rfi 2024-05-22 01:16:17



NEW CALEDONIA

France’s Macron travels to New Caledonia to ‘resume dialogue’ after deadly riots

French President Emmanuel Macron is making a surprise trip to New Caledonia, the French Pacific territory that has been gripped by days of deadly violence following protests from the indigenous Kanak population who have long sought independence from Paris.

Speaking this Tuesday, government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot announced, “[Macron] will go there tonight,” following a cabinet meeting where the president said he had decided to make the more than 33,000-kilometere round trip himself to the archipelago east of Australia.

In just over a week, at least six people have been killed – including two gendarmes – and hundreds of others injured in New Caledonia amid armed clashes, looting and arson, raising questions about Macron’s handling of France’s colonial legacy.



For decades, tensions have flared between indigenous Kanaks who seek independence for the archipelago of 270,000 people, and descendants of colonisers and colonists who want to remain part of France.

The latest unrest erupted on 13 May as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French Constitution to make changes to New Caledonia voter lists.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-French politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalise Kanaks who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

  • France hails ‘progress’ on appeasing protest-hit New Caledonia
  • Key dates in New Caledonia’s history

Destruction in Nouméa

Last Wednesday, French authorities declared a 12-day minimum state of emergency on the island and rushed in 1,000 reinforcements to bolster security forces that lost control of parts of the capital, Nouméa.

“Faced with the outbreak of violence, the priority is the return of order to allow dialogue to resume in New Caledonia,” Thevenot, the government spokeswoman, said. “We are clear: Much remains to be done before a return to normal. The government is fully mobilised.”

She gave no details about how long Macron will stay or who he will meet.

But the French president will see first hand the destruction that has turned parts of Nouméa into no-go zones, with buildings torched, shops pillaged and barricades erected both by pro-independence supporters – some armed – and people banding together to protect livelihoods and homes.

With police given emergency powers and a 6pm to 6am curfew in effect, the authorities say security forces are starting to contain unrest.

They announced further 22 arrests on Tuesday, bringing the total number to almost 300.


French Pacific

Deadly unrest in New Caledonia tied to old colonial wounds

New Caledonia, the French overseas territory in the southwest Pacific, has been rocked by its most violent clashes since the 1980s. While the unrest was triggered by constitutional changes to the voting system, it also highlights frustrations over the long process of decolonisation.

Deadly rioting broke out in the New Caledonian capital, Noumea, on 13 May as Paris prepared to vote on imposing new rules that could give voting rights to tens of thousands of non-indigenous residents.

Under legislation agreed as part of the 1998 Noumea Accord, which paved the way for decolonisation, the right to vote in provincial elections and local referendums was limited to natives and those who had arrived on the archipelago before 1998, along with their children.

The idea was to give greater representation to the indigenous Kanaks, who had gradually become a minority population following waves of European migration.

Kanaks now make up around 44 percent of the territory’s 270,000 inhabitants. Thirty-four percent are Europeans (mostly French), with the rest made up of other minority groups including Wallisians and Tahitians.

  • Key dates in New Caledonia’s history

Excluded from voting

The voting restrictions effectively excluded new arrivals to the territory and those born there after 1998 – around 20 percent of the current population.

Paris has come to view this as undemocratic. On 14 May a majority of lawmakers, mainly from the right and far right, approved a constitutional amendment to “unfreeze” the electoral roll, so it would include people who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years.

“It amounts to about 25,000 more citizens on the electoral roll, mainly French from the mainland,” explains Isabelle Merle, a historian of colonialism specialising in New Caledonia.

While pro-independence parties have agreed to extending provincial election voting rights to those born in the territory, they fear allowing recent arrivals to vote will shrink their political representation in local institutions.

“It’s a very big change because it would completely modify the balance in the country,” Merle told RFI, adding that supporters of independence risked becoming a minority within the government.

In provincial elections later this year, voters will choose the elected representatives of the country’s three provincial assemblies: the Loyalty Islands, South and North.

There’s a lot at stake. The number of seats in the assemblies impacts the distribution of seats in the territory’s parliament (Congress), which in turn appoints the president of the New Caledonian government.

  • France mulls New Caledonia electoral reform ahead of key vote

Fragile majority

New Caledonia became a French overseas territory in 1946 and has limited autonomy within the French legal system.

The French president is the head of state. Since 2021 it has its own head of government.

Though Paris remains in charge of big portfolios such as defence, internal security, immigration and foreign policy, many powers and responsibilities have been devolved over the last 30 years. 

Congress has power over taxation, labour law, social welfare and health, among others.

New Caledonia has been on the UN decolonisation list since 1986, based on the Kanak people’s internationally recognised right to self-determination, and its institutions will play an important role in achieving that goal.

But while pro-independence politicians now hold a majority in the government with six out of 11 members, “it’s a fragile majority”, Merle points out.

  • New Caledonia’s independence party considers expansion of electorate

Contested referendum

The proposed constitutional reform follows three referendums on independence, agreed as part of the 1998 Noumea Accord.

In all three – in 2018, 2020 and 2021 – the electorate chose to remain part of France.

But the last referendum, marked by a record low turnout of just 44 percent, was boycotted by the main pro-independence group, the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), which had failed to persuade Paris to postpone the vote due to the Covid pandemic.

FLNKS has since refused to acknowledge the results, and it maintains the Noumea Accord has not gone to term.

Multiple attempts have been made to get all pro-independence and pro-France local political parties around the same table, but with little success.

The presidents of four other overseas territories – Reunion Island, Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana – have made a joint call for the voting reform to be dropped.

The text still has to be approved by a joint session of both houses of parliament, held in Versailles, to become law.

President Emmanuel Macron has agreed to delay that session, but said a new agreement must be reached by June at latest.

  • Macron urges New Caledonia to build future after independence vote

Ongoing inequality

While more autonomy has been achieved since the Noumea Accord, deep socio-economic differences remain.

Young Kanaks remain “very marginalised” compared to those of European descent, Mathias Chauchat, a professor and advisor to the FLNKS, told French public radio.

Forty-six percent of Kanaks end their studies at junior high school level compared to 11 percent of the territory’s Europeans. They see those arriving from mainland France as “progressively taking their jobs”, said Chauchat.

Young people have been at the forefront of this month’s deadly rioting – picking up on protests in Noumea led by the hardline lobby group Coordination Unit for Actions on the Ground (CCAT).

The change to voting rights, unilaterally decided by lawmakers in Paris, led to “an explosion of violence among very young people, the overflowing of a movement that up until now was contained”, said Merle.

Economic factors have also played a role in the violent protests. New Caledonia is the world’s third-largest nickel miner but a crisis in the sector has hit residents hard, with one in five living under the poverty threshold.

  • Why are talks between Paris and New Caledonia’s rival groups deadlocked?

‘Unique’ colonial history

Concerns over being voted out of their territory’s decision-making process come against a background of “extremely painful” colonisation, she added.

The archipelago of 140 islands, some 17,000 kilometres from Paris, was annexed by France in 1853 and used as a penal colony for political prisoners in the second half of the 19th century.

During the so-called “Grand Cantonnement” operations between 1897 and 1903, indigenous Kanaks were displaced and consigned to reservations to make way for settlers.

“New Caledonia has a unique colonial history, where the strategy of the state from 1853 was to deliberately introduce wave upon wave of French migrants to populate the territory,” Merle said.

“They tried to transform it into a ‘little Austral France’ as they called it in the 19th century.”

Ongoing social inequalities continue to fuel that sense of injustice.

“There’s a huge amount of anger. I was surprised by the rapidity with which it spread,” Merle said in an interview referring to the rioting.

“It’s down to a major political failure … after 30 years of attempting to come out of a colonial situation in a positive way.” 


Justice

Senior Syrian officials on trial in France for war crimes

Three Syrian officials go on trial Tuesday in a Paris court for crimes linked to the disappearance and death of two French-Syrian men—the first trial of high-ranking officials of the Syrian regime over war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the country’s civil war.

Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, former director of the Air Force intelligence service, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations for the service, will be tried in absentia at the Paris Criminal Court.

All subject to international arrest warrants, they are accused of being involved in the disappearance and death of Mazen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, who were arrested in Syria by Airforce Intelligence agents in November 2013 and later died in custody.

Mamlouk serves as a security adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and will be the first serving Syrian official will go on trial for alleged war crimes.

Arrest and death

When they were arrested in November 2013, Patrick Dabbagh was an arts and humanities student at the University of Damascus, and his father, Mazzen, worked as a senior education adviser at the French high school in Damascus.

Five years later Syrian authorities issued death certificates, stating that Patrick died on 21 January 2014, and Mazzen died on 25 November 2017, without specifying the cause of death.

In documents provided to the court, investigating judges said that it was “sufficiently established” that the two men “like thousands of detainees of the Air Force intelligence suffered torture of such intensity that they died”.

Historic trial

Syria’s government and Assad have rejected accusations that they have committed mass killings and torture in the war that has left hundreds of thousands dead since 2011.

Members of the government are not prosecuted in Syria, where critics say the courts serve the president’s interests.

Trials of Syrians have been held in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, but the French trial is the first time high-ranking officials close to Assad will go on trial.

The trial is scheduled to last four days.

None of the accused will be present, but the Dabbagh family and rights campaigners associated with the case say it will support future cases, and give hope for the families of more than 100,000 people who have disappeared in Syria since the start of the conflict.

(with newswires)


2024 PARALYMPIC GAMES

Ad campaign seeks to boost sales for Paris Paralympics

Organisers of the Paris Paralympics this week launched an advertising campaign to boost sales for the Games given that only 300,000 tickets have been purchased so far by members of the public.

One hundred days before the start of the event, around 900,000 tickets – a third of the total – have been sold.

Figures from the organising committee (Cojo) show that some 600,000 of those were purchased by French public sector organisations and the Olympic and Paralympic committees.

The sales data has barely changed since the beginning of the year, even though seats are priced at as little as €15 – including at the most prestigious locations around the French capital.

“We want to say to everyone, French people first: it’s time to mobilise around the Paralympics,” said Julie Mathikine, brand director for Paris 2024.

“It’s a shock advertising campaign, to create a reaction, to make people understand and realise.”



Personalising the Games

The billboard and online campaign will feature several leading French Paralympic athletes with the tag line: “We aren’t missing anything, only you.”

Michael Aloisio, Paris 2024 deputy director general, acknowledged “that French people don’t know our Paralympic athletes. We need to speak about them, to personalise the event”.

But he and others stressed that Paris 2024 was no different from the London Games in 2012, where around 40 percent of Paralympic ticket sales occurred after the end of the Olympics.

Although ticket sales might be low, organisers have sold the broadcasting rights for the 22-sport Paralympics to a record 160 nations and territories.

  • Final stretch to Paris Paralympics as 100-day countdown begins
  • Crowds greet Olympic torch travelling through France under tight security

Some of the best-known Paralympians are set to appear in Paris including quadruple amputee Bebe Vio, an Italian fencer, American “armless archer” Matt Stutzman and “blade jumper” Markus Rehm.

The sporting events will take place at the same stadiums that will be used during the Olympics, including temporary venues at the Eiffel Tower, Invalides, the Grand Palais and Versailles Palace.

Organisers of the 2024 Paris Games are promoting a new, lower impact model for the Olympics, with only two new sports venues and the athletes’ village built from scratch.

The Paris Paralympics will run from 28 August to 8 September.

(with AFP)


FRANCE – STRIKES

Paris train drivers join strike action over Olympic bonuses

One in five suburban Paris trains is running on Tuesday as drivers strike to demand bonuses for operating extended rail services during the upcoming Paris Olympics. They’re the latest to down tools as workers from a number of sectors seek compensation for doing extra work while the Games take place.

Negotiations are still underway between rail unions and train operator SNCF.

“We thought the talks were dragging on a bit and wanted to provoke something,” said Fabien Villedieu of the SUD-Rail union.

A final meeting is set for Wednesday, the day after the strike.

“We have a heavy workload with 4,500 additional trains in August, so a whole range of our colleagues won’t be able to go on holiday,” Villedieu said. 

Transport operator RATP, which runs metro and bus services inside Paris, has already secured an average €1,000 bonus for those working during the Games.

The most in-demand train and bus drivers will be eligible for bonuses of up to €2,500.

Traffic will be “very severely disrupted” on Tuesday on RER and suburban trains, SNCF said, with certain lines suspended outside peak hours.

Paris regional network, Transilien, has urged people to work from home or find alternate transport.

  • French police rally to demand better pay during Paris Olympics

Multiple strike threats

The months leading up to the Olympics have already been marked by strikes and threats of industrial action during the Games.

Paris garbage collectors last week won a pay rise on top of an Olympic bonus, heading off multiple days of walkouts flagged for later in May and over the period of the Games.

A French police trade union is threatening to disrupt the Olympics torch relay ahead of the start of the Games in July unless officers are given bonuses.

And staff at Paris airports been called out on strike on Tuesday to demand, among other things, “uniform bonuses” for employees mobilised during the Olympics.

(with newswires)


GERMANY – COUP

Far-right ‘Reichsbürger’ coup trial opens in Germany

The alleged leaders of a suspected far-right plot to topple the German government are on trial in Frankfurt this Tuesday, opening the most prominent proceedings in a case that shocked the country in late 2022.

Nine defendants are facing judges at a special temporary courthouse built to accommodate the large number of defendants, lawyers and media dealing with the case.

About 260 witnesses are expected at a trial that the Frankfurt state court expects to extend well into 2025, one of three related trials that in total involve more than two dozen suspects.

The defendants include the highest-profile suspects in the so-called “Reichsbürger” plot, among them Heinrich XIII Prince Reuss, whom the group allegedly planned to install as Germany’s provisional new leader; Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a judge and former lawmaker with the far-right Alternative for Germany party; and former German military officers. 



‘Reichsbürger’ conspiracy movement

Most of them are charged with belonging to a terrorist organization that was founded in July 2021 with the aim of “doing away by force with the existing state order in Germany,” and also with “preparation of high treasonous undertaking.”

Reuss and another suspect, a former paratrooper, are alleged to have been the group’s ringleaders.

Prosecutors have said that the accused believed in a “conglomerate of conspiracy myths,” including Reichsbürger (Reich Citizens) and QAnon ideology, and were convinced that Germany is ruled by a so-called “deep state”.

Adherents of the Reichsbürger movement reject Germany’s post-war constitution and have called for bringing down the government, while QAnon is a global conspiracy theory with roots in the United States.

According to prosecutors, the group planned to storm into the parliament building in Berlin and arrest lawmakers.

It allegedly intended to negotiate a post-coup order primarily with Russia, as one of the allied victors of World War II.

  • German police dismantle far-right cell plotting to overthrow state

Russian connections

The plotters allegedly had some €500,000 in funding and access to an arsenal including 380 firearms and nearly 350 weapons that could be used for stabbing, as well as equipment such as bulletproof vests and handcuffs.

Federal prosecutors say they had drawn up several “lists of enemies” to be used in the takeover of regional and local authorities, and that the group’s members were “aware the planned takeover of power would be linked with the killing of people”.

Prosecutors say that Reuss tried to contact Russian officials in 2022 to win Russia’s support for the plan. It remains unclear whether Russia responded.

The defendants in Frankfurt include a Russian woman accused of supporting a terrorist organisation, in part by allegedly setting up a contact with the Russian consulate in Leipzig and accompanying Reuss there.

Three trials 

The Frankfurt trial – while the most prominent – is the second of three trials focusing on the plot to open.

They involve a total of 26 suspects. Originally there were 27, but one man charged in Frankfurt died before the trial.

A trial of nine people in Stuttgart that began at the end of April is focusing on the so-called “military wing” of the plot, which prosecutors say was tasked with implementing the plans drawn up by the alleged leaders.

A third trial, opening in Munich on June 18, will feature the other eight suspects.

The alleged coup plot came to light with a slew of arrests in December 2022, but officials had long warned that far-right extremists pose the biggest threat to Germany’s domestic security. 

That threat was highlighted by the killing of a regional politician and an attempted attack on a synagogue in 2019.

A year later, far-right extremists taking part in a protest against pandemic restrictions tried and failed to enter the parliament building in Berlin.

  • Is the EU facing a ‘New Right’ surge in Europe’s 2024 elections?

Rise of the far-right

In a separate case, five people went on trial in Koblenz a year ago over an alleged plot by a group calling itself “United Patriots” – which prosecutors say also is linked to the Reichsbürger movement – to launch a far-right coup and kidnap Germany’s health minister. 

In January, a report that extremists met to discuss the deportation of millions of immigrants, including some with German citizenship, triggered mass protests against the rise of the far-right. 

Some members of Alternative for Germany reportedly attended the meeting. The party, which has enjoyed strong support over the past year, sought to distance itself from the event while also decrying the reporting of it. 

The trials come against the backdrop of key European parliamentary elections in June, in which far-right parties across the bloc are expected to make significant gains. 


Israel – Hamas

France backs ICC after arrest warrant for Israeli, Hamas leaders

France’s Foreign Ministry has come out in support of the International Criminal Court and its issuing of arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza and in Israel.

“France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and its fight against impunity in all situations,” the Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement published Monday night, following the ICC’s announcement.

Earlier the ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said he had issued arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders—Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh—for crimes committed in Israel and Gaza on 7 October 2023 and after, including “extermination”, “taking hostages” and “rape and other acts of sexual violence”.

Khan also issued warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for crimes in Gaza following Hamas’ 7 October attack, including “starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”, “intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population” and “extermination and/or murder”.

The French Foreign Ministry said it “has condemned, as of 7 October, the anti-Semitic massacres perpetuated by Hamas. This terrorist group claimed the barbaric attacks directed at civilians, accompanied by acts of torture and sexual violence that they themselves documented”.

On Israel, “France has been raising the alarm for many months on the imperative for the strict respect of international humanitarian law, notably on the unacceptable nature of civilian losses in the Gaza strip and an insufficient humanitarian access.”

The United States objected to the ICC’s putting Israel and Hamas in the same warrant.

US President Joe Biden called the move “outrageous”, saying there was “no equivalence” between Israel and Hamas.

Italy’s foreign minister agreed that it was was “unacceptable” to equate the Israeli democratic government with Hamas.

Netanyahu said Khan has created a “twisted and false moral equivalence” between Israel and Hamas, calling the warrants “a moral outrage of historic proportions”.

In a video released by his office Tuesday, Netanyahu called Khan ”one of the “great anti-Semites in modern times,” like the judges in Nazi Germany who denied Jews basic rights and enabled the Holocaust, and said the decision to issue the warrants was “callously pouring gasoline on the fires of anti-Semitism that are raging around the world”.

A Hamas representative denounced the arrest warrants against its leaders, saying it was “equating the victim with the executioner”, and demanded the withdrawal of the request.

In his warrant, Khan does not make any direct comparisons between Israel and Hamas, except to say they have both committed crimes.

A panel of three judges will determine whether or not to issue the arrest warrants after considering the prosecutor’s evidence.

If the warrants are issued, the court—which includes nearly all countries of the European Union—could be put in a diplomatically difficult position.

Israel is not a member, so Netanyahu and Gallant would not face any immediate risk of prosecution.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he would work with world leaders to ensure that the warrants are not enforced.

But Khan’s announcement deepens Israel’s isolation as it continues its offensive in Gaza, and the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

(with newswires)


G7 – UKRAINE

G7 mulls tapping frozen Russian funds for €30bn loan to Ukraine

Finance ministers from the Group of Seven major democracies meeting in Italy this week are set to discuss a European Union plan to use the income from frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine’s war effort.

This Thursday’s meeting of finance ministers in the northern Italian town of Stresa is set to do the groundwork for enabling G7 heads of government to reach a final decision on using frozen Russian funds at a summit in southern Italy in June.

The G7 froze around €270 billion worth of financial assets soon after Moscow’s attack on its neighbour in February 2022.

Since then, the European Union and other G7 countries have debated whether and how to use the funds to help Ukraine – specifically a €30 billion loan to Kyiv

The G7 comprises the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.

The United States has proposed seizing the assets in their entirety, but Europe has balked, citing risks to the euro currency and potential legal repercussions.

The G7 is, however, expected to support the EU’s line to use the extraordinary revenues from the frozen Russian assets to the benefit of Ukraine.



Question of legality 

The talks will be focused on using income from the assets – not the assets themselves – and any decision must have the backing of the EU and a solid legal basis.

The frozen assets are immobilised and can’t be accessed by Moscow – but they still belong to Russia.

While governments can generally freeze property without difficulty, turning that property into forfeited assets that can be sold for the benefit of Ukraine requires an extra layer of judicial procedure, including a legal basis and adjudication in a court.

In the face of European resistance, Washington has more recently proposed using the assets as collateral to provide loans for Ukraine.

For more than a year, officials from multiple countries have debated the legality of confiscating the money and sending it to Ukraine. 

  • France and EU support for Ukraine ‘will not waver’, Macron vows

The European Union already has begun to set aside windfall profits generated from frozen Russian central bank assets, with the bloc estimating the interest on that money could provide around €3 billion each year.

In March, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters: “The Russians will not be very happy. The amount of money – 3 billion per year – is not extraordinary, but it is not negligible”.



EU leaders ‘hesitant’

Still, some European leaders have expressed hesitation about moving forward with a plan to formally seize Russia’s assets in Europe. 

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said at a Council on Foreign Relations event earlier this month that confiscating Russian assets “is something that needs to be looked at very carefully” and could “start breaking the international legal order.”

The reaction from G7 finance ministries so far has been cautious. 

The French Finance Ministry said in a statement: “France supports and shares the fact that more resources are needed for Ukraine. We have taken note of the US proposal and we will work together technically at the G7 level and at the European level to determine the best option.”

  • Macron salutes Zelensky’s G7 tour as Biden pledges more military aid for Ukraine

Meanwhile, Japan’s Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said last Friday that any proposals to use the frozen Russian assets must comply with international law.

The US Treasury reportedly maintains there is a unified goal among the G7 countries to provide more money to Ukraine, and to demonstrate to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he cannot simply “wait out our coalition”.

The proposal to use revenue from Russian assets as collateral for a bond is still on the table – and G7 ministers will discuss its feasibility – but any final decision will be up to G7 leaders.


US – KENYA

Haiti, trade top agenda as Kenya’s Ruto makes historic state visit to US

Kenyan President William Ruto is this week making the first state visit to the US by an African leader in 15 years. The crisis in Haiti, where Kenya has pledged troops to quel gang violence, is topping the agenda – as are trade and security partnerships.

Ruto will meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on Thursday for talks that will largely focus on Kenya’s plan to lead a UN-backed multinational mission to restore order in Haiti. 

Nairobi has offered to send 1,000 military personnel. While several other countries have pledged forces, the US and other major nations have ruled out putting their own troops on the ground.

A first contingent of Kenyan police is expected to make the 12,000-kilometre journey to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince this week – despite a fresh court challenge in Nairobi against the deployment.



Money for Haiti mission

Ruto has defended what he calls a “mission for humanity” in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation, which has suffered from poverty, political instability and natural disasters for decades.

But a new lawsuit filed last week is seeking to hold Ruto’s government in contempt for “blatantly” ignoring a January court order prohibiting the deployment as unconstitutional and illegal.

Funding could also prove a stumbling block for the mission.

The US is the largest backer of the force, pledging more than $300 million since the Haiti crisis intensified several years ago, but other countries have been slow to offer support. 

Ruto will demand “the US do more to rally financial support for the UN basket fund”, said Meron Elias, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“Kenya also wants the US to commit greater backing to stemming the flow of arms into Haiti, including from US ports in Florida.”

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

Trade deal  

Having begun his US visit in Atlanta on Monday, Ruto is due to meet a congressional delegation on Wednesday to call for the extension of a free trade agreement – the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – which eliminates import tariffs on goods from eligible African nations.

The pact expires in 2025, prompting African leaders to seek clarity on any future arrangements.

Most of Kenya’s imports are from China – also one of its biggest bilateral creditors – and Washington has been keen to eat into Beijing’s clout in the region. 

Kenya began talks with the United States on a free trade agreement in 2020 but nothing has been signed.

  • Kenyan court says police cannot deploy to Haiti mission

‘Extremely disappointed’

A request for Ruto to address a joint session of Congress fell through after Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson declined to extend an invitation.

Last week, Democrats accused Johnson of disrespecting Africa, saying they were “extremely disappointed” by the decision.

The last African leader to address Congress was Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the continent’s first female elected head of state, in 2006.

The visit “feels a bit like a fig leaf” for Africa, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, as it comes after Biden broke a promise to visit Africa last year.

Kenyan historian Macharia Munene also cautioned that Nairobi’s future relationship with Washington would hinge on the outcome of the US presidential election in November. 


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.”


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Postcard from Cannes #4: the curveball of cinema

The Cannes Film Festival is a place where audacity is rewarded and experimentation is encouraged. But ordinary people and their struggles also find their place on the screen, in-between the magic and the glamour. One thing is certain, Cannes is like a curveball – you never know what you’re going to get or quite how you’re going to react.

The official selection is definitely full of surprises this year, with first-time directors rubbing shoulders with a host of experienced veterans.

In the running for the coveted Palme d’Or is the latest offering by French director Jacques Audiard – who wowed Cannes audiences in 2015 with Dheepan, that won the top prize.

With Emilia Perez, he has taken the idea of “experimental” into a new dimension.

The pitch goes something like this: mix a Mexican cartel boss wanting a sex change, a lonely lawyer ready to help him with a cast of singing and dancing characters, and you have an explosive cocktail.

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

This is in part thanks to the trio of women leading the film, each with their own very strong character. Zoe Saldana is the lawyer yearning to be more appreciated in her job and find love, Selena Gomez is the cartel boss’ wife while Karla Sofia Gascon shines as both the cartel boss Manitas and Emilia Perez.

This is Audiard’s first foray into the musical comedy genre and the film took four years to make – indeed a labour of love.

It was completely shot at studios in Paris, spoken and sung mostly in Spanish, providing quite the international melting pot.

On paper it sounds completely crazy, but somehow it works.

By linking drama, comedy and something in-between it leaves the audience stunned and convinced.

A wild ride

Then there’s Kirill Serebrennikov with Limoniv – The Ballad – the Russian director’s fourth time in competition at Cannes.

Based on the award-winning novel by French writer Emmanuel Carrère, it explores the unpredictable and crazy life of Soviet dissident Edouard Savenko – who changed his name to Limonov which translates as “hand grenade”.

The Russian director takes the audience on a wild ride – following the rebellious Savenko (played by the British actor Ben Whishaw) from the USSR to New York via Paris.

His obsession with becoming famous never lets up even when he ends up doing odd jobs and setting up his own political party.

Graphics, music and dream sequences are cleverly used to carry the story from the late 1960s to the 2000s – sometimes flicking back and forth – echoing the chaotic ramblings of the lead character.

  • Homage to Japanese legends at the 77th Cannes Film Festival

Expect the unexpected

And then there are quiet debut films like Eephus, from American director Carson Lund, selected in the Directors’ Fortnight.

Set in a country town, two teams gather to play their last baseball match at a stadium that is earmarked for demolition.

The guys have been playing every week for as long as they can remember. They’re going grey for the most part, have aching knees and have trouble running to first base but they are adamant they will play until the bitter end – even if that means using car headlights to illuminate the pitch.

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

Strangely, the story is about much more than the game, and through gentle humour and camaraderie we learn about their hopes, their dreams and what makes them tick.

For a while, audiences who know nothing about baseball (probably most people in Cannes, let’s face it) are wondering why is the film called Eephus? Is it a person? A team? A nickname?

It turns out it’s a pitching technique like a curveball, moving deceptively slowly so that the batsman loses his nerve and either strikes above or below – missing it.

That’s exactly what the Cannes Film Festival is – kind of like the curveball of cinema.

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you are left speechless by something new and unexpected.

You never know what you’re going to get, you might hate it or love it or feel something in-between. In any case, you won’t be left unmoved.


Martinique

No rain in sight as France’s Martinique declares first ever drought

The French Caribbean department of Martinique has declared a drought crisis for the first time in its history. The lack of rain has threatened drinking water, while authorities have imposed heavy water restrictions.

In a statement, Martinique’s prefecture said the island had received 70 percent less rainfall in April than it had in the last 30 years, and warned the drought conditions were getting close to the record set in 1973.

Rainwater is the primary source of drinking water in Martinique, and many residents of south of the island are already contending with rotating water cuts, with rivers and reservoirs dangerously low.

About 20 schools have had to close because they have been unable guarantee the health and safety of the students.

Temperatures are also abnormally high, about 2C more than average, and no significant rain is forecast soon.

  • France poorly prepared for worsening effects of climate change, report warns

Authorities had already limited some use of water in April, including a ban on water lawns and gardens and the filling of private pools.

The crisis status imposes even more restriction, including a ban on washing cars and boats, and the imposition of a 25 percent cut in water usage for companies that consume more than 1,000 cubic metres of water a year.

Authorities have also loosened rules for conservation zones, which will open up access to from rivers that had previously been set aside to protect aquatic species.

(with AFP)


SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa’s top court rules Zuma ineligible to run in general election

Johannesburg (Reuters) – South Africa’s top court ruled on Monday that former president Jacob Zuma was not eligible to run for parliament in this month’s election, a closely-watched decision as it could affect the outcome.

Zuma, who was forced to quit as president in 2018, has fallen out with the governing African National Congress (ANC) and has been campaigning for a new party called uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) named after the ANC’s formed armed wing.

Opinion polls suggest the ANC‘s majority is at risk after 30 years in power, and MK represents a threat to it, especially in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal where he is popular.

The case before the constitutional court stems from a decision in March by South Africa‘s electoral commission to disqualify Zuma on the basis that the constitution prohibits anyone given a prison sentence of 12 months or longer from holding a parliamentary seat.

  • The legacy of Nelson Mandela 30 years after his election as president
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In 2021, Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry.

In April, a court overturned the disqualification, saying the relevant section of the constitution applied only to people who had a chance to appeal against their sentences, which had not been Zuma’s case.

The electoral commission then challenged that decision in the constitutional court.

“It is declared that Mr Zuma was convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment, … and is accordingly not eligible to be a member of, and not qualified to stand for election to, the National Assembly,” the constitutional court said on Monday in its ruling.

In 2021 Zuma’s jailing triggered riots in KwaZulu-Natal in which more than 300 people died and which morphed into a wider spate of looting.


Iran

Iran’s President Raisi killed in helicopter crash, EU sends condolences

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash that appears to have been an accident due to bad weather. The European Union expressed its condolences, as Iran’s allies have reiterated their solidarity with the Islamic Republic.

In a statement, the government said that Raisi’s death would not disturb the administration of the country.

He was travelling back from a visit to the Azerbaijani border when the helicopter crashed in mountainous terrain killing all aboard, Including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Iran’s cabinet held an emergency meeting led by Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, who under the Iranian constitution will become interim president, with the accord of the Supreme Leader.

Rasi, 63, a hard-line protégé of the country’s supreme leader was elected in 2021, succeeding moderate Hassan Rouhani, whose nuclear deal with world powers was undermined by then then-US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from it.

He oversaw the security crackdown on mass protests in 2022 after the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been detained over allegedly not properly wearing a headscarf.

Condolences have come in from Pakistan, Iraq and Qatar, as well as Russia, India and Venezuela.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, expressed the EU’s “sincere condolences” in a post on X.

Hamas, the Iraninan-backed militant group expressed its “deepest condolences” to Iran and praised Raisi for supporting the Palestinian cause and resistance against Israel.

Israel’s offensive against Gaza, after Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October 2023, killing over 1,400 people and taking hundreds hostage, has sent tensions soaring the region, with Tehran launching hundreds of missiles and rockets directly at Israel in April.

“We believe that Palestine is the first issue of the Muslim world, and we are convinced that the people of Iran and Azerbaijan always support the people of Palestine and Gaza and hate the Zionist regime,” said Raisi, following his visit Sunday to inaugurate a dam project on the border with Azerbaijan.

Israel has not yet reacted to Raisi’s death, according to RFI’s correspondent in Jerusalem, though sources cited in Israeli media insist that Israel was not implicated in the helicopter crash.

(with newswires)


2024 Paralympic Games

Final stretch to Paris Paralympics as 100-day countdown begins

The 100-day countdown starts on Monday for the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Plans so far have been marked by highs and lows in areas concerning security, accessibility and broadcasting, while audience anticipation for the event is stronger. 

Just like the Olympic Games, the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympic Games on 28 August will be held in central Paris.

More than 4,000 athletes from 184 countries will soak up the adulation of 65,000 spectators as they move between the Champs Elysées and the Place de la Concorde.

“It will be a spectacle that will showcase the Paralympic athletes and the values that they embody,” said theatre director Thomas Jolly, who is set to choreograph the 28 August procession.

Accessibility concerns

Olympic and Paralympic organisers as well as transport chiefs, have been working hard to ensure everything runs smoothly, including accessibility for disabled attendees coming to the Games’ venues.

Last week, Ile de France Mobilités (IDFM), which oversees public transport in and around the French capital, announced the completion of the revamp of Saint-Denis station some 10km north of Paris city centre.

The four-year refurbishment cost nearly 200 million euros and came as part of a master plan – drawn up in 2009 and amended in 2015 – to upgrade services for passengers with reduced mobility across the region’s transit network. 

“Providing everyone with easier access to transport means reducing the social divide and reducing inequalities,” said the IDFM website while citing that four out of 10 people are temporarily or permanently disabled in the Île-de-France region.

Though the station is a 20-minute walk from the two Olympic and Paralympic venues at the Stade de France and Aquatics Centre transport chiefs say they hope it will ease the burden on the other rail. and metro stations around Saint Denis.

With more than one million spectators expected at 22 sites around Paris, IDFM has also set up a reservation-only shuttle service for wheelchair users. 

The Paralympic Games – which last until 8 September – will give French leaders the chance to show off improvements after the European Committee of Social Rights ruled last year that their policies and attitudes complicated daily life for people with disabilities.

  • Disabled travel in France remains difficult, despite accessibility laws

Broadcasting records

Organisers say the Paralympic Games in Paris will be the first to offer live coverage for all of its 22 sports.

At Tokyo 2020, 19 sports were broadcast, while at Rio in 2016, 15 were shown live. Paris will also break a record by hosting TV and radio crews from 160 countries.

John Lisko, managing director of global media rights at the International Paralympic Committee, said that an improvement in athletic performances has led to greater interest from viewers and broadcasters.

According to Nielsen, which gathers audience metrics, interest in the Paralympic Games has more than doubled in the last eight years.

“This marks an important step towards our goal of taking the visibility of Para sport and Para athletes to another level,” said Tony Estanguet, who heads the Paris 2024 organising committee.


DR Congo

DRC army says it foiled attempted coup involving US citizens

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s military said it has killed the leader of an attempted coup, thwarting a plot that involved some 50 people – both foreigners and Congolese.

In a message broadcast on national television, army spokesperson General Sylvai Ekenge said a coup attempt was halted in the early hours of Sunday morning.

It involved three American citizens and a British man.

The coup operation attacked the presidency in Kinshasa as well as the nearby home of Economy Minister Vital Kamerhe, Ekenge said – adding it had been led by Christian Malanga, a “naturalised American”, who was killed by security forces.

Around 40 attackers were reportedly arrested. Four, including Malanga, were killed.

Two guards at Kamerhe’s home were killed, though he and his family were unharmed.

Repeated attempt

Ekenge said Malanga first attempted an coup in 2017, and that one of the American citizens arrested Sunday was Malanga’s son.

The group had reportedly planned to attack the home of Prime Minister Judith Suminwa and the residence of Defence Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba, but they “could not identify” Suminwa’s home, and Bemba was not home.

After the attack at Kamerhe’s home, the group then went to the Palais de la Nation, brandishing flags of Zaire, the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.

  • Macron urges Rwanda to end support for DRC M23 rebels, withdraw troops
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The US ambassador to Kinshasa said she was “shocked” by the events while the African Union said it “strongly condemns” the attempted putsch.

“Rest assured that we are cooperating with authorities in DRC to the fullest extent possible, as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any American citizen involved,” ambassador Lucy Tamlyn posted on X.

Felix Tshisekedi was re-elected at the end of December for a second term, and parties backing him won around 90 percent of seats in the National Assembly. However he has yet to form a government, six weeks after appointing Suminwa as prime minister.

Kamerhe was a candidate to become speaker of the National Assembly in an election that had been scheduled for Saturday but had been delayed by Tshisekedi.

(with newswires)


France – protests

French pro-Palestine student protests not just a mirror of US

Pro-Palestinian student protests against the war in Gaza have come to a head in France at Sciences Po – the prestigious international relations school – where students continue to stage demonstrations and the government has become involved, pressuring the university to forcibly shut them down. This comes as protests have erupted on campuses across the United States, but the scale, scope and politics are unique to France.

Debates and demonstrations began at Sciences Po soon after Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 and Israel started a retaliatory bombing campaign in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian students, calling on Sciences Po to denounce Israel’s offensive, have called out what they maintain is a hypocritical response from the school. 

The university held a minute’s silence for the Israeli victims of the 7 October attack, and has condemned other conflicts like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

“I’m not comfortable with the silence around the genocide and I’m not comfortable being a part of it… not using my voice to denounce something, especially when my school is not doing anything for it,” Louise, a first-year master’s student in political science, told RFI at a recent pro-Palestinian demonstration in front of the Paris campus.

Another demand from the protesters is for Sciences Po to review its partnerships with Israeli institutions, which the university has refused to do, citing a need to keep academic dialogue open.

More on this story in the Spotlight on France podcast, listen here

The protests hit a tipping point at the start of May, when the president of Sciences Po asked police to forcibly remove several dozen students who had set up encampments in the university’s main building in Paris.

“You have real student protests for every topic, and this is the one that has been repressed,” said Louise, who was among those occupying the building.

She is French, with no personal connection to the Middle East, but felt compelled to join the protest movement on moral grounds. The police crackdown was even more galvanising.

”Having the police enter the building is really something that is a red line that has been crossed,” she said.

  • Police remove pro-Palestinian students occupying Paris university

Police crackdown

While the student protests and the police response in the United States set off debates about freedom of speech, in France the focus has been more on a perceived radicalisation of students and the government’s intervention, especially at Sciences Po, a private school that receives a lot public funding that has trained much of France’s political elite, including President Emmanuel Macron.

“Like many students I have been shocked by this political and police interference in a legitimate student action,” Hubert Launois, an undergraduate student at Sciences Po, told RFI.

“It’s normal that students mobilise, and it’s shocking that the only response from the government is repressive. It’s never normal to see police entering a university.”

Administrators of Sciences Po and other universities, like the Sorbonne, where other pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been organised, are under pressure from the government to contain the protests.

But students like Launois say the crackdown is unjustified. He joined the protests, though was not among those arrested by the police, and says he studied the history of student protests in a class.

“Student protests in the past were much more violent. In May 1968, students threw cobblestones at police,” he said.

“Today police are sent against students who are protesting peacefully, in tents. And then there’s the way politicians are exploiting such movements.”

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

Political opportunity

Fewer than five percent of Sciences Po’s 15,000 students have taken part in the protests, but they have drawn a lot of attention, partly because of the elite nature of the school, partly because of the events in the US.

French politicians eying European Parliament elections at the start of June are also using the demonstrations as a backdrop for their political campaigns.

The government got involved in March, when a Jewish student was called a Zionist and was prevented from entering an amphitheatre for a debate on the war in Gaza organised by a pro-Palestinian student group.

Macron called the incident “intolerable”, denouncing anti-Semitism, and Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and Higher Education Minister Sylvie Retailleau made the unusual decision to attend a board meeting to push the university to shut the protests down.

The pro-Palestinian protesters have received support from the hard-left France Unbowed party, whose leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, called them France’s “honour against genocide”.

He has been accused of supporting the demonstrations for political gain, but right-wing politicians have also weighed in, calling out anti-Semitism and denouncing “Islamo-leftists”, who they say are taking the universities hostage.

As the school year comes to a close, and students are sitting for exams, the authorities are continuing their efforts to contain the protests at Sciences Po campuses around the country.


Find this story and more in the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 111, listen here.


Geopolitics

Macron, Scholz voice ‘deep concern’ at Georgia foreign influence law

The leaders of France and Germany on Sunday said they are “deeply concerned by the situation in Georgia” where parliament approved a controversial “foreign influence” law that goes “against European values”.

“It is with deep regret that we take note of the Georgian government’s decision… to move away” from the EU candidate country’s European path, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote in a Facebook message.

Ruling Georgian Dream party lawmakers voted through the legislation this week in defiance of protesters concerned the ex-Soviet republic is shifting away from a pro-Western course back toward Russia.

The move has sparked a wave of protests unprecedented in the recent history of the Black Sea nation.

“Today I set a veto… on the law, which is Russian in its essence, and which contradicts our constitution,” Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili said in a televised statement on the measure Saturday.

However the Georgian Dream party has enough lawmakers in parliament to override the veto.

Macron invited

In an interview published in France’s La Tribune Dimanche paper, Zurabishvili, herself a former French diplomat, called on President Emmanuel Macron to come to Georgia to back their cause.

“I wrote to President Macron, I am expecting him for Georgia’s independence day, May 26,” she said.

“It is not only Georgia that is at stake, it is a question of definitively extricating the Caucasus from the mentalities of the Soviet yoke and Russian influence,” Zurabishvili told the paper.

Warnings from EU

The bill has sparked a wave of protests unprecedented in the recent history of the Black Sea nation. Its critics say it resembles Russian legislation used to silence dissent.

According to opinion polls, more than 80 percent of the population wants to join the European Union and NATO, and is staunchly anti-Kremlin.

Brussels on Saturday repeated its warnings that the measure is incompatible with Georgia’s bid for EU membership, which is enshrined in the country’s constitution.

  • Georgian envoy to France resigns over ‘foreign agent’ bill

European Council chief Charles Michel on Saturday posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the president’s veto offered “a moment for further reflection”.

He called on lawmakers to “make good use of this window of opportunity” to keep Georgia on its EU path.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has signalled his party’s readiness to consider Zurabishvili’s proposed amendments to the law, should she lay them out in her veto document.

But the figurehead president — at loggerheads with the ruling party — has ruled out the prospect of entering “false, artificial, misleading negotiations” with Georgian Dream.

The bill requires NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

(With newswires)


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Postcard from Cannes #3: Breaking the silence

The Cannes Film Festival is not just an outlet for artistic expression – it is a powerful platform to draw attention to social issues. In an unprecedented way, women from around the globe are breaking the silence on the topic of sexual abuse and harassment, both on and off the screen.

On Becoming a Guinea Fowl by director Rungano Nyoni tackles patriarchal traditions in her native Zambia and gives a voice back to those who have been silenced.

“I’m denouncing traditions, but I don’t think it’s the traditions themselves that are a problem – it’s the misogyny in the shape of tradition” Nyoni told RFI’s Houda Ibrahim after the premiere in Cannes on Thursday.

The young director – at Cannes for the second time – skillfully uses mesmerising dream sequences mixed with realism and traditional storytelling techniques to tell the story.

It focuses on Shula (played by Susan Chandy), who is suddenly confronted with her past when her uncle Freddy is found dead in mysterious circumstances.

As the family gathers for a long, drawn-out mourning period and funeral, an ugly dark secret emerges and Shula can no longer contain her painful memories. Grief is gradually replaced with anger until the unspoken can no longer be ignored, turning into a kind of “me too” moment on a family level.

Agenda of misogyny

“When you look at traditional Bemba culture, they tell you that men and women are equal. But something happens, it just get warped into the agenda of misogyny, and through victimising women. That’s what I’m trying to fight,” Nyoni explains.

“In each culture, misogyny manifests itself in different ways. People always find a way of suppressing women and I don’t know why. We all come from different parts of the world but women are experiencing the same thing of being treated so unfairly and unequally.”

Running in Un Certain Regard category, On Becoming a Guinea Fowl continues the themes addressed in Nyoni’s first film I’m not a Witch, which was part of the Directors’ Fortnight selection in 2017. She was also a jury member for the main competition last year.

  • RFI’s coverage of the Cannes Film Festival

It’s the second time that Nyoni’s heroine is called Shula, named after the director’s great grandmother. It’s a way of “channelling her legacy”, Nyoni says, emphasising her elder’s strength of character and ability to fight against unfair traditions, despite her lack of education.

Nyoni, who was born in Zambia but schooled in the UK, says she deliberately cast people who were not trained as actors in order to create natural scenes, but without falling into a documentary style.

Just like the guinea fowl’s cries warn other animals that danger is coming, this film acts as a powerful warning cry.

Stop ignoring

Another plea to break the silence came in the short film Moi Aussi (Me Too) by French actress and director Judith Godrèche.

She stunned the cinema world earlier this year when she filed a legal complaint against two directors who she said abused her when she was a young actress.

“It’s important to stop ignoring, pretending, when everyone knows,” she said at the time.

  • French parliament to investigate sexual abuse in cinema

At the César awards – France’s Oscars – she went on to call out sexual harassment across the film industry, a move which prompted French MPs to launch a special government inquiry.

Her short film – based on hundreds of victims’ testimonials – was screened at the opening night of Un Certain Regard and also at the beach cinema on Wednesday evening.

“I asked myself, how can I use the cinema wisely to share a story that is respectful and considerate of people’s experiences,” she told RFI.

The challenge for Godrèche was to create an experience that would not just be a documentary, but a form of artistic expression in its own right.

“The cinema is a place where we can feel less alone. It is universal, it can travel,”she said.

A sign that the Me Too movement has gained traction since it hit the news in 2017 in the US, Cannes organisers have this year placed signs in all public spaces around the festival, including in the toilets, advertising a hotline for people to report harassment.

The Sound Kitchen

Forgotten Sudan

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the Sudan conference in Paris. There’s “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers – who also cooked up “Music from Paul” for us this week – 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: Arifa Alam Dolan from Natore, Bangladesh.

Welcome, Arifa! 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 RFI English journalist Melissa Chemam wrote: “Sudan conference opens in Paris to try and fix ‘forgotten’ crisis”. The crisis in Sudan has been pushed out of the global conversation by other ongoing conflicts – such as those in the Middle East or Ukraine – and only five percent of the 3.8-billion-euro target in the UN’s latest humanitarian appeal has been funded so far this year, according to the French foreign ministry.

You were to re-read Melissa’s article and answer this question: Aside from France, Germany, and the EU, who else was included in the conference?

The answer is, to quote Melissa’s article: “The ministerial meeting was held behind closed doors, and also brought together representatives from Sudan’s neighbours, as well as from Gulf nations and western powers, including the United States and Britain, along with regional organisations and the UN.”

The meeting was a success: French President Emmanuel Macron said the Paris conference raised more than 2 billion euros in aid to help Sudan and its neighbouring countries.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question, suggested by Sultan Mahmud Sarkar, the president of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh: “What is your favorite flower, and why?”

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Father Steven Wara, who lives and serves at the Cistercian Monastery in Bamenda, Cameroon.  Father Steven is also the winner of the week’s bonus question. Congratulations Father Steve!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are RFI Listeners Club member Samir Mukhopadhyay from West Bengal, India, and RFI English listeners Bidhan Chandra Sanyal from West Bengal, India; Umesh Regmi from Biratnagar, Nepal, and Shihab Ahamed Khan from Naogaon, Bangladesh.

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: The “Allegro moderato” from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major, K. 330, played by Vladimir Horowitz; “Dancin’ Pants” by Quincy Jones, performed by the Quincy Jones Ensemble; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Peg” by Walter Becker and Donald Fage, performed by Steeley Dan.

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

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Melissa’s article “South Africans lose faith in ruling ANC as income inequality grows”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 17 June to enter this week’s quiz. The winners will be announced on the 22 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 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. 


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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