rfi 2024-05-08 10:06:44



Paris Olympics 2024

High security and fanfare welcome OIympic flame to port city of Marseille

Some 6,000 police have been deployed for the arrival of the Olympic flame in France aboard a 19th century sailing boat. Separately, Games organisers say they’re ready to face “unprecedented” cybersecurity attacks during the Olympics. 

The police presence in the southern port of Marseille, where the torch arrives from Greece on 8 May, will be bigger than it was for Pope Francis’s visit to the city last September.

An elite tactical unit, bomb disposal teams, nautical police and an anti-drone team will be in place when the Belem sailing boat enters the port, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

The extra forces will be in addition to local police and firefighters.

Before entering the Vieux-Port, the Belem sailing boat will parade through Marseille’s harbour, accompanied by 1,024 boats.

Around 150,000 people are expected to come and watch, with entertainment planned on land and at sea throughout the day. 

Darmanin said there was no “specific threat” to the torch event, but that law enforcement was prepared for different scenarios.

Heightened alert

France is on a heightened Olympics security alert ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics, which begin on 26 July.

In April, a 16-year-old boy was formally charged after he allegedly said on social media he wanted to make an explosive belt and die a martyr at the Paris Games.

Investigators said the youth had been looking at “jihadist propaganda” online.

Authorities had also feared action by police after unions threatened to disrupt the torch relay around the country, accusing the government of blocking promised bonuses.

  • A dozen people excluded from Paris Olympic torch relay for drugs, Islamism
  • French police union threatens to disrupt Olympics relay

Meanwhile, as over 20 maintenance workers polished the 36,000m2 of surface area around the Old Port using hydro-scrapers, the scene was a little bit different a few streets away.

A hundred tonnes of rubbish have already piled up as a result of a strike by around 50 of the 2,000 garbage collectors in the Aix-Marseille metropolitan area.

While these streets will not host the festivities for the arrival of the flame, some of them will be close to where the Olympic torch passes for the start of the relay on Thursday morning from Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica.

The strike, which has been going on since 30 April, could tarnish the city’s image as it enters the global spotlight.

“A handful of agents, members of the CGT union, a minority union within the institution, decided to block access to several household waste transfer centres,” Marseille’s administration said.

“This irresponsible behaviour prevents the proper conduct of collection.”

Labour disputes in crucial infrastructure sectors are among the main headaches for organisers of this year’s Games.

France’s hardline CGT union earlier this year said public sector workers, including hospital staff, have flagged possible strikes during the Games.

Cybersecurity threats

Elsewhere, the Paris 2024 team is gearing up to face an “unprecedented” cybersecurity threat during the Games.

Organisers have been working hand in hand with the French national agency for information security (ANSSI), and cybersecurity companies Cisco and Eviden to limit the impact.

“We can’t prevent all the attacks … but we have to limit their impacts on the Olympics,” ANSSI boss Vincent Strubel told reporters earlier this week.

“There are 500 sites, competition venues and local collectives, and we’ve tested them all.”

Strubel is confident that Paris 2024, who will operate from a cybersecurity operation centre in a secret location, will be ready.

“The Games are facing an unprecedented level of threat, but we’ve also done an unprecedented amount of preparation work so I think we’re a step ahead of the attackers,” he said.

  • Paris 2024 Olympics: A colossal challenge for cybersecurity

AI to the rescue

Games organisers have employed “ethical hackers” to stress test their systems and are using AI to help them triage the threats.

“AI helps us make the difference between a nuisance and a catastrophe,” said Franz Regul, managing director for IT at Paris 2024 – adding they were expecting 10 times more cybersecurity events than there were at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

In 2018, a computer virus dubbed “Olympic Destroyer” was used in an attack on the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

While Moscow denied any involvement, the US Justice Department in 2020 said it had indicted six Russian intelligence agency hackers for a four-year hacking spree that included attacks against the Pyeongchang Games.

Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had no doubt Russia would malevolently target the Paris Olympics.

(with newswires)


Climate Change

Global temperature streak continues with record hot April

The world has experienced the hottest April on record, with air and sea surface temperatures remaining more than 1.5°C higher than the pre-industrial period, a report by the EU’s climate monitor on Wednesday warned.

The surface air temperature averaged 15.03 Celsius – surpassing the April average calculated between 1991 and 2020 by 0.67 degrees.

The April milestone is part of a concerning trend, making the past 12 months the warmest on record.

The monthly temperature record has now been beaten for 11 consecutive months.

The average temperature over the last year was recorded at 1.6C above pre-industrial levels, exceeding the 1.5C limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“While unusual, a similar streak of monthly global temperature records happened previously in 2015/16,” Copernicus said.

  • Why climate change is heating Europe faster than the rest of the world
  • Kenya and Tanzania face ‘humanitarian crisis’ amid disastrous floods

‘Remarkable’

The anomaly does not mean the Paris target has been missed, which is calculated over a period of decades.

But it does signal “how remarkable the global temperature conditions we are currently experience are”, Copernicus climatologist Julien Nicolas told AFP.

“Each additional degree of global warming is accompanied by extreme weather events, which are both more intense and more likely,” Nicolas said.

The warm conditions came despite the continued weakening of the El Nino weather pattern that contributes to increased heat, said the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

It pointing to human-caused climate change for exacerbating the extremes.


EUROPE – Protests

Student Gaza protests in Europe spread, sparking clashes and dozens of arrests

Amsterdam (AFP) – Student protests to demand that universities break ties with Israel over the Gaza war spread across Europe on Tuesday, with police breaking up demonstrations in the Netherlands, Germany and France.

Students at some elite European universities, inspired by ongoing demonstrations at US campuses, have been occupying university halls and facilities, demanding an end to partnerships with Israeli institutions because of Israel‘s punishing assault on Gaza.

At the University of Amsterdam, images on public broadcaster NOS showed police baton-charging protesters and smashing up tents at around 4am, after they refused to leave the campus.

“The demonstration took on a violent nature because later in the evening massive stones were removed from the ground,” police said in a statement.

At Berlin’s Free University, police also cleared a demonstration after up to 80 people set up a protest camp in a courtyard of the campus early Tuesday.

  • Police remove pro-Palestinian students occupying Paris university

The protesters, some of whom wore the keffiyeh scarf that has long been a symbol of the Palestinian cause, sat in front of tents and waved banners.

They later tried to enter rooms and lecture halls and occupy them, according to the university, which said it then called in the police to clear the protest.

Videos on social media showed officers carrying away some protesters.

The university said property was damaged while classes in some buildings were suspended for the day.

Berlin police said they made some arrests for incitement to hatred and trespassing.

France, Switzerland demos

In Paris, police Tuesday twice intervened at Paris’s prestigious Sciences Po university to disperse about 20 students who had barricaded themselves in the university’s main hall.

Police moved in to allow other students to take their exams and made two arrests, according to Paris prosecutors. The university said the exams were able to proceed without incident.

Police have intervened several times over the past week at Sciences Po, where protesters are demanding the university reveal its partnerships with Israeli institutions. Some 13 students are on a hunger strike, according to the university.

At the nearby Sorbonne university building, police moved on Tuesday evening to eject about a hundred students who had occupied an amphitheatre for two hours to protest about Gaza, police sources said.

In Switzerland, protests on Tuesday spread to three universities across the country.

The University of Lausanne (UNIL) was the first to mobilise, with several hundred students occupying a hall Thursday evening to demand an end to partnerships with Israeli universities.

UNIL responded in a statement that it “considers that there is no reason to cease these relations”.

  • Council suspends funding to Paris university amid pro-Palestinian protests

On Tuesday, the movement spread to the EPFL university in Lausanne, where a group of students occupied the university’s hall before dispersing in the afternoon, and to University of Geneva, where about a hundred students took over a hall with sofas, chairs and tables around midday.

Tens of students protested in the entrance hall of the ETH Zurich shortly before midday on Tuesday, shouting “Free Palestine” and rolling a poster onto the floor that said “no Tech for Genocide” before being removed by police, according to news agency Keystone-ATS.

In Austria, dozens of people have set up a protest camp on the campus of Vienna University, putting up tents and stringing up banners that read “resistance is international” and “Israel kills, EU joins” since late Thursday.

In Amsterdam, violence briefly erupted on Monday evening when a small group of counter-protesters wielding flares stormed the main protest.

Demonstrators blocked off some roads to the university, after which police broke up the protest to enable access by emergency services.

Some students hurled stones and fireworks at the officers when they broke up the demo, said police, and more than 120 were arrested.

On Tuesday morning, police began releasing some of those arrested but dozens were still in custody.

University publishes Israel ties

The war in the Gaza Strip was sparked by an unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel by the Palestinian group Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also seized around 250 hostages, with an estimated 128 remaining in Gaza, including 35 the Israeli military says are dead.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,789 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. Israel has also been accused by many groups of blocking humanitarian aid to displaced people in Gaza.

The University of Amsterdam has published a list of its collaborations with Israel, mainly student exchanges and research projects that involve Israeli academics.

The university “will under no circumstances contribute to warfare in any way, and we also do not intend to participate in exchanges in the field of military-related education”, it said on its website.


Gaza conflict

France repeats ‘strong opposition’ to any Israeli ground offensive in Rafah

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has repeated that it is firmly opposed to any Israeli plans to launch a military ground offensive against the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. 

A statement from the ministry also warned that the forced displacement of a civilian population constitutes a war crime, according to international law.

“France reiterates its strong opposition to an Israeli offensive on Rafah, where over 1.3 million people have taken refuge at a time of great distress,” the statement reads.

“The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs repeated this message during his trip to Israel last week and the President of France shared the same statement with the Israeli Prime Minister yesterday.

The statement concludes: “Our position is clearthe hostages must be freed immediately and a lasting ceasefire must enable the civilian population to receive the protection that they need.”

The French government also maintained its position that the Palestinian militant group Hamas immediately release all hostages, and that parties to the conflict agree to a permanent ceasefire to protect the civilian population.

Rafah evacuation

Israel’s military began evacuating Rafah on Monday and instructed the inhabitants of the eastern part of the city move to the al-Mawasi camp on the Mediterranean.

The French embassy in Israel issued the statement after the French president, Emmanuel Macron spoke with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on the phone on Sunday.

The president explained during the call that France’s top priority is the release of all the captives as he encouraged Netanyahu to pursue a ceasefire.

Macron reiterated his opposition to the planned Israeli offensive on Rafah and the urgent need to ensure the entry of humanitarian aid through all access points to the Gaza Strip, the embassy added. 

‘War and famine’

The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell echoed the French president’s statement.

“Israel’s evacuation orders to civilians in Rafah portend the worst: more war and famine,” he wrote on social media.

  • France condemns killing of Gaza NGO workers as US pressed to toughen stance with Israel
  • Hopes for Gaza truce after Hamas says it will respond to Israel proposal
  • Gaza officials say at least 50 bodies exhumed at hospital in Khan Yunis

“It is unacceptable. Israel must renounce to a ground offensive and implement UNSCR 2728. The EU, with the International Community, can and must act to prevent such scenario.”

The enclave is on the brink of famine, the UN has said.

“With more than 1 million people crammed into Rafah, the consequences of a military offensive would be catastrophic,” French NGO Doctors without Borders (MSF) also warned. “People in Gaza need an immediate and sustained ceasefire”.



Call for a ceasefire

The Palestinian militant group Hamas on Monday agreed to a Gaza ceasefire proposal from mediators, but Israel said the terms did not meet its demands and pressed ahead with strikes in Rafah while planning to continue negotiations on a deal.

Netanyahu’s office said later that the truce proposal fell short of Israel’s demands, but said Israel would send a delegation to meet with negotiators to try to reach an agreement.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said its delegation is heading to Cairo on Tuesday to resume indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to Gaza health officials.

The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,100 people and abducting 252 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his call for both sides “to go the extra mile needed to make an agreement come true and stop the present suffering.”

 (with newswires)


Iran – France

France denounces ‘state hostage-taking’ by Iran as couple mark two years in jail

France has accused Iran of employing a policy of state hostage-taking and blackmail as it called for the release of a French couple held in jail for the last two years.

Activists have long accused Iran of having a deliberate hostage-taking strategy aimed at extracting concessions from the West, but it is rare for a Western government to make such a strong statement.

Teacher Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were detained in Iran in May 2022. They are accused of seeking to stir up labour protests, accusations their families vehemently deny.

“France condemns this policy of state hostage-taking and this constant blackmail by the Iranian authorities,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.



Aside from Kohler and Paris, two other French citizens are held by Iran: a man identified only by his first name, Olivier, and Louis Arnaud, a banking consultant who was travelling in Iran and was last year sentenced to five years in jail on national security charges.

‘Immediate release’

“France reiterates its demand for their immediate and unconditional release,” the statement said.

It added: “We are also thinking of all the other European hostages in prison in Iran, who are innocent of the absurd charges brought against them in show trials.”

Kohler and Paris were also subjected to what France condemned as forced confessions broadcast on Iranian TV after their arrest.

Several foreign prisoners have been released in recent months, including five Americans freed in a complex exchange for billions of dollars in Iranian funds that had been frozen in a South Korean account. No more Americans are believed to be held in Iran.

But the French citizens are among at least a dozen European passport holders, including dual nationals, held by Tehran.

Two of them – German Jamshid Sharmahd and Swede Ahmadreza Djalali – risk execution after being sentenced to death on charges their families say are utterly false.

Also held is Swedish EU diplomat Johan Floderus whom prosecutors want sentenced to death on spying charges his family strongly rejects.

Activists say Swedish nationals have been especially targeted over the life sentence given in Sweden to former Iranian prison official Hamid Noury for his role in mass executions in Iran in 1988.

(with AFP)


Geopolitics

Macron hosts Xi in French Pyrenees to talk Ukraine and ongoing conflict in Gaza

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping at one of his childhood haunts in the Pyrenees mountains as he put pressure on Beijing not to support Russia’s war against Ukraine and to accept fairer trade arrangements.

Early Tuesday afternoon Xi, his wife Peng Peiyun, and the Chinese delegation arrived in their extended Boeing 747 in a rainy Tarbes in the French Pyrenées, and then headed to the village of Bagnere-de-Bigorre to have lunch with Macron and his wife Brigitte.

While born and brought up in Amiens in the north of France, the young “Manu” spent numerous winter and summer holidays with his late maternal grandparents in the area just below the Col du Tourmalet, over 2,000 metres above sea level and a legendary climb in the Tour de France.

The Pyrenees meeting, on the second day of Xi’s state visit to France – his first to Europe since 2019 – is meant to strengthen ties on a personal level, and, for Macron, to try and get Xi on his side on Ukraine. 

The first day, in Paris, saw respectful but sometimes robust exchanges between the two men during a succession of talks.

Macron, joined initially by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urged Xi not to allow the export of any technology that could be used by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and to do all it could to end the war.

Xi for his part warned the West not to “smear” China over the conflict and also hit back at accusations that Chinese overcapacity was causing global trade imbalances.



But a statement by the Elysée struck a positive tone, stressing that “the international situation … requires this Euro-Chinese dialogue more than ever.” 

France and China also issued a joint declaration on agricultural cooperation, a joint statement on “the situation in the Middle East” and one on artificial intelligence. where “France and China condemn all violations of international humanitarian law, including all acts of terrorist violence and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”

It also outlined their joint opposition “an Israeli offensive on Rafah” and publicaly voiced support for the establishment of a Palestinian state “on the basis of the lines of 1967″.

‘Count on China’

Europe is concerned that while officially neutral over the Ukraine conflict, China is essentially backing Russia, which is using Chinese machine tools in arms production.

The other two countries chosen by Xi for his European tour after France, Serbia and Hungary, are seen as among the most sympathetic to Moscow in Europe.

  • France urges coordination with China on Ukraine, trade at Paris summit

“More effort is needed to curtail delivery of dual-use goods to Russia that find their way to the battlefield,” von der Leyen said after the trilateral talks, adding that “this does affect EU-China relations”.

She added that France and the EU also “count on China to use all its influence on Russia to end Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine”, saying both Europe and China “have a shared interest in peace and security”.

After a bilateral meeting with Xi, Macron welcomed China’s “commitments” not to supply arms to Russia, while also expressing concern over possible deliveries of dual-use technology.

He thanked Xi for backing his idea of a truce in all conflicts including Ukraine during the Paris Olympics this summer and pointedly added, “We do not have an approach seeking regime change in Moscow.”

Defending China’s stance, Xi warned against using the Ukraine crisis “to cast blame, smear a third country and incite a new Cold War.”

‘Flooding European market’ 

Both Macron and von der Leyen have indicated that trade was a priority in the talks, underscoring that Europe must defend its “strategic interests” in its economic relations with China.

“Europe will not waver from making tough decisions needed to protect its economy and its security,” she said.

  • EU seeks to protect sensitive technology from Chinese buyers

Von der Leyen said there were “imbalances that remain significant” and “a matter of great concern”, singling out Chinese subsidies for electric cars and steel that were “flooding the European market”.

At the talks, Xi denied there was any problem of Chinese overcapacity in global trade and said China and Europe should address differences on trade through “dialogue and consultation, and accommodate each other’s legitimate concerns”, according to the foreign ministry.

France’s cognac industry, based in the southwest of the country, is meanwhile closely watching the talks, fearing that an anti-dumping investigation opened by China, its second-biggest market, is retaliation by Beijing for the trade tensions.

Macron thanked Xi for not imposing “provisional” customs duties on French cognac amid the ongoing probe, and presented him with bottles of the expensive drink.

(With newswires)


EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024

EU’s Green Deal the target of online disinformation ahead of polls

The EU’s Green Deal has been the target of a virulent online disinformation campaign ahead of European parliamentary elections in June, such as fabricated claims that Brussels plans to introduce a “carbon passport” or a ban on repairing cars older than 15 years.

A key project for European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen as she seeks a second term, the Green Deal is an ambitious commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, making the 27-nation bloc the “first climate-neutral continent”.

But it has come under fire from the fossil fuel industry and the agricultural sector, as well as from the political right and far right.

According to Arnaud Mercier, professor in information and communication sciences at Université Pantheon-Assas in Paris, one of the battlefields is social media, where the far right, climate sceptics and conspiracy theorists are using disinformation to try to delegitimise the deal. 

Emboldened by the combined clout of such players, social media users already suspicious of Europe or of climate science feel able to share false or misleading claims “in good faith”, Mercier says.

State actors such as Russia are also seeking to undermine the EU through its green initiative.

“The Kremlin is actively spreading disinformation narratives relating to the Green Deal,” said Martin Vladimirov, director at the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, pointing to propaganda “on dangers of wind turbines”.



‘Carbon passport’ 

Fact-check journalists working for the AFP newswire service have debunked a number of false or misleading claims related to aspects of the Green Deal in recent months, in areas such as transport, energy, agriculture and biodiversity.

One false claim widely shared in Romanian said Brussels would soon introduce “carbon passports” to measure the carbon emissions of each individual and restrict their travel if they exceeded a predefined limit.

Gianina Serban, from Romania’s far-right AUR party, amplified the disinformation by complaining that the EU “seems to be turning into a kind of Soviet commissariat that imposes restrictions”. 

She encouraged Romanians to stand against this by voting for “patriots and sovereignists” in the election taking place over three days from 6 to 9 June.

  • Green credentials at stake as EU scrambles to save nature restoration law

Also getting voters hot under the collar is the issue of their cars. 

Determined to drive down dependence on fossil fuels, Brussels wants to phase out the sale of new petrol-driven vehicles by 2035 in favour of electric cars.

This has been seized upon by many as an attack on individual freedoms, with social media users across Europe sharing misleading claims that Brussels wants to ban the repair of vehicles over 15 years old, or even seize and scrap them. 

What the European Commission actually proposed in July 2023 was a revision to text on so-called “end-of-life vehicles” in order to better manage their recycling. 

Another example involves the EU’s nature restoration law passed by the European Parliament at the end of February.

In Sweden, social media users demanded their country exit the EU after false claims that the law would prohibit any farming in protected areas.

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

‘Politicising’ the debate

“A significant portion of ‘fake news’ works via exaggeration and decontextualisation,” Mercier explains. 

“A complex apparatus such as the European Union, with its multiple layers of authority, stakeholders and lobby groups, is all the more prone” to such techniques, he added. 

One method is to present a proposal or measure still moving through the European decision-making process as if it were a concrete law already adopted by the institution.

More broadly, the “political rhetoric consists of not saying exactly” what the real issues are in order to obtain a form of compromise, Mercier says.

And that unintentionally fuelled disinformation because it “opens up a space that alternative stories fill.” 

Alvaro Oleart, a researcher at Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, suggested that the discourse of von der Leyen and the backers of the Green Deal was overly “technocratic” and not sufficiently politicised.

“The best way to combat disinformation is not so much to fact-check, but to encourage left-right political debate,” Alvaro said. Re-politicising these issues would expose the winners and losers, Oleart said, making them easier for the electorate to grapple with.

(with AFP)


Geopolitics

France urges coordination with China on Ukraine, trade at Paris summit

French President Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pressed Xi Jinping at a summit in Paris on Monday to use Beijing’s influence to halt the Russian war against Ukraine, also telling the Chinese leader to accept fair global trade rules.

Opening an initial trilateral meeting attended by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Macron said coordination with Beijing on “major crises” including Ukraine was “absolutely decisive” and urged “fair rules for all” in Europe-China trade.

“The future of our continent will very clearly depend on our ability to continue to develop relations with China in a balanced manner,” Macron said.

In an op-ed for Le Figaro daily, Xi said he wanted to work with the international community to find ways to resolve the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while emphasising that China was “neither a party nor a participant”.

“We hope that peace and stability will return quickly to Europe, and intend to work with France and the entire international community to find good paths to resolve the crisis,” he wrote.

  • EU welcomes China’s ‘first step’ towards mediation between Ukraine, Russia

Xi’s choice of France as the sole major European power on his itinerary indicates the importance he now accords to Macron as an EU powerbroker.

Peaceful overtures

“It’s not that long ago that we were seeing very aggressive Chinese foreign policy towards the West in general, including Europe, the so-called wolf warrior policy,” China specialist Michael Dillon, author of the book We need to talk about Xi, and affiliated with King’s College in London, told RFI.

“And here we’ve got Xi Jinping making really strongly peaceful overtures towards Europe.”

Part of it, he thinks is “to encourage stronger Chinese relations with Europe, maybe hoping to divide it from the United States.”

Market imbalance

When it comes to global trade, Von der Leyen said she will press for “fair” competition with China, adding that in previous talks with Xi she had “made clear that the current imbalances in market access are not sustainable and need to be addressed”.

“We have been very clear-eyed about our relationship with China, which is one of the most complex, but also one of the most important,” she said.

At the core of the current problems between the EU and China lies the issue of electric cars.

A surge in imports of Chinese electric cars into Europe has triggered EU tariff threats.

France did not wait for a European Union decision on implementing tariffs, instead redesigning its cash bonus scheme in December to exclude the purchase of models made in China, which had rapidly gained market share.

The electric vehicle seems to be a symbol of what the West fears about China.

03:32

INTERVIEW: Michael Dillon, History Professor Lao China Institute, King’s College, London.

“Trade in general is a real problem,” Dillon says, pointing out that “the electric vehicle seems to be a symbol of what the West fears about China.

“The basic argument is that China is subsidizing its industries and producing far more than it can consume in order to export. And that is damaging similar production in Europe and the United States.”

After two days in France, Xi will continue his first European trip in five years to Hungary and Serbia.

Dillon describes this as an “odd choice”, which has “more to do with China’s relations with Russia than its relations with the West.”

  • Uyghurs, Tibetans urge France to tackle human rights with Chinese president
  • Brussels aims to remove Chinese energy giants from the EU market

According to Dillon, Beijing is increasingly worried about Moscow’s growing influence in Mongolia and North Korea, the last being always under a much stronger Chinese influence.

“I think the limits to the “limitless friendship” [between China and Russia, declared by Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared in early 2022] are beginning to be visible,” he says.

Hungary and Serbia “are among the more Russian countries in Eastern Europe. And I think that China is trying to impress on them the need for good relations with China as well as with Russia.”

Xi Jinping and the Beijing elite are trying to play both the West and Russia at the same time, according to Dillon. “They want to appear as a responsible global power, offering some sort of a peace plan, offering mediation, while on the other hand, not wanting to break off diplomatic relations with Russia. So they’re riding two horses at the same time.” 

​​​​


Democratic Republic of Congo – Rwanda

US and DRC’s partners call on Rwanda to punish forces over attack

The United States has called on Rwanda to punish forces behind an attack in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Both Kinshasa and the US accuse Kigali of meddling in DRC’s affairs.

The State Department on Friday accused Rwandan forces of joining M23 rebels in the attacks on a camp for internally displaced people in the outskirts of the eastern city of Goma that resulted in the death of over a dozen people.

Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo however, retorted that the US accusation was “ridiculous”. In a statement published on X, he said that Rwanda had a “professional army” that would “never attack” a camp for displaced people.

Asked Monday if the United States stood by its claim, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “We absolutely do.”

He added, “The government of Rwanda must investigate this heinous act and hold all those responsible accountable. And we have made that clear to them.”

Rwanda’s alleged role

The United States has long said there was evidence to support charges by Kinshasa that Rwanda is backing the M23 rebels, who are mostly ethnic Tutsis who resumed their armed campaign in the historically turbulent country in 2021.

Nevertheless, the latest US statement marked an unusually direct accusation of Rwandan involvement.

Kigali insisted on Sunday that the claims it had a role in the camp attack were “unjustified” and accused the United States of “scapegoating” Rwanda.

“Rwanda will not shoulder responsibility for the bombing of the IDP camps around Goma, or the security and governance failures of the government of the DRC,” it said in a statement, calling for a “credible investigation” to establish what happened.

Rwanda has denied backing M23, although President Paul Kagame has voiced support for the cause of Tutsis living in DR Congo.

He has also called for the government in Kinshasa to act against a Hutu militia that he says has ties with the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which mostly targeted Tutsis.

The United States has sought to mediate between the two countries. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held meetings in Kigali in January and voiced the hope that Rwanda would engage in diplomacy.

More accusations

The European Union, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Congolese government have also condemned the attack.

Last week, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi met in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who agreed that “Rwanda must end support for M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and withdraw troops from its neighbour’s territory.”

  • Macron urges Rwanda to end support for DRC M23 rebels, withdraw troops

Five shells were fired from the hills of Kiroche, according to Kinshasa, a zone which is under the control of the Rwandan army.

For Kinshasa, the attack not only violate international humanitarian law, but reflect Rwanda’s refusal to comply with the international community’s call for a ceasefire and the withdrawal its troops from the DRC.

Lt. Colonel Ndjike Kaiko, a Congolese army spokesperson also blamed the attacks on M23.

The African Union (AU) also condemned these attacks without naming their perpetrators.

(with AFP)


AFRICA – CLIMATE CHANGE

Kenya and Tanzania face ‘humanitarian crisis’ amid disastrous floods

The death toll from weeks of devastating rains and floods had risen to 228 in Kenya, as authorities in the country and in neighbouring Tanzania warned that there was no sign of a let-up in the crisis. 

Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania escaped major damage from a tropical cyclone that weakened after making landfall on Saturday, but the rains continue to pour.

The country continued to endure torrential downpours and the risk of further floods and landslides, the government in Nairobi said.

In western Kenya, the River Nyando burst its banks in the early hours of Sunday, engulfing a police station, school, hospital and market in the town of Ahero in Kisumu County, police said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties but local police said water levels were still rising and that the main bridge outside Kisumu on the highway to Nairobi was submerged.

Weeks of heavier than usual seasonal rains, compounded by the El Nino weather pattern, have wreaked chaos in many parts of East Africa, a region highly vulnerable to climate change.

More than 400 people have been killed and several hundred thousand uprooted from their homes in several countries as floods and mudslides swamp houses, roads and bridges.

Schools closed

Schools remain closed, one of RFI’s correspondent reported. Children will be able to catch up on classes, the Education minister told her.

“It’s a serious situation and we should not take it lightly,” Kenyan government spokesman Isaac Mwaura said at a briefing on the crisis on Sunday.

In a statement, Kenya’s interior ministry said further flooding was “expected in low lying areas, riparian areas and urban areas while landslides/mudslides may occur in areas with steep slopes, escarpments and ravines.”

President William Ruto went to the area of Mathare in the capital to reassure the population.



Concerns of ‘wider humanitarian crisis’ 

Across the border, the Tanzania Meteorological Authority declared that Tropical Cyclone Hidaya, which had threatened to pile on more misery, had “completely lost its strength” after making landfall on Mafia Island on Saturday.

“Therefore, there is no further threat of Tropical Cyclone ‘Hidaya’ in our country,” it said.

Tanzania remains one of the countries worst hit by the floods, with 155 people dead since early April.

In Kenya, while the cyclone had weakened, it had caused strong winds and waves on the coast and heavy rains were likely to intensify from later Sunday, Mwaura added.

One fisherman had perished and another was missing.

Across the nation, the disaster has claimed the lives of 228 people since March with 72 still missing, according to government figures.

More than 212,000 people have been displaced, with Mwuara saying many were “forcibly or voluntarily” evacuated.

The government has ordered anyone living near major rivers or dams to leave the area or face “mandatory evacuation for their safety”, with many dams or reservoirs threatening to overflow.

Mwaura also warned of the risk of waterborne diseases, with one case of cholera reported as well as incidents of diarrhoea.

Forecasts of more rains raised “serious concerns” about a “wider humanitarian crisis”, Jagan Chapagain, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), wrote on social media.



The Kenyan government has been accused of being unprepared and slow to respond to the crisis despite weather warnings, with the main opposition Azimio party calling for it to be declared a national disaster.

The weather picture remained “dire”, President Ruto said in an address to the nation on Friday, blaming the calamitous cycle of drought and floods on a failure to protect the environment.

In the deadliest single incident in Kenya, 58 people perished when a dam burst on Monday near Mai Mahiu in the Rift Valley north of Nairobi, the interior ministry said.

Several dozen remain missing.

Rescuers are also hunting for 13 people still missing after a boat capsized in Tana River County, killing seven, the ministry said.

(with newswires)


India

India’s Modi casts his vote as giant election reaches half-way mark

Prime Minister Narendra Modi voted early on Tuesday, as India held the third phase of a massive general election, and called for a strong turnout, though warning of the scorching summer heat. 

The world’s most populous nation began voting on 19 April in a seven-phase election.

Nearly one billion people are eligible to vote, with ballots set to be counted on 4 June.

Modi is seeking a rare, third straight term in a vote which pits his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against an alliance of more than two dozen opposition parties. Surveys suggest he will win a comfortable majority.

“I urge all citizens to vote in large numbers and celebrate the festival of democracy. To all those working in the heat, I urge you to take care of your health and drink adequate water,” he said shortly after voting in his home state of Gujarat.

Ongoing campaign

Modi cast his ballot in the Gandhinagar constituency where his number two, Home Minister Amit Shah, is the BJP candidate.

Clad in saffron and white, Modi was surrounded by hundreds of supporters and party members, signing autographs and talking to children on the way to the polling booth.

He was received by Shah as people beat drums and rang bells.

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  • India to hold marathon national election from April

Modi’s campaign began by showcasing his economic record, welfare measures, national pride and personal popularity.

But it changed tack after the first phase of voting on 19 April and focused more on firing up BJP’s Hindu base by attacking rivals as pro-Muslim, even as surveys say jobs and inflation are the main concerns of voters.

In an interview with broadcaster Times Now aired on Monday, Modi said he does not oppose Islam or Muslims and wants the community to think about their future growth as they vote.

Massive scale, increasing heat

Tuesday’s polling covers 93 seats in 11 states and territories, with Gujarat and Maharashtra in the west and Karnataka in the south accounting for 50 seats. That would complete voting for 283 of parliament’s 543 elected seats.

In the 2019 elections, the BJP won more than 70 of 93 seats up for grabs on Tuesday, but faces tougher contests this time as the main opposition Congress party has gained strength in Karnataka and a regional partner has split in Maharashtra.

Voter turnout of 66.14 and 66.71 percent respectively in the first two phases has been marginally lower than corresponding phases five years back, with analysts blaming the summer heat and the lack of a single strong issue to motivate voters.

The Election Commission has since stepped up a campaign to encourage people to vote while consulting with weather officials and health and disaster management agencies to deal with the impact of the heat wave on Tuesday’s vote.

“Weather conditions are predicted to be within normal ranges,” it said in a statement on the eve of the vote, calling on voters to “turn out in greater numbers at polling stations and vote with responsibility and pride”.

It is also pushing voter awareness to raise participation in the whole if India through messages and songs during Indian Premier League cricket matches, Facebook alerts, announcements at train stations and on flights, messages on train tickets, milk pouches, at gas stations, and films and songs at cinema theatres, among others.

Music app Spotify has created an “election playlist” to motivate voters, and celebrities are being used to make appeals through radio and TV commercials, it said.

 (with Reuters)


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Cannes Film Festival workers call for strike ahead of opening

Workers at the Cannes Film Festival in France have called for a strike over pay and conditions on Monday, just a week before the international event is due to start.

Members of a collective called Sous les Ecrans la Dèche (Broke Behind the Screens) said they did not intend to cause significant disruption but wanted to draw attention to long-running demands. 

“The strike will not put the opening of the festival at risk but there could be disruptions as it goes on,” a spokesperson told French news agency AFP.

The group said it represented around 100 workers, including projectionists, programmers, press agents and ticket sellers. 

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They work on short-term contracts but do not fall under France’s unemployment insurance scheme for freelance artists and technicians in the cultural sector, which tops up salaries to a minimum wage. 

“Most of us will have to give up working, which will jeopardise the events,” the group said in a statement.

“The latest reforms of unemployment benefits in France and the one scheduled for 1 July of this year, which will be passed by decree, are further hardening the benefit rules for employment seekers,” the collective wrote.

Long-running demands

“The forthcoming opening of the Cannes Film Festival has a bitter taste for us this year,” it added. 

The festival organisers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Protests regularly erupt on and around the Croisette each year. In 2023, protesters held rallies against the French government’s pension reforms, while environmental activist called for the defence of indigenous rights in Brazil.

In 2022, pro-Ukrainian protesters called attention to Russia’s invasion.

The event on the French Cote d’Azur is considered the most prestigious for the world’s film industry, attracting some 40,000 people each year. 

This year’s festival is due to run from 14 to 25 May, with icons including Francis Ford Coppola, Georges Lucas and Meryl Streep set to attend.

French actress Camille Cottin, star of Netflix hit Call My Agent, is to be the host of this 77th edition, with French stars Omar Sy and Eva Green as part of 2024 Cannes Film Festival jury.

 (with AFP)


Paris Olympics 2024

Tony Parker among French stars to carry Olympic torch in Marseille

The first participants in the Olympic torch relay were announced on Monday, two days before the event kicks off in the southern French city of Marseille. Among them are players from the Olympique de Marseille football team, former NBA champion basketball player Tony Parker and French rap artist Soprano.

On Wednesday 8 May, the flame will land in Marseille, France’s second city, after a 12-day crossing of the Mediterranean aboard the three-masted Belem ship.

French swimmer Florent Manaudou will be the first torchbearer on French soil. The Olympic cauldron will be lit at around 7.45pm (Paris time).

Relay organisers said other torchbearers include Jean-Pierre Papin, from Olympique de Marseille football team – winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1991, NBA hall of fame former basketball player Tony Parker, Valentin Rongier, current OM captain, and Didier Drogba, another Marseille legend.

They are joined by former swimmers Fabien Gilot and Frédérick Bousquet, French rap singer Soprano torch and three-star chef Alexandre Mazzia.

Around a hundred torchbearers will be taking part on the first day.



Crossing Marseille

Then on 9 May, the flame will travel through Marseille, which, along with Paris, will be the only French city to be crossed for an entire day.

The relay will take place over eight segments via several of Marseille’s most emblematic landmarks.

It will start at Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica, overlooking the Mediterranean, and end in front of the Stade Vélodrome.

From Marseille, the flame will follow a route throughout France, in mainland France and the French overseas departments, before taking its final resting place in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris on 26 July.


Anti-Semitism in France

French government launches consultations on fighting anti-Semitism

France has launched consultations to fight anti-Semitism – inviting the heads of religious groups as well as anti-discrimination NGOs to share their experiences and discuss ways to tackle increasing hostility against Jewish people.  

The French ministry that deals with discrimination said the aim of Monday’s consultations was to define a common base of national values against anti-Semitism.

“When we see the unfortunate volume of anti-Semitic acts, we think the whole of society must wake up,” Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Minister Aurore Bergé told French TV news channel BFMTV, referring to a “terrifying resurgence”.

Bergé is the official tasked with bringing together the heads of anti-discrimination groups, including the Jewish students’ union UEJF and anti-racist groups Licra and SOS Racisme, and representatives of the six main religions.

The consultations were announced in March as a response to a column published by the NGO Nous Vivrons (We Will Live) in which 70 well-known people called on candidates for the upcoming EU elections to commit themselves to the fight against anti-Semitism.

No political leader will be present at the consultations.

  • Macron promises France will be ‘uncompromising’ when it comes to anti-Semitism

Uptick in attacks

According to a report by the Council of Jewish Institutions in France (Crif), attacks against French Jews increased in 2023 to 1,676 compared to 436 in 2022.

An Ifop survey for the French branch of the American Jewish Committee published in May found that 94 percent of French people of Jewish faith believe that anti-Semitism has increased over the past decade.

Thie same survey showed that 35 percent of people aged 18-24 felt it was “justified” to take on French Jews because of their real or supposed support for the Israeli government.

At the global level, the Anti-Defamation League, the main group defending Jewish rights, expressed alarm at the “unprecedented level” of anti-Semitic acts recorded in 2023 – with the war between Hamas and Israel fuelling a “fire which was already out of control”.

Jointly written with Tel Aviv University, the report said anti-Semitic incidents in 2023 were far above 2022 figures in most countries with large Jewish minorities, including the United States, France, Britain, Australia, Italy, Brazil and Mexico.

“Being Jewish does not make a person responsible for the situation in Gaza,” Bergé told France Info.


Society

France re-enacts fatal shooting of teenager that led to riots

The lawyer representing the family of a 17-year-old who was shot by police in a Paris suburb in June 2023 says the officer responsible for his death was not in danger, following a reconstruction of the events that sparked a week of riots across France. 

Speaking on RTL radio this Monday, lawyer Nabil Boudi said that the police officer who shot Nahel M. in Nanterre on 27 June 2023 was not in mortal danger.

The claim comes a day after a reconstruction of the events that led to Nahel’s death was staged in the Paris suburb. 

According to Boudi, who represents Nahel’s mother, “The reconstruction was based on … and what we can see on the videos is that the police officer was not in danger. Consequently, the use of his weapon was not necessary”.

  • Over 900 arrested following fourth night of violence across France

Video sparks riots 

The footage, posted on social networks, shows the two police officers on the side of the vehicle, pointing their weapons at the driver.

One of them shot him as the vehicle starts up again and the car then crashed into a concrete block a few dozen metres away.

Its posting on social media a few hours after Nahel’s death contradicted the police version, which said that the young man had run into the motorcyclist.

The images of Nahel’s death triggered a wave of riots across France, leading to the deployment of 45,000 officers backed by light-armoured vehicles during the protests, while special police units and other security forces fanned out across the country to quell violence.



Police claim their lives were in danger

The 38-year-old officer, identified only as Florian M., has been charged with voluntary homicide, but was released from custody in November after five months in detention ahead of his eventual trial.

Both police officers maintain that their lives were in danger because they were trapped between the car and a wall.

Recalling that the initial version of the police officers had changed, Boudi called on “everyone to draw the consequences” of this change of version.

He said that his client, Nahel’s mother Mounia, had experienced a “particularly painful” moment as she was in the presence of the police officers during the reconstruction on Sunday, but that “there was some relief for her”.

  • Grandmother of teen killed by French police pleads for riots to stop

Investigators call for reenactment

On Sunday, vehicles were brought to the barricaded-off area for the reconstruction – including a yellow car resembling the Mercedes that Nahel was driving on the day of his death – with two passengers aged 14 and 17 on board.

In the presence of their lawyers, Florian M., the officer on duty with him and several witnesses were questioned at the scene by the investigating magistrates, who want to establish whether the officers were in danger when the shot was fired.

Journalists were not allowed to attend the reenactment.


Colonial history

Vietnam invites France to remember Dien Bien Phu defeat after 70 years

France has for the first time been invited to commemorate the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, which led to French troops’ defeat in Vietnam and marked the country’s last stand in colonial Indochina.

Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu will represent France at commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the battle next week.

While French officials have previously visited memorials to the conflict, it will be the first time a minister has attended Vietnam’s official remembrance ceremony.

“For the first time in history, the Vietnamese have invited France to this commemoration, a sign of their desire to build a relationship for the future,” the French defence ministry said on Friday.

“There is a shared desire to look at the history of the Indochina War in a lucid and open manner,” the ministry said.

Decisive battle

Between 13 March and 7 May 1954, the valley of Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam was the site of a ferocious battle between French colonial troops and Vietnamese communist forces.

Vietnamese fighters hemmed in the better-equipped French forces and bombarded them with heavy artillery.

Thousands died on both sides in France’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.

The battle ended in the humiliating fall of the French troops, denting Paris’s prestige and fuelling independence movements in other colonies.

What was once called French Indochina has today become Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

  • Fifty years since the beginning of the end of the Vietnam war

New alliance

Lecornu, who is travelling to Vietnam on Saturday, will pay tribute to the Vietnamese dead at a Vietnamese military cemetery on Tuesday, the defence ministry said.

He will also honour French soldiers at the French memorial at Dien Bien Phu.

The defence ministry said in March that France planned to repatriate from Vietnam the bodies of six soldiers who died in the battle, five of them buried without names.

Today France is one of Vietnam’s most important allies, and Paris is keen to boost cooperation with Hanoi against a backdrop of tensions with China in the Asia-Pacific region.

On Monday, Lecornu is set to meet with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Defence Minister Phan Van Giang.

(with AFP)


Food

France reclaims title for world’s longest ever baguette

A team of French bakers rolled out a 140-metre-long baguette on Sunday, breaking the existing record held by neighbouring Italy by 10 metres. 

The 18-member team in the town of Suresnes, west of Paris, set a new Guinness World Record on Sunday by baking a baguette measuring 143.53 metres – about 235 times longer than the traditional one eaten by millions of people in France each day.

The previous longest baguette of 132.62 metres was baked in the Italian city of Como in 2019.

Ninety kgs of flour, 60 litres of water, 1.2kg of salt and 1.2kg of yeast went into making the necessary 152kg of dough.

Members of the French confederation of bakers and pastry chefs began kneading and shaping the dough at 3am on Sunday, before putting it in a specially built slow-moving oven on wheels.

Olympics-inspired baguette

“A record for the longest handcrafted baguette requires true spirit and collective sportsmanship,” said the confederation’s president Dominique Anract.

“In this year of the Olympics, congratulations to all our artisan bakers.

“Bread is an engine of performance, our baguette is an essential part of our gastronomic heritage.”

Anthony Arrigault, one of the bakers said everyone was “very happy to have beaten this record and that it was done in France”.

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Part of the baguette, which had to be at least 5 cm thick throughout, was cut and shared with the public.

The rest was given to homeless people.

The traditional French baguette must be about 60 cm long, be made from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast only, and weigh about 250 grammes, according to the official regulation.

(with Reuters)


France – UK

The Channel Tunnel, from pipe dream to European reality

This Monday marks 30 years since France and the United Kingdom officially opened the Channel Tunnel. It was the culmination of two centuries of dreaming about linking the two neighbours by land.

“England is no longer an island,” French newscasters solemnly announced in their evening bulletins of 6 May 1994 (conveniently forgetting that it never had been).

At 12.40pm that afternoon, a Eurostar from London had pulled into Coquelles, northern France.

It was carrying the first official guests to travel under the English Channel by rail: Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip. 

They were greeted by French President François Mitterrand, who had made the less exciting journey from Paris aboard a sister Eurostar.

“It’s the first time in history that the heads of state of France and Great Britain have met without having to take either the boat or a plane,” the Queen said in precise, clipped French.

Hands were shaken, national anthems played and a symbolic ribbon was cut. 

Then Mitterrand and Elizabeth II piled into the royal Rolls Royce and boarded Le Shuttle, the train that carries vehicles through the tunnel.

Some 35 minutes later they were in Cheriton, on the southern English coast.

“When Britain and France agree to work together and pool their natural and human resources, they achieve great things,” the French president declared.

It had only taken them almost 200 years. 

Two centuries in the making

The first time anyone seriously proposed tunnelling under the Channel was in 1802, when French mining engineer Albert Mathieu-Favier tried to interest Napoleon Bonaparte in an undersea highway for horse-drawn carriages. 

His design included ventilation spouts that would tower above the waves and an artificial island in the middle where coachmen could change horses.

But though Napoleon seemed to consider the idea, it was effectively sunk when Britain declared war on France the following year.

Engineers continued to toy with the notion throughout the 19th century. Some searched for alternatives to the daunting task of mining the seabed: what about a tube lowered from the surface? Or a floating tunnel roped to buoys? 

As technology advanced and rail took off, geographical surveys determined the sea floor held a thick layer of chalk – a material pliable enough to dig through but strong enough to hold its shape, ripe for tunnelling.

By the 1870s, both the French and British governments had tentatively given agreement and companies were formed on both sides of the Channel to advance the scheme.

They even got as far as drilling. By 1883, the first kilometres of a tunnel had been bored from Shakespeare Cliff on the English side and Sangatte on the French coast.

But the British government quickly cooled. With Europe still volatile, military commanders argued that a tunnel would allow enemies to invade. 

One general called it “a constant inducement to the unscrupulous foreigner to make war upon us”.

Surely Britain wouldn’t surrender its natural sea defences and endanger its freedom “simply in order that men and women may cross to and fro between Britain and France without running the risk of seasickness,” Sir Garnet Wolseley wrote in a memorandum.

Drilling was promptly called off, and wouldn’t resume for more than 100 years.

Over or under?

By the time planes meant water could no longer stop potential invaders and two world wars had cemented the alliance between France and the UK, the defence argument no longer held.

Some even argued a tunnel would represent a military advantage, helping the UK rush troops and supplies to assist France in the event of fresh hostilities.

But the stickier question was who would pay for it. By then both British and French railway companies were publicly owned, meaning the two governments would be on the hook for one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever attempted.

Accordingly, London and Paris went slowly – expressing themselves in favour of the scheme in theory, but taking years to examine cost-benefits and feasibility.

By 1960, no firm project had emerged and a private consortium swooped in with a bid to move things forward – not with a tunnel, but a bridge.

It would stretch from Calais to Dover, they promised, resting on more than 160 vast concrete pillars in the sea. Tall enough to allow ships to pass underneath, it would offer two railway tracks, five lanes for cars and two cycle paths.

See the model in this archive French news footage:



Later, the proposal evolved into a complicated bridge-tunnel hybrid that would see travellers drive several kilometres over the sea before plunging under the Channel and back out again onto another bridge to the opposite shore.

Designers added fanciful touches like specially built islands where motorists could stop for a swim, and heliports for those who preferred to save themselves part of the drive.

But engineers were less enthused. Building a bridge in one of the world’s busiest, windiest shipping lanes would be technically difficult and wildly expensive, they pointed out – not to mention the risk that it might promptly be wrecked by off-course boats or enemy missiles.

Breaking ground

Consensus ultimately settled on a tunnel. 

But negotiations between France and the UK advanced fitfully. While French leaders were gung-ho in public, urging the UK to demonstrate its resolve to be part – physically – of Europe, when it came to committing investment they were more reticent.

And British ministers, wary both of overspending and “too much” European integration, also dragged their feet. 

In 1974 it looked like a publicly funded project might finally take off; but, with drilling machines lined up and ready to bore, a newly elected British government pulled out at the start of the following year.

By the 1980s, both the UK and France had new leaders: Margaret Thatcher and Mitterrand. They dusted off the tunnel project and this time decided it should be pursued with private money. 

Momentum gathered from there. In 1986, the two countries signed the treaty that officially launched the project, and set a new land border between them in the chalk of the Channel floor. 

French workers began tunnelling towards England in June 1988, mirrored by their British colleagues six months later. 

They joined up in October 1990, a breakthrough that was subsequently restaged for the cameras on 1 December. 

Three years and five months later, it was Queen Elizabeth and President Mitterrand shaking hands.

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One small step for a continent

Though the tunnel wouldn’t open to the public for several more months, it was an historic day. And hopes were high for what it represented.

Mitterrand called it “a major asset for strengthening the European Union, a decisive element in the development and implementation of the single market, and a step towards bringing the peoples of Europe closer together”. 

Thirty years on, his grand predictions sound misplaced.

But 6 May 1994 was the start of something on a smaller scale. That night, as TV journalists earnestly questioned passersby whether they’d consider taking the tunnel – which would be worse, seasickness or claustrophobia, one presenter wondered – crossing the Channel by land still felt remote.

Now, whizzing up to 75 metres under the sea has become so normal most of us forget it was ever a big deal in the first place.

The trip between London and Paris – or Brussels, or Amsterdam, or Cologne – can be done before work, or after it. It might not be everyday for most people, but it is ordinary.

And that, surely, is worth celebrating. 


Venice Biennale

Who is Julien Creuzet, the Caribbean artist representing France at the Venice Biennale?

Italy – Julien Creuzet – the first French-Caribbean artist to represent France at the Venice Biennale – is showing a multi-sensory exhibition that reflects on the intercultural identities of African and Caribbean diasporas.

Born in a northeastern Paris suburb, Creuzet moved to Martinique at the age of four.

While he returned to France at the age of 20 to study at art schools in Caen, Lyon and Tourcoing, his artwork remains  heavily influenced by the Caribbean island where he grew up, and his art-loving parents.

Creuzet is known for installations that combine poetry, sculpture, and film, focusing on personal history, marginalised identities, and colonial legacies. 

His Venice presentation is titled “Attila cataract your source at the feet of the green pitons will end in the great sea blue abyss we drowned in the tears tides of the moon”. 

It reveals the artist’s penchant for long poetic titles that point to underlying themes as well as for creating sensory work that prompts the audience to question themselves. 

The installation features an imaginary bridge between Martinique, France, and Venice. It includes six videos, 80 sculptures, a musical work, a catalogue in several languages and nearly 70 sound pieces by different speakers. 

From France to Martinique to Italy  

The international jury that chose Creuzet to headline for France said they were drawn to his “plurality of practices”.

Although Rachida Dati, Minister of Culture, inaugurated the French Pavilion in April, Creuzet had already unveiled his project in Martinique in early February.

It was the first time in the Biennale’s 60-year history that a national pavilion launched outside of Europe.

In an interview, Creuzet said this was a way to “bring together worlds that have very little chance of meeting” and to make the Biennale accessible to overseas residents.

Eva Nguyen Binh, president of the Institut Français that commissioned the exhibition, said at the Venice opening: “from Martinique to Venice, the choice is to decentre.

“Julien Creuzet brings us to open our eyes to other shores, to look at the complexity of our history and our geography.”

Leading art magazine Frieze called it one of this year’s Biennale’s best exhibitions. Creuzet’s Caribbean identity as an outre-mer (overseas) citizen of France was “a deafening proclamation of otherness as superpower”, it wrote. 

Artsy, another notable art publication, also named the French Pavilion one of this year’s must-sees. 

France at Venice 

The Venice Biennale – which runs through to the end of November – is the world’s most prestigious international exhibition showcasing contemporary art. 

Artists from 88 countries are shown across Venice’s Giardini, Arsenale and in the city centre, with some nations exhibiting in their own permanent onsite buildings called Pavilions. 

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

The French Pavilion, featuring Creuzet’s work, was built in 1912.

Showing at the Venice Biennale offers invited artists unparalleled exposure. 

“For me, it’s just a title. One step. One exhibition,” Creuzet told ARTnews last year. “It’s about continuing with my work, which is to share various imaginations with others. And in a sense, to question the world, our context, our history, our present. Nothing has changed.”

Around a dozen other French or France-based artists can also be found in the Biennale’s various exhibitions, including work by Chaouki Choukini and artist JR

This year’s title “Foreigners Everywhere” also draws from a series of artworks by Claire Fontaine, an artist collective founded in Paris.  

In an interview, Creuzet said the theme “will perhaps shake up the European context and the system in which we live, particularly the art world, which has always been extremely exclusionary”. 

(with newswires)


Trans rights

Thousands rally for trans rights in France over bill on gender transition

Thousands of demonstrators protested in French cities on Sunday at what they called an “offensive” against transgender rights after lawmakers drafted a proposed bill of law that is scheduled to be debated on 28 May.

Activists, left-wing members of parliament, trade unionists and young people rallied, chanting and brandishing placards calling for “health resources for transitions”.

“Anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalism, solidarity with trans people all over the world,” chanted protesters in Paris.

More than 800 groups and personalities launched the call for demonstrations, including the left-wing party France Unbowed and the Socialists.

Some 10,880 people demonstrated across France, including 2,500 in Paris, according to the Interior Ministry.

In Paris, protesters gathered at Place de la République in the early afternoon.

  • French bill seeks to compensate thousands jailed for homosexuality

The call to demonstrate was launched Tuesday in an article published on the website of the weekly Politis.

Among the signatories are notably the writers Annie Ernaux and Vanessa Springora, the singer Bilal Hassani, the NGOs Act Up Paris, Strass, Family Planning and the left-wing elected officials Mélanie Vogel and Clémentine Autain.

Demonstrators also rallied in Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier over the weekend in France, as well as in Brussels and Liege in Belgium, according to organisers.

Conversion therapy fears

Hundreds joined the Montpellier protest, which included a sit-in and speeches.

Two people threw small stones at some of the protestors.

“This is our daily life,” said one of the organisers, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

“Today, there is an urgent need to defend the rights of all people at a time when right-wing and far-right politicians are attacking the rights of trans people and disseminating false information about trans-identifying children,” they added.

  • Fight against anti-LGBT hate goes on, in France and around the world

Among the young Paris crowd, an older couple said they had come in hope of finding their 27-year-old child who left without trace after transitioning, leaving them “traumatised and devastated”.

The protests followed a report by senators of the centre-right Republicans party on transgender minors.

Trans rights groups said the report allows for a return to “conversion therapy” – a claims its authors deny.

Drawing on the report, lawmakers drafted a proposed bill of law that is scheduled to be debated on 28 May.

Protestors also denounced a recent book “Transmania”, which they branded transphobic.

Its authors, Dora Moutot and Marguerite Stern, deny the accusation, denouncing it as a bid for censorship. They say the book is an “investigation into the abuses of transgender identity”.

 (with AFP)


CHAD – ELECTIONS

Chad votes in first Sahel presidential poll since wave of coups

Chadians go to the polls on Monday three years after their military leader seized power, in the first presidential election in Africa’s Sahel region since a wave of coups.

Analysts say Mahamat Idriss Deby, who seized power the day rebels killed his long-ruling father Idriss Deby in April 2021, is most likely to win, although his chief opponent has been drawing larger-than-expected crowds on the campaign trail.

Deby has promised to bolster security, strengthen the rule of law and increase electricity production.

The vote coincides with a temporary withdrawal of US troops from Chad, an important Western ally in a region of West and Central Africa courted by Russia and wracked by jihadism.

Polls open at 7am and close at 5pm, with some 8.5 million people registered to vote.

Soldiers began early voting on Sunday.

Provisional results are expected by 21 May and final results by 5 June. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, a run-off will be held on 22 June.

Since replacing his father at the helm of the oil-producing Central African country, Deby has remained close with former colonial power and longtime ally France.

While other junta-ruled Sahel countries including Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have told Paris and other Western powers to withdraw and turned to Moscow for support, Chad remains the last Sahel state with a substantial French military presence.

The United States, however, announced a temporary withdrawal of at least some troops last month, saying it would continue with a review of security operations after the election.

Opposition concerns

Monday’s vote pits Deby against his prime minister Succes Masra, previously a political opponent who fled into exile in 2022 but was allowed back a year later. Also running are former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and seven other candidates.

Yaya Dillo, an opposition politician who had been expected to run against Deby despite coming from the same clan, was shot and killed in the capital N’Djamena on 28 February, the day the election date was announced.

  • Concerns ahead of Chad elections after death of main opposition figure

Padacke has accused Masra of collaborating with Deby. But Masra has attracted large crowds to his own rallies.

Some opposition members and civil society groups have called for a boycott, citing concerns about possible vote-rigging.

That has raised fears of potential violence.

“This presidential election is of capital importance for the country because an entire people aspires for change,” said Baniara Yoyana, a former minister and magistrate.

“The process must be conducted with transparency to avoid any risk of confrontation.”

One Deby supporter, however, said he expected no problems.

“We want the election to go well and peacefully,” said Abdelkhader Sougui, a 28-year-old student.

“My wish is to vote the morning of 6 May to confirm our victory in the first round.”

 (with Reuters)

International report

Turkey cuts trade with Israel but seeks role in resolving Gaza conflict

Issued on:

Turkey has cut off trade with Israel as bilateral relations deteriorate over the Gaza conflict. The move follows domestic calls for a tougher stance against Israel, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking a more prominent regional role.  

The Turkish Trade Ministry announced Friday that all exports and imports with Israel have been cut until uninterrupted and adequate humanitarian aid is allowed into Gaza.

The Israeli foreign minister, Israel Katz, was quick to condemn the move, saying it violated trade agreements and was the action was that of a “dictator”. 

It follows Erdogan’s high-profile meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh last month.

Domestic criticism

Erdogan’s actions are seen as an attempt to quell growing domestic criticism of his complicated stance on the war – on one hand maintaining trade with Israel, while on the other condemning the country’s war with Hamas. 

“In order to convince conservative voters that there is no such thing as a hypocritical approach… they are taking a tougher stance and necessary measures,” says Selin Nasi, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics.  

Nasi says Erdogan could further deepen Turkey’s ties with Hamas, especially if cut theirs.

“We know that Qatar has been facing a lot of pressure in the international arena because of its ties with Hamas,” she points out.

“Turkey might emerge as a potential candidate country to host Hamas if Qatar decides to send Hamas members abroad.”

  • Turkish government looks to regain ground by limiting ties with Israel

Regional cooperation?

Erdogan’s party was handed a thumping defeat in March local elections, which saw many of his traditional conservative religious voters abstaining or voting for opposition parties – a move blamed in part on ongoing trade ties with Israel.

However, Ankara is seeking a wider role in resolving the Gaza conflict. Erdogan is also stepping up diplomatic efforts with Egypt after hosting Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in April.

Relations between Turkey and Egypt have been warming after years of tensions, and analysts say there’s room for cooperation.   

“Both are very active in the rhetorical space in terms of their deep sympathy for the Palestinians in Gaza. At the same time, they maintain their diplomatic and security ties with Israel,” says Jalel Harchaoui at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“Both are known – particularly Egypt, from Washington’s perspective – for their direct communication line [with Hamas]. Both use that as a source of leverage vis-a-vis the West,” he explains.

  • Turkey and Egypt turn page on decade of friction with show of friendship

But analysts warn Erdogan’s public attacks on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu limit any mediating role for Turkey. 

“At some point, the government has to moderate its tone, to repair its dialogue with Israel, because as it stands Turkey is no longer perceived as an impartial, third-party actor that can take on a role as a mediator,” says Nasi. 

She nonetheless believes there is room for Ankara to play a constructive role.

“Instead of perhaps endorsing Hamas, Turkey has to shift to a more balanced position between Hamas and Fatah and perhaps put its energy and resources into reconciling different rival Palestinian factions.”

Washington visit postponed

Erdogan this month blamed Iran and Israel for increasing tensions, a break from only criticising Israel. Analysts say Turkey’s close ties to Hamas could counter Iran’s influence on the group. 

However, Erdogan’s overtures to Hamas were a factor in the postponement of a planned visit to Washington in May, which was blamed on scheduling issues. 

“It’s impossible not to rule out Gaza as one of the reasons for the cancellation,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“I think at a time when people are talking about mass graves and there are protests all around US campuses, the Turkish president does not want to be seen with the president of the United States,” she suggests.

However, Aydintasbas suspects Washington, too, may not be unhappy about that Erdogan’s visit was put on hold. 

“I don’t think the White House is in a place – for all types of reasons, including the domestic difficulty of this issue – to be hosting a world leader who’s going to criticise in front of cameras the US position on Gaza,” she says.

Despite the visit’s postponement, Washington and Ankara say they remain committed to high-level cooperation.

While doubts remain about what meaningful role Turkey can play in resolving the Gaza conflict, given the scale of the crisis, the region needs all the help it can get. 

The Sound Kitchen

From Paris to Beijing

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about diplomatic relations between China and France. There’s a salute to the month of May, “The Listener’s Corner”, Ollia Horton’s “Happy Moment”, and Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan”. All that and 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!

ePOP News: The video competition will open on 5 June. Time to start thinking about your video entry … more news in the coming days, but you can start to reflect on your subject. I certainly expect to see a billion entries from the RFI English community!

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. NB: You do not need to send her your quiz answers! Email overload!

We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Shreyosi Dhali from West Bengal, India.

Welcome, Shreyosi! 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 6 April, I asked you when diplomatic relations were established between China and France. 

The answer is: 60 years ago, on 27 January 1964.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “If you could choose the time in history you could have lived, which era would you choose?”

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

The winners are:  RFI Listeners Club member Jayanta Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India. Jayanta is also this week’s bonus question winner. Congratulations, Jayanta!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Sultan Mahmud Sarker, the president of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh; Rasheed Naz, the president of the Naz Radio France and Internet Fan Club in Faisal Abad, Pakistan; Nuraiz Bin Zaman, a member of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, and RFI English listener Abdul Rehman, who’s a member of the International Radio Fan and Youth Club in Khanewal, Pakistan.

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “The Lusty Month of May” from the American musical Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, sung by Vanessa Redgrave; the traditional Chinese “Sun Quan the Emperor”; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer; “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, played by Glenn Gould.

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

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read our article “French stars Omar Sy and Eva Green part of 2024 Cannes Film Festival jury”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 27 May to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 1 June podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here. 

International report

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

Issued on:

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Flotilla in 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

But Dahle says the flotilla is looking for international protection.

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

The Sound Kitchen

A robot in space

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about India’s humanoid space robot. There’s listener news and “On This Day”, “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, lots of good music, and of course, the new quiz and bonus questions, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome, Rodrigo! So glad you have joined us!

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

This week’s quiz: On 16 March, I asked you a question about India’s space programme. Earlier that week, India unveiled their plans for their next space flight, which is scheduled for this coming fall. As you read in RFI English correspondent Pratap Chakravarty’s article “India picks pilots for space flight that will blast it into cosmic history”, on board that rocket will be a humanoid robot.  You were to write in with the name of the robot (it’s in Sanskrit) and its translation into English.

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations winners!

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

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

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

You have until 20 May to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 25 May podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here. 

Spotlight on France

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

Issued on:

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

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

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

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

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

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

International report

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

Issued on:

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

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

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

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

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

Breakthrough

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bilateral trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balance

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

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

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


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

From 20 to 22 September 2022, the IFTM trade show in Paris, connected thousands of tourism professionals across the world. Sheo Shekhar Shukla, director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, talked about the significance of sustainable tourism.

Madhya Pradesh is often referred to as the Heart of India. Located right in the middle of the country, the Indian region shows everything India has to offer through its abundant diversity. The IFTM trade show, which took place in Paris at the end of September, presented the perfect opportunity for travel enthusiasts to discover the region.

Sheo Shekhar Shukla, Managing Director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, sat down to explain his approach to sustainable tourism.

“Post-covid the whole world has known a shift in their approach when it comes to tourism. And all those discerning travelers want to have different kinds of experiences: something offbeat, something new, something which has not been explored before.”

Through its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Shukla wants to showcase the deep history Madhya Pradesh has to offer.

“UNESCO is very actively supporting us and three of our sites are already World Heritage Sites. Sanchi is a very famous buddhist spiritual destination, Bhimbetka is a place where prehistoric rock shelters are still preserved, and Khajuraho is home to thousand year old temples with magnificent architecture.”

All in all, Shukla believes that there’s only one way forward for the industry: “Travelers must take sustainable tourism as a paradigm in order to take tourism to the next level.”

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

The IFTM trade show took place from 20 to 22 September 2022, in Paris, and gathered thousands of travel professionals from all over the world. In an interview, Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia discussed the importance of sustainable tourism in our fast-changing world.

Also known as the Land of the Beautiful Islands, Malaysia’s landscape and cultural diversity is almost unmatched on the planet. Those qualities were all put on display at the Malaysian stand during the IFTM trade show.

Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia, explained the appeal of the country as well as the importance of promoting sustainable tourism today: “Sustainable travel is a major trend now, with the changes that are happening post-covid. People want to get close to nature, to get close to people. So Malaysia being a multicultural and diverse [country] with a lot of natural environments, we felt that it’s a good thing for us to promote Malaysia.”

Malaysia has also gained fame in recent years, through its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which include Kinabalu Park and the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley.

Green mobility has also become an integral part of tourism in Malaysia, with an increasing number of people using bikes to discover the country: “If you are a little more adventurous, we have the mountain back trails where you can cut across gazetted trails to see the natural attractions and the wildlife that we have in Malaysia,” says Hanif. “If you are not that adventurous, you’ll be looking for relaxing cycling. We also have countryside spots, where you can see all the scenery in a relaxing session.”

With more than 25,000 visitors at this IFTM trade show this year, Malaysia’s tourism board got to showcase the best the country and its people have to offer.

In partnership with Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board. For more information about Malaysia, click here.