rfi 2024-04-30 01:06:25



Democratic Republic of Congo – France

Tshisekedi visit to France likely to focus on war in eastern DRC and commerce

French President Emmanuel Macron met his Congolese counterpart Felix Tshisekedi on Monday in Paris. The visit, which will continue tomorrow, Tuesday, will focus on business partnerships, but is also likely to touch on the war in eastern DRC.

Felix Tshisekedi has already visited Paris in the past for international summits, but this is his first official visit to France.

The French president previously visited Kinshasa in March 2023 as part of a tour of Central Africa.

During that visit Macron pledged 34 million euros of aid to Congo’s conflict-hit east and said any party seeking to derail peace efforts there should face sanctions.

  • Macron warns of sanctions if east Congo peace process is derailed

For this visit, Macron has organised a ceremony for Tshisekedi at the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris as well as meetings with political representatives at the National Assembly and Senate on Monday. He will visit the Élysée Palace on Tuesday. 

Business meetings between French and Congolese partners are also scheduled for Tuesday during a Franco-Congolese economic forum organised at the conference centre in Bercy.

Meanwhile, Medef, the group representing French business leaders, will also host roundtable discussions with Congolese guests. It says it wants to foster French investment in the DRC, especially in agriculture and in the energy sector. 

Congolese business leaders intend to plead for investments for small and medium-sized companies.

Demands for peace

But for the Congolese president, the main point of discussion is the situation in the east of his country, according to diplomats talking to RFI last week.  

Tina Salama, the spokesperson for the Congolese presidency, told RFI that  Tshisekedi’s priority is to resolve the crisis in the Great Lakes region.

“France is the permanent member of the United Nations Security Council,” she said, “which is responsible for proposing resolutions and declarations relating to the situation in the DRC.”

Ahead of his arrival in Paris, Tshisekedi met with the ambassadors of Belgium, the United States and France to discuss the security and humanitarian situation in eastern DRC.

The three also went to Goma to assess the needs of the people displaced by the conflict in the east of the country

Tshisekedi also met Germany’s Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday in Berlin.

 

Earlier this week, the French president encouraged the resumption of high-level talks between Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Tshisekedi.

Yet, Congolese authorities are still waiting for a clear position from Paris regarding the presence of Rwandan troops on Congolese territory, and their alleged support to the violent rebellion led by the M23 group.

 


France

Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt Paris’s Sorbonne university

Administrators of Paris’ Sorbonne University closed the main building Monday after protesters, angry over the Gaza war, gathered in front of the institution and in its main hall. This comes after students at Paris’ elite Sciences Po university agreed to call off similar protests, in the latest sign that such protests are spilling over from universities in the United States.

About 150 protesters chanting ‘Free Palestine’ gathered midday Monday at the gates of the Sorbonne – one of the world’s oldest universities – while students set up a dozen tents in the courtyard and the main entry hall and unfurled a giant Palestinian flag.

The peaceful protesters called for the university to condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza, echoing similar calls from protesters on campuses in the United States – the latest sign that such demonstrations were spilling over into Europe.

Continuation of protests elsewhere

“We are the continuation of the call of Harvard and Columbia students,” activist Lorelia Frejo told the AFP news organisation. “After the actions at Sciences Po, we are here for it to continue.”

On Friday police intervened when about 50 pro-Israeli demonstrators arrived at the Paris campus of Sciences Po university, where over a hundred pro-Palestinian protesters had been occupying a building, after several days of sit-ins and protests.

On Saturday the university said the pro-Palestinian students had agreed to call off their action in return for an “internal debate” about the university’s ties to Israel.

University authorities also agreed to drop all disciplinary proceedings against demonstrators, according to a note sent to students and faculty by Sciences Po’s administrator Jean Basseres.

Links with US

Sciences Po has a joint degree program with Columbia University in New York, where several French students have taken part in protests, which have spread after the mass arrest of over 100 people ten days ago.

Columbia administrators said the protests were unauthorised, disrupted education and fostered anti-Semitism.

Since then, hundreds of protesters at universities across the US have been arrested as they copied the encampments made by Columbia students.

In France, several politicians, including Mathilde Panot who heads the hard left France Unbowed group of lawmakers in the National Assembly, ncalled on social media for supporters to join the Sorbonne protests.

(with newswires)


Health

Cholera cases in the French department of Mayotte double in two days

The number of cholera cases in the French department of Mayotte has doubled in two days, according to local health officials, who identified the first locally-acquired cases last week. The island in the Indian Ocean has been battling a cholera epidemic since the start of the year, brought by migrants from Democratic Republic of Congo, transiting through neighbouring Comoros islands.

Health authorities in Mayotte on Sunday said they had identified 26 cases of cholera, compared to 13 two days before, and the hospital capacity to treat patients is already stretched.

France’s poorest department

“The situation at the hospital in Mayotte, in terms of human resources, is very critical, especially in emergency services,” Olivier Brahic, the director of Mayotte’s Regional health agency (ARS), told a news conference.

Cholera is an infectious disease typically causing severe diarrhoea, vomiting and muscle cramps and spreads easily under insufficient sanitation conditions

Earlier this month authorities launched an operation against unsanitary housing, insecurity and illegal immigration in Mayotte, France’s poorest department.

Many migrants travel to Mayotte from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is facing a cholera epidemic that killed hundreds of people last year.

On Friday the ARS said that it had identified three patients who contracted cholera in Mayotte, the first cases that originated on the island.

The three – a woman and a man and a baby who are unrelated to each other in the Koungou region – were probably contaminated through contact with a sick person who did not seek treatment.

The ten previous identified cases were people who had arrived on the island from elsewhere.

A vaccination campaign is being organised on the ground, according to the ARS, which was expecting additional medical staff to arrive Saturday, to go out in the field and encourage people to get treatment.

(with AFP)


Cannes film festival

French stars Omar Sy and Eva Green part of 2024 Cannes film festival jury

The eight member jury for the 77th edition of the Cannes film festival includes French actor and producer Omar Sy and actress Eva Green, presided by “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig.

Festival organisers unveiled the jury Monday, with four men and four women, including Sy, one of the biggest names in French cinema, known internationally for hit Netflix show Lupin, and Green, one of the most memorable James Bond actors, whose last role was Milady in The Three Musketeers, and who has appeared in a string of Hollywood blockbusters.

Joining them is Oscar-nominated actor Lily Gladstone, who won a string of awards for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s 2023 Killers of the Flower Moon.

The 37-year-old will be the youngest member of the jury, which also includes Turkish screenwriter and photographer Ebru Ceylan, Lebanese director and screenwriter Nadine Labaki, Spanish director and screenwriter Juan Antonio Bayona, Italian actor Pierfrancisco Favino, and Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu, who won the 2018 Palme d’Or for Shoplifters.

  • American director Greta Gerwig chosen as jury president for 2024 Cannes Festival

Palme d’or

The Jury will award the 2024 Palme d’Or – the festival’s top prize – to one of the 22 films in competition, which include Francis Ford Coppola’s with his long-awaited epic, Megalopolis.

Coppola has twice won the Palme d’Or, for “The Conversation” in 1974 and for “Apocalypse Now” in 1979, which was not finished when it premiered at the festival.

A biopic of Donald Trump, The Apprentice, by Iran-born director Ali Abbasi, is also in the running.

The winners will be announced on 25 May at the closing ceremony

Late additions

There have been late additions to the festival’s line-up in recent days, including The Seed of the Sacred Fig by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who has faced prison time for criticising the government. It is unclear if he will be able to attend the festival.

Oliver Stone will present his latest documentary, Lula, about the current president of Brazil.

Actor Emma Stone and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos will present Kinds of Kindness, after their 2023 collaboration, Poor Things, won Lanthimos the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, while Stone picked up an Oscar for Best Actress.

(with AFP)


Togo

Togo heads to polls amid claims of power grab by President Gnassingbé

Some four million Togolese are to vote Monday for legislative and regional elections that have been twice delayed. Opponents accuse longtime ruler Faure Gnassingbe of seeking to extend his grip on power after MPs signed off on controversial changes to the constitution.

Campaigning was rushed on the back of parliament’s approval of constitutional reforms that would allow lawmakers to elect the president instead of a direct vote by the people.

The move transformed Togo, one of the world’s poorest countries, from a presidential system to a parliamentary one. 

It establishes new prime minister-style position called President of the council of ministers, to be held by the leader of the biggest party.

‘Power grab’

Opposition parties denounced the reform as a ploy by Gnassingbé and his ruling Union for the Republic party – which has a majority in the 91-seat National Assembly – to get around presidential term limits.

The 57-year-old leader will likely assume the new position when his term expires next year.

“We are calling on the heads of our institutions to refer the matter to the Constitutional Court,” Maître Claude Amegan, who leads the Collective against impunity in Togo, told RFI.

  • Togo parliament approves contested constitutional reforms

Gnassingbe has been in office since 2005 after succeeding his father, who had remained in power for nearly 38 years following a military coup.

He then later won re-election in multiple votes that were condemned as fraudulent by his rivals.

While opposition groups boycotted the last legislative elections in 2018, this time round they have mobilised.

“We are going to the elections,” Jean-Pierre Fabre, president of the National Alliance for Change, told RFI.

“We have noticed that it is worse not to run or to boycott. We are asking the population to vote massively for us, to correct the problems in the electoral register.”

Protest ban

In the lead up to campaigning, protests against the constitutional reforms were banned, further ratcheting up tensions.

Public protests have been outlawed since 2022 after a gendarme was killed in an attack at a market in the capital Lome.

The African Union’s Commission on human and peoples’ rights and rights groups condemned the restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

  • Opponents slam Togo’s new constitution as ploy for Gnassingbé to stay in power

Meanwhile the West African regional bloc Ecowas was accused of failing to enforce democratic rules in its member states after a fact-finding mission sent to Togo last week did not denounce the constitutional reforms.

Alioune Tine, founder of the Dakar-based thinktank AkricaJom Centre, told RFI that Ecowas should sanction heads of states when they seek to hold on to power undemocratically.

Togo became independent in 1960, after being colonised by the German, British and French empires successively.

It has only been through a brief area of democratic freedom in the early 1960s. 


EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024

Shaping the future: What’s at stake in the 2024 EU elections?

The upcoming European elections – considered the largest transnational vote in the world – are poised to bring about shifts in policies and leadership that will reverberate across the continent. RFI takes a look at what’s at stake.

From 6 to 9 June this year, more than 400 million European voters will choose a new five-year parliament.

Elections in the European Union’s 27 member states will decide the make-up of the roughly 700-seat assembly, charged with overseeing European legislation.

The Strasbourg-based parliament will also confirm the appointment of Brussels’ top officials, including the president of the European Commission.

The EU’s last election was held in 2019, with member states choosing a polling day according to their national traditions.

The Netherlands, for example, votes on a Thursday, Malta on a Saturday and France on Sunday.

This year’s vote will be the first European election without British candidates, the UK having officially left the EU in 2020.

Balancing the budget

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said she won’t run as an MEP, but is nonetheless expected to seek a second term as head of the Commission – and is likely to retain the backing of centre-right MEPs and key member states if she does.

Whether von der Leyen remains in post or not, the introduction of new policy priorities by the European Council and Parliament – alongside the appointment of new commissioners – will inevitably reshape the political agenda.

The shift comes against the backdrop of crucial issues for Europe and the world, including the war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict, the green transition and economic challenges.

The EU is grappling with the aftermath of borrowing approximately €807 billion over the past four years to mitigate the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The extension of EU foreign policy actions – such as providing aid and managing migration in conflict zones like Ukraine and southern European states – is expected to pressure the bloc to disburse an additional €70 billion in 2024.

As the EU budget comes under scrutiny, the bloc is seeking to revive pre-Covid fiscal rules designed to contain debt and deficits, typically a touchy issue among member states.

Decisions on these matters rest in the hands of EU finance ministers and a compromise of sorts was reached in December, when ministers agreed to maintain limits on how much governments can go into the red while giving them more time and flexibility to bring their spending down.

The European Parliament has to sign off on the proposal before it can become law, which its proponents are hoping will happen before the elections in June.

Top issues for Europe

Aside from public spending, incoming MEPs and EU commissioners will have plenty to tackle.

Energy and climate policy

In the wake of the recent Cop28 climate conference in Dubai, the EU is under pressure to reinforce its commitment to sustainable practices and a green transition.

Geopolitics

With the war in Ukraine showing no sign of ending and the Israel-Hamas conflict threatening both regional and international security, key geopolitical concerns – including relations with China, the United States, Russia and the African continent – will demand strategic attention from the EU’s incoming leadership. 

EU expansion

Progress has been made on the contentious issue of integrating states from the Western Balkans, notably Albania and North Macedonia. But relations between Serbia and Kosovo remain strained and Bosnia and Herzegovina also has urgent internal issues to address before it can join the bloc.

  • EU heading for ‘small revolution’ on enlargement: French minister

Security

Emphasis will be placed on security, defence, cybersecurity, data protection and telecommunications. The spike in hostilities between Israel and its neighbours over the conflict in Gaza has also raised the spectre of radicalisation and Islamist terrorist attacks within the European Union. 

Artificial intelligence

As technology advances, regulations surrounding artificial intelligence will likely be on the agenda to balance innovation with ethical considerations. The EU has already positioned itself as the benchmark legislator for regulating AI development. 

  • EU nations reach landmark agreement on AI regulation

EU competitiveness

The new Commission will face pressure on issues related to industry, infrastructure, regulations, workforce skills, investments, technology, trade, innovation and the overall economy.

Economic security

Addressing capital markets, health and economic security will be critical to ensure the resilience of the European economy.

Tax regulation and workers’ rights

The EU leadership is likely to address tax regulations, workers’ rights and income distribution, responding to the evolving needs of the European workforce.

Trade disputes

Within the framework of the World Trade Organization, efforts to resolve multilateral trade disputes are anticipated to be a priority.

Shifting sands

Amidst these challenges, political landscapes across Europe have shifted in the five years since the last EU elections. 

The centrist European People’s Party (EPP) – to which von der Leyen belongs – faces historic weakening within the European Council, but her candidacy remains a prominent and popular option for EU heads of state and governments. 

Meanwhile, like some member states’ assemblies, the European Parliament is expected to shift to the right in the June elections.

  • Belgium faces election juggling act as it takes over rotating EU presidency

While the EPP is likely to maintain its position, smaller member states may be key in shaking up the status quo.

Predictions suggest a challenging environment for the centre-left. French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party is losing ground in France and the Greens are facing similar challenges in Germany.

Potential outcomes range from a far-right Europe to a conservative coalition; a green and centre-right alliance; or a continuation of the existing centre-left and centre-right coalition.

Whatever the outcome, the 2024 European elections will reshape Europe’s politics, policies and leadership.


French football

PSG embrace joy of 12th title with trip to Dortmund for Champions League semi

Soon after winning his near six-hour final against Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic famously savoured a tiny chunk of chocolate as part of his celebrations. Paris Saint-Germain’s players are likely to be as circumspect after clinching the 2024 Ligue 1 crown: on Wednesday night they play in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final at Borussia Dortmund.

PSG’s domestic coronation came on Sunday night after Monaco – the only team that could stop them – lost at Lyon.

The defeat not only provided PSG with a record 12th top flight title but it also injected a tad more intrigue into the race for second and third – the positions that lead to the group stages of next season’s Champions League.

With three games and nine points available, Monaco lead the way with 58 points. Brest are third on 56 points and Lille are fourth with 55.

At the top of the food chain reside PSG. The Ligue 1 crown added to the French Super Cup, Luis Enrique’s men can complete a domestic treble when they take on Lyon in the final of the Coupe de France on 25 May.

By then they should know if they will be gracing the Champions League final at Wembley on 1 June.

Triumph

“Winning the league is fantastic,” said PSG president Nasser al-Khelaïfi soon after Monaco’s demise.

“But winning Ligue 1 for the 12th time is even more special for everyone connected with Paris Saint-Germain.”

Before Qatar Sports Investments took over control of PSG in 2011 and installed al-Khelaifi as PSG supremo, PSG had won two top flight titles in their 40 years of existence.

The first came in 1986 and the second in 1994. Ten have been harvested in 12 years along with 22 other pieces of domestic silverware.

But the PSG trophy cabinet yearns for the gleam of the Champions League crown. The club’s one and only trip to the final ended in defeat in 2020 when Bayern Munich beat them 1-0.

Under Mauricio Pochettino, PSG reached the semi-final the following year but there were ignominious last-16 exits the following two seasons.

Surge

Enrique, who steered Barcelona to the Champions League in 2015, has at least eclipsed Pochettino’s replacement Christophe Galtier with the present surge to the last four.

The 53-year-old Spaniard raised eyebrows at the start of the Champions League campaign when he said that it was unhealthy to be obsessed by the competition. So many of Enrique’s predecessors had vowed to bring European club football’s most prestigious prize back to the Parc des Princes.

But how the side have flourished in the chill-out zone. In the second leg of their last eight tie in Barcelona, the hosts led PSG 4-2 on aggregate  but Enrique’s men dug in and – aided by Barcelona’s spectacular indiscipline – fought back and prevailed 6-4 on aggregate.

Kylian Mbappé, who had been notably feeble in the first leg, bagged a brace to lead the revival.

And at the business end of the 2023/24 season, PSG are half way to a quadruple that would give them bragging rights par excellence over all of their French rivals.

Triumph

And the feat would vindicate the decision to ditch Galtier and draft in Enrique last July. But even if the quest for four does ultimately fail, Enrique has displayed enough steel and guile to prepare the ground for more triumphs.

The Spaniard maintained his poise at the start of his reign as the squad was shorn of star players such as Neymar, Lionel Messi and Marco Verratti.

Their replacements, individually less talented, but collectively more amenable have bonded into a team able to show resilience and grit.

Enrique has also started his planning for PSG after Mbappé’s expected move to Real Madrid.

He has left the France skipper on the bench seven times this season in an effort to manage the striker’s playing time and to test his options for next season.

The ploy has paid dividends. Mbappé is on course to win the Ligue 1 “golden boot” with 26 goals — nine more than Lille’s Jonathan David.

Battle

And it’s not just in the Champions League that the team can fight. On Saturday night at the Parc des Princes, a straightforward cruise against relegation-threatened Le Havre was expected for PSG to claim the title in front of their adoring fans.

But they botched their lines. Le Havre led 3-1 but Gonçalo Ramos set up one goal and scored in stoppage-time to level proceedings at 3-3.

PSG’s record after 31 games stands at won 20, drawn 10, lost one. 

“I wouldn’t have imagined this scenario going as positively as this,” said Enrique of his championship-winning squad.

But perhaps it was modesty. 

Renowned for his tactical flexibility at Barcelona, Enrique has shown the same canniness in the French capital.

PSG has played with both a back four and a back three this season, and switched from using a lone striker in some games to two strikers in others. Those variations have helped Enrique to rotate the players and experiment.

“In order to be able to compete for every trophy, you need a really big squad of at least 23 players,” said Enrique.

“That is what we need here and as the season has progressed, we have seen the importance of those players,” Enrique said.

Bars of chocolate all round.


European elections

Italy’s PM Meloni to stand in EU elections to boost ruling far-right party

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced she will stand in June’s European Parliament elections to boost support for her far-right Brothers of Italy party and encourage European conservatives, though she will not take up the seat if elected, as it would mean she would be forced to resign head of government.

“We want to do in Europe exactly what we did in Italy on 25 September 2022: creating a majority that brings together the forces of the right to finally send the left into opposition, even in Europe,” Meloni said at a party conference to set out EU policies and launch the campaign on Sunday in the coastal city of Pescara.

With calls for Italy to leave the euro zone, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has roots in Benito Mussolini’s Fascist group, came in first in the 2022 general election, with 26 percent of the vote.

Since the election Meloni has followed a broadly pro-European line, particularly on foreign policy and conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Unifying European conservatives

On Sunday, Meloni praised her government’s efforts to combat illegal immigration, protect families and defend Christian values in its 18 months in office, before announcing she would be running for a seat in the European Parliament in the 6-9 June elections.

“I’m doing it because in addition to being president of Brothers of Italy I’m also the leader of the European conservatives who want to have a decisive role in changing the course of European politics,” she said.

In France, where the far-right National Rally is leading in the polls, with over 30 percent of votes, party leader Jordan Bardella announced that Marine Le Pen would enter the campaign in the coming days.

The former presidential candidate will appear second to last on the list.

Will not step down as PM

Meloni will be the first name on the Brothers of Italy list, but she said she would not use a “single minute” of her time as prime minister to campaign, and she is expected to give up her seat if she wins.

Brothers of Italy is the most popular in the country, with 27 percent support, according to recent polls, followed by the ahead of the opposition Democratic Party and the left-leaning 5-Star Movement

Brothers of Italy will be in direct competition with its coalition partners Lega and Forza Italia, founded by Silvio Berlusconi, which are polling at about seven percent and eight percent, respectively.

(with newswires)


EU expansion

More than 20,000 Georgians march ‘for Europe’ to protest controversial bill

Some 20,000 Georgians staged a “March for Europe” Sunday, calling on the government to scrap a controversial “foreign influence” bill which the EU has warned would undermine Tbilisi’s European aspirations.

Georgians have been staging anti-government protests since mid-April, when the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced plans to pass a law critics say resembles Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

Waves of similar street protests, during which police used tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators, forced the party to drop a similar measure in 2023.

Police have again clashed with protesters during the latest rallies.

On Sunday evening, before staging what organisers called a “March for Europe,” at least 20,000 people turned out at Tbilisi’s central Republic Square, according to an estimate by French press agency AFP.

The kilometre-long procession, which featured a huge EU flag at its head, stretched out along Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare towards parliament.

The Georgian Ministry of Interior said in a statement that the protest “took on a violent manner. Participants of the rally verbally and physically confront the law enforcement officers at the site.” Police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

But former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, a co-chair at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said on social media that “the protests in Tbilisi against the new Russia-inspired so called foreign agents law certainly aren’t dying down.”



Veto

In an exclusive interview with RFI this weekend, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who is at loggerheads with the ruling party, has said she will veto the law.

“For the vast majority of the population, as well as for me, (this law) makes no sense.

“At a time when Georgia has just received (EU) candidate status, in December 2023, and is preparing to be able to open accession negotiations with the European Union, it is totally absurd to re-enact a law which was rejected not only by the entire population last year, but which was also rejected by our European partners.

“I am going to veto, [as] I have vetoed all the laws … which went against European recommendations. It is a highly symbolic gesture which takes into account the will of the Georgian population,” she told RFI, adding that the veto may be annulled by a vote in parliament later this year.

Pro-government rally

Meanwhile, to counter the series of anti-government protests, Georgia’s ruling party announced its own rally on Monday, when a parliamentary committee is set to hold a second reading of the bill.

If adopted, the law would require any independent NGO and media organisation receiving more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad to register as an “organisation pursuing the interests of a foreign power”.

According to Georgia Today, the government is “bussing in” civil-servant “supporters” from around the country to rally alongside “those who truly believe the foreign agents bill and anti-LGBTQ restrictions should be passed into law.”

The newspaper reports that it received reports from teachers who had been “strongly advised” to attend for fear of their jobs. There are some 100,000 civil servants throughout Georgia, says Georgia Today.

(With newswires)


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)


HAITI CRISIS

A history of violence: Haiti’s revolution, collapse and descent into anarchy

The recent collapse of law and order in Haiti follows two centuries of colonial misrule. RFI looks at the cycle of corruption, desperation and authoritarian rule that have shaped the history of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

At the core of Haiti’s struggle lie predatory interventions by powerful nations, principally France and the United States.

Speaking recently to RFI, Haitian author, playwright and former politician Gary Victor said that the international community is making the same mistakes in 2024 as it has done in the past.

“I wonder how – after all the time spent in Haiti – the international community doesn’t understand what’s going on,” Victor said.

“When we talk about a foreign force for Haiti … first of all, there has to be political will within the country to resolve the security issues. That’s why [previous UN missions] totally failed in Haiti, because the force was co-opted by corruption and delinquency in Haiti.”



  • France to evacuate vulnerable citizens from Haiti as unrest rages

The cost of revolution

Haiti’s present turmoil traces its genesis back to the colony of Saint Domingue – ruled by France in the 17th and 18th centuries – where the exploitation of African slaves fuelled a trade in coffee and sugar.

The vast wealth created by slave labour on the plantations was matched by the brutality of their colonial owners, who kept their slaves in line using violence.

The struggle against colonial rule came to a head in 1791 with a slave rebellion that ultimately led to the creation of the Republic of Haiti in 1804. Slavery was officially abolished in Haiti on 1 January, 1804.

France, enraged by the loss of its colonial prize in the Caribbean, demanded exorbitant reparations from Haiti, pushing the newly formed nation into a cycle of debt that hindered the country’s development.

The “Double Debt” scheme was a key part of the problem shackling Haiti to “independence debt” owed to Paris banks along with extortionate loan fees with repayments equivalent to an overwhelming percentage of its annual revenue.

  • Kenya confirms security mission to Haiti as transitional administration plans collapse

US fears

As the first, liberated Black nation, the neighbouring United States saw Haiti’s independence as an existential threat to its own, slave-based economy, and bears much of the blame for the country’s ills.

After French colonisers left Haiti, the United States worked to isolate the country diplomatically and strangle it economically.

American leaders feared a newly independent and free Haiti would inspire slave revolts back home and did not officially recognise Haiti until 1862 during the Civil War that abolished American slavery.

As Haiti grappled with the burdens of emancipation, the United States seized upon the turmoil in the era of “gunboat diplomacy”, orchestrating a military occupation from 1915 to 1934 under the guise of safeguarding American interests.

US President Woodrow Wilson sent an expeditionary force that would occupy the country for two decades to collect unpaid debts to foreign powers – a period marred by coerced labour and economic subjugation.

  • UN launches emergency appeal for Haiti as Benin mulls joining multinational security mission

The Duvalier dictatorships

The subsequent decades of the 20th Century witnessed Haiti’s descent into an abyss of political instability, natural catastrophes, and the relentless spectre of foreign debt.

Estimates suggest that the legacy of coerced payments to France – that Paris has repeatedly downplayed – ensnared Haiti in an economic quagmire, depriving it of resources crucial for development, ushering in an era of gang violence coupled with brutal dictatorships.

François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” employed the ruthless militia dubbed the “Tontons Macoutes” to crush opposition during their rule between 1957 and 1986.

While subsequent leaders also forged alliances with armed groups, the gangs have now risen above the politicians that empowered them.

Armed gangs now control large parts of the capital Port-au-Prince, where they kidnap people off the street for ransom and spread fear by sharing gruesome pictures and videos on social media of people being tortured, raped or killed.

Impunity and ‘persistent’ human rights violations

According to Ana Piquer, Americas Director at Amnesty International, this crisis is the result of decades of political instability, extreme poverty, natural disasters, weakened state structures and a lack of strong commitments from the international community, all of which have exposed the population to violence.

“Military solutions or external interventions have failed to address the causes of the crisis and – far from promoting lasting stability – have left in their wake persistent human rights violations and impunity,” she said.

Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, Haiti has been plunged into another humanitarian, political, and security crisis, with the emergence of powerful criminal gangs who have seizied control over vast swathes of territory, including critical infrastructure like ports and airports.

In early March of this year, one such gang orchestrated the escape of over 3,600 prisoners, instigating widespread terror across Haiti and prompting Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation.

“The images of violence that this crisis has given us are terrifying. The criminal gangs that are currently sowing terror must know that the seriousness of their actions makes them accountable and that they can be prosecuted for crimes under international law and serious human rights violations. The suffering of so many people cannot go unpunished,” according to Amnesty International



  • Aid agencies in Haiti call for 120 million euros to feed starving population

Anarchy or order?

Prime Minister Henry was last seen in Puerto Rico, negotiating his return to a homeland gripped by extreme violence while a UN-backed security force is still waiting to be deployed to challenge the heavily armed gangsters.

With his fate in the air and the situation in Haiti deteriorating by the day, the world has been left to wonder whether the country will descend into anarchy or whether some semblance of order will be restored.

 “We don’t have the impression that the international community is our friend,” author Gary Victor told RFI.


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)


French football

Monaco’s defeat at Lyon gifts Paris Saint-Germain Ligue 1 crown for 12th time

Paris Saint-Germain were crowned champions of France on Sunday night for a record 12th time on Sunday night after second-placed Monaco lost 3-2 at Lyon.

Adi Hütter’s men needed to win at the Groupama Stadium to keep the Ligue 1 title race alive for at least another 10 days and also improve their chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

They made the perfect start when Wissam Ben Yedder scored in the opening seconds.

But they were hit by two goals in four minutes from Lyon skipper Alexandre Lacazette and Said Benrahma.

Though Ben Yedder levelled after 60 minutes, Lacazette set up Malick Fofana for the winner.

The victory kept Lyon in the hunt for a place in next season’s European Conference League.

Despite the defeat, Monaco remain second on 58 points. Brest are two points behind in third following a 5-4 win at Rennes. And Lille stay in the hunt for a place in the Champions League with 55 points after their 2-1 victory at Metz.

That battle and the race to avoid relegation to Ligue 2 will be the focus of interest for the last three games of the 2023/24 campaign.

On Saturday night at the Parc des Princes, PSG failed to win the title in front of their own fans when they came from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with relegation-threatened Le Havre.

PSG’s latest Ligue 1 titles takes their tally of trophies to 32 since Qatar Sports Investments took over the club in 2011.



It is the second trophy of the 2023-2024 season for Luis Enrique who was installed in July to replace Christophe Galtier.

In January, PSG beat Toulouse to lift the French Super Cup.

They will face Lyon in the final of the Coupe de France on 25 May and on 1 and 7 May take on Borussia Dortmund for a place in the final of this season’s Champions League.

“Winning the league is fantastic,” said PSG president Nasser Al Khelaifi. “To win it for the 12th time makes it even more special for everyone connected to PSG. 

“Congratulations to all the players, our coach and his staff. Since the beginning of the season, the team has been so collective and united. 

“I will also never the forget the fans who have been amazing whatever the result. We will treasure this moment and also continue to work hard match by match until the last moment of the season.”


Workers’ rights

Unions want justice for worker who died on Paris Olympics 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)


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”.

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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.


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)

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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The editorial team did not contribute to this article in any way.

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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Presented by

The editorial team did not contribute to this article in any way.

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.