, it said, would be critical. 

International report

Aid flotilla from Turkey aims to break Gaza blockade but risks fresh crisis

Issued on:

A group of international activists are seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza with a flotilla of vessels carrying aid. But with 10 people killed by Israeli security forces in a similar mission 14 years ago, fears are growing that the latest flotilla could provoke a fresh crisis. 

The loading of medical supplies and food is underway on the Akdeniz, an old ferry boat that will lead the flotilla of three ships carrying over 5,000 tonnes of aid to Gaza.

At a press conference, the flotilla’s organisers, a coalition of international and Turkish humanitarian groups, claimed the flotilla is not just about delivering aid.  

“We hope to break the illegal naval blockade of Gaza that Israel has had on it for decades,” Ann Wright of US Boat to Gaza explained to RFI. 



Wright acknowledged the aid they plan to deliver will do little to alleviate the humanitarian crisis but hopes it will open the door to more assistance.

“We hope to certainly bring food and medicines that are needed by the people of Gaza. But it’s a small drop in the bucket. We’re calling for the border of Rafah to be opened, where tons of food are waiting. It’s criminal that the world has not forced the entry of these trucks into Gaza.” 

Wright said the issue was being forced because “people that are starving and suffering genocide must have assistance”.

If the governments won’t act, “we, the citizens will”, she said.

Flotilla in 2010

In 2010, ten people died the last time a flotilla sought to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

When Israeli commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara, which was leading the flotilla, activists said they were aware of the dangers they faced, but given the humanitarian crisis in Gaza it was a risk worth taking.

  • France condemns killing of Gaza NGO workers as US pressed to toughen stance with Israel
  • Turkish court indicts Israeli soldiers two years after flotilla raid

“We are conscious that it’s not a mission without any danger,” said Nima Machouf is with the group, Canada Boat to Gaza.

“But the danger and the horror is part of the horror that we want to denounce that it is faced by Palestinian people. Gaza people need medical support and need food.”

Flotilla participants are given lessons on how to de-escalate a possible confrontation with Israeli forces. There has been no comment from Israeli officials.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Avi, warns the risks are real given the tensions in the region.



“Both on the Israeli side and on the Turkish side, there is an understanding of how dangerous things might get out of hand. So I think there will be caution, both from the Turkish side and the Israeli side,” said Lindenstrauss.

“But obviously, this is a very, very intense time now in Israel. And, also, I would be very careful, and hope that, the authorities are on both sides are aware of what they need to do to make sure that this will not escalate into violence.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is likely to have the final say on whether the flotilla will leave, has not commented on the mission. 

But Erdogan met with Hamas’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh last Saturday, in which humanitarian aid to Gaza was discussed – a meeting Israel condemned. 

Whatever risks flotilla organisers say they are determined to deliver aid to Gaza.

“Of course, we are worried, but, we think that, the time is now to act,” said Torstein Dahle, a former Norwegian parliamentarian of Ship to Gaza Norway

But Dahle says the flotilla is looking for international protection.

“We demand support from national governments, from everybody who has influence on this matter, to facilitate the supply of humanitarian aid to the starving people of Gaza,” he said.

The Sound Kitchen

A robot in space

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about India’s humanoid space robot. There’s listener news and “On This Day”, “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, lots of good music, and of course, the new quiz and bonus questions, 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 16 March, I asked you a question about India’s space programme. Earlier that week, India unveiled their plans for their next space flight, which is scheduled for this coming fall. As you read in RFI English correspondent Pratap Chakravarty’s article “India picks pilots for space flight that will blast it into cosmic history”, on board that rocket will be a humanoid robot.  You were to write in with the name of the robot (it’s in Sanskrit) and its translation into English.

The answer is: Vyomitra, which translates into English as “space friend”. Vyomitra will make the test flight, to ensure the space-worthiness of the craft before astronauts fly onboard it next year.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Morium Nessa Momo from Bogura, Bangladesh: “Who is the person – still living – that you most admire, and why?”

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Shaira Hosen Mo from Kishoreganj, Bangladesh. Mo is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations Mo!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Nafisa Khatun, the president of the RFI Mahila Shrota Sangha Club in West Bengal, India, and RFI Listeners Club member Faiza, from the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan, as well as two members from Bangladesh: Ajharul Islam Tamim from Kishorganj, and Sahadot Hossain, from Sunamganj. 

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Habana del Este” written by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez Cardenas and performed by his orchestra; “The Spirit of Man” from Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Mamy Blue” written by Hubert Giraud, and sung by Nicoletta.

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

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “‘Titanic’ task of finding plundered African art in French museums”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 20 May to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 25 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. 

International report

Aid flotilla from Turkey aims to break Gaza blockade but risks fresh crisis

Issued on:

A group of international activists are seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza with a flotilla of vessels carrying aid. But with 10 people killed by Israeli security forces in a similar mission 14 years ago, fears are growing that the latest flotilla could provoke a fresh crisis. 

The loading of medical supplies and food is underway on the Akdeniz, an old ferry boat that will lead the flotilla of three ships carrying over 5,000 tonnes of aid to Gaza.

At a press conference, the flotilla’s organisers, a coalition of international and Turkish humanitarian groups, claimed the flotilla is not just about delivering aid.  

“We hope to break the illegal naval blockade of Gaza that Israel has had on it for decades,” Ann Wright of US Boat to Gaza explained to RFI. 



Wright acknowledged the aid they plan to deliver will do little to alleviate the humanitarian crisis but hopes it will open the door to more assistance.

“We hope to certainly bring food and medicines that are needed by the people of Gaza. But it’s a small drop in the bucket. We’re calling for the border of Rafah to be opened, where tons of food are waiting. It’s criminal that the world has not forced the entry of these trucks into Gaza.” 

Wright said the issue was being forced because “people that are starving and suffering genocide must have assistance”.

If the governments won’t act, “we, the citizens will”, she said.

Flotilla in 2010

In 2010, ten people died the last time a flotilla sought to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.

When Israeli commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara, which was leading the flotilla, activists said they were aware of the dangers they faced, but given the humanitarian crisis in Gaza it was a risk worth taking.

  • France condemns killing of Gaza NGO workers as US pressed to toughen stance with Israel
  • Turkish court indicts Israeli soldiers two years after flotilla raid

“We are conscious that it’s not a mission without any danger,” said Nima Machouf is with the group, Canada Boat to Gaza.

“But the danger and the horror is part of the horror that we want to denounce that it is faced by Palestinian people. Gaza people need medical support and need food.”

Flotilla participants are given lessons on how to de-escalate a possible confrontation with Israeli forces. There has been no comment from Israeli officials.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Avi, warns the risks are real given the tensions in the region.



“Both on the Israeli side and on the Turkish side, there is an understanding of how dangerous things might get out of hand. So I think there will be caution, both from the Turkish side and the Israeli side,” said Lindenstrauss.

“But obviously, this is a very, very intense time now in Israel. And, also, I would be very careful, and hope that, the authorities are on both sides are aware of what they need to do to make sure that this will not escalate into violence.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is likely to have the final say on whether the flotilla will leave, has not commented on the mission. 

But Erdogan met with Hamas’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh last Saturday, in which humanitarian aid to Gaza was discussed – a meeting Israel condemned. 

Whatever risks flotilla organisers say they are determined to deliver aid to Gaza.

“Of course, we are worried, but, we think that, the time is now to act,” said Torstein Dahle, a former Norwegian parliamentarian of Ship to Gaza Norway

But Dahle says the flotilla is looking for international protection.

“We demand support from national governments, from everybody who has influence on this matter, to facilitate the supply of humanitarian aid to the starving people of Gaza,” he said.

The Sound Kitchen

A robot in space

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about India’s humanoid space robot. There’s listener news and “On This Day”, “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, lots of good music, and of course, the new quiz and bonus questions, 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 16 March, I asked you a question about India’s space programme. Earlier that week, India unveiled their plans for their next space flight, which is scheduled for this coming fall. As you read in RFI English correspondent Pratap Chakravarty’s article “India picks pilots for space flight that will blast it into cosmic history”, on board that rocket will be a humanoid robot.  You were to write in with the name of the robot (it’s in Sanskrit) and its translation into English.

The answer is: Vyomitra, which translates into English as “space friend”. Vyomitra will make the test flight, to ensure the space-worthiness of the craft before astronauts fly onboard it next year.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Morium Nessa Momo from Bogura, Bangladesh: “Who is the person – still living – that you most admire, and why?”

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Shaira Hosen Mo from Kishoreganj, Bangladesh. Mo is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations Mo!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Nafisa Khatun, the president of the RFI Mahila Shrota Sangha Club in West Bengal, India, and RFI Listeners Club member Faiza, from the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan, as well as two members from Bangladesh: Ajharul Islam Tamim from Kishorganj, and Sahadot Hossain, from Sunamganj. 

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Habana del Este” written by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez Cardenas and performed by his orchestra; “The Spirit of Man” from Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Mamy Blue” written by Hubert Giraud, and sung by Nicoletta.

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

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “‘Titanic’ task of finding plundered African art in French museums”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 20 May to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 25 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 France

Podcast: War on youth, Ionesco in Paris, French women’s right to vote

Issued on:

Why French youth are once again under fire as the government vows to crack down on violent crime. The staying power of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano in one of Paris’s smallest theatres. And why French women won the right to vote so much later than many of their European neighbours.

In recent weeks President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Gabriel Attal have been looking for ways to tackle what Macron has called a wave of ultraviolence sweeping the country. They’ve put the focus on young people, but not everyone agrees with the assessment. Critics have denounced the government proposals as reactionary, fuelling yet another “war” on youth. Sociologist Laurent Mucchielli, who says statistics do not show any rise in violent crime committed by youngsters, talks about why France regularly targets young people, and how it is often linked to electoral politics. (Listen @2’15”)

The Bald Soprano and The Lesson, by Romanian-French avant-garde playwright Eugène Ionesco, have been running at the tiny Théatre de la Huchette in Paris five times a week non-stop since 1957. Two million people have flocked to watch the plays, which are performed in their original staging and set. But what’s it like for the 45-member company, some of whom have been acting in Ionesco’s absurdist universe for more than 30 years? We went along to the 20,024th performance to find out. (Listen @18’50”)

French women obtained the right to vote on 21 April 1944, later than most other countries in Europe. Historian Anne-Sarah Moalic talks about the long road to equal suffrage, which required patient activism along with a bit of geopolitical chaos. And a woman who voted in France’s very first elections open to all adults, in April 1945, recalls the excitement and pressure of her maiden trip to the ballot box. (Listen @11’05”)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).

International report

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. 


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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.