rfi 2024-05-17 16:06:28



NEW CALEDONIA

Azerbaijan accused of stirring unrest in New Caledonia as tensions persist

France says it has “no doubt” that Azerbaijan is stirring tensions in New Caledonia despite the vast geographical and cultural distance between the oil-rich Caspian state and the French Pacific territory.

In what is the latest in a litany of tensions between Paris and Baku, France has directly accused Azerbaijan of being behind an alleged disinformation campaign that has fomented the riots in New Caledonia.

Azerbaijan rejects the accusation over this week’s unrest, which have led to the deaths of at least five people and rattled the government in Paris.

The riots in New Caledonia – the French overseas territory lying between Australia and Fiji – were sparked by moves to agree a new voting law that supporters of independence from France say discriminates against the indigenous Kanak population.

Paris has pointed to the sudden emergence of Azerbaijani flags alongside Kanak symbols in the protests. A group linked to the Baku authorities is openly backing separatists while condemning Paris.



“This isn’t a fantasy. It’s a reality,” Darmanin told television channel France 2 when asked if Azerbaijan, China and Russia were interfering in New Caledonia.

“I regret that some of the Caledonian pro-independence leaders have made a deal with Azerbaijan. It’s indisputable,” he alleged.

But he added: “Even if there are attempts at interference… France is sovereign on its own territory, and so much the better”.

  • France deploys troops, bans TikTok to quell deadly New Caledonia unrest

Historical enemies and allies

In images widely shared on social media, a reportage broadcast Wednesday on the French channel TF1 showed some pro-independence supporters wearing T-shirts adorned with the Azerbaijani flag.

Tensions between Paris and Baku have grown in the wake of the 2020 war and 2023 lightning offensive that Azerbaijan waged to regain control of its breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region from ethnic Armenian separatists.

France is a traditional ally of Christian Armenia, Azerbaijan’s neighbour and historic rival, and is also home to a large Armenian diaspora.

Darmanin said Azerbaijan – led since 2003 by President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father Heydar – was a “dictatorship”.

  • France, Russia stand on opposite sides of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

‘Baku Initiative Group’

Azerbaijan invited separatists from the French territories of Martinique, French Guiana, New Caledonia and French Polynesia to Baku for a conference in July 2023.

The meeting saw the creation of the “Baku Initiative Group“, whose stated aim is to support “French liberation and anti-colonialist movements”.

The group published a statement this week condemning the French parliament’s proposed change to New Caledonia’s constitution, which would allow outsiders who moved to the territory at least 10 years ago the right to vote in its elections.

Pro-independence forces say that would dilute the vote of Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population.

“We stand in solidarity with our Kanak friends and support their fair struggle,” the Baku Initiative Group said.



Olympics disinformation campaign

Last November, France linked Azerbaijani figures to a disinformation campaign aimed at tarnishing its reputation as host of the 2024 Olympic Games.

Baku also rejected those accusations.

Viginum – the French organisation responsible for combating foreign digital interference – warned of a cyberattack denigrating the Olympic Games, attributed to Azerbaijan.

The recent presence of #BoycottParis2024 in New Caledonia has also raised questions over Baku’s interference in the unrest. 


NEW CALEDONIA CRISIS

New Caledonia ‘calmer’ under French-imposed state of emergency

Noumea (AFP) – Hundreds of military and armed police reinforcements deployed Friday to the riot-scarred streets of France’s Pacific territory of New Caledonia, seeking to quell clashes that have left five people dead and hundreds injured.

Anger over France’s plan to impose new voting rules spiralled into the deadliest violence in four decades in the archipelago of 270,000 people, which lies between Australia and Fiji – 17,000 kilometres from Paris.

In Paris, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said about 1,000 extra security forces were being sent to New Caledonia – adding to the 1,700 already present – while authorities would push for “the harshest penalties for rioters and looters”.

Extra forces began landing Thursday at the French army-controlled La Tontouta International Airport and could be seen moving through the capital Noumea in red berets, toting rifles, gas masks and riot shields.

Using state of emergency powers, security forces had imposed “a calmer and more peaceful situation” around Noumea for the first time since the unrest started on Monday, according to the high commission representing the French state.

But there were “fires at a school and two companies”, it said in a statement Friday.

Smouldering buildings

On Friday morning, AFP journalists saw flames and smoke pouring from a shopping centre, smouldering buildings, dozens of burned-out cars and residents dragging the remnants of vehicles off the roads.

Hundreds of people lined up outside shops for desperately needed food and supplies.

The security reinforcements will impose order “where control is no longer assured”, High Commissioner of the Republic in New Caledonia Louis Le Franc told journalists in Noumea.

Security forces have placed 10 independence activists accused of organising violence under house arrest, according to authorities.

Two gendarmes have been killed: one shot in the head and a second shot in friendly fire, officials said.

Three other people – all Indigenous Kanaks – have also been killed: a 17-year-old and two men aged 20 and 36.

  • France deploys reinforcements to quell deadly New Caledonia riots

Burning tyres

One person has been arrested on suspicion of killing two Kanaks, French authorities said. Another homicide suspect turned himself in on Friday, they said.

About 200 among an estimated 5,000 “rioters” have been detained, officials said. 

Groups of Kanaks have set up roadblocks around the main island, waving the territory’s flag, burning tyres and blocking or slowing traffic.

Other mostly non-Indigenous residents, some armed, piled up garden chairs, crates and other belongings in neighbourhood barricades.

The violence is the worst seen in New Caledonia since violence involving independence radicals rocked the French overseas territory in the 1980s. 

TikTok has been banned in New Caledonia under the state of emergency because it was being used by the protesters, authorities said.

The social media giant called the decision “regrettable” in a statement and said that “no request or question, no demand to withdraw content, had been made by local authorities or the French government”.  

Between 80 and 90 percent of the grocery distribution network in Noumea – from shops to warehouses and wholesalers – has been “wiped out”, Chamber of Commerce and Industry president David Guyenne said. 

The chamber has said about 200 million euros of damage has been carried out.

  • France deploys troops, bans TikTok to quell deadly New Caledonia unrest

Voting rules

While New Caledonia has on three occasions rejected independence in referendums, the cause retains strong support among the Kanak people, whose ancestors have lived on the islands for thousands of years.

Colonised by France from the second half of the 19th century, it has special status with some local powers that have been transferred from Paris.

French lawmakers this week pushed forward plans to allow outsiders who moved to New Caledonia at least 10 years ago to vote in the territory’s elections.

Pro-independence forces say that would dilute the vote of Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population.

Voting reform must still be approved by a joint sitting of both houses of the French parliament.  

President Emmanuel Macron has said French lawmakers will vote to adopt the constitutional change by the end of June unless New Caledonia’s opposing sides can strike a new deal.

But a videoconference between Macron and New Caledonian lawmakers planned for Thursday was cancelled as “the different players did not want to speak to one another”, his office said.


SENEGAL – FRANCE

Senegal’s PM Sonko questions future of French military presence in Dakar

Senegalese Prime Minister Ousmane Sonko has raised the possibility of closing French military bases in the West African country in a wide-ranging speech that also touched on the euro-backed CFA franc currency, oil and gas deals and LGBTQ+ rights.

The newly elected Sonko, who gained power when his hand-picked presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye won a decisive victory in March, is known for criticising perceived overreach by France in its former colony.

France has about 350 troops stationed in Senegal.

“More than 60 years after our independence … we must question the reasons why the French army still benefits from several military bases in our country and the impact of this presence on our national sovereignty and strategic autonomy,” Sonko said.

He was speaking at an event at Dakar University on Thursday night alongside French hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is visiting the country.

Sonko said Senegal’s desire for autonomy over its security was incompatible with the lasting presence of foreign military bases.

While many countries had promised defence deals, this does not justify the fact that a third of the Dakar region was occupied by foreign garrisons, he added. 



  • Senegal’s Sonko welcomes hard-left Mélenchon in symbolic visit to Dakar
  • Senegal’s President Faye appoints Ousmane Sonko as prime minister

Sahel ‘brothers’

Neighbours Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have pushed out French troops and turned to Russia for help in fighting jihadist insurgencies on their territory.

They have also turned away from the West African bloc Ecowas, which condemned their coups, and formed their own alliance of Sahel states.

But Sonko had friendly words for them on Thursday.

“We will not let go of our brothers in the Sahel and we will do everything necessary to strengthen the ties,” he said.

Senegal, which shares the euro-pegged CFA franc currency with seven countries, would like a flexible currency pegged to at least two currencies to help absorb shocks and support export competitiveness, he added.

Sonko reiterated promises to renegotiate oil and gas contracts in Senegal, where production is due to begin this year.

‘Restraint’ on LGBTQ+ rights

He called on Western countries to show “restraint, respect, reciprocity and tolerance” on social matters including LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality.

Homosexuality had always existed in Senegal, he said, but the country had “managed” it and would continue to do so according to its socio-cultural realities.

“Senegal and many other African countries cannot accept any truth in legalising this phenomenon.”


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Postcard from Cannes #2: the rising potential of immersive cinema

The Cannes Film Festival has rolled out the red carpet for immersive cinema and, for the first time, its own competition. With evolving techniques in virtual, augmented and mixed reality, storytelling is being taken to a whole new level.

The Cineum, with its steely grey Guggenheim-like shape emerging on the horizon, is just 20 minutes from downtown Cannes in the beachside suburb of La Bocca.

Opening in time for the Cannes Film Festival in 2021, the cinema complex is this year home to the festival’s immersive cinema program – with 14 international interactive projects, eight of them running in a brand new competition.

A goal for organisers is convincing spectators that the immersive experience is not simply for gamers.

For creators like Romanian Ioana Mischie, the technology has exponential potential, not just due to its technological innovation, but also for its human elements.

The viewer can step into someone else’s shoes and “be immersed” in the story, allowing for a deeper message. 

Mischie’s Human Violins is a virtual reality multi-player project: several people wear goggles, connect to the experience and interact with each other.

Art in dark times

Mischie sees the technology not only only as a way forward but a form of bridging past and present.

Human Violins explores the story of Alma – a 15-year-old sent to a death camp with her Jewish family during the Second World War. She took only her precious violin with her, which can be “played again” thanks to VR handsets.

“What we did was archive a story of the past in Virtual Reality (VR) and it actually has turned out to be a manifesto for the future,” she says.

“It’s the power of art in very dark times. Immersive creations allow us to express humanity in completely new ways,” she explains, adding that the project originated as a tribute to her father, a violin music lover.

“It’s a playground, a room for innovation, a room for visionary thinking and ultimately a huge revolution,” Mischie says.

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

But challenges remain on how to sustain a rapidly evolving art form. For Jeremy Sahel, French co-producer of Human Violins, “the future is already the past”.

“In one year, the technology we used for this will need to be updated,” he tells RFI.

“Sometimes, we have to work for ten years after doing a piece to continue to make it available to the public. That’s the main difficulty for our industry.” 

Someone elses’ shoes

Nearby is Noire (Coloured) – an augmented reality, location-based experience by French collaborators Stéphane Foenkinos and Pierre-Alain Giraud based on French writer Tania de Montaigne’s essay.

Set in the United States’ 1950s segregated south, the audience follows 15-year-old Claudette Colvin who is thrown in jail after she refuses to give up her seat for a white woman on a bus.

The mixed reality project combines a variety of techniques. Unlike Human Violins, its goggles have clear lenses with real set décor visible alongside projected images.

“It’s as if you are traversing the film, you are able to walk through it as if the actors were ghosts,” visual supervisor Giraud explains, adding that the pre-filmed actors are projected as holograms.

As de Montaigne’s narrative evolves, landscapes and interiors materialise with lifelike characters appearing at an intimate distance. 

From sitting on the bus with Claudette to hearing her trial, the physical immersion makes for a poignant and memorable experience.

Joining body and mind

For Emil Dam Seidel from Denmark, immersive techniques are a way of exploring a cinematic experience by engaging the body alongside the mind.

Telos I, designed by Seidel with dancer Dorotea Saykaly, is a holographic, mixed reality film and dance installation projected through a glass pyramid in a dark room accompanied by a mysterious soundtrack.

  • Restored cut of century-old Napoleon epic to screen at Cannes Film Festival

“We’re looking at something that is fake but it feels real,” Seidel says.

“It’s a new beginning. We are taking cinema back to its roots and becoming experimental again, like the Lumière brothers.” 

Opening up

“We want to demystify the notion of immersive cinema being a purely individual pursuit for gamers,” says Elie Levasseur, project manager for the Immersive Competition, adding that it is also a “collective experience” for up to 25 people.

Levasseur says that immersive cinema will not replace classic cinema but develop parallel while borrowing from cinema, theatre, art and dance.

“The invention of photography didn’t wipe out painting,” he says.

“On the contrary, it forced it to explore new levels of expression.”


FRANCE – CRIME

French police shoot dead man trying to set fire to Rouen synagogue

French police on Friday killed an armed man who was trying to set fire to a synagogue in the northern city of Rouen. It’s unclear if the incident is terror-related.

“National police in Rouen neutralised early this morning an armed individual who clearly wanted to set fire to the city’s synagogue,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on X.

“I congratulate them on their responsiveness and their courage.”

Police sources said officers were told that smoke was rising from the synagogue, and came face to face with the man when they got there.

Media reports said the man was armed with a knife and an iron bar. He approached police, who then opened fire in an incident that took place about 6.45am.

There were no other victims. The man has yet to be identified.

Two investigations have been opened: one into the fire at the synagogue, and another into the circumstances of the man’s death.

  • French government launches consultations on fighting anti-Semitism
  • Macron promises France will be ‘uncompromising’ when it comes to anti-Semitism

Religious tensions

France has the largest Jewish community of any country after Israel and the United States, as well as Europe’s largest Muslim community.

Tensions and anger have grown in France over the Israel-Hamas war.

“Attempting to burn a synagogue is an attempt to intimidate all Jews,” Yonathan Arfi, the president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF), wrote on X.

“Once again, there is an attempt to impose a climate of terror on the Jews of our country.”

Elie Korchia, president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France, paid tribute to the police who she said had prevented another anti-Semitic tragedy.

“On the eve of Shabbat, an armed individual who wanted to set fire to the consistorial synagogue in Rouen was neutralised by police officers who were nearby,” he wrote.

France’s Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office told AFP it was assessing whether to take up the case.

(with AFP)


GAY RIGHTS

LGBTQ+ gains thwarted by enduring discrimination and violence

Despite legal advancements and greater openness about sexual orientation, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise in places including Europe – while elsewhere in the world many countries still criminalise same-sex relationships.

May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – and this year’s theme is No one left behind: Equality, freedom and justice for all, highlighting both the progress and ongoing challenges in protecting LGBTQ+ rights.

Significant strides have been made to protect sexual and gender minorities.

Since 2019, 11 countries have legalised marriage equality. Since 2017, 13 countries have removed laws criminalising LGBTQ+ sexuality.

But despite these advances, discrimination and stigma persist. Many countries still criminalise consensual same-sex relationships, with some imposing the death penalty. 



European spike

In a study described as “clear wake-up call”, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) this week found violence against sexual and gender minorities had risen across Europe over the last five years

Europe is facing a “paradox”, FRA director Sirpa Rautio said.

While people are more open about their sexual orientation compared to the last report in 2019, “alarming rates of violence tell a different story”. 

More than one in two LGBTQ+ people now talk openly about their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, as well as their sexual characteristics.

“But most of them still avoid holding their partner’s hand in public for fear of being attacked,” the FRA said.

This was the case for 60 percent of those surveyed in France, compared with an EU average of 53 percent.

  • France is less racist, sexist and homophobic than 20 years ago: report
  • Greece to legalise marriage and adoption by same-sex couples

The number of those who said they had been victims of violence rose to 14 percent, slightly more than in 2019, with transgender people being particularly targeted.

Harassment now affects more than half of those surveyed, compared with 37 percent previously.

The situation is particularly bad at schools, where two-thirds say they have been bullied.

But discrimination remains largely invisible, with only a low percentage reporting an incident to the authorities.

In Hungary, where LGBTQ+ rights have regressed in recent years, only a fraction of people feel the government fights prejudice and intolerance against them – the lowest percentage in the bloc.

Rights groups have also found a rise in violence against LGBTQ+ people in Greece, which legalised same-sex marriage in Febrary.

Despite this, there have been reports of victims of “unprovoked violence … usually homophobic and transphobic verbal attacks often resulting in physical violence”.

Argentina backsliding?

Argentina has been a Latin American leader in gay marriage and identity legislation, with a 2021 law allowing non-binary people to mark their gender with an “X.”

But a deadly hate crime in the capital Buenos Aires this month shocked many in a nation that prides itself on gay rights.

Three women died after a man threw a Molotov cocktail at the home of two lesbian couples, setting it ablaze.

Many fear a backsliding in their freedoms under libertarian President Javier Milei.

Since taking office in December, Milei has scrapped the national women’s affairs ministry and the anti-discrimination agency, and banned the use of gender-inclusive language in the military.



Ugandan hurdles

A year after Uganda enacted one of the world’s harshest anti-gay laws, many LGBTQ+ exiles are struggling to start over – facing a host of new hurdles alongside some of the same old threats that forced them out.

From Canada to Kenya to Germany, their new homelands have not proved the sanctuary that many LGBTQ+ Ugandans hoped.

Finding work, a home, safety and acceptance have proved elusive for many who felt forced out by Kampala’s tough anti-homosexuality laws.

Yet even this new half-life is better than the old one.

  • Uganda’s president signs harsh anti-gay bill into law

“Every queer person would love to leave Uganda,” said Henry Mukiibi, a bisexual man who swapped Uganda for neighbouring Kenya in late 2023 under fear of arrest for his activism.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law in May 2023, prompting international sanctions and widespread condemnation.

While Uganda has long criminalised gay sex, the new law was tougher yet – imposing the death penalty for “serial offenders” and a 20-year prison sentence for the “promotion of homosexuality”.

There has been a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ abuse, including cases of torture, rape and evictions, as ordinary citizens grew emboldened by the government stance.

The United Nations says close to 600 people have faced rights violations and abuses in the past year due to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.


ISRAEL – HAMAS WAR

Israel says South Africa genocide case at UN court ‘totally divorced’ from facts

The Hague (AFP) – Israel lashed out Friday at South Africa’s case before the UN’s top court, describing it as “totally divorced” from reality, as Pretoria urges judges to order a ceasefire in Gaza.

A top lawyer for Israel painted the South Africa case as a “mockery” of the UN Genocide Convention it is accused of breaching.

“South Africa presents the court for the fourth time with a picture that is completely divorced from the facts and circumstances,” Gilad Noam told the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Pretoria has petitioned the ICJ to order a stop to the Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah, which Israel says is key to eliminating Hamas militants.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday the ground assault on Rafah was a “critical” part of the army’s mission to destroy Hamas and prevent a repetition of the October 7 attack.

“The battle in Rafah is critical… It’s not just the rest of their battalions, it’s also like an oxygen line for them for escape and resupply,” he said.

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

Netanyahu ordered the Rafah offensive in defiance of US warnings that more than a million civilians sheltering there could be caught in the crossfire.

Friday in the Hague, Noam told the court Israel was “acutely aware” of civilians concentrated in Rafah.

“It is also acutely aware of Hamas efforts to use these civilians as a shield,” he said.

Noam said there had been no “large-scale” assault on Rafah but “specific and localised operations prefaced with evacuation efforts and support for humanitarian activities.”

A few dozen protesters rallied in support of Israel outside the Peace Palace seat of the ICJ, showing pictures of some of the hostages held by Hamas.

And the sitting was briefly interrupted as Israel was concluding its statement, with a woman heard shouting “liars” in the court.

‘New and horrific stage’

On Thursday, lawyers representing Pretoria presented judges a litany of allegations against Israel, including mass graves, torture and deliberate withholding of humanitarian aid.

South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people,” said top lawyer Vusimuzi Madonsela.

“Instead, Israel’s genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage,” added Madonsela.

But Noam said that South Africa’s accusations made a “mockery of the heinous charge of genocide.”

  • Israel qualifies for Eurovision final amid Gaza war protests

“Calling something a genocide again and again does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” he said.

“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide.”

It is the fourth time South Africa has appealed to the court, with Israel accusing them of abusing the procedure.

“If anyone should be told enough is enough, it should be South Africa, not Israel,” said Noam.

“At what point do we say ‘enough’ to South Africa’s repeated attempts to exploit the provisional measure procedure of this court in such a vile and cynical manner?”

‘Protection from genocide’

In a ruling that made headlines worldwide, the ICJ in January ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts and enable humanitarian aid to Gaza.

But the court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire and South Africa’s argument is that the situation on the ground – notably the operation in the crowded city of Rafah – requires fresh ICJ action.

The orders of the ICJ, which rules in disputes between states, are legally binding but it has little means to enforce them.

It has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, to no avail.

South Africa wants the ICJ to issue three emergency orders – “provisional measures” in court jargon – while it rules on the wider accusation that Israel is breaking the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

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

It wants the court to order Israel to “immediately” cease all military operations in Gaza, including in Rafah, enable humanitarian access and report back on its progress on achieving these orders.

The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the death of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Out of 252 people taken hostage that day, 128 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 38 who the army says are dead.

At least 35,303 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the war broke out, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.

Israeli military says 279 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27


INDIA ELECTIONS

Indian opposition accuses Modi of divisive rhetoric as religion sours polls

With India’s mega-election underway, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is holding onto hope of seeing his ruling Hindu nationalist BJP win a third consecutive term. But ahead of the resumption of voting Monday, the opposition has accused India’s election watchdog of not doing enough to stop Modi’s polarising claims.

The opposition India National Congress Party’s complaints to the Election Commission were triggered by 74-year-old Modi’s 21 April visit to Rajasthan state. 

During the trip, Modi accused the Congress Party, led by Rahul Gandhi, of plotting to redistribute wealth of Hindus among Muslims – India’s single largest religious minority – if it came to power.

“You are talking in your manifesto of snatching gold ornaments,” Modi told a rally in the state’s Banswara district.



Modi claimed that the Congress had said Muslims were “the rightful inheritors of the nation’s wealth”. 

Following the speech, Congress asked the electoral commission – that is charged with enforcing election rules to prevent parties promoting division based on religion, caste, or language in the multi-ethnic nation – to take action against Modi.

The party maintains his allegations were “divisive, malicious and targeted a particular religious community” and aimed to foment hostility.

His statements were “far worse than any other made by a sitting prime minister in the history of India,” the opposition also claimed. 

The party also insisted their 2024 poll manifesto did not mention stealing anything from Hindus.

  • India to rerun election at 11 places in Manipur after violence

Delayed response under fire

The watchdog did not issue any rulings against Modi’s party, but did ask for a response from BJP chief J.P. Nadda, to answer for the PM’s divisive speech.

They also sent a notice to the Congress in response to three complaints filed against them by the BJP.

The Congress hit back saying the commission was “setting a precedent of helpless inaction” by delaying a response to their complaint until 25 April.

In a letter sent last Friday, the opposition claimed that the commission’s choice not to penalise the BJP would further their use of religious symbols and rhetoric in campaigning – in violation of electoral laws. 

“The commission’s failure to take suitable action will further undermine its credibility,” said Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury, as other opposition groups joined the Congress’ criticisms. 

Yechury added that the commission’s inaction will lead to further corruption of an “environment for a free and fair poll”.

  • Nearly a billion people to vote as India kicks off colossal elections

‘State versus Muslim’ vote

Modi’s comments have marked a change in BJP’s election tact.

Previously, the party had focussed on talks of building a majestic Hindu temple, developing a muscular foreign policy, growing the economy and shrinking dependence on technology imports.

“It is not a Hindu versus Muslim election. It could be called a ‘State versus Muslim’ election,” the popular Frontline magazine said.

Monday will mark the beginning of the fifth leg of what is the worlds largest democratic election, with almost one billion eligible voters. 

Voting will be held in 49 seats in eight states including two in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir and three in states run by opposition parties at odds with Modi’s Hindu nationalists.

Since the 19 April start of the staggered balloting, Indians have voted in 379 constituencies, with 163 seats remaining. 

Final election results are expected on 4 June.


FRANCE

French court confiscates Bordeaux wine chateaux from Chinese magnate

A French court ruled to confiscate nine Bordeaux wine country chateaux acquired by a Chinese tycoon convicted of laundering Chinese government funds.

The sentenced 63-year-old Naijie Qu is a wealthy businessman, Bordeaux wine enthusiasist and head of Haichang Group, a trading and shipping conglomerate with interests in property, tourism and agriculture based in the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian.  

Haichang was one of the most ambitious investors in a Chinese buying spree of France’s most famous wine-growing regions in the early 2010s.

But the millionaire’s adventure came to an end on Wednesday before the Paris Criminal Court who sentenced the Chinese entrepreneur to a suspended three-year jail term with a fine of one million euros.

The fine was 400,000 euros more than requested by prosecutors, who had asked for a four-year suspended jail term.

The court also ordered the confiscation of debts and nine of Qu’s chateaux, totalling 35.5 million euros.

His employee, 54-year-old Jian Liu, was also sentenced to eighteen months in prison and fined 50,000 euros for fraud related charges. 

Fraud and forgery

French police seized the estates in 2018 after finding evidence of tax fraud and use of forged documents, including papers to obtain a 30-million-euro loan from the Chinese bank ICBC’s branch in Paris.

Qu’s twenty plus Bordeaux chateaux, which cost him some 60 million euros, were put in the name of his wife in Hong Kong via a series of elaborately named shell companies in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.

China’s National Audit Office has said that Haichang was granted public money by state authorities to buy foreign technology but instead purchased vineyards in France.

It’s a landmark case for France with the third largest penalty for “ill-gotten gains” after the convictions of Teodorin Obiang, the son of the Guinean president, and Rifaat el-Assad, uncle of the Syrian president.

China is the leading export location for Bordeaux wines. In 2021, for every five bottles of Bordeaux, one was sold to China

Spotlight on Africa

South Africa’s 2024 Elections: young voters and the legacy of apartheid

Issued on:

South Africa is holding general and provincial elections on 29 May. In this episode of Spotlight on Africa, we look at young people and the elections and how  the country has changed since the end of apartheid in 1994.  

First, we talked to the director of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, Ivor Ichikowitz, who outlines the impact of corruption in South Africa and why the youth vote will be important. 

We also talked to Mary Paccard and Vincent Jackson, two South Africans living in France, who discuss how and why they campaigned for the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, from abroad. 


Episode mixed by Vincent Pora.

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 


France – Belgium

France’s Le Pen sues Belgian far-right party to stop using her image

Far-right French leader Marine Le Pen has sued a Belgian party to stop it using her face on election pamphlets to drum up votes.

Le Pen never gave permission for her image to be used by Belgium’s extreme-right Chez Nous (Our Home) party, her Belgian lawyer Ghislain Dubois said on Wednesday.

Two letters ordering Chez Nous to stop and a court complaint asking for daily fines to be imposed were needed before the party complied, he added.

The head of Chez Nous, Jerome Munier, confirmed the party had withdrawn the Le Pen pamphlets and told members to avoid using images subject to copyright.

He expressed regret that some members had distributed pamphlets bearing Le Pen’s face.

Belgium national elections

Chez Nous, founded in 2021, is fielding candidates in Belgium‘s 9 June national elections. The party is active in the country’s southern, French-speaking region.

Le Pen has handed over the reins of the National Rally (RN) party to 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, but remains a presidential hopeful for the party.

The daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen has strived to remake both her image and that of her party to make them more acceptable to mainstream French voters.

Voter surveys put it ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s party in EU elections also to be held on 9 June in France.

(with AFP)


MAYOTTE – HEALTH

Residents of crisis-hit Mayotte warned to avoid ‘defective’ bottled water

People in the French overseas department of Mayotte battling a dual water crisis and cholera epidemic have been warned not to drink a batch of “defective” bottled water imported to the Indian Ocean archipelago.  

Health authorities said water bottles from the Cristaline Elena brand with the M1 03/11/25 batch number “smelled of hydrocarbons” and were not safe for consumption. 

The number of bottles affected was not revealed, but they are believed to have been distributed to several supermarkets. 

An earlier batch of Cristaline bottles was deemed unfit for consumption last January. 

Access to drinking water has been severely disrupted on Mayotte since September – with running tap water to homes cut off one day out of every three.

Devastating drought 

France’s poorest department, Mayotte is facing its worst drought since 1997. Its water supply depends largely on rainwater. 

The lack of rain has been aggravated by poor infrastructure and investment in a territory that is also under pressure from illegal immigration from the neighbouring Comoros. 

  • Toddler dies as France’s Mayotte seeks to contain cholera epidemic
  • How overseas Mayotte became ‘a department apart’ within France

Making things worse is a recent cholera epidemic that claimed its first life, a three-year-old boy, last week. 

Many inhabitants of live in unsanitary conditions with very limited access to water. 

In an interview with daily Le Parisien, former Mayotte health director Dominique Voynet said cholera was largely being spread by drinking water supplies and sanitation networks that have been “failing in Mayotte for years”. 

The latest figures show at least 76 people have been infected by cholera since March. 


Slovakia

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Fico expected to survive after being shot

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s condition has stabilised overnight but is still “very serious”, the deputy prime minister said on Thursday – a day after Fico was shot multiple times.

Surgeons spent hours in the operating theatre overnight, battling to save the 59-year-old leader after the attack, which has been condemned around the world.

“During the night doctors managed to stabilise the patient’s condition,” deputy prime minister Robert Kalinak told reporters gathered at the hospital where the Slovak premier was being treated.

“Unfortunately, the condition is still very serious as the injuries are complicated,” added Kalinak, who is also the defence minister and Fico’s close ally hailing from his Smer-SD party.

The director of the Banska Bystrica hospital, where the Slovak premier was transported after sustaining gunshot wounds, said Fico underwent a five-hour surgery carried out by two teams.

“He will stay at the intensive care unit,” Miriam Lapunikova said.

Shock attack

Footage of events just after the shooting showed security agents grabbing a wounded Fico from the ground and hustling him into a black car. Other police handcuffed a man on the pavement nearby.

Police detained a suspect at the site of the attack in Handlova, President Zuzana Caputova told reporters.

“I am shocked, we are all shocked by the terrible and heinous attack,” she added.

  • Macron joins global leaders in condemning gun attack on Slovakian prime minister
  • Slovakia announces end of military aid to Ukraine

Kalinak said earlier the attack was a political assault. “It’s absolutely clear, and we have to react on that.”

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

Suspect not named

Media reported that the suspected gunman was a 71-year-old writer, but police have not named any suspects.

The alleged suspect’s son told Slovak news site aktuality.sk he had “absolutely no idea what father was thinking, what he was planning, why it happened”.

Analyst Grigorij Meseznikov said “there has been no (previous) attack on any minister or prime minister in Slovakia.”

“I only remember the case of former minister of economy Jan Ducky who was shot dead in 1999,” he added. “But he had not been politically active anymore when he was killed.”

World leaders immediately condemned the attack, including US President Joe Biden who said he and the first lady “are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia.”

(with AFP)


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.


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.”


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.


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.

Spotlight on Africa

South Africa’s 2024 Elections: young voters and the legacy of apartheid

Issued on:

South Africa is holding general and provincial elections on 29 May. In this episode of Spotlight on Africa, we look at young people and the elections and how  the country has changed since the end of apartheid in 1994.  

First, we talked to the director of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, Ivor Ichikowitz, who outlines the impact of corruption in South Africa and why the youth vote will be important. 

We also talked to Mary Paccard and Vincent Jackson, two South Africans living in France, who discuss how and why they campaigned for the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, from abroad. 


Episode mixed by Vincent Pora.

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 

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. 


Sponsored content

Presented by

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.


Sponsored content

Presented by

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

Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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