rfi 2024-05-16 01:06:41



Slovakia

Macron joins global leaders in condemning gun attack on Slovakian prime minister

French president Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday joined leaders from around the world in condemning the gun attack that left the Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico fighting for his life.

Fico, 59, was shot several times as he mingled with a small group of people during a visit to Handlova nearly 200 km to the north-east of the capital Bratislava.

He was transported by helicopter to nearby Banska Bystrica for urgent treatment, the government office said. A man has been arrested in connection with the shooting, it added.

Macron said he was shocked by the assault.

“I strongly condemn this attack,” he said on social media. “My thoughts and solidarity are with him, his family and the people of Slovakia.”



‘Heinous attack’

“I am shocked, we are all shocked by the terrible and heinous attack,” said Slovakia’s outgoing president Zuzana Caputova.

The country’s president-elect and Fico ally Peter Pellegrini said he learned of the shooting “with horror”.

“An assassination attempt on one of the highest constitutional officials is an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy,” he said on social media.

Both the Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart Joe Biden offered messages of support.

Biden called the assault a horrific attack and said he and First Lady Jill Biden were praying for a swift recovery.

Putin described the shooting as a heinous crime. “I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man,” he said in a statement released by the Kremlin.

“I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation.”

Fico, whose Smer-SD party won the general election last September, is a four-time prime minister and a political veteran accused of swaying his country’s foreign policy in favour of the Kremlin.

 As well as his current stint as premier, Fico also headed the government in 2006-10 and 2012-18.

Since he assumed office last October, Fico has made a string of remarks that have soured ties between Slovakia and neighbouring Ukraine.

He has notably questioned Ukraine’s sovereignty and called for a compromise with Russia, which invaded in 2022.



Change

After he was elected, Slovakia stopped sending weapons to Ukraine. He pledged during the electoral campaign not to provide Kyiv with “a single bullet”.

Despite the stance, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was among the first to send a message of solidarity.

“We strongly condemn this act of violence,” said Zelensky. “Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country.

Fico also sparked mass protests with controversial changes, including a media law that critics say will undermine the impartiality of public television and radio.

But as the veteran politician lay in a hospital bed battling for survival, one of the MPs from Fico’s party hit out at his critics.

“You, the liberal media, and progressive politicians are to blame,” said Lubos Blaha. “Robert Fico is fighting for his life because of your hatred.”

Other politicians were less partisan. “I hope the prime minister will get well as soon as possible,” said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala. “We must not tolerate violence, it must have no place in society,” he said on social media.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said: “Robert, my thoughts are with you in this very difficult moment.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said: “Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good. My thoughts are with PM Fico, his family.”

The shooting in Slovakia came three weeks ahead of crucial European Parliament elections, in which populist and hard-right parties in the 27-nation bloc appear poised to make gains.


NEW CALEDONIA

France declares state of emergency in New Caledonia after deadly riots

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia after four people – including a gendarme – were killed in riots that broke out over controversial changes to voting rules.

Hundreds of people have been injured in the worst unrest the Pacific island has seen since the 1980s, with schools and shops shuttered as police reinforcements were sent in.

French authorities say more than 130 people have been arrested since protests turned violent on Monday.

Shops were looted and vehicles set on fire, prompting authorities to ban public gatherings and close the main airport. A night-time curfew has been extended to Thursday. 

The Interior Ministry said 500 security forces would be deployed to support the 1,800 police and gendarmes already in the French overseas territory.

“All violence is intolerable and will be the subject of a relentless response to ensure the return of order,” the Elysée’s website said.

Those killed were young indigenous Kanak people, a spokesperson for New Caleonian leader Louis Mapou said, as well as a gendarme who was shot in Plum, a south-western coastal village.

Macron cancelled a planned trip to Normandy on Wednesday to focus on the crisis.

  • Why are talks between Paris and New Caledonia’s rival groups deadlocked?
  • New Caledonian representatives in Paris to discuss territory’s future

Constitutional reform

New Caledonia has witnessed decades of tensions between indigenous Kanaks seeking independence from France, and the descendants of colonisers who want to remain French.

This week’s violence came after the National Assembly on Tuesday approved a constitutional reform that would increase the number of people eligible to participate in elections. 

Under the bill, which still needs to pass a second round before coming law, French residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years will be allowed to vote in provincial elections. 

Pro-independence leaders fear this will dilute the Kanak vote. 

Both French President Emmanuel Macron and Mapou have called for calm and dialogue. 

FLNKS , the main pro-independence political group, said would accept the offer and was willing to work toward an agreement “that would allow New Caledonia to follow its path toward emancipation”. 


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Postcard from Cannes #1: Fiction is reality and reality is fiction

The Cannes Film Festival officially opened on Tuesday evening with a cheeky speech by hostess Camille Cottin, an emotional homage to Hollywood icon Meryl Streep, and a disconcerting deadpan film about making a film. You could call it a perfect cocktail to kick off the 77th edition of the international event.

Drops of rain fell as guests, stars and jury members posed on the red carpet in front of the Palais des Festivals for the opening night.

But it wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of the crème de la crème who filled the plush velvet seats of the Louis-Lumière theatre for a ceremony simultaneously broadcast in over 700 cinemas across France.

At 7.15pm sharp, the hostess of the soirée, Camille Cottin – of Call My Agent fame – appeared on stage, in a long black gown, slightly breathless from all the excitement.

“You may not be aware of this, but you are about to enter a parallel universe called the Cannes Vortex…where you plunge into darkness to find light”, she smiled mischievously, accompanied by the Worakls orchestra.

  • Cannes reveals 22-film line-up featuring Coppola and Cronenberg

Living and breathing cinema

Without skipping a beat, she listed all the sorts of crazy things that happen in Cannes: sleepless nights, living and breathing cinema.

“We watch films all day long and we discuss them all night long. Nobody speaks the same language, yet we all understand each other. (…) It sounds insane, but it’s true.”

On a  more serious note, she pointed out that although many cinema traditions would be upheld, there would be one notable exception – “no more ‘casting couch promotions’ in the company of powerful movie men… thanks to the adoption of the #MeToo law,” she said, referring to the international movement calling out sexual abuse in the industry.

She then solemnly introduced the gender-balanced, eight-member jury – four women and four men, who took their seats on the stage to warm applause.

Ebru Ceylan from Turkey, Lily Gladstone from the United States, Eva Green and Omar Sy from France, Nadine Labaki from Lebanon, Spain’s Juan Antonio Bayona, Italy’s Pierfrancesco Favino and Japan’s Kore-eda Hirokazu.

  • French stars Omar Sy and Eva Green part of 2024 Cannes Film Festival jury

Then came a punchy medley of clips from films to “introduce” Greta Gerwig – the president of the feature film competition jury and only the second woman director to hold the post.

Sparkling in her long grape-purple gown with plunging neckline, the American director and actor responded humbly by saying she felt honoured to be worshipping a “sacred art” in the “temple of cinema”.

Modern Love

She was moved by the dazzling performance of singer Zaho de Sagazan, who came to sing David Bowie’s Modern Love, the worldwide hit and the soundtrack to Gerwig’s film, Frances Ha (2012).

The audience was then treated to a neat flashback of best-of moments in the half-century career of Hollywood icon Meryl Streep, who was presented with an honorary Palme d’Or by French film star Juliette Binoche.

Binoche came on stage in a bright red dress with her hair slicked back as if she’d just come back from a dip in the sea.

She unfolded a few pages of script and recited her speech like a nervous school girl, her words sprinkled with laughter and tears.

  • Hollywood actress Meryl Streep to receive honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes

“Your face and your voice are part of our lives. You made us feel emotions. You made us grow. When I see you on screen, it’s not you I see, it is a flow that goes through you,” Binoche said.

“And that is what being an actor is all about. But in reality, it is much more. It is a link created by your presence, letting beauty come to you. What flows through you in an instant is intent, thought, energy, love, truth.”

Film within a film

Streep was visibly moved, and also complimented Binoche on her stunning cinema career – especially for her role in La Passion de Dodin Bouffant (The Taste of Things), which won Best Director at Cannes in 2023.

“When I was in Cannes 35 years ago, for the first time, I was already a mother of three,” Streep recounted. “I was approaching 40 and I thought my career was over. At the time, for an actress, that was a reasonable prediction. The only reason I’m here tonight is because of the wonderful artists I’ve worked with…”

After a quick group photocall – the lights dimmed and it was time for the opening film, Quentin Dupieux’s Le Deuxième Acte (The Second Act).

Starring Vincent Lindon (Jury president in 2021), Léa Seydoux, Raphaël Quenard (Césars award for best actor), Louis Garrel and Manuel Guillot, it is a surreal voyage into a kind of filmic no-man’s land – a film within a film with a slightly futuristic edge.

Disconcerting to say the least, with lots of twists and hilarious off-beat moments – the quartet swing wildly from being “themselves” to being their “fictional” selves and back again – taking the audience precisely into the vortex Cottin predicted.

Click here to see RFI’s coverage of the Cannes Film Festival from 14 – 25 May, 2024.


Cannes film festival 2024

AI cameras to be tested at Cannes Film Festival ahead of Paris Olympics

Security using artificial intelligence is being deployed at the Cannes Film Festival in a test for potential applications at the Paris Olympics two months later.

Some 40,000 attendees – and some of the world’s biggest movie stars – fly into the French Riviera for the Cannes film festival from Tuesday to 25 May.

Local authorities say they are using 17 experimental cameras equipped with AI technology that are supposed to “identify events or behaviours deemed suspicious” and help detect abandoned packages, weapons and people in distress.

The Cannes town hall has been asking to implement them since 2019 but has only been given permission thanks to changes in surveillance laws introduced for the Olympics that kick off in Paris in July, according to mayor David Lisnard.

He said the town already had the “densest video protection network in France”, with 884 cameras, one for every 84 residents.

  • France approves algorithmic video surveillance to safeguard Olympics

Cannes also has 462 emergency call buttons spread across public spaces and buildings.

There were concerns that mobilisation for the Olympics would deprive the festival of police resources.

But Paris authorities say they are sending some 400 security forces in addition to the 200 officers and 66 surveillance agents already in Cannes.

The festival has a further 400 security guards around the main venue, the Palais des Festivals – not to mention the many private security agents employed at all the beach, villa and yacht parties.

(with AFP)


FRANCE – CRIME

French police hunt killers behind prison van ambush

Caen (AFP) – French police were on Wednesday hunting for a group of gunmen who killed two prison officers in an attack at a motorway toll that freed a convict linked to gangland drug killings.

The killings and dramatic getaway by the perpetrators have shocked France, with authorities under pressure to catch those responsible, who all remain at large.

“We have put a lot of resources into finding not only the person who escaped”, but also “the gang that released him under such despicable circumstances,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the RTL broadcaster.

“We are putting in considerable resources, we are making a lot of progress,” he added.

On Tuesday, more than 450 police officers and gendarmes were mobilised just for the search in the northern department of Eure where the attack took place, he said.

‘We will be uncompromising’

Two prison officers were killed in the attack and three others wounded, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said late on Tuesday.

One of the injured men was fighting for his life in hospital and two more were receiving critical care, she said.

The incident took place late on Tuesday morning at a road toll in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France.

The inmate was being transported back to his prison in the town of Evreux after he was questioned by a judge in the regional centre of Rouen in Normandy.

The prosecutor said the prison van was rammed head-on by a stolen Peugeot vehicle as it went through the toll crossing.

But the van and another vehicle in the prison convoy were also followed by an Audi.

Gunman emerged from the two cars and shot at both prison vehicles.

  • Is talk of ‘rising’ youth violence in France a reality or a political tool?

“We will be uncompromising,” President Emmanuel Macron said on X, describing the attack as a “shock”.

French television channels broadcast footage of the attack taken by surveillance cameras at the toll, showing the Peugeot colliding head on with the prison van.

In the video, several gunmen dressed in black emerge from both attack vehicles. A firefight ensues and one individual appears to be guided away from the van by the gunmen.

A vehicle believed to have been used by the attackers was later found as a burned-out wreck at a different location.

‘Never have imagined ‘

The prison officers who died, both men, were the first to be killed in the line of duty since 1992, according to Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.

One of them was married and had twin children while the other “left a wife who is five months pregnant”, he said.

Prison officer unions announced a day of minimum service on Wednesday and asked for urgent measures to improve the safety of staff.

  • France sends elite police unit to Marseille in bid to quell drug violence

Dupond-Moretti said he would meet union representatives on Wednesday.

“We are in mourning,” Vanessa Lefaivre, of the FO union at the Fleury-Merogis prison outside Paris told AFP.

“We would never have imagined that prison staff would be killed like this.”

‘Kills more than terrorism’

Prosecutor Beccuau named the inmate as Mohamed Amra, born in 1994, saying that last week he had been convicted of aggravated robbery and charged in a case of abduction leading to death.

But a source close to the case said that Amra was suspected of involvement in drug trafficking and of ordering gangland killings.

Another source said he is suspected of being at the head of a criminal network. Some media said he had the nickname “La Mouche” (the fly).

His lawyer Hugues Vigier said Amra had already made an escape attempt at the weekend by sawing the bars of his cell and said he was shocked by the “inexcusable” and “insane” violence.

“This does not correspond to the impression that I had of him,” the lawyer told BFMTV.

The incident came on the same day as the French Senate published a damning report warning that government measures had been unable to prevent the flourishing of the narcotics industry in France.

“Narco-banditry kills many people, much more than terrorism,” said Darmanin, also pointing to the responsibility of drug users.

“One cannot at the same time cry for the widows and orphans of the Eure toll booth attack and then smoke a joint… this is called schizophrenia.”

“It is real savagery that hits France every day,” said Jordan Bardella, the top candidate for the far-right National Rally (RN), which is leading opinion polls for the elections.

Caster Semenya continues court fight to race without lowering testosterone levels

Double Olympic champion Caster Semenya arrived at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg on Wednesday for a hearing to decide whether she will have to lower her testosterone levels in order to compete in races.

The 33-year-old South African has not featured on the track for more than a year.

Last July, a seven-member ECHR panel ruled that the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) had discriminated against her when it decided in 2019 that fair competition was a cardinal principle of sport.

It said that female athletes like Semenya who had testosterone levels comparable to those of men gave them an insurmountable advantage. The decision was validated by the Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne in 2020.

But after Semenya’s victory last summer, Swiss authorities, supported by track and field’s governing body World Athletics, appealed to the ECHR’s 17-member Grand Chamber.

Its ruling is not expected for several months but will be binding. 

“This is an important day in my journey as a human being and athlete. It has been a long time coming,” said Semenya, who was the Olympic 800m champion in 2012 and 2016 and world champion in 2009, 2011 and 2017.



Pride

“In 2009 I stood atop the podium at the Berlin world championships having just been sex tested and knowing that the world was judging my body and questioning my sex. In the 15 years since then I have persevered with dignity in the face of oppression.

“The adversity I have overcome has helped shaped me into a true champion and a compassionate mother, wife, sister, and daughter.

“I hope that the court’s decision will pave the way for all athletes’ human rights to be fiercely protected, for once and for all, and inspire all young women to be and accept themselves in all their diversity.”

Semenya, who is classed as having differences in sexual development (DSD), has always been legally identified as female.

She has refused to take drugs to reduce her testosterone levels since World Athletics introduced its original rules in 2018.

  • Semenya’s dominance to be ended by new IAAF rules

‘Forced into illusion of choice’

Semenya’s lawyer, Schona Jolly, said her client had lost years of her career awaiting a final determination.

“What this court says will impact profoundly on her personal and professional life, and indeed, the lives and dignity of many other international sports women.”

“Miss Semenya has been forced into illusion of choice, either to safeguard her personal integrity and dignity, and yet be excluded from competing as an elite athlete in the exercise of her profession, or as a healthy woman and athlete to undergo a harmful, unnecessary and supposedly corrective medical treatment.

 “Miss Semenya is a woman,” Jolly added. “She was assigned the female sex on birth, legally and factually. She has always lived as the woman she is.”

 Last year, World Athletics altered its rules. DSD athletes like Semenya now have to reduce their amount of blood testosterone to below 2.5 nanomoles per litre, down from the previous level of five, and remain below this threshold for two years.

World Athletics also removed the principle of restricted events for DSD athletes, meaning that they are barred from all distances unless they meet the testosterone criteria.

 (With newswires)


FRANCE – STRIKES

Striking Paris garbage collectors demand Olympic bonus

Paris garbage collectors have gone on strike less than three months before the start of the Olympics to demand a bonus for working during the event. For months they have been demanding a wage increase, and the unions have filed a notice to strike during the Games if no deal is reached.

Rubbish is once again piling up on the streets of Paris after garbage collectors started a three-day strike Tuesday. They’re planning another three days next week.

Demands are a €1,900 bonus for those working during the Olympic and Paralympics, along with a €400 salary increase.

“We want to give a good impression of Paris to all the tourists that we will host, but our involvement needs to be compensated,” said Smina Mebtouche, the secretary of the waste sector of the CGT trade union that called the strike.

The union says employees should be compensated for foregoing their annual summer holidays to work during the Games. The bonus would recognise the larger-than-usual quantities of rubbish that will accumulate in the city.

If demands are not met, the union has filed for a strike notice from 1 July through 8 September, which covers the duration of the Olympic and Paralympics.

Second stand

The threat is real for the city, which wants to avoid a repeat of the rolling anti-pension reform strikes in March and April last year, which included blockades of the city’s three incinerator plants.

Images of piles of garbage in Paris made headlines around the world.

Strikes are also threatened in other sectors, like police and healthcare, if workers are not compensated during the Games.

Garbage collectors in the port city of Marseille went on strike for a week at the end of April ahead of the arrival of the Olympic torch, demanding better conditions.

Faced with threats of requisitioning workers, they agreed to go back to work in time for the arrival of the torch, but the issues remain unresolved.

City ‘held hostage’

Responding to critics who say the Paris garbage collectors are holding the city hostage, Mebtouche said it was the city holding the workers hostage by refusing to compensate them correctly.

Garbage collectors are recruited on the minimum wage of about €1,400 euros a month after taxes, working 35 hours a week – though some receive up to €1,500 euros a month more with bonuses and other allowances.

Since the pension reform, they can retire at age 59 (up from 57), though many leave later to work enough years to receive a full pension.


Iran – cinema

Film director Mohammad Rasoulof leaves Iran for Europe ahead of Cannes premiere

Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof said he fled Iran after being sentenced to prison on national security charges and is in Europe ahead of the screening of his new film at the Cannes Film Festival, where he may attend the premiere.

Rasoulof said he left Iran without official permission after being sentenced to eight years in prison and flogging for national security crimes.

“I had to choose between prison and leaving Iran. With a heavy heart, I chose exile,” said in an Instagram post Tuesday.

Pressure on the film festival

Last week, a court in Iran found Rasoulof’s films and documentaries to be “examples of collusion with the intention of committing a crime against the security of the country”.

The films, which include Goodbye (2011), Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) and A Man Of Integrity (2017), cast a critical eye on the consequences of life under authoritarian rule. 

Rasoulof has been a target in Iran for years, and the timing of his most recent conviction and sentencing appeared to be an attempt to put pressure on the Cannes Film Festival to remove his latest film, The seed of the sacred fig, which is set to premiere in competition next week, on Friday 24 May.

His lawyer Babak Paknia confirmed to the AFP news agency that Rasoulof has left Iran, and said he “will attend the Cannes festival”.

A statement from his French distributors was less categoric about his attendance, saying just that he was “currently staying in an undisclosed location in Europe, raising the possibility that he might be present at the world premiere of his most recent film”.

Supporting dissident filmmakers

Rasoulof called on the film community to support filmmakers working under authoritarian conditions.

“People who courageously and selflessly confront censorship instead of supporting it are reassured of the importance of their actions by the support of international film organisations,” he wrote.

He said he was concerned about the safety of those who worked with him on the film who have not managed to leave Iran: “Many of the actors and agents of the film are still in Iran and the intelligence system is pressuring them.”


South Africa

The legacy of Nelson Mandela 30 years after his election as president

Johannesburg – Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in May 1994. His election ended more than three centuries of white rule in South Africa. 

Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party won 252 of 400 seats in the first democratic elections of South Africa’s history.

As part of the inauguration ceremony, he pledged his allegiance to South Africa and his determination to continue his work for reconciliation.

Thirty years later, South Africans are heading to polls 29 May, and for the first time, the ANC is struggling to win a majority.

Unemployment, inequality and high levels of crime are symptomatic of the problem.

However, all parties still praise the legacy of Mandela, known and celebrated by his local name, Madiba.

At the Nelson Mandela Foundation, chief archivist Razia Saleh talked RFI through his legacy and current problems in South Africa.


EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024

Split between Socialists and hard-left damages chance of alliance before EU elections

With less than a month to go before European elections, the atmosphere among France’s left-wing candidates is becoming increasingly antagonistic following a recent split between the centrist Socialists and the hard-left, further damaging the chances of a union for the upcoming polls.

Last week, the first secretary for France’s Socialist Party (PS), Olivier Faure accused the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon of doing “everything to make an alliance impossible” between left-wing parties and their candidates running for election to the European parliament.

This comes amid alleged “fake news” being circulated about star Socialist candidate Raphaël Glucksmann, coming from LFI contender Manon Aubry’s campaign

In a tweet, Aubry accused Glucksmann – the 44-year-old journalist, film producer and MEP who’s heading the bill for France’s centre-left in June’s elections – of “lining his pockets” in addition to his mandate as a member of the European parliament, implying that he was paid by lobby groups, even though his additional income came from book sales.



Glucksmann threat to Renaissance

Glucksmann – a serving member of the Socialists and Democrats group in the EU Parliament since 2019 – is known for his advocacy on human rights issues, having launched his election campaign under the banner of his mini-party, Place Publique.

Ahead of the June polls, Glucksmann has also been seen as a significant threat to French President Emmanuel Macron’s faction and Renaissance candidate Valérie Hayer.

Macron’s recent shift to the right on issues such as immigration and pension reform –aimed at countering the rise of the far-right candidate Jordan Bardella – has alienated the French president’s left-wing supporters.

  • Macron’s party launches EU campaign with French far-right in their sights
  • How France will help decide the 2024 European elections

‘Smear campaign’

The 2024 electioneering on the French left is taking place just seven months after the broad left-wing Nupes alliance collapsed in the wake of Hamas’ attacks on Israel, amid accusations that Jean-Luc Mélenchon “has not stopped widening the gap” between the Socialist Party and others since the 7 October massacre. 

For his part, Glucksmann has counter-attacked, accusing LFI of orchestrating “a smear campaign” against him on social networks, which he believed resulted in his violent expulsion from a May Day demonstration by activists in the central French city of Saint-Etienne. 

Since the beginning of Glucksmann’s campaign running on the PS/Place Publique ticket, the hard-left have reportedly been making negative videos about him, but not any about far-right candidate Bardella.

France Unbowed say they are simply responding to attacks from the PS, who they accuse of wanting to revive “the old left” of former president François Hollande.

And they accept they have allowed for a certain amount of provocation: “When we put Glucksmann on the visual [tweeted by Manon Aubry], we know it’s going to get people talking and that the media machine will go into overdrive because we’re attacking ‘his holiness’ Raphaël Glucksmann,” says MP Matthias Tavel, head of the LFI’s European election campaign.



Coalition hopes

The head of the Greens (EELV) list Marie Toussaint has been critical of the “brutality” of the left, calling on Mélenchon to show moderation when it comes to the hustings.

Throughout Glucksmann’s campaign meetings, he has never slammed his left-wing rivals.

Following the June elections, some elements of the left – led by the Socialists and Greens – will aim to build a new left-wing coalition for the municipal elections, but above all for the presidential elections in 2027.

However, Raphaël Glucksmann’s detractors – who accuse him of being the candidate of “champagne socialism” – may become less vociferous in their criticism if he indeed makes a significant dent in the ruling Renaissance Party’s election campaign, and resuscitate the ambitions of France’s Socialist Party.


Crime

Gunmen strike prison van at French motorway toll killing two police officers

Gunmen on Tuesday attacked a prison van at a motorway toll in northern France, killing at least two prison officers and freeing a convict who had been jailed last week.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed that everything would be done to find those behind the attack as hundreds of members of the security forces were deployed for a manhunt to find the attackers and the inmate who were all still at large.

Two officers killed

Two prison officers were killed in the attack and two others are receiving urgent medical care, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said in a statement.

The incident took place late morning at a road toll in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France.

The inmate was being transported between the towns of Rouen and Evreux in Normandy.

A police source told French news agency AFP that several individuals, who arrived in two vehicles, rammed the police van and then fled.

One of the raiders was wounded

It was not immediately clear how many attackers there were in total.

“Everything is being done to find the perpetrators of this crime,” Macron wrote on X.



“We will be uncompromising,” he added, describing the attack as a “shock”.

‘All means used’

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti immediately headed to a crisis meeting at his ministry.

“These are people for whom life counts for nothing. They will be arrested, they will be judged and they will be punished according to the crime they committed,” he said.

Both the officers killed were men and they were the first prison officers to be killed in the line of duty since 1992, he added.

  • French helicopter jailbreaker sentenced to 14 more years in prison

Aggravated robbery

Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau named the inmate as Mohamed Amra, born in 1994, saying that last week he had been convicted of aggravated robbery and also charged in a case of abduction leading to death.

The case has been handed to prosecutors from France’s office for the fight against organised crime known by their acronym JUNALCO.

Law and order is a major issue in French politics ahead of next month’s European elections. The incident sparked fierce reactions from politicians, especially the far right.

(With newswires)


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris museum finds Olympic groove mixing hip hop, photo and art

As part of the “Cultural Olympiad”, which explores the connections between art and athletics, the Carnavalet Museum in Paris is getting artist Safouane Ben Slama together with high school students for a workshop dedicated to photo and hip-hop dance.

For the first time in Olympics history breakdance, one of the main five elements of hip-hop, will take centre stage at the Games this summer in Paris. 

To mark the occasion, Paris’ Carnavalet Museum is hosting workshops for school groups focused on mixing hip-hop and art.

Among them is the hip-hop section of Turgot High School, “one of the first of its kind in France”, Maxime Boulegroun-Ruyssen, project supervisor at Carnavalet Museum, told RFI.

The Parisian high school students and their coach David Bérillon visited the museum with artist Safouane Ben Slama to take photos.

“It’s a question of finding details, gestures and micro-gestures in the works in the museum, and putting them together to create a kind of choreography,” explained Ben Slama.

Following this workshop, an exhibition will take place in June at Carnavalet that includes the photos and texts produced by the students.

Read also:

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

France

French court clears director Roman Polanski of defamation against Charlotte Lewis

The Paris criminal court has acquitted filmmaker Roman Polanski of defamation against British actress Charlotte Lewis after she accused him of raping her when she was a teenager.

The verdict relates to the charge of defamation and not over the Lewis’ rape accusation against Polanski.

She filed a defamation suit against Polanski in 2019 after the publication of an interview in Paris Match magazine in which he called her claim that he raped her an “odious lie”.

Lewis’ case

Polanski referenced a quote attributed to Lewis from a 1999 interview with News of the World, in which she allegedly remarked: “I wanted to be his mistress… I probably desired him more than he did me.”

Lewis disputed the quote’s accuracy in 2010, when she accused the director of rape.

Lewis, 56, told the court in March that she was the victim of a “smear campaign” that “nearly destroyed” her life after she spoke up about what happened to her in Paris in the 1980s when she was 16.

“He raped me,” she told the court, adding that it had taken her time to put a name on what had happened.

Polanski’s lawyers argued that their client had the right to defend himself and that the prosecutor had not requested a conviction.

Accusations

Polanski, 90, who lives in Paris, did not attend any of the trial and was not in court to hear the verdict.

The director of the Oscar-winning Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist has been accused of other sexual assaults throughout his career, which he denies.

He faced boos and walkouts of several oscars when his film An Officer and a Spy (J’accuse) won best director at the 2020 Césars, the French Oscars.

Polanski is wanted in the United States over the rape of a 13-year-old in 1977. He fled to Europe in 1978, and France, Switzerland and Poland have refused to extradite him to the US.

(with AFP)


Cannes Film Festival 2024

From glitz to grit, here’s what’s making a buzz at this year’s Cannes

The Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off Tuesday, is shaping up to be full of surprising and compelling moments. From Hollywood legends to canine reporters, RFI looks at a few of the hot topics at this year’s festival. 

For two weeks, the cinephile world is gathering in the south of France to see the crème de la crème of cinema. 

France’s Camille Cottin will host the opening ceremony on Tuesday along with guest of honour, Meryl Streep, ahead of a gala screening of French film The Second Act, starring Léa Sedoux and Vincent Lindon.

But aside from the 22 films competing for the prestigious Palme d’Or and a host of other prizes, there will be plenty of action in and around the Croisette. 

Dogs on the red carpet 

Messi, the canine star of Oscar-winning Anatomy of a Fall, which also took the top prize at Cannes last year, will return to the festival as a red-carpet interviewer.

Using a 360-degree microphone and camera attached to his back, the border collie will chat with stars thanks to an actor behind the scenes for an 8-part miniseries.

“He’s the star. I’m just lending him my voice,” says comedian Raphael Mezrahi.

The resulting short clips will be available on French channels and TikTok.

Messi earned global attention for his role as Snoop in Anatomy of a Fall, winning the Palm Dog prize for best canine performance at Cannes.

He was a hit on social media when he was snapped with the likes of Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Billie Eilish during the Oscar campaign.

Coach and owner Laura Martin said it took two months to perfect the scene in which he had to feign intoxication and vomiting.

The Palm Dog, founded by Toby Rose in 2001, is awarded on the last Friday of the festival. Previous winners include Uggie from The Artist (2011).

Immersive cinema

Keen to keep up with new technology, festival organisers this year will launch the Immersive Competition to explore new frontiers in filmmaking.

Eight films from countries including France, as well as Taiwan, Canada and the United States, are in the running, while six other works will be shown out of competition.

Organised with the support of the National Centre for Cinema, the Immersive Competition includes collective virtual reality installations, mixed reality experiences, as well as video mapping and holographic works.

They will be displayed in a 1,300-square-metre exhibition space at the Cannes Cineum – the cinema complex of Cannes La Bocca – and the Georges Méliès Campus, a university dedicated to creative writing and film.

Iranian tensions

Mohammad Rasoulof’s much-awaited film The Seed of the Sacred Fig is in the main competition this year, and it is unclear if the director will attend the premiere at Cannes, after he said he had fled Iran to somewhere in Europe.

An Iranian court sentenced the prominent filmmaker to eight years jail on national security charges, and he said Monday he said he “had to choose between prison and leaving Iran” after he learned the prison term would be implemented quickly.

“If geographical Iran suffers beneath the boots of your religious tyranny, cultural Iran is alive in the common minds of millions of Iranians who were forced to leave Iran due to your brutality and no power can impose its will on it. From today, I am a resident of cultural Iran,” he said in an Instagram post that included a video of Iran’s mountainous border..

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

Some crew members involved in the film’s production, his lawyer Babak Paknia said earlier this month, adding that they were under pressure to have it withdrawn from the festival.

Rasoulof won the Golden Bear, the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize, in 2020 with his anti-capital punishment film There Is No Evil.

He was detained in July 2022 and released the following year after a wave of nationwide protests that began in September subsided.

Appearances at the Cannes Festival have in recent years been increasingly contentious for Iranian directors and actors.

Prominent director Saeed Roustaee was sentenced to six months in prison for the screening of his film Leila’s Brothers at the 2022 festival.

Iranian authorities said at the time it had been shown without authorisation.

The film’s star, Taraneh Alidoosti, was released in early 2023 after almost three weeks in jail over her support for the protest movement that erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini, arrested for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict dress code, in 2022.

Hollywood titans

Francis Ford Coppola will lead a parade of veteran American movie titans to the French Riviera, rubbing shoulders with Star Wars creator George Lucas and Paul Schrader.

Half a century later since their 1970s Cannes’ heyday, Coppola and Schrader will compete head-to-head for the festival’s coveted Palme d’Or with their new films Megalopolis and Oh Canada, while Lucas receives an honorary award for his blockbuster career.

The trio were central figures in a pack of rebellious filmmakers, dubbed the “New Hollywood”, who upended the staid Hollywood studio system at the time.

  • Hollywood actress Meryl Streep to receive honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes

They borrowed arthouse styles from the previous decade’s French New Wave, along with its idea of the director as a visionary “auteur”.

Coppola’s Megalopolis features Oscar-winning stalwarts Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, as well as Laurence Fishburne, who appeared as a young teen in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now which won the Palme d’Or in 1979.

#MeToo

A short film on survivors of sexual abuse directed by Judith Godrèche, a key figure in France’s #MeToo movement, is also set to screen.

Her 17-minute film titled Moi Aussi (Me Too, in French) will show on 15 May during the opening of the Un Certain Regard category.

The 52-year-old spoke up earlier in the year, accusing directors Benoit Jacquot and Jacques Doillon of sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager – allegations both have denied.

She has since made powerful speeches at the Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, and in the National Assembly to urge an end to sexual abuse in what she described as an “incestuous” French film industry.

  • French parliament to investigate sexual abuse in cinema

The French parliament has since agreed to create a commission of inquiry to investigate sexual and gender-based violence in cinema and other cultural sectors.

Meanwhile, the French non-profit organisation 50/50 Collective will also be present at the festival with debates and panels on diversity in cinema and preventing sexual harassment on film sets.


Keep up with RFI’s coverage of the 2024 Cannes Festival 14 – 25 May here.


French football

Departing Mbappé heads Paris Saint-Germain sweep at players’ union annual awards

Two days after turning out for his final home match in Paris Saint-Germain colours, Kylian Mbappé featured among 14 players from the club’s men’s and women’s teams to pick up prizes at the players’ union annual awards ceremony.

Mbappé, who on Friday announced he would be leaving PSG at the end of the season, was voted by his peers in the Union National des Footballeurs Professionnels (UNFP) as Ligue 1 player of the year for the fifth time.

Since making his breakthrough at Monaco in the 2016/2017 season, Mbappé has been singled out  as the best young player or – as in the case in 2019 – the best young player and the best player in Ligue 1.

Five years on from that unprecedented double award, Mbappé’s PSG teammate, Warren Zaïre-Emery, was voted the best young player and Gigi Donnarumma was hailed as the best goalkeeper during the UNFP’s star-studded ceremony at the Pavillon d’Armenonville in Paris.

Ousmane Dembélé, Achraf Hakimi, Marquinhos and Vitinha joined the troika in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season.

After receiving his trophy from the French triple Olympic champion Marie-José Perec, Mbappé told the audience: “Ligue 1 will always have an important place in my life and in my career since that’s where I’ve played since becoming a professional.

“I’ve always tried to be a worthy participator in the division and to try my best. I’ll leave with my head held high. I’ve always done my best.”

Mbappé, who was on the verge of signing for Real Madrid in 2022, is expected to sign for the Spanish giants. An announcement is expected after the Champions League final on 1 June.

Victory

In spite of leading PSG to a record 12th Ligue 1 crown, boss Luis Enrique lost out to Brest’s Eric Roy in the coach of the year category.

Roy, 56, has taken the unheralded club from battling relegation into the top four and a berth in one of the top European competitions next season.

“It’s an award for everyone who has worked to take us where we are,” said Roy. “It’s for a group of players who have shown lots of desire and commitment throughout the season and it’s a lot of pride for me at being able to coach them.”

Roy’s player Kamory Doumbia won the Just Fontaine award for the best goal of the season.

 



The strike came during the 4-0 waltz past Lens.

PSG’s Tabitha Chawinga picked up the player of the season at the end of her first campaign in France.

The 27-year-old Malawian striker has struck 18 goals and set up 10 others after joining from Inter Milan.

PSG’s Elisa De Almeida, Sakina Karchaoui and Grace Geyoro joined Chawinga in the D1 Arkema Team of the Season.


RFI/Prix Marc-Vivien Foé

Prix Marc-Vivien Foé: Marseille’s Aubameyang wins trophy for a second time

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spoke of his pride at becoming only the second man to win the Prix Marc-Vivien Foé – the RFI/ France 24 award for the best performing African player in a Ligue 1 season.

Aubameyang, at 34 years and 11 months, is the oldest to claim the accolade created by RFI and France 24 to honour Marc-Vivien Foé who died on 26 June 2003 during an international match for Cameroon.

The midfielder’s death was later ruled to be due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Aubameyang, who joined Marseille last July, said he was just as happy to receive the prize 11 years after his initial success while turning out for Saint-Etienne.

“Well it’s always gratifying to win something,” said the Gabon international. “It’s a prize which means so many things for me.”

Aubameyang left Saint-Etienne to play in the German Bundesliga at Borussia Dortmund.

During five seasons he scored 141 goals in 213 matches. A four-year spell at Arsenal followed where he eventually fell foul of Mikel Arteta’s new vision for the club.

A stuttering year at Chelsea was marked by only three goals in 21 matches before his move to Marseille where he has flourished with 29 goals in 49 games after a difficult start to his return to Ligue 1.

Recalling his first award, Aubameyang said: “It came as a way of showing the progress I had been making at Saint-Etienne. I had been working really hard.

“This latest one is a reflection really of football. You go through some difficult times but if you have the desire, the ability to work hard as well as the mental toughness, you can always finish well.

“But it’s not yet finished,” he added. :I’m going to give everything right until the end.”


New Caledonia

Curfew imposed in New Caledonia after violent protests against constitutional reform

The local government in New Caledonia has called for calm after violence broke out during protests to changes to the constitution being debated in the French National Assembly, which are denounced by supporters of independence for the overseas territory in the Pacific.

“All the reasons discontent, frustration and anger could not justify hurting or destroying what the country has been able to build for decades and compromising the future,” the local government said in a statement Tuesday, after protests turned violent on Monday.

Violence broke out on the edge of a demonstration organised Monday by pro-independence supporters against changes to the constitution that would allow more French residents to vote in elections in New Caledonia, which independence supporters fear will dilute the vote of indigenous Kanak.

New Caledonia President Louis Mapou was elected in 2021 as the first pro-independence indigenous Kanak leader.

  • Why are talks between Paris and New Caledonia’s rival groups deadlocked?
  • Could nickel reserves be the key to independence for New Caledonia?

Property destroyed, curfew

Several police officers were injured during clashes with protesters, the French High Commission said Tuesday, announcing a curfew in the capital, Noumea, on Tuesday night.

Buildings and businesses in Noumea and the surrounding areas were damaged and cars set on fire. Firefighters said they received nearly 1,500 calls Monday night and intervened in 200.

The French High Commission said all gatherings had been banned and a ban on liquor sales was in place, with a 12-hour curfew imposed from 6pm local time on Tuesday.

The local government has closed middle and high schools, and all commercial flights have been cancelled, the airport operator said in a statement on Tuesday.

Changing the constitution

Elections for New Caledonia’s assemblies and congress, which were due this month, have been delayed until the end of the year.

A vote on the constitutional changes was due at the National Assembly Tuesday afternoon, but may be pushed back, after debates Monday night were unable to conclude because of a large number of amendments introduced by the hard-left France Unbowed party.

The constitutional changes must pass in the National Assembly, after they were approved in the Senate, before being sent to a joint session of both houses to revise the constitution at a date that has not yet been set.

(with newswires)


Paris Olympics 2024

Who needs QR Codes for getting around during Paris Olympics?

A special pass will be needed to circulate in some areas of Paris during the Olympics this summer. As online applications for the necessary QR code opened Monday, we look at who needs them, when, and the areas affected.

From 18 July and throughout the period of the Olympic Games (26 July to 11 August) some areas of the capital will be sectioned off into zones and you’ll need a “Pass Jeux” (Games Pass) to move around within them.

The pass takes the form of a QR code which can either be downloaded onto a smartphone or printed out.

The ministry of the interior platform went live on Monday, and passes will be issued following administrative checks by the Paris police prefecture.

For the moment applications concern only the Olympic opening ceremony on the river Seine on 26 July, but will be extended to the whole Olympic period shortly.

Who needs a QR code?

The QR codes apply mainly to people wanting to circulate in restricted areas in motorised vehicles (cars, motorbikes), such as taxi and delivery drivers, as well as people living near the opening ceremony and competition venues.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of non-motorised scooters do not need a QR code to enter restricted areas.

Which areas are affected?

Four, coloured-codes perimeters will be set up around the sites – grey, black, red, blue.

They are laid out in the video below (in French) and maps can be found here.



Grey zones have the tightest security. They include the competition venues and in particular the 26 July Olympic opening ceremony on the River Seine, where some 300,000 spectators are expected.

Two six-kilometre stretches of the banks of the River Seine between Austerlitz and Iéna bridges will be designated an anti-terrorist protection perimeter (SILT).

Anyone wishing to enter the SILT zone must have either a ticket for the ceremony or a QR code, plus a form of ID.

Motorists – including residents with car parks in the SILT zone, delivery and emergency service vehicles – need a QR code to enter. After 13h on the day of the opening ceremony, no vehicles will be allowed through. Emergency service vehicles will be escorted by police if necessary. 

Applicants will have to justify a legitimate reason to enter the SILT zone  –  either because they’re residents or hotel clients, and show “proof of address, a hotel reservation or a lease agreement for example” the prefet de police Laurent Nunez told France info.

Security checks will be carried out on everyone “to be sure the person does not represent a threat to national security” he said.

Restrictions on the SILT zone will come into effect as of 18 July, a week before the opening ceremony.

Black zones are the areas around competition venues where security checks are carried out on everyone entering the competition site.

Red zones are open to cyclists and pedestrians and they do not need a QR code.

They are closed to all vehicles and motorbikes. Motorised local residents, people visiting sick or vulnerable people, emergency and rescue services need to show a QR code.

Blue zones  motorists, including delivery delivers, need a QR code to go through these zones; cyclists and pedestrians can circulate freely.

Public transport

Some 15 metro stations – located within the anti-terrorist protection perimeter – will be closed from 18 July and throughout the Games, but the lines will operate normally. The overland RER C stops at Saint-Michel and Invalides will remain open.


South Africa

South Africans lose faith in ruling ANC as income inequality grows

South Africa will vote on 29 May – three decades after the end of apartheid. The African National Congress has been in power since then, but polls are predicting the party will lose its majority with many voters disgruntled by its failure to address inequality. 

When the African National Congress (ANC) came to power led by Nelson Mandela, it promised to improve the lives of black South Africans following decades of apartheid – a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed from 1948 to 1994.

Thirty years on, South Africa suffers from one of the world’s worst rates of income inequality. 

While the ANC denies it will need a coalition, polls say an end to its single-party governance is likely.

Joblessness, poverty 

“I don’t want to even talk to the ANC,” Dalene Raiters, an unemployed 48-year-old who lives in a single room in Johannesburg with her sons and grandson, told Reuters. 

“Mandela’s dream is not their dream.”

Like those of many South Africans, Dalene’s family is sustained by grants.

She receives the equivalent of €54 per month for two minor dependents, supplemented by handouts from the local mosque, feeding schemes and odd jobs for neighbours.

Although record unemployment and a struggling economy are major issues for voters, the ANC is touting South Africa’s welfare system – a rarity in middle-income economies – as a landmark achievement.

“These grants and subsidies do much more than give people what they need to live,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in February.

“They are an investment in the future.”

Yet support for the ANC is waning as the country’s social security buckles with more than 24 million – over a third of the population – requiring assistance.

Economic failures

Social security and economic prosperity were the bedrock of ANC policy when it won power in 1994.

South Africa was then the most dynamic economy on the continent.

Today areas like Johannesburg’s suburb Sandton, with its skyscrapers and luxurious homes, show a form of economic success only enjoyed by a minority of the country’s 60 million people.

More than 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank, while a decade of economic stagnation has pushed unemployment above 32 percent, nearly 10 points higher than 30 years ago.

The ANC’s policies have “enriched an elite few while keeping millions in poverty,” the South African Institute of Race Relations reports.

“It disincentivises employment, growth and investment. It is time for an alternative.”



For Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s president from 1999 to 2008, the welfare system was never intended to be a cure but a way to grow an inclusive economy that boosted employment. 

But according to Michael Sachs, an economist at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies: “If those social problems continue to mount and the only answer of the government is to provide more social grants, then eventually it will become unsustainable.” 

Sachs also said that while there are enough resources to support intended beneficiaries – like children and pensioners – the government can’t handle skyrocketing unemployment and economic stagnation.

Change in sight? 

South Africa’s economic future could depend on who the ANC chooses as a potential coalition partner.

The centre-right, business-friendly Democratic Alliance (DA) is the largest opposition party and could be open to talks about a coalition with the ANC.

But to South African analysts, it would be an awkward fit.

The DA’s primary focus is job creation. It wants to relax labour laws and move away from affirmative action aimed at redressing apartheid-era discrimination.

The DA has also been blaming the ANC for the country’s troubles.

Yet it seems willing to prevent what its leader John Steenhuisen dubs a “doomsday coalition” between the ANC and Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema

The EFF has stated a desire for the finance portfolio were it to partner with the ANC, with additional demands for land redistribution and the nationalisation of mines and banks. 

Its election manifesto calls for doubling social benefits, a new grant for unemployed university graduates and further free public services for the poor.

(with newswires)

Chadian opposition leader files legal challenge to presidential election poll

Chadian opposition leader Succès Masra has filed a legal challenge to the results of the 6 May election in which officials declared he came in second, behind junta leader and interim President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno.

Masra announced Sunday that he had filed an appeal with Chad’s constitutional council alleging electoral fraud in the poll in which the state-run national election management body on Thursday said 61.3 percent of voters cast ballots for Deby.

Masra, who had already claimed victory and warned that Deby’s team would try to rig the result, was placed a distant second, with 18.53 percent of the vote.

He announced the filing of the appeal after dozens of activists from his party were arrested and accused of having forged documents to get illegal access to vote counts.

“With the help of our lawyers, we have today filed a request with the Constitutional Council to reveal the truth at the ballot boxes,” said Masra in a Facebook post in which he urged supporters to remain calm.

Documented irregularities

Masra’s Transformers Party documented many irregularities during the vote, party vice president Sitack Yombatina Béni told RFI, including a refusal of access to polling stations or vote counting, a lack of voting material or even ballot boxes taken away by soldiers.

The party has asked the election management body to provide detailed results results from each polling station.

Deby seized power in April 2021 when rebels killed his long-ruling father, Idriss Deby, and his fellow generals proclaimed him the country’s transitional president.

Deby appointed Masra, a former fierce critic, as prime minister, four months before the election, in leading figures of the opposition had been barred from running.

Definitive election results are expected by 23 May at the latest.

(with newswires)


RUSSIA

Russia’s Putin replaces defence minister Shoigu in post-inauguration reshuffle

Russian President Vladimir Putin has replaced Sergei Shoigu as defence minister in a cabinet shakeup that comes as the leader begins his fifth term in office. 

On Sunday, Putin signed a decree appointing Shoigu as secretary of Russia’s Security Council.

The appointment was announced shortly after Putin proposed Andrei Belousov to become the country’s defence minister in place of Shoigu. 

In line with Russian law, the entire Russian cabinet resigned last Tuesday following Putin’s inauguration in the Kremlin, and most members have been widely expected to keep their jobs, while Shoigu’s fate had appeared uncertain.

  • No congratulations from France’s Macron to Putin for his re-election

The announcement of Shoigu’s new role came as 13 people were reported dead and 20 more wounded in Russia’s border city of Belgorod, where a 10-story apartment building partially collapsed after what Russian officials said was Ukrainian shelling.

Ukraine hasn’t commented on the incident. 

Belousov’s candidacy will need to be approved by Russia’s upper house in parliament, the Federation Council.

It has been reported that Putin introduced proposals for other cabinet positions as well, but Shoigu is the only minister on that list who is being replaced.



Kremlin politics

Shoigu’s deputy, Timur Ivanov, was arrested last month on bribery charges and was ordered to remain in custody pending an official investigation.

The arrest of Ivanov was widely interpreted as an attack on Shoigu and a possible precursor of his dismissal, despite his close personal ties with Putin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday that Putin had decided to give the defence minister role to a civilian because the ministry should be “open to innovation and cutting-edge ideas.”

He also said the increasing defence budget “must fit into the country’s wider economy,” and Belousov – who until recently served as the first deputy prime minister – is the right fit for the job. 

  • Rare phone call between French, Russian defence ministers

Ukraine war

Shoigu has been widely seen as a key figure in Putin’s decision to send Russian troops into Ukraine.

Russia had expected the operation to quickly overwhelm Ukraine’s much smaller and less-equipped army and for Ukrainians to broadly welcome Russian troops.

Instead, the conflict has galvanized Ukraine to mount an intense defence, dealing the Russian army humiliating blows, including the retreat from an attempt to take the capital, Kyiv, and a counteroffensive that drove Moscow’s forces out of the Kharkiv region.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defence Ministry said Sunday that its forces captured four villages on the border in Kharkiv, in addition to five villages reported to have been seized on Saturday.

International report

Greek and Turkish leaders ready for diplomacy talks amid Aegean tensions

Issued on:

Greece and Turkey are stepping up rapprochement efforts, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visiting Turkey on Monday for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The trip is part of detente attempts after years of tensions centered on territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea. 

Monday’s meeting follows Erdogan’s visit to Athens last December, which was also part of mutual efforts towards bringing the countries closer.

“I think it’s one of the ways in which Turkey and Greece could add more new momentum to the diplomacy that has started,” Berkay Mandiraci, a senior Turkey analyst for the International Crisis Group, said.

“They’ve been actually engaged in quite intense diplomacy on different fronts for over a year now.”

Territorial disputes over the Aegean Sea – believed to have vast energy reserves – have brought the neighbours to the brink of war in the past.

Both nations backing rival sides over the divided island of Cyprus has also thwarted previous rapprochement endeavours.

Side-stepping issues 

Erdogan and Mitsotakis are predicted to avoid contentious subjects and are expected to take a one-step-at-a-time approach on areas of collaboration.

Confidence-building measures under discussion include increasing trade, further developments of a recently expanded road at the Turkey-Greece border and ensuring visa-free travel to Turkish citizens for eastern Aegean islands.

“I think they are all important in terms of people-to-people contact, building trust, increasing trade and also improving connectivity and energy cooperation,” Mandiraci said.

“Hopefully this will lead to the opening of a new round of negotiation on the Aegean dispute.”

Conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine are seen to provide further incentive to improving ties as analysts say both leaders realise that bilateral tensions will only exacerbate regional instability. 

“Look at what’s happening in Israel, in Gaza and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both sides want to limit their exposure to foreign risks,” said political scientist Ioannis Grigoriadis of Ankara’s Bilkent University.

“Greek-Turkish relations had gone through a very difficult period until five years ago, but ever since the earthquakes that hit south-eastern and southern Turkey, both sides have declared their willingness to reduce tensions.”

Greece was quick to help Turkey after last year’s earthquakes. But unless territorial disputes over the Aegean are addressed, the rapprochement is considered vulnerable – especially because both militaries are re-arming.

Common ground

“As long as they don’t tackle [the Aegean Sea dispute] and they don’t take the bull by the horns, things will go like a pendulum, backward and forwards,” said Alexis Heraclides of Panteion University in Athens.

“The Greek-Turkish relations in this region is the most complicated of relations. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for them not to make a U-turn and get back to the default position of confrontation and mutual acrimonious accusations.”

But there is cause for cautious optimism given that Erdogan and Mitsotakis renewed their electoral mandates last year.

“Both leaders are very strong domestically and this makes them less eager to listen to the sort of nationalist voices that exist in both countries that are more comfortable with a more aggressive attitude,” said Grigoriadis.

The Sound Kitchen

Wingèd Victory

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about Nike and the Olympic medals. There’s “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan”, 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!

ePOP News: The early bird gets the worm …

RFI’s ePOP video competition will open on 5 June. There will be more information in the coming days, but you can already start to plan your video.

The ePOP video competition is sponsored by the RFI department “Planète Radio”, whose mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. ePOP focuses on the environment, and how climate change has affected “ordinary” people …you are to create a three-minute video about climate change, the environment, pollution – told by the people it affects.

So put on your thinking caps and start planning your video!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

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

There’s Paris Perspective, Spotlight on France, 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 13 April, I asked you a question about an article Paul Myers wrote about the history of Olympic medals: “History of Olympic gold, silver and bronze glitters in Paris museum”. You were to send in the answer to this question: Who is Nike?

The answer is, to quote Paul’s article: “Between 1928 and 1968, the medals for the Summer Games bore Giuseppe Cassioli’s ‘Trionfo’ design of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, holding a winner’s crown with a depiction of the Colosseum in the background.”

So the answer is: Nike is the Greek goddess of victory – not only in athletics but in art, music, and war, too. She is usually portrayed with wings, in the motion of flight.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: What is your favorite “home remedy”?

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

The winners are:  Brand-new RFI Listeners Club member Shreyosi Dhali from West Bengal, India. Shreyosi is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Shreyosi!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are A. K. M. Nuruzzaman, the president of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh; Begum Firoza Hossain, a member of the RFI International DX Radio Listeners Club in West Bengal, India; RFI Listeners Club member Hans Verner Lollike from Hedehusene, Denmark, and RFI English listener Musfika Argina Banu from Naogaon, Bangladesh.

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: Movements III and IV from the String Quartet op 20 no 6 by Franz Joseph Haydn, performed by the Juilliard Quartet; traditional Greek music for the sirtaki and bouzouki; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Rectangle” for synthesizer and guitar by Jacno, with Jacno on the guitar.  

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 “EU’s Green Deal the target of online disinformation ahead of polls”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 10 June to enter this week’s quiz. The winners will be announced on the 15 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. 

Spotlight on France

Podcast: Pro-Palestinian student protests, French euroscepticism, Channel Tunnel

Issued on:

How student protests in support of Palestinians at Paris’s political science institute are different from those in the US, a look at France’s growing disaffection with Europe, and the long birth of the Channel Tunnel linking France to Britain – 30 years old this week. 

Student protests against Israel’s war in Gaza came to a head in the past week, when the president of the prestigious Sciences Po university called the police to forcibly clear out an occupation of the Paris campus’ main building. Some have called the protests an imitation of what is happening in the United States, but the scale, scope and politics are a bit different. Students talk about why they have joined the protest movement, their shock over reactions by government and police, and compare today’s mobilisation with student protests of the past. (Listen @0’00)

On Europe Day, and with only a month to go before EU elections, surveys are showing France is an increasingly eurosceptic nation – only a quarter of the population place their trust in Europe and its institutions, and even fewer are optimistic about the EU’s future. The disaffection with Europe comes as polls also show the far-right, populist National Rally is tipped to oustrip President Macron’s ruling party in the elections. Laetitia Langlois from Angers University examines what’s behind growing eurosceptism in France and what it means for President Emmanuel Macron. (Listen @16’30)

The Channel Tunnel turns 30 years old this week. Officially opened on 6 May 1994, it was the culmination of two centuries of dreaming about a land link between France and the UK. (Listen @9’30)

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 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.


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

Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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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.

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