rfi 2024-05-23 16:18:22



FRANCE – STRIKES

RFI staff stage strike over controversial public media merger

Employees across France’s massive public broadcasting sector, including RFI, are striking for two days to protest a proposed public media merger put forward by Culture Minister Rachida Dati.

As well as cancellations to regular broadcasts, rallies were held Thursday near the National Assembly and the Ministry of Culture in Paris.

Dati has defended the “ambitious” and “long-awaited” reform – saying it would strengthen the public media industry, which is facing stiff competition from private companies.

The first step would be a transitional phase, with a common holding company for public broadcasting as of 1 January, 2025. A merger would follow a year later.

The bill would provide for the creation of a giant new company called France Médias, with a budget of €4 billion.

It would bring together France Télévisions, Radio France and the National Audiovisual Institute (INA).

Some 16,000 employees would be affected be the change.

It has not yet been decided if France Médias Monde (RFI, France 24, Monte Carlo Doualiya) will be part of the merger plan.

A first reading of the bill by MPs was slated for this Thursday and Friday in the National Assembly, but due to a backlog of other issues it is likely to be postponed until next month.

‘Demagogic and dangerous’

In a column in daily newspaper Le Monde published on Wednesday, more than 1,100 Radio France employees slammed the project as “demagogic, ineffective and dangerous”. 

“Our survival is at stake,” they wrote.

France Télévisions union representatives said in a press release: “At a time when public broadcasting is fully playing its role facing private media controlled by a handful of billionaires, why involve them in a merger that is complex, anxiety-provoking for employees, and without real editorial objective?”

  • French TV channel faces scrutiny over allegations of peddling opinion, not news

Dati sought to reassure employees with a message on social media.

“I want to guarantee you not only sustainability but (also) your strength in a world of exacerbated competition between platforms and social networks”, she wrote.

“Obviously, we are not going to standardise either professions or activities,” she insisted on Wednesday in the Senate during questions to the government.

A previous attempt at a merger had been made by her predecessor Franck Riester but this was shelved due to the Covid pandemic.

The project has also been attempted by previous governments, notably under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Political divisions

In terms of political reactions, the project has strongly divided the left and the right.

Far-right National Rally (RN) MPs are globally in favour of a pure and simple privatisation of public broadcasting and support the merger project.

The right-wing parties, like Les Republicains are not against a merger either, but have questioned the feasibility of the timetable.

  • French MPs vote to scrap public TV licence fee

The far-left France Unbowed (LFI) sees the project as “the culmination of the denigration and weakening” of the public service and an attempt to grab more control by President Emmanuel Macron.

“Returning to the days of the ORTF won’t allow us to compete with Netflix,” the Greens said.

The ORTF is the structure which brought together French public broadcasting until the 1970s, and whose lack of independence was criticised.

Loss of economic independence

One worry is that the mandatory royalty fees incorporated into the tax system were abandoned by the government in 2022, prompting massive strikes.

“From the moment you no longer have a public broadcaster that is autonomous in its financing, its existence is threatened and we see this phenomenon everywhere,” Media historian Alexis Lévrier told RFI – pointing to the example of the BBC in the UK.

“We really have the impression of a return to the 60s and 70s and we know that Emmanuel Macron has this nostalgia for ‘Jupiterian’ presidents who embodied very strong power, and in particular General de Gaulle.”

It would risk the public media potentially having to answer to a future far-right leader, should one come to power.


Middle East

Opinion split after three European countries recognise Palestinian state

Reaction has been sharply divided since three European countries said they would officially recognise the state of Palestine, more than seven months into the devastating Gaza war. While Israel responded with fury, Palestinian authorities have hailed the move as historic – and urged France to follow suit.

Ireland, Spain and non EU-member Norway each said on Wednesday they would formally recognise a Palestinian state from May 28, drawing praise from many Arab and Muslim countries.

“These countries have been contemplating the possibility of recognizing the state of Palestine for a long time,” said Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, head of the Institute for Middle East and Mediterranean Studies and Research (iReMMO).

“Norway played a significant role during the Oslo Accords, and Spain also played an important role in these same accords by organising the Madrid Conference beforehand,” he told RFI. 

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move amounted to a “reward for terror”, after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched the 7 October attack that sparked the Gaza war.

Israel said it was recalling its envoys to Dublin, Oslo and Madrid for “urgent consultations” and also summoned the three European ambassadors for a rebuke.



‘Never a better time’

Meanwhile Hamas welcomed the recognition as an “important step”, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, led by President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, called it an “historic” moment.

Hala Abou Hassira, the Palestinian Authority’s representative in France, said: “There was never a better time.”

“Spain, Ireland, and Norway have proven that it is always a good time to do the right things,” she told RFI.

The three countries “are committed to the two-state solution, committed to justice, and their position is in complete coherence and conformity with the principles of international law and United Nations resolutions”, Hassira said. 

But she also invited France to follow in “this positive movement towards peace and security for all”.

France distanced itself from Ireland, Spain and Norway after Wednesday’s announcement, saying that conditions were not right to recognise a Palestinian state and that such a decision must be more than a symbolic gesture or political posturing.

“France does not consider that the conditions have yet been met for this decision to have a real impact on this process,” Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said after talks in Paris with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz.

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‘Not taboo’

Paris has previously said recognising a Palestinian state is not taboo, but should be part of a broader effort to achieve a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis.

“Exactly ten years ago, the French Senate and National Assembly asked the government to recognise the state of Palestine,” explained Chagnollaud. Now, those resolutions are “somewhat forgotten but must be remembered”, he said. 

“It’s a debate that has often been raised and then abandoned in recent years, because the Palestinian question was considered marginalised,” Chagnollaud said.

“But 7 October woke all this up. And everything that followed made it clear that a political solution is urgently needed.” 

To date, EU members Cyprus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden have recognised a Palestinian state. Malta and Slovenia have said they are considering doing the same.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said this week that he would work with the bloc’s 27 members “to promote a common EU position based on a two-state solution”.

And the White House said US President Joe Biden opposed unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it should be realised “through direct negotiations”.


Climate Change

More tropical nights as southeast tipped for France’s biggest temperature rise

Southeast France will face more than 10 days a year of temperatures above 35C in the coming years along with more frequent tropical nights, France’s national statistics institute has said.

Already one of the regions in mainland France with the hottest summers, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur (PACA) will also see the biggest rise in average summer temperatures as a result of climate change.

That’s according the a study published this week by Insee, the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, which based its findings on projections by the Météo France weather service.

Temperatures in the region are tipped to rise by 1.8°C between 2021 and 2050 compared with the years 1976 and 2005.

In mainland France, the average rise will be 1.3°C.

The area near the Alps will be particularly impacted, rising by 1.9°C. This is slightly more than the coastal areas of the Mediterranean.

  • South-eastern France on heatwave alert as temperatures climb to high 30s

Tropical nights

In addition, the region’s population will be heavily exposed to tropical nights, when the temperature does not fall below 20°C.

From 1976-2005, some 35 percent of the region’s population, mainly in coastal areas, was exposed to at least 30 tropical nights over the summer.

The study found this would rise to affect 79 percent of the population.

“The repetition of tropical nights increases the risk to health and further weakens the health of vulnerable people,” said the study’s lead author, Raphaël Marais.

The number of days with very high temperatures of over 35°C is also likely to increase.

In the Vaucluse departement, 39 percent of people are tipped to experience more than 10 very hot days a year, as will 20 percent of the population of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and 15 percent of the Var.

This is compared with 5 percent of the average population of mainland France.


NEW CALEDONIA CRISIS

French police to remain in riot-hit New Caledonia, says Macron

President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday met with local officials in riot-hit New Caledonia, having crossed the globe by plane in a high-profile show of support for the French Pacific archipelago gripped by deadly unrest and where indigenous people have long sought independence.

Macron, who briefly spoke to reporters after his arrival at La Tontouta International Airport, about 50 kilometres from the capital Noumea, said he viewed a return to calm as the top priority.

He said his wish, along with that of his ministers and government, was “to be alongside the people and see a return to peace, calm and security as soon as possible”.

During the 12-hour visit, Macron is to discuss with local leaders the resources needed to repair the damage wrought by days of shootings, arson and other violence that has left at least six dead and destruction estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of euros.

“We will discuss questions of economic reconstruction, support and rapid response, and the most delicate political questions, as we talk about the future of New Caledonia,” he said.

“By the end of the day, decisions will be taken and announcements will be made.”

As he opened a meeting with local leaders, Macron held a moment of silence for the people who lost their lives in the unrest before touching on the steps his government plans to take.

Officials from both pro-independence and loyalist factions were present, according to a list of attendees provided by the Elysée presidential office.

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Extra security

Macron said 3,000 security officers had been deployed to New Caledonia. They will stay as long as deemed necessary, he said – even if that means remaining there during the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games.

While saying he didn’t think the state of emergency should be extended, Macron added that it would only be lifted if all political leaders called for the barricades and roadblocks to be taken down.

The government was working with local leaders to assess the cost of the damage and was prepared to provide financial aid and insurance assistance.

Macron said he hoped an open dialogue would decrease tensions and provide a way forward that respects the outcomes of previous independence referendums that were in favor of staying part of France.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu and Overseas Territories Minister Marie Guevenoux accompanied Macron on the trip.

(with newswires)


US – KENYA

President Biden woos Kenya’s Ruto at White House in rare state visit

Washington (AFP) – US President Joe Biden is rolling out the red carpet Thursday for his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto with a diplomacy-heavy state visit and a lavish White House dinner with all the trimmings.

It is the first state visit to Washington by an African leader in more than 15 years.

As Biden seeks to counter geopolitical headwinds across the continent, he will formally ask Congress to grant Kenya the status of “major non-Nato ally,” according to a senior administration official.

The label officially confers military and diplomatic privileges on the countries – currently 18 around the world – that are so designated, albeit without any formal security guarantees.

Kenya would become the first sub-Saharan African nation on the list.

“Democracy is obviously on the back foot globally and we see Kenya as an important, stable democracy in East Africa,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Hence the pomp and circumstance that awaits Ruto on Thursday – a day after he met with Biden at the White House – during a visit expected to touch on the issue of global peace and security, and notably an upcoming role for Kenya in a mission to restore order to chaos-torn Haiti.

Ruto will first be received with military honors in the morning, followed by a bilateral meeting with Biden, then a joint press conference, before a gala dinner featuring the two first ladies.

Distinguished guests will gather in a vast pavilion on the White House lawn, where tables will be adorned with African orchids and American roses.

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

Lobster and gospel

On the menu: Heirloom tomato soup, fruitwood-smoked beef short ribs and butter-poached lobster, with banana ganache for dessert. Entertainers will include country music star Brad Paisley and a gospel choir.

The White House has promised partnership announcements in health and the battle against climate change, as well as private sector investment.

The two countries will also issue a “joint vision statement” on reducing the mounting debts of developing countries and the handicap it represents for African countries trying to grow their economies.

The conversation will also focus on Haiti, given the imminent arrival of Kenyan police officers at the head of an international force intended to suppress gang-related violence.

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

Biden held a major summit for African leaders in late 2022, but the 81-year-old has not made good on promises to visit the continent as president.

The Democrat, who will face a rematch against Donald Trump in November, quipped on Wednesday he plans to visit Africa in February – after winning reelection.

While Africa has often been on the back burner for US diplomacy, the continent has become a growing headache for Washington.

Russia has made growing inroads – most recently in Niger, where the United States has agreed to withdraw its 1,000 troops – and war has ravaged countries including Sudan.

The United States also faces competition from China, which has pumped billions in infrastructure money into Africa for the past two decades.


French politics

France’s Le Pen hints at far-right alliance with Italy’s Meloni

Europe’s far-right figureheads Marine Le Pen and Giorgia Meloni are hinting they could join forces following this summer’s EU elections, after Le Pen’s French party announced a break with its radical German ally AfD.

The overtures presage a possible reconfiguration of nationalist parties’ alliances after voters decide the next European Parliament in June 6-9 elections.

Surveys suggest the parliament’s far-right groups – currently fractured – will win around 37 percent of seats in the next legislative term, up from 30 percent currently.

At a far-right rally in Madrid on Sunday, Le Pen declared: “We are all together in the final stretch to make June 9 a day of liberation and hope.”

A day later Meloni, prime minister of Italy since October 2022, said in a television interview that she wanted to replicate the success of her post-fascist party at home and “do the same thing in Europe: ally parties that are compatible with each other in terms of vision, even with completely different nuances”.

The door to that scenario opened wider Tuesday when Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) said it was splitting with the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The announcement came after the AfD’s lead EU candidate Maximilian Krah told an Italian newspaper that not every member of the Nazi’s feared SS was “automatically a criminal”.

 “The AfD crossed what I consider to be red lines,” RN leader Jordan Bardella told French channel LCI. He said far-right alliances in the European Parliament would “go back to zero” after the elections.

The RN and AfD are part of the extreme-right Identity and Democracy (ID) EU parliament group.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, in contrast, sits with the far-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

A third hard-right force sits in the EU parliament in the form of Fidesz, the unaffiliated party of Hungary’s Kremlin-friendly Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

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‘Queen bees’

Analysts say key issues divide the parliament’s far-right factions.

Most notably, the ID is sceptical of continued EU support for Ukraine’s war against Russia’s invading army, while the ECR backs Kyiv in its fight.

 “These deep-seated differences seem difficult to reconcile,” Pascale Joannin, managing director at the Robert Schuman Foundation, a think tank, said in an analysis.

But Nicolai von Ondarza, at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, wrote on X that “a more fundamental change has now… become possible” because of the RN-AfD split.

Le Pen could now “argue for a merger with Meloni, Orban, the Netherlands‘ Geert Wilders & Co towards a united far-right sans the most radical part”, he said.

But von Ondarza acknowledged that most likely, “the differences… are too high” for that to happen.

Daniele Albertazzi, co-director at the Centre for Britain and Europe think tank, said on X that while it might be “logical” for Le Pen’s RN to abandon the ID and join the ECR, “she may well resent playing second fiddle to Meloni”.

“Too many queen bees and the bee hive descends into anarchy,” he said.

While Le Pen has welcomed Meloni “opening the way” to a possible rapprochement, she also said last year that the Italian leader “is not my twin sister”.

Le Pen is more closely allied with Meloni’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, from Italy’s far-right League party – a fellow ID member.

Salvini’s team posted Wednesday a photo of him meeting online with Le Pen to “take stock of the situation ahead of the European elections, also in light of the reflections shared yesterday on the future composition of the ID group”.

(with AFP)


ANTI-SEMITISM

French police track suspects in holocaust memorial vandalism attack into Belgium

French prosecutors say police have tracked three suspects involved in last week’s defacing of the Paris Holocaust memorial across the border into Belgium.

Speaking on Wednesday, prosecutors said the suspects were caught on security footage as they moved through Paris before “departing for Belgium from the Bercy bus station” in southeast Paris.

The investigators added that the suspects’ bus reservations “had been made from Bulgaria”.

On 14 May, red hands were found daubed on the Wall of the Righteous at the Paris Holocaust memorial, which lists 3,900 people honoured for saving Jews during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.

Prosecutors are investigating damage to a protected historical building for national, ethnic, racial or religious motives.



  • French government launches consultations on fighting anti-Semitism
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Russia suspected of graffiti campaign

Similar tags were found elsewhere in the Marais district of central Paris, historically a centre of French Jewish life.

The hands echoed imagery used earlier this month by students demonstrating for a ceasefire in Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Their discovery prompted a new wave of outrage over anti-Semitism.

In February, Paris’ internal security service suspected Russia’s FSB security service of being behind an October graffiti campaign tagging stars of David on Paris buildings.

A Moldovan couple was arrested in the case.

(with newswires)


French music

A century of Charles Aznavour, storytelling crooner who rewrote the French songbook

Singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour would have turned 100 on Wednesday. A giant of chanson française, the French-Armenian artist behind “La Bohème” and “She” left a lasting mark on music in France.

Aznavour had big plans for his hundredth birthday. 

“I stopped celebrating my birthdays at 50. I said to my friends: the next time will be when I’m 100, there’s plenty of time,” he told French radio station RTL as he turned 90 in May 2014. 

The singer was even planning a spectacular farewell concert, he said the same month. 

“I’ve fixed the date. It will be 22 May 2024,” he announced at a special performance for the presidents of France and Armenia in Yerevan. 

“You will be there, I hope.” 

They wouldn’t: Aznavour died of sudden cardiac arrest four years later, on 1 October 2018.  

He received a state funeral watched by nearly one in two French TV viewers, where President Emmanuel Macron declared him “one of the faces of France”. 



From clown to crooner

Aznavour’s route to national stardom was far from obvious.  

Born in Paris to Armenian parents on 22 May 1924, he grew up fooling around on the piano and writing songs with his sister.  

He began performing as an actor aged nine and later turned his hand to dancing, vaudeville and acrobatics in music halls and cabarets.  

Short and athletic with a prominent nose and heavy, slanting eyebrows that gave him a permanently sorrowful look, he seemed better suited as a clown than a crooner. 

But he found a musical partner in pianist Pierre Roche and a patron in Edith Piaf, who helped the duo get their first bookings in France and then Canada (as well as convincing Aznavour to get plastic surgery on his nose). 

He struck out on his own in the 1950s, by then writing songs that were as unconventional as his looks. 

“I wrote songs because nobody wanted to write for me,” he said in a 2005 interview with RFI. “I didn’t know I was able to do it.”  

Channelling his theatrical past, he inhabited characters that spanned the range of human experience, from an embittered alcoholic in “Je Bois” to a gay drag artist in “Comme Ils Disent”.  

“I was singing about subjects that nobody used to sing about,” Aznavour told RFI, remembering how he shook up musical conventions.  

“I knew one of these days, they would understand. And it took time, but every strong idea takes time.” 

Listen to Charles Aznavour speaking to RFI’s Imogen Lamb in 2005:



A musician to the end

By the end of the 1960s, he had released a string of successful albums, starred in multiple films and put on a legendary performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall – watched by one Bob Dylan, who said Aznavour “just blew my brains out”.  

But while he was once at the cutting edge, in later years he was a respected grandfather of chanson française, continuing to perform his best-known numbers to crowds around the world.  

“I write in a very classical way. And I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t care about not being up to date,” he told RFI in 2005.  

“I was up to date 40, 50 years ago. I’m not up to date, but I write much better than I used to write then.” 

Then 81, Aznavour was still penning songs “every moment – when I have five minutes, when I have an idea”, he said. 

“But I throw out more than I keep.” 

  • How Charles Aznavour changed French music

The one thing he wouldn’t write, though, was an ending.  

“The end has to come. I can’t write it – well, I don’t like to write it,” he told RFI in response to a question about his photo memoir, Images de Ma Vie (“Images of My Life”). 

“I would like to have a book without end, and to have a life without end. At least to have a few decades more.” 

He got almost a decade and a half, and left behind him some 1,400 songs in nine languages.

Instead of a farewell performance, Aznavour’s 100th birthday will be marked with concerts, a 100-disc box set of his complete recordings, a commemorative stamp in France and a special-edition coin in Armenia. 

Paris has also renamed a section of the gardens on the Champs-Élysées in his honour.  

Meanwhile a biopic of the singer, starring French actor Tahar Rahim, is set for release in October. 




Justice

NGOs seek climate trial of French oil giant TotalEnergies

NGOs filed a criminal complaint against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its top shareholders in Paris on Tuesday, seeking a trial for involuntary manslaughter and other consequences of climate change “chaos”.

Three NGOs – Bloom, Alliance Santé Planétaire and Mexico’s Nuestro Futuro – and eight individuals have filed a complaint against TotalEnergies.

The case targets the company’s board, including chief executive Patrick Pouyanne, and major shareholders that backed the group’s climate strategy – including US investment firm BlackRock and Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank.

In a statement, the NGOs said they accused TotalEnergies of “deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity”.

The complaint was filed at the Paris judicial court – which has environmental and health departments – three days before TotalEnergies holds its annual shareholders meeting.

The prosecutor now has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation, the NGOs said.

If it does not go ahead, the plaintiffs can take their case directly before an investigative judge.



‘Victims of climate-related disasters’

“This legal action could set a precedent in the history of climate litigation as it opens the way to holding fossil fuel producers and shareholders responsible before criminal courts for the chaos caused by climate change,” the NGOs said.

The plaintiffs include “victims or survivors of climate-related disasters” in Australia, Belgium, France, Greece, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.

Oil and gas companies, other corporations and governments are facing a growing number of legal cases related to the climate crisis worldwide.

TotalEnergies is facing other legal cases in France related to climate change and environment.

Outside the Paris judicial court on Tuesday, the NGOs held a banner reading “climate change kills” and “let’s put shareholders behind bars” – with the “share” in shareholders crossed out and replaced by the “death”.

The latest complaint aims to “recognise the deadly consequences of their decisions, their stubbornness in voting for fossil projects which threaten the stability of the climate and therefore of all living things,” Claire Nouvian, founding director of conservation group Bloom, said at a news conference.

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50 years of ‘climate scepticism’

Fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – are the biggest contributors to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

“TotalEnergies has known the direct link between its activities and climate change for over half a century, since at least 1971,” the NGOs said.

“TotalEnergies followed a climate sceptic line in order to waste time, delay decision-making and protect its increasing investments in fossil fuels,” they added.

  • TotalEnergies posts biggest ever annual profit of almost €20bn

One of the plaintiffs in the latest case is Benjamin Van Bunderen Robberechts, a 17-year-old Belgian whose friend Rosa died in flash floods in Belgium at the age of 15 in 2021.

“It’s horrible that there are people who value their profits so much more than human lives,” Van Bunderen Robberechts, who has since founded the non-profit Climate Justice for Rosa, said in the statement.

“I will do everything in my power to fight the climate situation and hold those responsible to account,” he said.

They said they hope to set a legal precedent “whereby opening new fossil fuel projects would be considered criminal”.

While the case was filed on Tuesday, TotalEnergies announced a deep-water project off the coast of Angola, with production set to start in 2028 to extract 70,000 barrels per day.

(with AFP)


European elections

Record 37 French parties fielding lists for EU election

Nearly 3,000 candidates will be in the running for France’s 81 seats in the European Parliament, as a record 37 parties are fielding lists for the 9 June elections. Along with the established parties that have national politicians are a slew of single-issue lists that are hoping to get over five percent of the vote and win a seat in the assembly.

After Friday evening’s deadline, the Interior Ministry published the official list of candidates for the 9 June European elections: 37 parties, three more than in 2019.

Each list must have 81 candidates to fill the number of seats France has in the 720-member assembly, which means there are 2997 people in the running.

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The far right National Rally has been polling ahead of all the parties, with over 30 percent of the vote, followed by the ruling Renaissance party and the Socialists.

The hard left France Unbowed conservative Republicains and green EELV party are polling at about ten percent.

Depending on the poll, the Reconquete list, headed by Marion Marechal, Marine Le Pen’s niece, and the far-right, anti-immigration former presidential candidate, Eric Zemmour, may or may not reach the five percent threshold to win a seat in the parliament.

Environment and anti-EU

Along with the established greens are several smaller environmental groups fielding candidates on different ends of the political spectrum.

Among the 37 lists, a handful are overtly anti-European, most of them on the right, including Europe ça suffit (Europe is enough), led by former National Rally member Florian Philippot and the leader of the Via movement, Jean-Frederic Poisson, which is calling for France to leave the EU and NATO.

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The Communist for peace and social progress list is also calling for France to leave the EU and NATO.

They are among a group of leftist groups that have been unable to unify into a single list, including the NPA and FO.

Single issues

None of these lists are polling above the five percent threshold, nor are the more specific, single-issue parties, like the Animalists, who defend animal rights and whose list won a surprising 2.16 percent of the vote in 2019.

The president of the Union of French Muslim democrats, Nagib Azergui, is heading a Free Palestine list.

One list is focused on the defence of children, another on the use of Esperanto, and the Pirate party, which ran in 2014 and 2019, is pushing for free expression online.

The Interior Ministry drew lots for the order of lists on electoral panels, and the coveted first spot will be reserved for Pour une humanité souveraine (For a sovereign humanity), a list headed by the Guadeloupean environmentalist Léopold-Edouard Deher-Lesaint, calling for “political”, “monetary” and “energy sovereignty” and the “immediate, unconditional withdrawal of foreign occupying armies”.

(with newswires)


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)


Nigeria

Gunmen kill dozens in attack on Nigerian mining community

Gunmen on motorbikes stormed a mining community in central Nigeria, killing up to 40 people and torching homes, residents said, in the latest violence to hit a region troubled by resource disputes and intercommunal strife.

The attack late on Monday on Wase district in Plateau state was the latest violence in an area which has long been a flashpoint for disputes over resources and for outbreaks of intercommunal clashes.

Armed men invaded Zurak community, shooting sporadically and torching houses, Plateau state commissioner for information Musa Ibrahim Ashoms told French news agency AFP by telephone.

He initially gave an estimate of around 40 killed, but later said only nine had so far been confirmed dead after speaking to local officials as the situation was still unclear.

More people had gunshot wounds and residents were searching for others reported missing.

Early accounts in attacks in remote areas like Zurak, on the border between Plateau and Taraba States, are often confused and full details emerge slowly.

But local residents and youth leader Shafi’i Sambo said at least 40 people had been killed in the raid.

“The attackers entered into the village Monday evening, staying till early morning of Tuesday, shooting at the local villagers, killing many,” said resident Adamu Saluwe, who also gave a figure of around 40.

“When people are preparing for the farming season, they were suddenly attacked, killed.”

Outbreaks of violence

Wase has deposits of zinc and lead, while Plateau as a whole is known for its tin mining industry.

Sitting on the dividing line between Nigeria‘s mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, Plateau often sees outbreaks of violence sparked by disputes between nomadic herders and pastoral farmers.

Climate change has also helped escalate tensions over grazing land, water access and other resources such as the state’s metal reserves.

Parts of northwest and northcentral Nigeria have also been terrorised by heavily armed criminal gangs, who raid villages to loot and carry out mass kidnappings for ransom.

In December, almost 200 people were killed in Plateau’s Bokkos and Barkin Ladi districts over several days of violence during the Christmas period.

A month later, intercommunal clashes erupted in Plateau’s Mangu town that left churches and mosques burned, more than 50 people dead and thousands displaced.


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 #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.

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.