rfi 2024-05-26 10:05:54



SOUTH AFRICA

Corruption a big worry for young South Africans voting in key elections

Johannesburg – Young people are vying for change as South Africa heads to elections after three decades of democracy. Confidence in the ruling ANC, which is tipped to lose its majority, is particularly low for the youngest voters casting their ballots for the first time.

Amid a deepening social and economic crisis, young South Africans are demanding urgent action to reduce corruption, create jobs and improve basic needs and services.

Three-quarters of people aged 18 to 24 say their confidence in the nation’s future direction has plummeted – and they intend to hold the next government to account.

Those are the results of a survey by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, an NGO in Johannesburg that interviewed 1,000 people from this demographic across South Africa.



Young people will form the next generation of leaders who are about to emerge and make deep changes, the foundation’s founder and chairman, Ivor Ichikowitz, told RFI.

“I believe they will play a huge role in the election and in changing not only South Africa but the whole continent altogether,” he said.

Young voters make up nearly 15 percent of the electorate for the 29 May vote – and at least half of them say they’ll be heading to the polls.

Corruption worries

Corruption is now the biggest concern in the minds of youth, the survey found. Eighty-four percent of respondents were worried about this compared to 64 percent the last time the survey was carried out in 2022.

More than three-quarters of people were unhappy with efforts by the government to crack down on corruption, while nearly half said corruption was the reason they would not find jobs.   

Four in five young South Africans said they wanted to see tougher punishments for those convicted of corruption. The same number were in favour of creating an independent police task force.

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

Roughly 80 percent said people convicted of corruption should be prevented from standing for public office, and that candidates must not have a criminal record.

The results showed that young South Africans were looking to the government and other leaders to implement meaningful change, Ichikowitz said.

“This change needs to be systemic. The youth of South Africa are clearly aligned in this view.”

Other issues of high concern were lack of employment and gender-based violence, while worries over environmental issues including climate change and water scarcity also jumped.

Many young people, meanwhile, feel that not enough has been done to develop a non-racial post-apartheid society in South Africa.

There is a growing wariness that standards have plateaued and that this will continue into the future.

It would be “foolhardy” to ignore the warnings being expressed by South Africa’s youth as they get ready to vote, and to influence the people around them, Ichikowitz said.


Cannes Film Festival

Erotic dancer comedy-drama wins top prize at Cannes

Cannes (France) (AFP) – “Anora”, an explicit and often hilarious story about a New York erotic dancer, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, which also saw a first-ever win for a trans actress.

Director Sean Baker was confirmed as one of the leading voices of American indie cinema with the prize, which also promises to make a star of 25-year-old Mikey Madison.

She plays a dancer who strikes gold with a wealthy client, only to face the wrath of his Russian oligarch parents.

As head of the jury, “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig praised “Anora” as an “incredible, human and humane film that captured our hearts”.

Baker, who made the acclaimed “The Florida Project” and “Red Rocket”, said: “This literally has been my singular goal for the past 30 years, so I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”

He dedicated the prize to all sex workers and appealed for filmmakers to “keep cinema alive”.

“This means making films intended for theatrical exhibition,” the 53-year-old said.

“The world has to be reminded that watching a film at home while scrolling through your phone and checking emails and half paying attention is just not the way — although some tech companies would like us to think so.”

‘Harmony of sisterhood’

The 77th edition of the festival on the French Riviera saw several highly charged feminist and political movies, and lots of gore and sex.

A trans woman won best actress for the first time, as Karla Sofia Gascon took the award for her role in the audacious musical “Emilia Perez”, in which she plays a Mexican narco boss who becomes a woman.

The jury shared it between Gascon and her co-stars Zoe Saldana, Selena Gomez and Adriana Paz — saying they were rewarding the “harmony of sisterhood” — though only Gascon was at the ceremony.

She dedicated it to “all the trans people who are suffering”.

“We all have the opportunity to change for the better, to be better people,” she said.

“If you have made us suffer, it is time for you also to change.”

There were fewer meaty roles for men this year. Jesse Plemons took the prize for Yorgos Lanthimos’s bizarro series of short stories, “Kinds of Kindness”, though he was not present to accept it.

‘Deeply sad’

A devastating Iranian film about a family torn apart by the country’s recent women-led protests, “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” was given a special jury prize for “drawing attention to unsustainable injustice”.

Its director Mohammad Rasoulof, 51, escaped from Iran to avoid a lengthy prison sentence just before the festival.

Rasoulof said his heart was with the film’s crew, “still under the pressure of the secret services back in Iran”.

“I am also very sad, deeply sad, to see the disaster experienced by my people every day… the Iranian people live under a totalitarian regime,” he said.

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

The second-place Grand Prix went to “All We Imagine as Light”, the first Indian entry in 30 years.

It wowed critics with its poetic monsoon-set portrayal of two women who have migrated to Mumbai to work as nurses.

“Emilia Perez” also won the third-place Jury Prize for its French director, Jacques Audiard.

‘Revolution’

Best director went to Portugal’s Miguel Gomes for “Grand Tour”, an oblique tale about a man abandoning his fiancee and travelling around Asia.

Best screenplay went to “The Substance” starring Demi Moore, an ultra-gory horror film about the pressures women face to maintain bodily perfection as they age.

“What an incredible gift it has been to work with you,” writer and director Coralie Fargeat told Moore from the stage.

The film is “about women and what women can still experience in the world. We need a revolution, and I don’t think it has really started yet”, she said.

“Star Wars” creator George Lucas received an honorary Palme d’Or from his old friend Francis Ford Coppola, who competed this year with the highly divisive “Megalopolis”.


2024 Coupe de France

PSG outwit Lyon to claim Coupe de France and domestic treble

Paris Saint-Germain beat Lyon 2-1 on Saturday night to lift the Coupe de France for a record-extending 15th time and complete a domestic treble of French Super Cup and Ligue 1 championship.

Lyon went into the final at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille as the fairy tale team up against an all-devouring monster.

They had seven points after their first 12 games as club supremos ditched coaches Laurent Blanc and Fabio Grosso.

Academy chief Pierre Sage was appointed first team coach to navigate the morass. Under the Frenchman Lyon stabilised and then transformed themselves into one of the form teams in Ligue 1  claiming 37 out of 45 points from their last 15 games to finish sixth.

In the prelude to Saturday’s clash, PSG boss Luis Enrique hailed Sage’s skills and identified the side as potential title rivals next season.

Enrique’s prediction seemed an unlikely reality as Lyon reverted to their early season haplessness.

PSG defender Nuno Mendes crossed from the left for an unmarked Ousmane Dembélé to head past the Lyon goalkeeper Lucas Perri.

Fabian Ruiz was similarly unattended to drove in the second in the 34th minute.

After the pause, Warren Zaïre-Emery and Kylian Mbappé – playing in his final game for PSG before an expected move to Real Madrid – had chances to extend the lead. But Perri was equal to the shots.

Return

Lyon injected jeopardy into the proceedings in the 55th minute from a set piece. Ryan Cherki swung over a corner from the right and Jake O ‘Brien powered home a header past the PSG goalkeeper Gig Donnarumma.

The goal increased Lyon’s belief as PSG appeared to lose their composure. But the league champions gradually reimposed their possession game to stretch Sage’s men and run down the clock.

In the last 10 minutes, Lyon’s players barely got a touch of the ball as Enrique’s charges displayed their technical skills and sang froid.



“Every competition is important at PSG,” said Zaïre-Emery after teh victory. “I’m happy to win … it’s my first Coupe de France. We’ve had a good season and I’m proud of what we’ve done.”

Lyon had been seeking a first trophy since lifting the Coupe de France in 2012. They will play in the Europa League next season.

“It’s been a good season to come from where we were,” said Cherki. “But we wanted to win the cup.

“I’m disappointed and I’m annoyed. It’s a dream to play in a Coupe de France final.”

Sage was munificent in defeat. “I’m disappointed for the players and the supporters as we would have liked to give them something to smile about.

“But we did things to give PSG the initiative and ourselves a two-goal handicap. They deserved the victory. They are a great team and showed us just how far we need to go to be able to compete with them.”


2024 French Open

Contenders remain in the shadow of Nadal, the French Open’s mightiest warrior

Moments after collecting the French Open men’s singles trophy for the 14th time in 2022, Rafael Nadal soaked up the ovation from the 15,000 spectators on Court Philippe Chatrier. “It’s difficult to describe the feeling,” Nadal said. “At 36, playing in the most important court of my career and still competitive. I just want to say thank you to everyone here in Paris.”

The fifth seed had seen off the world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic in a four-hour quarter-final epic, ridden his luck in the semis against the third seed Alexander Zverev and outmuscled the eighth seed Casper Ruud in the final to prevail – 17 years after winning his first Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Injury prevented him from defending his crown in 2023, the year that Iga Swiatek picked up her third French Open singles title.

Less than a week after her success, Swiatek travelled to Spain to give the keynote address as guest of honour at the graduation ceremony at the Rafa Nadal Academy.

“For the last few weeks, I’ve been looking at one quote at Roland Garros in Paris,” Swiatek told the audience. “On Court Philippe Chatrier it’s written: ‘The victory belongs to the most tenacious’.” 

Nadal, said the women’s world number one, defined the epithet. 

“I often have the feeling that sometimes when I’m playing or when I’m doing things off court, that I should do them better or I should seek perfection,” Swiatek added.

“But this shouldn’t be the sense. We should all focus on the process and giving 100 percent, no matter what you can give, because every day is different.”



It was no surprise that Swiatek, an avowed Nadal fan, posted a message on social media of her sitting near the man who has embodied grit since bursting onto the scene in pirate shorts, a sleeveless T-shirt and a bandana around his flowing teen locks.

A year on, of the two, it is Swiatek who is more likely to be holding a French Open singles trophy.

The 22-year-old grew up watching Nadal effectively annex the Coupe des Mousquetaires. 

Between 2005 and 2022, only Roger Federer (2009), Stan Wawrinka (2015) and Djokovic (2016 and 2021) claimed the title as Nadal battered and bludgeoned the circuit’s best on his way to a record 14 titles. No player has won so many at a single Grand Slam event.

But, cut down by injuries and diminished by age, Nadal, who will be 38 on 3 June, appears unlikely to dominate a 15th time during what he says might be his last visit to the tournament as a player.

“It’s a big, big chance that it’s going to be my last Roland Garros,” he said on the eve of the tournament.

“But if I have to tell you it’s 100 percent my last Roland Garros, sorry, but I will not, because I cannot predict what’s going on.

“I have been going through a long process of recovery with a very difficult injury,” Nadal added. “Almost two years of suffering, a recovering process that seems like I feel better now.

‘So give me some time. Maybe in one month and a half I say, okay, it’s enough, I can’t keep going.  But today in some way I cannot guarantee that it’s  going to be the last one. But of course it’s a big chance.”

Ranked at 276 in the world, Nadal has been drawn in the first round against the fourth seed Zverev who was leading him a merry dance in the 2022 semi-final before rolling his ankle and damaging the ligaments. The German left the court in a wheelchair.

Return

That injury removed him from the circuit for the rest of the year. The 27-year-old has not only recovered his health but also his status. He enters the 2024 French Open in fine fettle after capturing the Italian Open in Rome.

“I was on court practising and my brother told me about the draw,” said Zverev on Friday. “I actually thought he was joking.

“But then it is what it is. To be very honest, I wanted to play Rafa again in my career – in his career. I didn’t want my last memory of me playing against Rafa to be me leaving the court in a wheelchair.

“So ideally, I would have liked to play him in the later stages of the tournament. But he is unseeded this year. I am seeded. It’s tough for both of us.”

The clash will add some spice to the men’s draw which appears unusually open this year.

Slump

Defending champion and world number one Djokovic whirls in a slump – by his standards. No tournament wins, not even a final.

He lost to Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January, was dispatched in the third round at Indian Wells in March and then skipped the Miami Masters.

A semi-final on clay at the Monaco Masters in April suggested something of a return towards normality but after opting out of the Madrid Masters at the start of May to focus on the Italian Open in Rome, he fell there in the third round.

A loss on 24 May to the world number 44 Tomas Machac, in the semis at the Geneva Open, will hardly have improved his humour.

But with three wins In Paris as part of his record haul of 24 Grand Slam tournament victories, the Serb – who has just turned 37 – cannot be discounted, especially when young pretenders such as Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz carry their own health issues.

“Jannik is having an unbelievable season,” said Alcaraz of the Australian Open champion.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s coming back from an injury. Jannik has the capacity to come here and play at such a high level and win.

“I think it is the same for Rafa and the same for Djokovic. Probably we don’t see them playing their best tennis, but it’s a Grand Slam, it’s Roland Garros. I think they have chances to raise their levels and win the tournament.”

Pressure

Were Swiatek to increase her powers on clay, she might well, just like her idol, hit double figures at the French Open.

The defending champion will start her campaign for a fourth title against a qualifier.

Swiatek arrived in Paris as the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win back-to-back trophies on the clay courts in Madrid and Rome.

“There is a lot of pressure, especially when you play well and you already know that you can win the tournament,” said Swiatek.

“People are expecting it to happen again and again and again. So there is pressure, but I wouldn’t say I’m more nervous than usual. You need that stress to get you on the right level of motivation and readiness.

“But I’m also pretty confident with how I’m playing right now and with the work we have been doing. So I feel good.”

Challenge

Swiatek in such a mood could bode ill for the rest of the draw. She claimed her first French Open in 2020 without dropping a set.

In 2022, Qinwen Zheng took the first set off her in the tiebreak in last-16 but was immediately slapped down 6-0, 6-2 for the impertinence. From then it was a straight sets roll in the quarters and semis through to the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

Last year, only Karolina Muchova during the final won a set. And Swiatek has been working on her serve.

“I would say I’m not expecting a lot from the changes but it’s fine,” she said. “My serve was pretty bad before and I could win many tournaments. I always have a plan B. I don’t need to win points only by serving.”

In the finals in Madrid and Rome, Swiatek overcame the world number two Aryna Sabalenka. The showdown in Spain went to three sets while Swiatek prevailed 6-2, 6-3 in Rome.

“Iga has achieved incredible results here at Roland Garros,” said Sabalenka who has twice won the Australian Open.

“And I take her success as a challenge as I like to accept tough challenges. That’s what actually motivates me and brings me more energy to keep going, to keep fighting for what I think I can achieve.”

For all the progress of third seed Coco Gauff and fourth seed Elena Rybakina, who have won the US Open and Wimbledon respectively, it is difficult to foresee anything else than a Swiatek v Sabalenka showdown on Philippe Chatrier Stadium on Saturday 8 June.

It would be otherworldly were Nadal to be on the same court on 9 June for the men’s final.

But then absolutely no one mentioned 14 titles back in 2005.


Justice

French former Catholic priest convicted of raping and sexually abusing four boys

Olivier de Scitivaux de Greische, 64, has been handed a 17-year sentence after admitting to raping and sexually assaulting four young boys during more than a decade in the 1990s and 2000s.

A criminal court on Saturday found de Scitivaux de Greische, a former senior priest in the diocese of Orléans southwest of Paris, “guilty of all the acts of rape and aggravated sexual assault” he was accused of.

The court announced the accused would have to serve a minimum of 10 years behind bars.

In a hearing behind closed doors on Friday, the former priest – who was returned to lay status at his own request – acknowledged everything “without reservation”.

“I admit, because I have to use words, to the touching, the caresses, the fellatio, the digital and penile penetrations, to all the acts,” he told the court.

The court also sentenced the accused to socio-judicial supervision, the obligation to seek treatment, and a ban on carrying out any professional or voluntary activity involving contact with minors.

For the first time, the accused admitted to raping and sexually assaulting two other victims as early as 1982, but he cannot be prosecuted for those acts since they were past the statute of limitations.

Damien Brossier, de Scitivaux de Greische’s lawyer,  has appealed to the court for leniency, stressing that his client was no longer a danger. 

  • Church orders French paedophile priest Preynat to compensate victims

Warnings ignored

Olivier de Scitivaux de Greische was ordained a priest in 1989 when he was 29.

He soon became close to the parents of his victims – three brothers – regularly inviting himself to their home and staying overnight in the bedroom of the eldest child, who was raped and assaulted from the age of 9.

“Olivier de Scitivaux was the gangrene, because he was everywhere in the family”, said lawyer Clémence Lemarchand, representing one of the victims.

Sexual acts took place at the boys’ home while their parents slept, but also at the Scitivaux domaine, in a winter chalet or on summer camp. 

The three brothers and a friend described before the court the abuse they each suffered, unaware at the time that the others were also victims.

“Look closely at his hands”, the youngest of the siblings said, “my first ejaculation was in his hands, his hands give out Holy Communion.”

The youngest brother described several months where the priest would call by “every week, every day, every evening” and “the moment when he used tools on my body” or when “he shaved me”.

“When one wasn’t available, there was the second or third”, de Scitivaux de Greische said, in reference to the three brothers, who are now in their 40s.

  • French Catholic Church to use its own assets to compensate sex abuse victims

Despite youth workers and families first alerting the diocese to the abuse in the 1980s, and further warnings by families and youth workers within the chaplaincy in 1998, the sexual assaults continued through to the early 2000s.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by child sexual abuse scandals around the world, and regularly accused of turning a blind eye to them.

In 2021, a report on sexual abuse within the French Catholic Church found that 216,000 minors were victims of abuse from 1950 to 2020. An independent commission said it was a massive phenomenon covered up for decades by a “veil of silence”. 


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Postcard from Cannes #5: Indian cinematographer bags coveted prize

With over 50 feature films to his name both as cameraman and director, Santosh Sivan is a star in his native India. He was invited to the Cannes Film Festival this week to receive the Pierre Angénieux Prize for his contribution to cinematography.

Sivan’s award coincides with the much-anticipated return of Indian cinema, with one film in the main competition and three in the other categories.

It’s his first time at Cannes in person and he has enjoyed the warm welcome.

“I think Cannes is easily the most popular of all festivals,” Sivan tells RFI, reeling off a list of international events he’s been to, from Sundance to Busan. What he likes most is the recognition Cannes offers to the technicians working behind the scenes.

Apart from a couple of international collaborations, it seems the world has been slow to appreciate his multiple talents.

This appears set to change thanks to the prestigious Pierre Angénieux prize awarded on Friday evening at a special ceremony, attended by Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux.

A second Angénieux encouragement award was handed over to young Estonian cinematographer Kadri Koop on the same occasion.

The prize is named after Frenchman Pierre Angénieux, who began manufacturing lenses for the film and television industry nearly ninety years ago. The equipment was used for NASA’s Apollo 11 mission and provided images of man’s first step on the Moon.

Attachment to India

Sivan, who founded the Indian Society of Cinematographers in 1995 has had a long career in India and won dozens of accolades, but this is the first connected to France.

He garnered international attention with films such The Mistress of Spices by Paul Mayeda Berges from the UK in 2005 and Lies We Tell by Mitu Misra (2017), which gave him the opportunity to work with Gabriel Byrne and Harvey Keitel.

Thanks to these experiences, he became the only Indian filmmaker to become a member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC).

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

When asked if he was ever tempted to start a career in the United States or Europe, he says that he did have some opportunities, but opted to stay in his homeland.

The idea of uprooting his family, from where he lives in Pondicherry just didn’t feel right. His attachment to his country is too strong.

“The reason I wanted to start cinematography is that I wanted to film all these beautiful places I’ve seen [in India] and interact with the culture. I think one lifetime is not enough to justice to it. If I leave, I leave all of it.”

Sivan admits he has always had more than enough to keep him busy in India, where he has worked with greats such as Gurinder Chadha (Bride and Prejudice, 2004) and Shaji N Karun, for whom he did camera work for the film Vanaprastham (The Last Dance), which was shown in Cannes at the Un Certain Regard category in 1999.

Cinematography is like music

One of his most challenging experiences was filming a sequence in the Bollywood hit Dil Se (1998) by Mani Ratnam, starring Shahrukh Khan.

Dozens of actors are performing the Bollywood hit Chaiyya Chaiyya, precariously on top of a moving train – an extremely difficult exercise done with very minimal equipment, he recalls.

“I try to treat cinematography like music, so my visuals have a sense of music. I try to create the melody with light and shade,” Sivan says.

“With composition and camera movement, I try to create the rhythm. So when you have a blend of both together, I feel like the audience can be in tune with it.”

  • French festival celebrates diversity of vintage Indian cinema

So where does he continue to get his energy and inspiration after all these years behind the camera?

“As an artist, you have to grow both ways, like a tree. You have to have your roots going into the darkness of the soil so that the tree can climb high into the sky,” Sivan says.

Making films comes from a mixture of sources, be it art, music, everyday life as well as keeping updated on technology.

Change is inevitable

“Change is inevitable,” Sivan adds. “AI is also going to have a big presence for sure. So I think it’s up to us to decide when to use it. What we are trying to do is tell a story. When you point to the moon to look at the moon, there’s no point looking at the finger.

“So whatever the device that you have, the possibilities are there, if they help you look at the moon, that’s what we decide to embrace”.

He says he is very enthusiastic over his latest project Zuni, about a 16th century poetess called Habba Khatoon, for which he showed a teaser in Cannes.

  • RFI’s coverage of the Cannes Film Festival here

Sivan says it is an incredible opportunity to tell a unique, less well-known story about a singularly impressive woman who came from Kashmir, a part of the country that fascinates him.

He is also thrilled that India is well represented at the Cannes festival this year, no doubt opening doors for the younger generation.

All We Imagine as Light – a debut feature by Payal Kapadia is the first Indian film in the main competition in 30 years.

There’s also Santosh ,by Sandhya Suri, alongside The Shameless, set in India by Bojanov Konstantin, both in the Un Certain Regard category, while Sister Midnight by Karan Kandhari is in the Directors’ Fortnight.


Transport strikes

Paris Orly air controller strike sparks mass flight cancellations

The French civil aviation authority has ordered airlines to cancel 70 percent of flights at Paris Orly airport on Saturday and Sunday because of a strike by air traffic controllers over staff shortages.

The cancellations will affect commercial flights from 0600 local time Saturday through to late Sunday, the DGAC authority said.

The strike comes as France’s second busiest airport prepares for a massive influx for the Paris Olympics, that start 26 July. It is the second major air traffic controllers strike in a month. The last one caused the cancellation of thousands of flights across Europe.

That dispute ended with an accord between airport authorities and the main union, the SNCTA. But the second biggest labour group, UNSA-ICNA, ordered the latest stoppage saying that staffing levels were inadequate.

“The managers at Orly continue their penny-pinching and shopkeeper accounts which will quickly lead to our teams being understaffed” by 2027, it said in a statement.

Passengers ‘pay the price’

The government condemned the strike.

“I deplore the behavior of some local level agents who refuse to recognise the legitimacy of a majority accord and are making passengers pay the price,” deputy transport minister Patrice Vergriete told AFP.

Orly, south of Paris, is the capital’s second-biggest airport after Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle and last year carried more than 32 million passengers.

It is a hub for national carrier Air France and the home base for its low-cost subsidiary Transavia. More than 20 other airlines, including easyJet, Iberia and TAP, fly out of Orly.

Only flights between Orly and French overseas territories would operate normally this weekend, the DGAC said.

  • France reforms strike rules for air traffic controllers after year of turbulence

(with AFP)


Justice

French court finds three Syrian officials guilty of war crimes

A Paris court has sentenced three members of Syria’s Assad regime to life imprisonment for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes in a landmark trial.

It is the first time that France has held a trial on abuses committed during Syria’s civil war since 2011.

The accused – Ali Mamlouk, former head of the Syrian secret services and current security adviser to Bashar al-Assad; Jamil Hassan, former head of the Syrian air force intelligence unit; and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations at the notorious Mezzeh detention centre – were all tried in absentia.

The three men are believed to be in Syria. There are international warrants for their arrest and the judges ordered they should remain in force.

Many in the court galleries stood up to applaud after the ruling was announced on Friday evening. 

“It is a verdict that will resonate for hundreds of thousands of Syrians who are still waiting for justice,” said Clemence Bectarte, a lawyer for some of the victims in the case.

Widespread abuses

The three officials were charged with complicity in the deaths of two French-Syrian men, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, who were arrested in Damascus in 2013 and never seen again. They were declared dead in 2018.

At the time of his arrest, Patrick Dabbagh was a 20-year-old arts and humanities student at the University of Damascus. His father was a senior education adviser at the French school in Damascus.

Ahead of the trial, judges from France’s special war crimes tribunal said 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”.

Prosecutors noted during the four-day trial that there had been systematic and widespread abuses in Syria since 2011, saying tens of thousands of Syrians may have suffered the fate of the Dabbaghs.

  • French court upholds right to investigate Syrians suspected of war crimes

‘Historic’ first step 

Several experts and witnesses who have spent time in Syrian prisons gave evidence at the trial.

“Impunity is something very difficult to live with,” said Obeida Dabbagh, Mazzen Dabbagh’s brother.

“Justice has to be seen. This is a very important first step, it is historic,” he said.

The case was brought to the special war crimes tribunal by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). One of its lawyers Patrick Baudouin, said the trial and the sentence were a “signal to our leaders, to European leaders, that they must not at any price normalise relations with Bashar al-Assad“. 

Syria’s conflict since 2011 has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions and ravaged Syria’s economy and infrastructure. 

Trials into abuses in Syria have taken place elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany. In those cases, the people prosecuted held lower ranks and were present at the hearings.

In November last year, France issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar al-Assad over the use of chemical weapons against civilians, carried out in the summer of 2013.

  • German court sentences Syrian torture colonel to life in prison

(with AFP)


New Caledonia unrest

First French tourists evacuated from New Caledonia as unrest continues

The first evacuation flights for French tourists stranded in New Caledonia due to riots in the Pacific territory took off Saturday, the high commission in the archipelago said.

The international airport in the capital Noumea has remained closed for more than a week and all commercial flights have been cancelled due to the unrest.

“Measures to send foreigners and French tourists home continue,” the high commission, which represents the French state, said in a statement.

The tourists departed Saturday from Magenta airfield in Noumea aboard military aircraft headed for Australia and New Zealand, according to an AFP journalist.

They will then have to take commercial flights to mainland France.

“I came on vacation to visit my best friend (…) The conflict broke out and I got stuck,” in Noumea, Audrey, who did not give her last name, told AFP.

Australia and New Zealand had already begun repatriating their nationals on Tuesday.

The situation has been gradually easing for the many people trapped in the territory which has been shaken since May 13 by riots over planned voting reforms.

Seven people have been killed in the violence, the latest a man shot dead on Friday by a policeman who was attacked by protesters.

President Emmanuel Macron flew to the archipelago on Thursday in an urgent bid to defuse the political crisis.

He pledged during his lightning trip that the planned voting reforms “will not be forced through“.

  • Deadly unrest in New Caledonia tied to old colonial wounds

Contested voting reform

Indigenous Kanaks had objected that the planned reform would dilute their influence by extending voting rights to newcomers to the Pacific archipelago, located about 17,000 kilometres from mainland France.

“Violence should never be allowed to take root,” Macron said during a televised interview with local journalists at the end of his visit Friday.

“What I want is a message of order and return to calm as this is not the Wild West,” he said.

“A path must be opened for the calming of tensions and this will allow us to build what happens next.”

The pro-independence FLNKS party on Saturday reiterated its demand for the withdrawal of the voting reforms after meeting with Macron.

“The FLNKS asked the President of the French Republic that a strong announcement be made from him indicating the withdrawal of the draft constitutional law,” it said in a statement, saying it was a “prerequisite to ending the crisis”.

In Paris, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said “the situation in New Caledonia today remains extremely fragile”.

France has enforced a state of emergency, flying in hundreds of police and military reinforcements to restore order.

New Caledonia has been ruled from Paris since the 1800s, but many Indigenous Kanaks still resent France’s power over their islands and want fuller autonomy or independence.

  • Key dates in New Caledonia’s history

(AFP)

International report

President Raisi’s death casts shadow over diplomatic tensions with Turkey

Issued on:

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi was laid to rest on Thursday, concluding days of funeral rites attended by thousands of mourners after his death in a helicopter crash last week. Experts say the tragedy may well increase tensions between Iran and Turkey, both vying for influence in the Middle East.

Hundreds of thousands marched in Raisi’s home town Mashhad to bid farewell ahead of his burial following processions in the cities of Tabriz, Qom, Tehran and Birjand.

The 63-year-old died on Sunday alongside his Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others after their helicopter went down in the country’s mountainous northwest while returning from a dam inauguration on the border with Azerbaijan.

A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from the European Union, Russia and Turkey before the crash site was located early on Monday.

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

The Iranian military said that a drone dispatched by Turkey had failed to locate the crash site “despite having night-vison equipment”.

“Finally, in the early hours of Monday morning, the exact spot of the helicopter crash was discovered by the ground rescue forces and Iranian drones of the armed forces,” the military said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.

Meanwhile, on Thursday Iran’s army said it has so far found no evidence of criminal activity related to the crash.

Simmering tensions

The high profile deaths come as rivalry continues to intensify between Iran and Turkey.  

“For Turkey, the future of South Caucasia, Iraq and Syria are critical for its national security. And here in these areas of Turkey, all face Iranian opposition against Turkey’s interests,” explained Bilgehan Alagoz, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Marmara University

For example, the Turkish military is poised to launch a major offensive in Iraq and Syria against the bases of the Kurdish rebel group PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state.

Ankara has repeatedly criticised Tehran for failing to support its efforts, while  Iran is concerned about Turkey encroaching in areas it considers to be in its sphere of influence. 

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

The death of Raisi has brought to the fore bitter memories of the killing by the United States four years ago of Qasim Soleimani, the veteran head of the international operations of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp.

“These two important personalities had been increasing Iranian influence in the Middle East very strongly,” observed Professor of International Relations Huseyin Bagci at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University

Bagci says Turkey’s diplomatic advantage will no doubt be stronger as Iran heads into presidential elections on 28 June.

“I don’t know if the new foreign minister and President will somehow get the same level of this influence because they will be mostly inexperienced people,” he says.

Internal fight for power

Bagci suggests that a real internal fight for power will be problematic for the country because “Iranian society is much more dynamic and progressive than the regime.

“There is a partnership between the clerics and the military. But these two institutions are also fighting amongst each other.”

However, if Iran’s Revolutionary Guard increases its power, experts warn that it could also result in a more assertive use of Iranian proxies controlled by the IRGC in Iraq and Syria, which are often as odds with Turkish interests.

Alagoz says that the IRGC’s view of the region is very problematic because the Iran proxies are a problem for the future of the Middle East.

“The overconfidence of the IRGC combined with political power will be a destabilising factor in the Middle East, and so Turkey will always be concerned by this issue.”

With Ankara and Tehran competing for power from Syria and Iraq to Sudan, analysts say the outcome of Iran’s transition of power could have significant implications across the region and for Turkish-Iranian relations.


French football

Coupe de France: Lyon face test of mettle during Mbappé’s farewell show for PSG

Hoisting the Coupe de France trophy on Saturday night in Lille at the expense of Paris Saint-Germain would cap a remarkable turnaround for Lyon.

At the end of 2023, the team and the club appeared to be in the doldrums, swirling in a vortex of ineptitude.

Laurent Blanc was sacked after four games with the team bottom of Ligue 1 with one point. His successor, Fabio Grosso, brought six points during his eight Ligue 1 games in change before he was dispatched on 30 November.

His replacement – Pierre Sage – initially appeared equally cursed. The team lost the first two matches under his aegis to leave them bottom of the table at the beginning of December.

But a burst of three successive victories renewed hope and took them out of danger just before the break for Christmas and New Year. Defeats to Le Havre and Rennes sent them back into the drop zone again for a couple of weeks.

Since February, however, it has been a glistening rise. They have taken 37 out of a possible 45 to climb into sixth place.

“Even though it started badly we’ve gone through something good,” said Sage just after his side finished its Ligue 1 campaign with a place in next season’s Europa League.

“We’ll go into the Coupe de France final with a view to win it because a trophy is a trophy. A place in a European competition is simply that. When you get the chance to win something, you have to take it.”

Lyon has claimed the Coupe de France on five occasions – the last time came in 2012 when they beat third tier US Quevilly.

Glory

PSG have lifted the cup six times in the intervening years and will be seeking a record 15th Coupe de France to complete a domestic sweep of Ligue 1, French Super Cup and Coupe de France to crown an impressive first season for Luis Enrique.

The 53-year-old Spaniard took over last July from Christophe Galtier and the former Barcelona and Spain coach has suavely handled the loss of star players such as Lionel Messi, Neymar and Marco Verratti.

In their stead a yeoman collective has emerged with Vitinha and Warren Zaïre-Emery pulling the strings in midfield and feeding Kylian Mbappé up front.

“It’s going to be an important match because it’s a final,” said Enrique on the eve of the game.

“The Coupe de France is an important competition with an historic dimension. It’s different from the league because there are more surprises that can happen. But the important thing for us is to win this competition.”

Mbappé will feature in his last game for PSG on Saturday night a few weeks after announcing he will leave the side at the end of the season. 

Though still unconfirmed, Real Madrid is widely believed to be the 25-year-old’s next port of call. He will arrive in the Spanish capital with a challenge to continue his prodigious feats in front of goal.

Since arriving at PSG in the summer of 2017, he has become the club’s record marksman with 256 goals in 307 games. He has finished with the Ligue 1 “golden boot” for the last six years and will depart from PSG with 14 trophies – 15 if the club thwarts Lyon.

Battle

The omens look good for PSG. When Lyon played PSG a month ago, they were walloped 4-1. Mbappé was rested for the fixture and Gonçalo Ramos, his replacement in attack, bagged a brace in the rout at the Parc des Princes.

The final will be an altogether different experience, says Enrique.

“Sage’s statistics are incredible,” he added. “He has turned around a difficult situation and has an incredible squad.

“I think this team can compete with us for the title next year and we have to be wary of them on Saturday. This is a team with defensive and attacking qualities.”

Wrestling with PSG for Ligue 1 titles and participation in the Champions League was at the epicentre of John Textor’s thinking when he took over from Jean-Michel Aulas as Lyon supremo in June 2022.

Such realities have proved unattainable. But a win over PSG could launch an era.

“We’ve got to be brave,” Lyon midfielder Maxence Caqueret told the French sports newspaper L’Equipe.

“And we’ve got to be on our guard defensively because PSG are so fast in attack.

We’ve lost to them twice this season but a cup final is different. It’s going to be a great match between the champions of France and us, a team who is in form.”

The Sound Kitchen

A best friend as a hero

Issued on:

Feast your ears on listener Rodrigo Hunriche’s “My Ordinary Hero” essay. All it takes is a little click on the “Play” button above!

Hello everyone!

This week on The Sound Kitchen, you’ll hear a “My Ordinary Hero” essay by listener Rodrigo Hunrichse from Chile. I hope you’ll be inspired to write an essay for us, too!

If your essay goes on the air, you’ll find a package in the mail from The Sound Kitchen. Write in about your “ordinary” heroes – the people in your community who are doing extraordinarily good work, quietly striving to make the world a better place, in whatever way they can. As listener Pramod Maheshwari said: “Just as small drops of water can fill a pitcher, small drops of kindness can change the world.”

I am still looking for your “This I Believe” essays too. Tell us about the principles that guide your life … what you have found to be true from your very own personal experience. Or write in with your most memorable moment, and/or your proudest achievement. If your essay is chosen to go on the air – read by youyou’ll win a special prize!

Send in your musical requests, your secret “guilty” pleasure (mine’s chocolate!), your tricks for remembering things, your favourite quotations and proverbs, descriptions of the local festivals you participate in, your weirdest dream, the book you are reading and what you think about it, or just your general all-around thoughts to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

Or by postal mail, to:

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Here’s Rodrigo Hunrichse’s essay: 

“My friend Jorge “Tito” Vargas Rocha is my ordinary hero, because he’s been accepting me (I’m hard to handle) for counseling/ following my advice for 15 years (he’s a little stubborn as well), but after my perseverance he’s been delivering now as senior. We are examples and we help each other: I even took him in for nine months after a fire burnt his home. I consider him my brother. In his youth, he was a good athlete (rowing, weightlifting, skiing, etc) and student (three careers at the University), reader, and builder… and the reason I’m learning French in my middle age: he attended Alliance Française in his childhood, was referred to as a “bonne homme”, was an exchange student in Michigan, USA, where he certified in High School too! My Hero!

His French is better than his Spanish but his English is good too (mine are better excepting my so-far-poor French). I’ve been insisting he practices his French by talking/ listening to the radio/ watching TV5 Monde and affiliates, and by buying him books. A trip to France is out of our pockets, but I drive him to the countryside, to museums, beaches, as well as long bus rides to his childhood home of Port of Lebu, which is three hours away. He deserves better, but lately lacks effort as a senior, although he is staying in good shape. My Hero!”

The music chosen by Rodrigo is “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, performed by the composer. 

The quiz will be back next week, 1 June 2024. Talk to you then!


EU – China relations

EU struggles to come out on top in systemic rivalry with China

From human rights to technology, the European Union’s relationship with China is a key issue for the bloc as voters in 27 countries prepare to cast their ballots in EU elections in June.

A large trade deficit, human rights questions and worries about Beijing getting the latest tech are among Europe’s concerns about China.

For years the EU has been increasingly economically dependent on the Asian powerhouse. 

But EU exports to China decreased in 2023 for the first time in a decade, while total Chinese imports into the EU nosedived to €516 billion – down from €627 billion the year before.

Is it a sign that Brussels is taking steps to fight the bloc’s dependency on China? Not according to Alicia Garcia-Herrero, a senior fellow with economic think tank Bruegel.

She told RFI that the decrease is due to China’s drive to localise production to reduce its reliance on other countries.

The country “entices foreign companies’ interest to localise in China as it gives them access to tenders”, she says. 

For instance, medical companies can’t access hospital tenders to sell their devices unless they subcontract production to local Chinese firms.

As a result, EU companies hardly use European suppliers to serve their needs in China, which pushes down EU exports.

Made in China

The strategy forms part of President Xi Jinping’s “Made in China 2025” masterplan, first announced in 2015, which is intended to develop China’s high-tech industries and reduce reliance on foreign technology.

The problem is that most – if not all – of the EU’s largest multinationals have been investing in China since it opened up to the outside world in 1978. 

“They’ve already invested so much,” says Garcia-Herrero. “They are captured by the sunk costs of what they’ve been doing for so many years.”

She says China’s localisation policy has helped it rapidly secure a foothold in new sectors by forcing foreign companies to engage in joint ventures with local partners and share the latest technology.

For foreign companies, this means they “cannot compete anymore”, she says. 

Meanwhile the EU does not make the same demands of Chinese companies operating within European borders.

“When [China’s biggest car maker] BYD goes to Hungary or Spain to produce cars, nobody [in Brussels] forces China to localise its production,” Garcia-Herrero says. 

As a result, China employs its own Chinese subcontractors and often manpower to produce goods, contributing less to the EU economy than if they were using local resources. 

“Somebody has to make it more expensive for them to invest in China,” Garcia-Herrero argues.

Since the EU declared China a “systemic rival” in a 2019 policy paper, Brussels favours “de-risking” its dealings with Beijing, or decreasing its dependence on Chinese imports and cutting down exports of sensitive technology.

“De-risking doesn’t necessarily mean that we produce everything ourselves,” says Garcia-Herrero.

“But I think it that it should mean that we have other alternatives. You have huge countries out there where Europe can operate.”

Hardening EU stance

Brussels may have grasped too late the competitive edge that China has been building over the decades.

“France has been at the forefront of getting the EU to wake up to the geo-economic risks of being outpaced both by China and by the US,” says Nicholas Becquelin, a senior fellow with Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center.

“The EU lags far behind when it comes to economic growth, energy dependence, innovation and AI.”

Europe is split between countries that are critical of China and those that favour cooperation, he explains.

“President [Emmanuel] Macron and France have been very active in getting the EU very early on – from 2009 onwards – to forge a consensus that Europe must evolve and become more careful about investments and trade with every country,” says Becquelin.

He pointed out that Brussels gradually started to adopt a “firmer stance” toward China “because of the size of the trade deficit, intellectual property theft and Beijing’s support to Russia”. 

And gradually, over the last decade, China started to lose the propaganda war.

  • EU seeks to protect sensitive technology from Chinese buyers
  • Brussels aims to remove Chinese energy giants from the EU market

Divide and conquer

“China’s strategy has always been to have a divided Europe because a divided Europe cannot take measures to protect itself from China’s economic aggression, security threats and so on,” says Becquelin.

In the early to mid-2000s, he says, Beijing was extremely successful at maintaining that.

Its Belt and Road infrastructural project extended deep into Europe, enlisting 16 Eastern European countries and even some core EU members including Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg. 

They “were really on the verge of building sort of a pro-China block within Europe and within the EU”, Becquelin says.

China’s growing influence even compelled the EU to abstain from expressing concern about China’s geopolitical moves or violations of human rights. In 2017, for example, Greece – a Belt and Road partner – blocked an EU statement criticising China’s rights record.

“China’s strategy has always been to have a divided Europe because a divided Europe cannot take measures to protect itself from China’s economic aggression.”

01:32

REMARK: Nicholas Becquelin

But those times are over.

“The pandemic made Europe realise how vulnerable it was to dependency on China for its supply chain, from everything from pharmaceuticals to masks to anything that was manufactured in China and critical,” says Becquelin.

Europe increasingly started to limit the export of sensitive equipment to China, while the United States pressured ASML, a Dutch company that produces the world’s most advanced microchip printing machines, to halt exports to Chinese counterparts.

Now when Xi visits Europe, the welcome is limited, says Becquelin.

The Chinese president’s tour this month – the first in five years – began in France, where Xi has a good relationship with Macron.

It concluded in Serbia and Hungary – two of the most pro-Russian countries on the continent.

Propaganda war?

Meanwhile, public opinion on China has nosedived in Europe in recent years.

“The five biggest political groups inside the European Parliament supported anti-China resolutions with support of at least 85 percent of the votes throughout the last mandate,” Grzegorz Stec, an EU-China expert with German think tank Merics, told RFI.

But “far-right and far-left groups are more supportive of Beijing’s stances”, he points out. Some may even have been directly targeted for interference – like Germany’s extreme right-wing AfD party, which is currently mired in scandal after an aide to a top MEP was found to be a Chinese spy.

More broadly, China’s efforts to manipulate public opinion include establishing media mouthpieces such as the multi-language TV channel CGTN and newspapers the China Daily and Global Times, which echo the official line of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Brussels makes efforts to counter such propaganda. The EU Commission’s External Action Service runs the EUvsDisinfo portal, a site that analyses and rebukes information from countries hostile to the EU. 

For now its main target is Russian propaganda, says Stec, but even though there is no mandate to look into China’s operations, “this is to a certain extent being done and we’ve seen that in the official publications”.

But when it comes to disinformation, he warns, “there is no silver bullet”.

“It’s really about building resilience, given the fact that we want to stay true to our democratic roots,” he says. “We don’t want to out-CCP the CCP in terms of the response to China’s management of information space.”


ISRAEL – HAMAS WAR

UN court orders Israel to halt Rafah offensive in Gaza

Judges at the UN’s top court on Friday ruled that Israel must immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, citing the “immediate risk” of harm to the Palestinian people.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) found the situation in Gaza had deteriorated since the court in March ordered Israel to take urgent steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

Reading out the decision in a case brought by South Africa, ICJ president, Nawaf Salam, said  conditions had been met for new emergency measures.

The court, which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, was not convinced that evacuation of Rafah – refuge to about half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people – and other measures by Israel were alleviating suffering of Palestinians.

The ICJ ordered Israel to take measures to ensure unimpeded access into the Gaza Strip for investigators and fact-finding missions wishing to gather evidence. 

Israel must also keep the Rafah crossing open for “unhindered” aid, and submit a report on the measures taken within one month.

The ICJ’s ruling is likely to increase mounting international pressure on Israel more than seven months into the Gaza war.

While orders are legally binding, the court has no police to enforce them.

Read also:

  • Opinion split after three European countries recognise Palestinian state
  • France backs ICC after arrest warrant for Israeli, Hamas leaders

New Caledonia Crisis

Man killed by police in New Caledonia as unrest continues after Macron visit

A 48-year-old man was killed on Friday after attacking police in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, prosecutors said. Seven people have now died in unrest that continues as President Emmanuel Macron travels back to mainland France after holding talks with pro- and anti-independence figures.

The spate of violence in New Caledonia has left seven people dead and hundreds more wounded. It’s been accompanied by a series of shootings as well as arson attacks and looting.

A police officer and his colleague were on Friday “physically attacked by a group of some 15 individuals” in Dumbéa just outside the capital Nouméa, forcing him to draw his weapon, prosecutor Yves Dupas said.

The officer who fired the shots was taken into custody.

A move to revamp voting rights in the South Pacific archipelago, giving thousands more people the right to cast ballots, has caused civil disorder.

As part of efforts to ease the tension, Macron rearranged his schedule to make the 16,000 kilometre journey from Paris.

Macron, who arrived on Thursday, laid out a roadmap that he said could lead to another referendum for the French territory. 

He said he wanted local leaders to come up with an alternate agreement for New Caledonia’s future.

“I have pledged that this reform won’t be pushed through with force in the current context and that we are giving ourselves a few weeks to allow for calm, the resumption of dialogue, with a view to a global agreement,” he said.

Indigenous Kanaks want an end to France’s rule despite defeat in three earlier polls on the issue between 2018 and 2021, the last of which was boycotted by the main independence movement.

  • Key dates in New Caledonia’s history

Thorny question

On Friday, La Tontouta International Airport, about 50 kilometres from the capital Noumea, remained closed along with schools and colleges.

The unrest began in response to legislation in the French parliament that Kanaks fear will dilute their influence by allowing more recent arrivals to the archipelago to vote in local elections.

Currently, only natives and those who arrived on the archipelago before 1998, along with their descendants, have the right to vote. The planned reform would expand it to people who have lived in New Caledonia for at least 10 years, adding an estimated 25,000 to the electoral roll.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalise Kanaks, who once suffered from strict segregation policies

Supporters say the proposed reform is democratically important for people with roots in New Caledonia who cannot currently vote for local representatives.

Both houses of parliament in Paris have approved the overhaul. The next step was to have been a special congress of both houses to implement it by amending France’s constitution.

That had been expected by the end of June. But Macron’s comments in Noumea suggested he is willing to rewrite the timetable.

  • Deadly unrest in New Caledonia tied to old colonial wounds

Rival camps

Pro-independence Kanak leaders, who a week earlier declined Macron’s offer of talks by video, joined a meeting with the president and rival campaigners who want New Caledonia to stay part of France. Macron also met separately with both camps.

Macron repeatedly pushed for the removal of protesters’ barricades and said police sent in to help battle the violence would stay as long as necessary, despite their scheduled deployment in France for the upcoming Paris Olympics.

He said a state of emergency to boost police powers could only be lifted if local leaders called for the removal of barricades erected in Noumea and beyond.

“Everyone has a responsibility to really call for the lifting of the barricades, the cessation of all forms of attack, not simply for calm,” Macron said.

French authorities say more than 280 people have been arrested since violence flared on 13 May.

During a visit to Noumea’s central police station, Macron hailed officers for facing what he described as “an unprecedented insurrection movement”.

“No one saw it coming with this level of organisation and violence,” he said. “You did your duty. And I thank you.”

(with newswires)


France – Strikes

RFI staff carry on strike over merger of French public media

Employees across France’s public broadcasting sector, including RFI, continued their strike for a second day Friday in protest over a proposed merger of state-financed media companies.

More programmes and magazines were shelved on Friday after workers at France Médias Monde, France Télévisions and Radio France downed tools a day earlier – forcing the cancellation of broadcasts.

Rallies were held near the National Assembly and the Ministry of Culture in Paris.

A debate in parliament devoted to thrashing out details of the bill, which Culture Minister Rachida Dati says will strengthen the public media industry, was pontponed to June.

In a message on social media, Dati sought to reassure employees.

“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.

Dati’s predecessor, Franck Riester, tried to push through a revamp of public media companies but it was scrapped due to the Covid pandemic.

  • RFI staff stage strike over controversial public media merger

The first step of the reorganisation 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 spawn a giant company called France Médias. It would boast a budget of €4 billion and 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.

‘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

Political divisions

Far-right National Rally (RN) MPs are 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.

 


Space Exploration

Aiming for the stars lands French astronaut Sophie Adenot a ticket to ISS

Cologne – France’s Sophie Adenot – chosen to blast off to the International Space Station (ISS) for a six-month mission – dreamed of spaceflight since she was a child, but was warned off being too ambitious.

“I grew up hearing from the people around me: ‘don’t dream that big; it will never happen’,” Adenot told RFI in April, after being certified as the second French woman astronaut in history.

“Sometimes I would listen but mainly I wouldn’t.” 

This week the 41-year-old was selected, alongside Belgium’s Raphael Liegeois as the first of a new class of European astronauts to go to the ISS.

She’ll join the onboard crew in orbit some 400 kilometres above Earth – becoming the second French woman aboard the ISS after Claudie Haigneré in 2001.

After her six-month stay, Adenot will be replaced by Liegeois.

  • Who is Sophie Adenot, the French engineer destined for space?

Aim high

An engineer, helicopter test pilot and air force colonel, Adenot advises young people to aim for the sky.

“Don’t be afraid of failing. I tried twice for selection,” she said, referring to her acceptance into the European Space Agency’s (ESA) astronaut programme in 2022.

“In 2009 it didn’t work. I was too young, probably, but I learned a lot along the way.”

Adenot and Liegeois were among five new ESA astronauts selected out of more than 20,000 applicants.




EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 2024

French PM seeks to narrow EU poll gap in far-right TV duel

Paris (AFP) – French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and far-right party leader Jordan Bardella locked horns Thursday in a TV debate ahead of European elections, as the ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron seeks to narrow a yawning gap in polls.

The far-right National Rally (RN) is currently far ahead in opinion polls for the June 9 elections in France, with Macron’s Renaissance party in a battle for second place with the Socialists.

The debate between Attal, 35, and Bardella, 28, who leads the RN’s list in the EU elections, was marked by tense exchanges on issues ranging from immigration to foreign policy with neither man gaining a clear upper hand.

“We will in June have the most important European elections in our history,” said Attal, adding that the world was at a “turning point” due to issues ranging from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to artificial intelligence.

Attal sought to paint Bardella as leading a party without substance that had no serious interest in Europe and a vision “of turning in onto ourselves and the end of the European Union.”

Bardella countered: “I am not against Europe. I am against the way the Europe works now,” calling for more “economic patriotism”.

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

Polls have been making increasingly uncomfortable reading for Macron, who has had to fly to the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia to try to calm the violent unrest there.

Coming third would be a disaster for the president, who portrays himself as a champion of European democracy and bulwark against the far right.

The head of Macron’s party list for the elections, the little known Valerie Hayer, has failed to make an impact and was widely seen as losing a debate with Bardella earlier this month.

According to a Toluna-Harris Interactive study for French media, the presidential camp is stuck at just 15 percent of the vote and in a dogfight for second place with the Socialists — who are on 14.5 percent — led by former commentator Raphael Glucksmann.

The RN, by contrast, is soaring ahead on 31.5 percent.

‘Were you lying?’

The RN’s figurehead Marine Le Pen, who has waged three unsuccessful presidential campaigns, has sought to bring the RN into the political mainstream as she eyes another tilt at the presidency in 2027.

Bardella, who took over the party leadership from his mentor, is key to Le Pen’s strategy, a gifted communicator of immigrant origin with an expanding following on TikTok.

Both he and Attal, according to polls currently France’s two most popular politicians, are seen as part of a new political generation wooing the votes of young people.

Attal sought to play on the turnarounds of the party of Le Pen, which has now dropped previous calls of a French withdrawal from the EU and sought to distance itself from the extremist rhetoric of the National Front (FN) she inherited from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.

  • How France will help decide the 2024 European elections

“The method of the RN is to say ‘we are against everything’ and then in five or 10 years time when you realise you are wrong you say you have changed your mind. You were for Frexit — and now you supposedly want to stay in Europe!” he said.

“The question one has to be asked is when were you lying? Was it then or now?”

“It’s a caricature,” Bardella hit back.

Turning to immigration, Bardella suggested that the EU’s Schengen free travel space only be open to European travellers, an idea immediately rubbished by Attal.

On Russia, he accused President Emmanuel Macron of “pouring fuel into the fire” by refusing to rule out sending troops to Ukraine, while Attal alleged that at one time the RN had an “alliance of mutual interest with Moscow”.

Seeking to avoid a potential pitfall in the debate, Bardella on Tuesday said the RN will no longer sit in the EU parliament with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) faction, indicating it had lost patience with the controversies surrounding its German allies.

The head of the AfD’s list in the polls, Maximilian Krah, had said in a weekend interview that someone who had been a member of the SS in Nazi Germany was “not automatically a criminal”.


Indian elections

India’s Hindu nationalists confident of victory as elections enter final stages

Even before India’s six-week general election has run its course, Hindu nationalists are confident the polls will result in a rare third term in office for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi. But the opposition says the incumbents will face stiff competition in the final two rounds of voting, which begin on Saturday.

With votes yet to be counted, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition led by the BJP, says it is counting on a landslide victory in parliament’s 543-seat lower house.

“After the fifth phase of the polls, the NDA has already bagged 310 seats,” India’s Home Minister Amit Shah announced after more than 400 constituencies had voted in a process that began on 19 April.

Shah, a close ally of Prime Minister Modi, said the alliance expected to hold more than 400 seats by the time voters had cast their ballots in the sixth and seventh rounds of the polls, set for 25 May and 1 June.

Yet the opposition says the final two rounds could dash the BJP’s hopes.

“The strongholds of the BJP have shown a minimal turnout and a significant drop in voting figures,” said Shashi Tharoor, a prominent MP for main opposition party the Indian National Congress.

“It is not good news for the government. We are on a positive trajectory going into the last two phases,” Tharoor insisted at a press briefing this week.

Modi in the balance

When voting began in April, the BJP was confident of winning three-quarters of all seats. But after the first two rounds of voting, analysts scaled down the projection to 362.

A further slide could raise questions over Modi’s enduring appeal to voters after 10 years as prime minister.

“Wherever Modi shows his face his votes will shrink,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said. “He is no more an asset for the BJP but a liability.”

Modi hit back, claiming that the rival Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance – the Congress-led coalition that rallied this year as a counter to the BJP – stood totally discredited and dejected.

But the campaign has been marked by anti-BJP protests in some states, spurred by spiralling unemployment and inflation.

On Saturday, the BJP will also face off against the Aam Aadmi Party for the seven seats of Delhi, where it failed to dislodge the anti-corruption movement from the city legislature even after arresting several members of its top leadership.

  • Indian opposition leader’s arrest before elections draws international rebuke
  • Indian opposition accuses Modi of divisive rhetoric as religion sours polls

Heatwave alert

Turnout in the first four rounds of voting averaged 66 percent, but bad weather and polling fatigue could see that figure drop in the remaining 115 constituencies.

In the fifth leg of the polls, held on Monday, turnout was down to 62 percent.

Analysts said a worsening heatwave could keep elderly voters indoors during the two final rounds.

Temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius are forecast in Delhi on Saturday, when voters in the capital and two adjoining states will place their ballots. 



Hospitals in Delhi have stocked up on supplies, while officials shut schools and sounded a “red alert” for the next few days in northern India.

“It seems the BJP planned the election schedule to coincide with the annual heatwave in mind,” said opposition candidate Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the populous northern state where Modi is banking on winning most of its 80 seats to stay in power.

The results for all seven rounds of voting will be announced on 4 June.


2024 French Open

Nadal starts French Open swansong against in-form Zverev

Fourteen-time champion Rafael Nadal will start his final French Open campaign against the fourth seed Alexander Zverev from Germany.

The 37-year-old Spaniard, who has been plagued with injuries over the past 18 months, has dropped down the rankings to 276. 

The former world number one last competed at the French Open in 2022 when he beat Casper Ruud in the final to brandish a record-extending 14th men’s singles trophy. No other player has won more singles titles at the same event.

Despite Nadal’s legendary status on the clay courts in Paris, Zverev will go into the clash as the favourite after his run to the Italian Open title in Rome.

“That’s going to be hard for Nadal,” said tournament director Amélie Mauresmo after the draw at tthe Roland Garros stadium in Paris where the competition will be held from Sunday.

“But he is a warrior. Anything is possible with Rafa,” she added.

The men’s top seed Novak Djokovic, who won in 2023, will start the defence of his crown against the local hero Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Challenge

The second seed Jannik Sinner and the third seed Carlos Alcaraz, who both missed the Italian Open due to injuries, will start their tilts for a first French Open title against Christopher Eubanks and a player from the qualifying tournament respectively.

In the women’s draw, top seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek will launch her bid for a fourth singles trophy against against a qualifier.

Swiatek, 22, comes into the second Grand Slam tournament of the season as hot favourite after becoming the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win back-to-back championships on the clay courts in Madrid and Rome.

“I’m starting to really feel at home here in Paris,” said Swiatek at the draw ceremony.

Second seed Aryna Sabalenka, who lost to Swiatek in the finals in Madrid and Rome, will launch her bid for a first French Open title, against the 19-year-old Russian Erika Andreeva.

Third seed Coco Gauff, who lost in the 2022 final against Swiatek, will face a qualifier and the fourth seed Elena Rybakina will play Greet Minnen from Belgium.

The women’s final will take place on 8 June and the men’s showdown follows on 9 June.


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.

  • Macron says recognition of Palestinian state ‘not a taboo’ for France
  • France backs ICC after arrest warrant for Israeli, Hamas leaders

‘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”.

International report

President Raisi’s death casts shadow over diplomatic tensions with Turkey

Issued on:

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi was laid to rest on Thursday, concluding days of funeral rites attended by thousands of mourners after his death in a helicopter crash last week. Experts say the tragedy may well increase tensions between Iran and Turkey, both vying for influence in the Middle East.

Hundreds of thousands marched in Raisi’s home town Mashhad to bid farewell ahead of his burial following processions in the cities of Tabriz, Qom, Tehran and Birjand.

The 63-year-old died on Sunday alongside his Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others after their helicopter went down in the country’s mountainous northwest while returning from a dam inauguration on the border with Azerbaijan.

A huge search and rescue operation was launched, involving help from the European Union, Russia and Turkey before the crash site was located early on Monday.

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

The Iranian military said that a drone dispatched by Turkey had failed to locate the crash site “despite having night-vison equipment”.

“Finally, in the early hours of Monday morning, the exact spot of the helicopter crash was discovered by the ground rescue forces and Iranian drones of the armed forces,” the military said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.

Meanwhile, on Thursday Iran’s army said it has so far found no evidence of criminal activity related to the crash.

Simmering tensions

The high profile deaths come as rivalry continues to intensify between Iran and Turkey.  

“For Turkey, the future of South Caucasia, Iraq and Syria are critical for its national security. And here in these areas of Turkey, all face Iranian opposition against Turkey’s interests,” explained Bilgehan Alagoz, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Marmara University

For example, the Turkish military is poised to launch a major offensive in Iraq and Syria against the bases of the Kurdish rebel group PKK, which is fighting the Turkish state.

Ankara has repeatedly criticised Tehran for failing to support its efforts, while  Iran is concerned about Turkey encroaching in areas it considers to be in its sphere of influence. 

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

The death of Raisi has brought to the fore bitter memories of the killing by the United States four years ago of Qasim Soleimani, the veteran head of the international operations of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp.

“These two important personalities had been increasing Iranian influence in the Middle East very strongly,” observed Professor of International Relations Huseyin Bagci at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University

Bagci says Turkey’s diplomatic advantage will no doubt be stronger as Iran heads into presidential elections on 28 June.

“I don’t know if the new foreign minister and President will somehow get the same level of this influence because they will be mostly inexperienced people,” he says.

Internal fight for power

Bagci suggests that a real internal fight for power will be problematic for the country because “Iranian society is much more dynamic and progressive than the regime.

“There is a partnership between the clerics and the military. But these two institutions are also fighting amongst each other.”

However, if Iran’s Revolutionary Guard increases its power, experts warn that it could also result in a more assertive use of Iranian proxies controlled by the IRGC in Iraq and Syria, which are often as odds with Turkish interests.

Alagoz says that the IRGC’s view of the region is very problematic because the Iran proxies are a problem for the future of the Middle East.

“The overconfidence of the IRGC combined with political power will be a destabilising factor in the Middle East, and so Turkey will always be concerned by this issue.”

With Ankara and Tehran competing for power from Syria and Iraq to Sudan, analysts say the outcome of Iran’s transition of power could have significant implications across the region and for Turkish-Iranian relations.

The Sound Kitchen

A best friend as a hero

Issued on:

Feast your ears on listener Rodrigo Hunriche’s “My Ordinary Hero” essay. All it takes is a little click on the “Play” button above!

Hello everyone!

This week on The Sound Kitchen, you’ll hear a “My Ordinary Hero” essay by listener Rodrigo Hunrichse from Chile. I hope you’ll be inspired to write an essay for us, too!

If your essay goes on the air, you’ll find a package in the mail from The Sound Kitchen. Write in about your “ordinary” heroes – the people in your community who are doing extraordinarily good work, quietly striving to make the world a better place, in whatever way they can. As listener Pramod Maheshwari said: “Just as small drops of water can fill a pitcher, small drops of kindness can change the world.”

I am still looking for your “This I Believe” essays too. Tell us about the principles that guide your life … what you have found to be true from your very own personal experience. Or write in with your most memorable moment, and/or your proudest achievement. If your essay is chosen to go on the air – read by youyou’ll win a special prize!

Send in your musical requests, your secret “guilty” pleasure (mine’s chocolate!), your tricks for remembering things, your favourite quotations and proverbs, descriptions of the local festivals you participate in, your weirdest dream, the book you are reading and what you think about it, or just your general all-around thoughts to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

Or by postal mail, to:

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Here’s Rodrigo Hunrichse’s essay: 

“My friend Jorge “Tito” Vargas Rocha is my ordinary hero, because he’s been accepting me (I’m hard to handle) for counseling/ following my advice for 15 years (he’s a little stubborn as well), but after my perseverance he’s been delivering now as senior. We are examples and we help each other: I even took him in for nine months after a fire burnt his home. I consider him my brother. In his youth, he was a good athlete (rowing, weightlifting, skiing, etc) and student (three careers at the University), reader, and builder… and the reason I’m learning French in my middle age: he attended Alliance Française in his childhood, was referred to as a “bonne homme”, was an exchange student in Michigan, USA, where he certified in High School too! My Hero!

His French is better than his Spanish but his English is good too (mine are better excepting my so-far-poor French). I’ve been insisting he practices his French by talking/ listening to the radio/ watching TV5 Monde and affiliates, and by buying him books. A trip to France is out of our pockets, but I drive him to the countryside, to museums, beaches, as well as long bus rides to his childhood home of Port of Lebu, which is three hours away. He deserves better, but lately lacks effort as a senior, although he is staying in good shape. My Hero!”

The music chosen by Rodrigo is “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, performed by the composer. 

The quiz will be back next week, 1 June 2024. Talk to you then!

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. 


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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.