rfi 2024-05-28 10:18:17



GABON

Business, security on agenda as Gabon’s transitional president visits France

Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, Gabon’s interim president, begins his first official visit to France this Tuesday with an entourage of several ministers and will be received by President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace.

Bilateral relations, subjects of common interest such as climate and forests, and the progress of Gabon’s transition will be high on the agenda for discussion during Oligui Nguema’s trip to Paris.

The interim leader’s working visit will also serve to distance Gabon from Sahel countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, which have been shaken by a string of coups d’etats and the rejection of French influence in the region.

“It’s clear that our transition has little to do with that. We want to show that our situation is different.

“Our relationship with France must be one of normality, in the same way as our other partners”, a source told RFI.

Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema will be received at the Élysée Palace by his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Friday 31 May.

However, some see this visit as the Gabonese head of state seeking legitimacy from France.

Under former president Ali Bongo Ondimba, Franco-Gabonese relations had gone through chilly periods.

Libreville also seemed to be drifting away from French interests when it joined the British Commonwealth two years ago.

But last August’s putsch did not aggravate the cooling of relations.

On the contrary, the two countries have visibly maintained close ties.

On 31 August – the day after the putsch – Oligui Nguema received the French ambassador Alexis Lamek and the head of the DGSE secret service as a sign of good faith.

The transitional administration restored France 24 and RFI broadcasts that had been interrupted by the former government on the day of the election on 26 August.

At the same time, the French company Eramet resumed its manganese extraction activities at the Moanda mine.  

  • Gabon junta sets August 2025 as ‘indicative’ election date

French military presence

As it stands, Gabon remains at least partially suspended from the Commonwealth and the African Union, but being received in Paris could help Libreville to return fully into the fold.

The French military base in Gabon – which has been located at Camp de Gaulle since 1960 – is expected to be discussed during the visit. This is a sensitive issue for Paris, which has recently seen the departure of its soldiers from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in succession.

The French President’s “personal envoy” for Africa, Jean-Marie Bockel, was in Gabon in March and is said to have presented the latest plans for the future of the 380 or so French soldiers and staff from the Ministry of the Armed Forces currently on the ground.

A reduction in the number of military personnel is reportedly being considered.



Reassuring investors

On 29 and 30 May, President Oligui Nguema will also be attending the Gabon-France economic forum, organised for the occasion.

The meeting, which will be attended by business leaders from both countries, will feature a number of round tables, providing an opportunity to find out about Gabon’s economic situation, examine business opportunities and exchange views with decision-makers and investors.

The message from Libreville is simple: Gabon is not Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso. French companies are still welcome, even if the interim administration would like to see relations that are more beneficial to the country’s businesses.

  • Senegalese riflemen who fought for France granted right to state pension back home

Homage to WWII colonial riflemen

During his stay in Paris, Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema is due to to meet with the Gabonese diaspora on Saturday.

On Sunday, he is due to leave Paris for the Somme, where he is expected to attend commemorations of the Battle of Airaines, which took place in June 1940.

The fighting – in the midst of a German offensive – was particularly violent, with Senegalese riflemen playing a key role, particularly the 53rd Mixed Senegalese Colonial Regiment, made up of soldiers from what were still French colonies.

At their head was Gabonese Captain Charles N’Tchoréré – born in Libreville and the only officer to remain in the front ranks of the fighting – who was eventually executed by the Nazis.

Oligui Nguema will then return to Gabon later in the day. 


Franco-German relations

Macron says Europe must ‘wake up’ to counter rise of the far right

Europe needs to “wake up” to authoritarian tendencies among far-right parties and governments, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech during his state visit to Germany on Monday, ahead of key European Union elections. 

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a keynote address in Dresden on Monday at day two of his state visit to Germany, talking for several minutes in German.

“I’m speaking here to a part of Europe that has found unity again — German unity. But at the same time [it is an area] which has allowed us not only to enhance Europe, but to allow Europe to be what it was always supposed to be: united,” he said.

“And I am not speaking to Eastern Europe, I am speaking to the center of Europe here in Dresden.”

He also warned against a growing tendency in Europe to favour extreme right-wing ideas. 

“Everywhere in our democracies these ideas thrive, pushed by the extremes and in particular the far right. This ill wind is blowing in Europe, so let us wake up,” he said.

Macron’s trip comes two weeks ahead of European Union elections in which polls are indicating his centrist coalition is trailing the far right.

It could even struggle to reach a third-place finish.

In Germany too, all three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition are polling behind the far-right AfD in surveys, despite a series of scandals embroiling the anti-immigration party.

“Europe is not just a place where we give ourselves common rules, it is a set of values,” Macron said.

“We must find the strength and commitment to defend it everywhere,” he added.

  • France, Germany agree deal to develop Europe’s next generation of tanks

Macron gave his address at the square of Dresden’s famous Frauenkirche, a church that symbolizes World War II destruction buyt also German reunification, and the end of the Cold War.

During the World War II, The 18th century building was all but destroyed, then left as a ruin by East German authorities as a monument in its own right.

After the reunification in the 1990s, it was rebuilt and restored, with financial assistance from all over the world.

Young audience

Young people made up much of the crowd, and some of them had even traveled from neighboring countries like Poland and the Czech Republic.

Earlier in the day, Macron honored renowned Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld.

The Franco-German couple dedicated their lives in hunting Nazi war criminals such as former Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and other Nazis who tried to hide from the public eye.

Beate was given the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor while Serge received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.

“They are fighters for remembrance and fighters for justice. They have fought against forgetting and for the victims of the Holocaust to once again become the subject of history,” Macron said.

Macron will on Tuesday travel to Muenster in western Germany, where he will be presented with the Westphalian Peace Prize.

​​​(with newswires)


2024 French Open

Zverev sees off Nadal to advance to second round at French Open

Alexander Zverev on Monday joined Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic as the only men to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open since 2005.

The 27-year-old German prevailed 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to dispatch Nadal at the earliest point from the competition he has won 14 times.

“It’s such a great honour to play him,” said Zverev immediately after his first-round victory in front of a packed Court Philippe Chatrier.

“I watched him all my childhood and I’ve been lucky enough to play him a few times.”

Good fortune was far from Zverev two years ago when the pair met in the semi-finals at the French Open. The then third seed was in the ascendance but twisted his ankle during the second set and was forced to retire. Nadal went on to claim a 14th title. 

Fast forward two years and following his health issues, Nadal, 37, has plummeted to 276 in the world rankings while Zverev has returned from the injury to recover his stature on the circuit and a fourth-place ranking on the ATP lists. He underlined his clay court credentials last week with victory at the Italian Open.

And the fourth seed was gifted Nadal’s opening service game of the encounter.

The Spaniard fluffed a drop shot, served a double fault, watched Zverev unleash his first forehand winner and then plopped a backhand into the net. 

Zverev held his own service to lead 2-0 and he maintained his advantage before taking Nadal’s service for a second time to claim the opener after 51 minutes.

 

Nadal – feeding off the energy of he crowd – hustled his way back into the tie. Some trademark fist pumps after rasping winners fired up his admirers. 

But Zverev played deadpan. He clenched his fist briefly after Nadal failed to serve out the second set.

And then stayed calm to stave off two points to give Nadal a 6-5 lead.

In the tiebreak, a bravura forehand winner on the run brought Nadal to within a point of Zverev at 4-5 but then a poorly executed drop shot gave Zverev two set points.

Nadal saved one with another drop shot but Zverev won the next point on the back of a 202km first serve to take control of the match after one our and 48 minutes.

Chance

The arena sensed a classic in the offing when Nadal got the early break in the third set to lead 2-0. But the expectation evaporated when he failed to consolidate and was reined in. 

Once Zverev claimed Nadal’s service again, his belief grew as the fans urged a last hurrah from Nadal.

Zverev’s 14th backhand winner secured the point for a 5-3 lead and another helped him to the first point of Nadal’s attempt to stay in the match.

Nadal failed. 

“I am not sure if it’s the last time that I’ll be here,” Nadal told the on-court interviewer Marc Maury. “But if it is i enjoyed it. It’s so special to feel the love of the people in the place that I love the best.

“Maybe I’ll be able to say in a few months,” he added. “I hope to be back on the courts here for the Olympics.

“It’s been amazing feelings,” said Nadal. “I could never have imagined as a kid that I would be here at 38 … to all the people .. all the feelings that you have made me feel … thank you from the bottom of my heart.”


2024 French Open

Roland Garros: Five things we learned on Day 2: Nadal’s got no idea

So he’s not going to come back? Or perhaps he is. Rafael Nadal was all coy about future visits to the French Open after losing in the first round for the first time.

Going?

Rafael Nadal – he who has won the tournament 14 times and has the shoes to prove it – gave the distinct impression last year that this year would be his final traipse around the ATP circuit. But now, maybe not. “If I keep enjoying doing what I am doing and I feel myself competitive and healthy enough to enjoy, I want to keep going for a while,” Nadal said after his first round loss to Alexander Zverev. “I don’t know for how long, but I want to keep going for a while, because my wife and child are having fun, I am having fun, and I need to see. I need to give myself a little bit longer to see if my level is growing and my body is holding, and then let’s make a decision.” Exactly who do you think you are? One of the greatest players of all time?

Definitely gone

Rafael Nadal lost in the first round for the first time since he started coming to the French Open in 2005. Even he said it’s unusual for him not to be the favourite to win his first round match. But that’s what happens when you slip down to number 276 in the world and you face the fourth seed at a tournament soon after he has claimed the Italian Open. Nadal was valiant in defeat and munificent. “Well played,” he told Zverev during the on-court interviews. “Congratulations on your win in Rome and all the best for the rest of this tournament.”

Duty calls

Alexander Zverev did his duty. As fourth seed you are supposed to beat the world number 276. And give or take a flew butterflies, he fulfilled the brief. “I think that generally the whole tennis world since the draw came out was only talking about that one match,” Zverev reflected an hour or so after his straight sets victory over Nadal. “So it is definitely very, very different. But I know that I have to keep focusing. I know that I will play great players ahead still, and I have to focus on that.”

Can I see him?

It was no surprise to spot Iga Swiatek in the crowd during the match between Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev. The women’s world number one is a rolling-eyes of a Nadal fan girl. Nadal’s fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz was also watching so too a certain Novak Djokovic, who had until Alexander Zverev’s victory, been one of the only two men to have beaten Nadal at the French Open. Nadal said he was flattered. “These young players that are here like Carlos … they probably have been watching me on TV most of their lives,” said Nadal. “It’s normal that in some way they are interested to see how this going to be, and especially in this particular place with all the history that I had. I am happy that that happens, you know, because that means that I had a positive legacy here and positive legacy my career, no?” A definite yes Rafa.

Emotions

Since there’s no need to be overwhelmed overly early in the tournament, organisers generously placed the showman incarnate Gael Monfils in the second night session. The local hero – who is a few months younger than Rafael Nadal –  was up against Thiago Seyboth Wild from Brazil. Monfils was his usual flamboyant self and took the first set in 29 minutes 6-2 to the utter delight of the partisans. Monfils being Monfils went for a mental walk as he ran around in the second set. He steadied the ship and won the next two sets to move into the second round. Imagine that, Monfils doing better than Nadal at the French Open.


ISRAEL – HAMAS CONFLICT

French NGO files case with ICC over journalists’ deaths in Gaza

French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court over Palestinian journalists killed or injured in Gaza since December.

RSF said Monday it was asking the ICC’s prosecutor to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Israeli army against at least nine Palestinian reporters since 15 December.

The Hague-based court said in January it was probing potential crimes against journalists since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, which has cost the lives of more than 100 reporters. 

RSF said it had “reasonable grounds for thinking that some of these journalists were deliberately killed and that the others were the victims of deliberate IDF [Israel Defence Force] attacks against civilians”.



Attack on ‘right to information’

This specific complaint – the third the RSF has made – concerns eight Palestinian journalists killed between 20 December and 20 May, and one other who sustained injuries.

“All concerned journalists were killed [or injured] in the course of their work,” RSF said in a statement.

Antoine Bernard, RSF advocacy and assistance director, said: “Those who kill journalists are attacking the public’s right to information, which is even more essential in times of conflict”.

  • France backs ICC after arrest warrant for Israeli, Hamas leaders

Last week, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan asked the court to issue arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders – including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – for alleged war crimes and crimes and humanity.

Israel has strongly denied the allegation and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that to draw a parallel between Hamas and Israeli leaders was “despicable”.

‘Deadliest period for journalists’

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 107 journalists and media workers have been killed during the Gaza war, the “deadliest period for journalists since CPJ began gathering data in 1992”.

The RSF complaint includes the case of two Palestinian journalists killed in January while working for Al Jazeera.

Hamza Wael Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuria – who also worked as a video stringer for French news agency AFP and other news organisations – were killed while they were “on their way to carry out their duty” for the channel in the Gaza Strip, the network said.

The Israeli army maintained at the time it had “struck a terrorist who operated an aircraft that posed a threat to IDF troops”.

It added it was “aware of the reports that during the strike, two other suspects who were in the same vehicle as the terrorist were also hit”.

  • ICJ orders Israel to take measures to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’ 7 October attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according a tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages – 121 of whom remain in Gaza – including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,984 people in Gaza – mostly women and children – according to data from the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


European elections 2024

France sees ratings plunge in global freedom of expression report

In its yearly report, the freedom of expression watchdog group Article 19 paints a grim picture of declining liberties across the globe. The NGO says that France’s standing dropped to position 14 out of the 27 European member states.

“France considers itself to be a champion of human rights, but on freedom of expression, they are not as good as they think they are,” says David Diaz-Jogeix, Programme Director of human rights monitor group Article 19.

Diaz-Jogeix told RFI that one of the reasons France has slipped in the ratings is due to a memo issued by French Interior Minister Gérard Darmanin in October, calling for the preemptive ban on all Palestinian solidarity protests.

“This is a disproportionate and discriminatory attack against the right to peaceful assembly,” he says, adding that police “routinely use excessive force during demonstrations”.

France considers itself to be a champion of human rights, but on freedom of expression, France is not as good as they think they are.

02:25

INTERVIEW David Diaz-Jogeix

Jan van der Made

Moreover, in its report, Article 19 took note of “an unprecedented act of censorship” when French authorities banned the use of TikTok in view of the situation in New Caledonia, which faced riots over government plans to change the local electoral process.

This also was a “disproportionate measure against freedom of expression,” according to Diaz-Jogeix.

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

Despite this, France isn’t all bad when it comes to freedom of expression worldwide and it is listed well within the group of countries which, according to Article 19 are “open” when it comes to press freedom and freedom of expression.

Of the 27 EU countries, 20 countries that are “open,” with Denmark as the champion of free expression.

Six EU countries are off the mark: Poland, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, while Russia and Belarus close the ranks.

“We are very concerned on the overall trend that the European Union and the member states is taking in terms of freedom of expression,” says Diaz-Jogeix, “although Poland is making a comeback after it faced a large decline in terms of freedom of expression for the past ten years.”

With Donald Tusk’s new government in 2023, Diaz-Jogeix says steps are being made to revert the anti-democratic measures of the previous government, specifically the reform of the public media and decriminalisation of defamation.

  • How France will help decide the 2024 European elections

Article 19 says challenges range from attacks to journalists and people who investigate people in power, “to general restrictions of freedom of expression in terms of people expressing themselves, demonstrating, banning protests, or banning particular words on certain protests.”

Digital censorship includes online content removal to internet shutdowns during elections or demonstrations against those in power” and issues surrounding “disinformation, misinformation, and foreign interference on freedom of expression.” 

European elections

With the elections for the European Parliament coming up next month, Article 19 is specifically concerned about forces that may go against people trying to express their political opinions.

“We are dealing with a considerable amount of countries in which there is restriction of speech, there is restriction of debates on issues that are of importance to the public opinion, there is attacks on journalists, there are illegal threats against journalists if they investigate things that get politicians, people in power or big companies into trouble,” says Diaz-Jogeix.

Even Germany, which ranks seven with the Article 19 list of EU countries, has problems.

“They also banned pro-Palestine demonstrations and the Minister of Interior even banned the phrase “From river to the Sea” without properly considering the context and larger debate that interests public opinion.”

  • Big tech told to identify and label AI deepfakes ahead of EU elections

While in some EU countries, such as Hungary and Bulgaria, the press is muzzled, controlled or censored by the government, in others, notably France and the Netherlands, governments are threatening to drastically cut public media.

Article 19 says governments should instead ” reinforce” public broadcasting services, making sure that the public radio and television work for everybody within the society.

“We need to create an environment in which lawsuits against journalists are not misused by the powerful to suppress stories of huge public interest to the European citizens,” says Diaz-Jogeix.

“Governments can take very proactive measures to improve freedom of expression if they decide to do so,” he goes on.

Rapid deterioration

According to Diaz-Jogeix, more than half of the world’s population is living in a country where there is a crisis of freedom of expression.

“And only less than a quarter live in countries where freedom of expression is open or less restricted”.

Worst performers in East Asia are North Korea, China, Myanmar and Vietnam, while India has seen a rapid deterioration in its freedoms.

In central Asia, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan score the lowest.

In Africa, the main culprits are Eritrea, Egypt and South Sudan.

In the Middle East: Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. In the Americas it’s Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba that are least likely to allow people to speak out freely.

Article 19

The NGO Article 19 takes its name from the corresponding article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. Its full text:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The NGO itself was registered in London in February 1987, and its first Executive Director was the Northern Irish human rights activist, barrister, and academic Kevin Boyle.


Iran

Family members of French nationals imprisoned in Iran appeal to the UN

Supporters of three French nationals imprisoned in Iran, Cécile Kohler, Jacques Paris and Louis Arnaud, appealed to the UN in Geneva on Monday in an attempt to put pressure on Tehran and raise awareness about the their plight. 

Noémie Kohler, the sister of Cécile, who has been detained for over two years along with her partner Jacques Paris, hopes to draw international attention “to the situation of our loved ones, our hostages in Iran,” and quicken their release.

“It is an absolute emergency, their health is deteriorating, and it is time for this nightmare to end,” Kohler told French press agency AFP, talking in front of the UN headquarters.

“It’s very important to us, we really need recognition of their situation, their arbitrary detention, and they must be released as soon as possible,” added Sylvie Arnaud, Louis’s mother.

  • Petition to free Frenchman detained in Iran gathers over 100,000 signatures

Arnaud, a consultant was detained more than a year and a half ago and sentenced in November to five years in prison for “propaganda and endangering Iranian state security.”  French authorities called the verdict “unacceptable.”

Cécile Kohler, a teacher of modern literature, was arrested on 7 May 2022, while traveling in Iran with her partner Jacques Paris, charged with “espionage.”

Kohler and Arnaud, along with their lawyers, went to Geneva to appeal to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a panel of independent experts mandated by the UN Human Rights Council.

“We argue that the detention of Cécile Kohler, Jacques Paris, and Louis Arnaud does not meet the criteria (of international conventions adopted by Iran) and therefore should be classified as arbitrary,” according to, Martin Pradel, one of the lawyers.

“We are in a hurry because we know prison conditions are extremely harsh,” the lawyer said, adding that he hoped for a response from the working group “by summer.”

According to the lawyer, an expert opinion will give weight to France’s protests.

‘Unacceptable situation’

“We want the French President to understand that he needs to get angry and simply say that this situation is unacceptable,” added Pradel.

French diplomacy did not mince words on the second anniversary of Cécile Kohler and Jacques Paris’s detention, condemning their detention as “state hostage policy and the permanent blackmail by Iranian authorities.”

This accusation was not well received in Tehran, which denounced it as an “interventionist and inappropriate stance.”

Another French national, only known by the name “Olivier” is also detained, along with dozens of foreign prisoners, many of whom hold dual nationality.

(with newswires)


ASSISTED DYING

French lawmakers open tense two-week debate on assisted dying

The debate on France’s end of life bill begins in the French parliament this Monday with the aim of opening up the possibility of assisted dying for certain patients. But changes introduced by a parliamentary committee have the executive fearing a ‘loss of balance’ in the proposed text.

To allow adequate time for the debates – which will combine medical technicalities with legal and personal issues – the National Assembly has scheduled two weeks of discussions for the first reading of the bill.

Health Minister Catherine Vautrin will open the arguments at 4pm on Monday, with a final vote on the legislation scheduled for 11 June.

The debate promises to be heated over eligibility criteria, one of which has been amended in committee.

The original text required people to be suffering from a “serious and incurable condition with a short or medium-term life-threatening prognosis,” to be of full age, be able to express their wishes freely and in an informed manner, and to be suffering from an illness that is untreatable or unbearable.

‘Loophole’ fears

However, the deputies in the special committee deleted the reference to “short- or medium-term life-threatening condition,” preferring the notion of an “advanced or terminal phase” of illness. 

This change was approved by the Association for the Right to Die with Dignity and general rapporteur Olivier Falorni from the centrist MoDem party, who felt that the notion of medium-term “risked leaving out a certain number of patients”.

The French government, however, sees this as a loophole that could “lead to the inclusion of many non-fatal pathologies that fall outside the philosophy of the text” –  a warning voiced by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal in La Tribune newspaper on Sunday.

  • French MPs start to weigh up issues over assisted dying

Debate ‘transcends’ political divide

Further proof that the issue of assisted dying transcends traditional divisions, some MPs from the left, MoDem and Renaissance have tabled amendments to abolish aid in dying, as have some Republicans and far-right National Rally members.

However, most of the support for the legislation is expected to come from the left and the presidential camp.

The debates will also have to clarify the issue of advance directives.

Within the parliamentary committee, MEPs agreed that patients should be able to specify in their advance the type of assistance in dying in the event of “irreversible loss of consciousness”. 

However, the text states elsewhere that the patient must be “capable of expressing his or her wishes in a free and informed manner”.

In response to the confusion caused, the Health Minister assured that “the patient [will] always have to confirm his or her free and informed wishes at every stage of the procedure”.

  • Macron’s euthanasia bill prompts anger from health workers, church

Religious concerns

The issue of who administers the lethal substance also raises questions.

The text has provided for patients to administer it themselves, except for those unable to do so.

But another amendment to the bill has opened up the possibility of freely choosing to delegate this act to a third party.

Most religious groups have expressed deep concern about these changes to the text, agreeing with the Catholic Church that the “locks have been broken”.

A group of healthcare organisations said that “Pandora’s box has been opened”.

Another major aspect of the text concerns palliative care, which all parties are calling to be strengthened. 

As the government has ruled out any fast-track procedure, an agreement on the final text could take until the summer of 2025 – or even longer.


Mali

Mali opposition declares transition government in exile

Malian opposition politicians have formed a transition government in exile to rival the military junta in power since a 2020 coup. This comes after military rulers failed to meet a March deadline to hold elections and hand over power to a civilian government.

“The citizen assembly of the civil transition has today elected the members of the government,” read a statement on Saturday, signed by exiled Malian politician Adaman Traore, identified as the body’s president.

This “civil transition (government) is the only legitimate one in Mali”, the text said.

It named the Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the rival government as Mohamed Cherif Kone, one of several prominent exiled politicians listed as members.

“Our primary objective is the mobilisation of Malians residing inside the country,” Aboubacrine Assadek, Finance Minister in the team of opponents in exile, told RFI‘s correspondent in West Africa.

“Since the launch of our initiative, the voices of opponents have been heard despite the suspension of political activities. Nothing will ever be the same again,” he added.



Junta’s grip

The announcement came a day after the political movement behind Mali’s junta-appointed civilian prime minister, Choguel Kokalla Maiga, openly criticised the military rulers for the first time.

The colonels have kept a tight hold on power since their latest coup in 2022, suspending all party-political activities and muzzling opponents, journalists and human rights activists.

The junta justified suspending political activities in order to maintain public order.

  • Mali junta to delay 2024 presidential elections

Mali has been under military rule since a first coup in 2020, and the the junta indefinitely postponed elections, promised for February 2024, citing technical reasons.

Earlier in May, the NGO Reporters Without Borders warned that Mali, along with Burkina Faso and Niger, has been turned into “information deserts” over the past three years, following the suspension or closure of over a dozen media outlets – including RFI. 

The country has since 2012 been plunged into a political and security crisis fuelled by attacks from jihadist and other armed groups, as well as a separatist struggle in the north.

For Malians, elections now appear a distant dream as the military juntas in power keep delaying processes for a return to civilian rule.

(with newswires)


Paris Olympics 2024

Olympics organisers go with the flow as opening ceremony ‘tests’ postponed again

With just 60 days to go before the start of the Olympic Games, a test for the opening ceremony on the River Seine, scheduled for Monday morning, was postponed again.

The planned session involves technical tests to measure the distance between the boats taking part in the parade on the Seine on 26 July. 

Due to heavy rainfall in recent weeks, the flow of the Seine is almost five times higher than usual for the month of May.

Navigation conditions are therefore very different from those expected for the day of the opening ceremony of the Paris Games.

Given the incomparable conditions, “there’s no point in doing a test,” a member of the Games’ Organising Committee (Cojo) told France Info public radio.

Other dates had been earmarked for the tests, Cojo said.

‘No worries’

For the organising committee, there is no risk involved in waiting until the last minute to test the manoeuvres and the timing of the boats.

The first test carried out last summer provided all the necessary elements, they insisted.



And if, in the worst-case scenario, the test couldn’t be carried out, Cojo maintains it wouldn’t be that serious since the boat captains take that route every day on the Seine. 

At the opening ceremony, between 7.30 pm (Paris time) and 11 pm, 180 boats will parade between Pont d’Austerlitz and Pont d’Iéna.

Read also:

  • Scaled-back opening ceremony for Paris Olympics to offer 326,000 tickets
  • Paris practices for 2024 Olympics opening ceremony on the Seine

NEW CALEDONIA

France to lift state of emergency in New Caledonia

The state of emergency in New Caledonia, which has been hit by deadly rioting, will be lifted early Tuesday local time, as 480 gendarmes are being sent to the Pacific territory as reinforcement.

According to a statement from the Elysée palace on Sunday: “The President has decided for the time being not to extend the state of emergency” beyond its legal deadline of 12 days to allow for meetings with the pro-independence FLNKS party.

Seven people have been killed in New Caledonia since riots over planned voting reforms erupted on 13 May.

Paris declared a state of emergency in the overseas territory two weeks ago, flying in hundreds of police and military reinforcements to restore order in the archipelago, which lies around 17,000 kilometres from mainland France.

The French government hopes that this easing of restrictions will enable dialogue to be re-established on the many blockades still in place.



Reinforcements deployed in Nouméa

On Saturday, the FLNKS party renewed its “call for calm” and asked for “the blockades on the main traffic routes to be eased”.

The lifting of the blockades is “the necessary condition for the opening of concrete and serious negotiations”, the French presidency added in its statement, which said the state of emergency would be lifted at 5:00am Tuesday (18h00UT Monday).

Last Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron flew to the Pacific archipelago in an urgent bid to defuse the crisis, with the situation gradually easing over the past few days.

Police are struggling to control certain districts of the capital Nouméa and the international airport will remain closed to commercial flights until at least 2 June.

The Elysée also announced “7 additional mobile force units – 480 mobile gendarmes” would be sent to New Caledonia “within the next few hours” as reinforcements. 

In total, around 3,500 troops have been deployed to the archipelago, where two gendarmes died during the riots over planned voting reforms.

  • French police to remain in riot-hit New Caledonia, says Macron
  • Man killed by police in New Caledonia as unrest continues after Macron visit

Referendum on voting reforms

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.

France is planning to give voting rights to thousands of non-indigenous long-term residents, something Kanaks say would dilute the influence of their votes.

During his visit, Macron pledged that the planned voting reforms would “not be forced through”.

The president also said he would be willing to hold a referendum on the contentious changes, though he hoped that elected New Caledonian officials would be able to reach an agreement.

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


2024 French Open

Defending champion Swiatek sweeps into second round at French Open

Top seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek set up a second round showdown with former world number one Naomi Osaka following a straight sets destruction on Monday of the French qualifier Leolia Jeanjean.

It finished 6-1, 6-2 to the 22-year-old Pole who needed only an hour to advance.

Swiatek, who is chasing a fourth French Open crown, breezed through the opener on the back of crunching returns which left Jeanjean leaden footed.

Jeanjean, 28, showed an element of revolt at the start of the seond set when she broke Swiatek’s service. But Swiatek broke back immediately to level at 1-1.

From 2-2, though, it was one-way traffic. Swiatek held for 3-2 and Jeanjean’s second doouble fault of the match gave Swiatek a break point for a 4-2 lead.

Swiatek pounced on a weak second serve to drive a return to Jeanjean’s backhand which she could only prod into the net.

Swiatek won the next eight points to wrap up the set 6-2 and the match.

Meeting

On Wednesday, she will play Osaka for the first time on clay. The pair have met on the North American hard courts where Osaka won their first encounter in the last-16 at the Rogers Cup in  Toronto in 2019 while Swiatek was on her way up and Osaka was at the height of her powers.

Swiatek claimed the last showdown – the Miami final in 2022.

“I watched her a lot when I was pregnant,” Osaka said ahead of Wednesday’s clash. “And honestly, I think it’s an honour to play her in the French Open because she’s won more than once here. For sure, it’s like a very big challenge for me.”

Elsewhere in the top half of the women’s draw, eighth seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia beat the unseeded American Sachia Vickery 6-3, 6-2 and fifth seed Marketa Vondrousova also enjoyed as straight sets outing. The 24-year-old Czech beat Rebeka Masarova 6-1, 6-3.

There were also first round wins for the 12th seed Jasmine Paolina from Italy and the 17th seed Liudmila Samsonova from Russia.

In the bottom half of the men’s draw, second seed Jannik Sinner dispatched the American Chris Eubanks 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 and ninth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas also advanced to the second round. The 2021 runner-up beat Marton Fucsovics 7-6, 6-4, 6-1.


2024 French Open

Wawrinka outwits fellow veteran Murray to move into second round at French Open

Stan Wawrinka outclassed Andy Murray on Sunday night to reach the second round at the French Open. 

The 2015 champion won 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 after two hours and 19 minutes on centre court in the first of the night matches at the 2024 championships.

The 39-year-old Swiss, who is the oldest man in the draw, broke Murray in the opening game of the match and wrapped up the first set in 53 minutes.

It was a similar pattern in the second set as Wawrinka’s famed singled-handed backhand punched through Murray’s equally celebrated defensive strategies. 

The 37-year-old Briton was unable to recover the deficit and Wawrinka took the second set with his second ace of the encounter to seize control of the match after one hour and 41 minutes.

Pattern

Murray was robbed again of his service early in the third.

And for all his fearsome fighting qualities, it was effectively game over once he conceded his service for a second time and Wawrinka held for a 4-0 lead.

An air of respectability entered as Murray – the beaten finalist in 2016 – got on the board. But it was ultimately cosmetics.

Wawrinka’s 13th backhand winner brought up two match points and fittingly a 14th sizzler – this one a rocket down the line – gave him the match after two hours and 19 minutes.

Murray embraced his conqueror and exchanged words at the net at the end of their 23rd meeting stretching back 19 years.



“I really liked watching Andy play,” Wawrinka told the on-court interviewer Alex Corretja. “We spoke about trying to make the best of what is left.”

Wawrinka, who is one of only three men to have interrupted Rafael Nadal’s hegemony at the French Open, added: “We make sacrifices and have to be disciplined. I’m the oldest player in the draw but young in my head and that’s what makes me go on.”


South African elections

Parties woo South Africa’s poorest voters with promise of basic income

Johannesburg, South Africa – With a third of the population unemployed, poverty has dramatically increased in South Africa in the past five years, and millions depend on grants. As South Africans head to the polls on 29 May, both the ruling party and its challengers are promising to introduce a universal basic income – something activists have long called for, but are sceptical a new government can deliver.

For Elisabeth Raiters, an unemployed black woman living on the outskirts of Soweto, life is a daily struggle.

Her latest adversary is the public body responsible for distributing monthly cash grants first introduced as a Covid emergency measure. Scores of people in her community trying to secure the payments rely on her to take on complicated paperwork and possible corruption. 

“I give people advice,” she told RFI from her home in Eldorado Park, a suburb of the township on the edges of Johannesburg.

“I work on the ground with beneficiaries, so I’ve picked up on a lot of cases where people only have maybe 200 rand [about 10 euros] in their bank account, and actually get declined by the government because of these 200 rand. Like it’s too much… Yet the threshold is 624 rand.”

That amount, the equivalent of just over 30 euros, is the threshold below which someone has to earn per month to qualify for the government’s Covid relief grant. 

It corresponds to South Africa’s food poverty line – the amount of money a person needs to afford enough food to get their minimum recommended daily energy intake.

Those whose monthly income falls below the cut-off are eligible for a stipend of 350 rand – around 18 euros.

Introduced in May 2020, the scheme has since been extended multiple times. The government now promises it will remain in place until at least early 2025. 

But on the ground, says Raiters, a lot of people get left out.

“There’s so much red tape now around the grant,” she said, adding that she was working with progressive think tank the Institute for Economic Justice to take the government to court over the roadblocks.

“Beneficiaries are really not accessing this grant.”

Millions living in poverty

South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

Out of a population of 61 million, 32.9 percent are unemployed – far more than when the ruling African National Congress (ANC) came to power 30 years ago and faced the task of dismantling an apartheid system that concentrated wealth and power in the hands of a white minority.

Since then the country’s economy has struggled to grow, remaining practically stagnant for the past decade.

As a result, millions of people in the continent’s most industrialised economy live in poverty. An estimated 28 million rely on welfare grants, which include child support, disability and old age allowances as well as the Covid stipend.

Raiters now says she has lost faith in the ANC to deliver meaningful solutions.

She is supporting the ActionSA party in the upcoming election, while her sister plans to vote for the Democratic Alliance. Both are part of an opposition coalition called the Multi-Party Charter, which promise to reform the current system of social aid.

  • South Africans lose faith in ruling ANC as income inequality grows

Universal income

Raiters says she and her community have learned how to navigate the complex grant system, and want to focus on how to improve or replace it.

“I think we definitely need job creation; there’s no jobs, so we need job creation,” she told RFI. “But I think a universal basic income grant should be introduced.”

Several parties have promised to bring in some form of basic income if they win enough support at this month’s election, including the ANC and ActionSA.

The Social Policy Initiative, a Johannesburg-based think tank that specialises in inequality and social security, is among the civil society groups advocating for an unconditional grant.

“Poverty, particularly in South Africa, but across the world, is a construct that is generated – it’s not due to an individual’s pathological laziness or some sense of moral weakness within them,” argues Isobel Frye, the institute’s executive director, who notes that some 55 percent of South Africans live below the national poverty line.

“That’s where the idea of basic income comes in. It meets people’s needs, it gives people sufficient access to be able to support livelihoods.”

In addition, Frye says, studies suggest that households receiving a basic income “are more likely to be able to go out and look for jobs” – with the extra cash helping to pay for basics such as transport to interviews or an internet connection to search for ads.

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

Campaign promises

Raiters believes a basic income grant would be easier to distribute than means-tested stipends.

“It will also make sure that I have the proper nutrition and earn more money,” she told RFI.

The idea of a basic income has long been mooted in South Africa, though economists typically dismiss it as unaffordable given the country’s stretched public finances.

The ANC pledged this week that its scheme would be funded by extra tax measures, committing to finalising the policy within two years.

The Universal Basic Income Coalition, an alliance of civil society groups pushing for unconditional grants, welcomed the ruling party’s announcement – but also urged the government to reconsider some of its other policies, including austerity measures and post office closures, that stand in the way of people claiming existing stipends.

As the election looms, disillusioned voters like Raiters worry that the latest promises will once again prove empty.


ENVIRONMENT

Warmest oceans in history drive mass bleaching of world’s corals

More than 60 percent of the world’s corals have been damaged in a mass bleaching event that began last year and continues to unfold into the northern summer. 

Bleaching caused by heat stress is a major health threat to coral reefs, nicknamed the rainforests of the sea because of their intricate ecosystems that host a wide variety of marine life. 

“Crazy haywire” ocean temperatures – in the words of Derek Manzello, of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – have triggered the fourth global mass coral bleaching event in memory. 

“This event is still growing in size and impacts,” Manzello told journalists. “I’m very worried about the state of the world’s coral reefs. We’re seeing [ocean temperatures] play out right now that are very extreme in nature.” 

Data from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service shows that sea surface temperatures have been at record highs for the past 13 months.  

Fuelling the extreme temperatures is the naturally occurring El Nino weather pattern, as well as energy trapped in the atmosphere and the oceans by greenhouse gases. 

  • Oceans break record for highest temperatures five years in a row

Visual proof of trauma

The ongoing mass coral bleaching is the world’s fourth on record, with three others occurring between 1998 to 2017.

While records have been toppled over the past year – with 2023 declared the hottest ever – the whitened, damaged coral offers visual evidence of how the heat is hurting marine life. 

Coral bleaching occurs when symbiotic algae, known as zooxanthellae, exits the coral tissue because of overly warm water temperatures.  

“The algae are what feeds the coral and give it its colour, so without the algae the corals are colourless, or bleached, and you can see through to the white skeleton,” Australian marine biologist Tess Moriarty told RFI

Once the algae’s gone, the coral loses its main source of food produced through photosynthesis. 

Damaged coral can bounce back after being bleached, but too many bleaching events will prevent the coral from regenerating.

Fragile coral then becomes susceptible to diseases and other infections. 

  • Half of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef corals are dead, killed by climate change

Great Barrier Reef hit hard

Scientists studying Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, which has suffered its fifth mass bleaching event since 2016, are looking for signs of coral recovery.  

The Australian Institute of Marine Science said in March that its aerial surveys showed that almost two-thirds of the reef had been affected. 

Heat stress was worst in the southern part of the UN heritage-listed reef, where sea-surface temperatures peaked at 2.5°C above average.  

“As the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem is so large, the size of Italy, the heat stress across it isn’t uniform,” said researcher Neal Cantin, who led the aerial surveys. 

It will be months before the consequences of the reef’s worst ever mass bleaching become clear. 

While coral reefs cover only 0.2 percent of the oceans, they are home to 30 percent of marine biodiversity. In the Great Barrier Reef alone, there are more than 1,500 species of fish and hundreds of species of corals. 

The UN has warned that up to 90 percent of coral reefs would be lost by the middle of the century once the world reaches 1.5°C of warming.  

Temperature increases of 2°C would come at the cost of nearly all corals. 


Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso junta extends military rule for another five years

Burkina Faso’s ruling junta will remain in power for another five years under an accord adopted during national consultations on Saturday, delaying the transition back to democracy.

The decision was announced after the signing of a new charter following national talks in the capital Ouagadougou, on Saturday.

“The duration of the transition is fixed at 60 months from 2 July, 2024,” Colonel Moussa Diallo, chairman of the organising committee of the national dialogue process, said after the talks.

Civil society representatives, security and defence forces and lawmakers in the transitional assembly took part in the talks, but they were boycotted by most political parties.

According to the charter, signed by acting president and military leader Ibrahim Traore, elections marking the end of the transition may be organised before the deadline “if the security situation so permits”. 

It also allows Traore to run for president when the elections take place.

A ‘new page’ in history

The army has governed Burkina Faso since seizing power in a coup in 2022.

An initial charter installed Traore as president and put in place a government and a legislative assembly.

The duration of the transition to civilian rule was fixed at 21 months, with the deadline due to expire on 1 July, but the regime also said that security considerations would take priority.

Under the new charter, quotas will no longer be used to assign seats in the assembly to members of traditional parties. Instead, “patriotism” will be the only criteria for selecting deputies.

The new charter also calls for a new body called the “Korag” to “monitor and control the implementation of the country’s strategic vision in all areas and through all means”. Its composition and operations are at the discretion of the president.

“You have just rewritten a new page in the history of our country,” said the Minister of Territorial Affairs, Emile Zerbo, who opened the meeting on Saturday morning.  

Alleged abuses against civilians

Violence in West Africa’s Sahel region, fuelled by a decade-long fight with Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State armed group, has worsened since respective armies seized power in Burkina Faso and neighbouring Mali and Niger.

Burkina Faso experienced a severe escalation of deadly attacks in 2023, with more than 8,000 people reportedly killed, according to US-based crisis-monitoring group ACLED.

Human rights groups have accused Burkina Faso’s junta leaders of abuses against civilians during their military campaigns against jihadists, and of silencing media and opposition leaders. The junta has slammed the accusations as “baseless”

After taking power, the coup leaders expelled French troops and diplomats, and have instead turned to Russia for military assistance.  

  • Burkina Faso’s army massacred over 200 civilians in village raid: NGO
  • Burkina Faso suspends French media outlet, accuses it of ‘discrediting’ military

 

 

(with newswires)

   


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. It walked away with the coveted Grand Prix during the closing ceremony.

There was 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.


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Postcard from Cannes #6: Victory is sweet

Cannes (France) – While the spotlight continues to shine on the winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, RFI takes a look at the many other films given prizes in the different parallel categories, such as Un Certain Regard.

The Cannes Film Festival’s official selection is made up of numerous categories – notably Un Certain Regard, which also handed out its own prizes at the festival on Friday night.

There were 18 films in the running, including 8 first films, with Canadian director Xavier Dolan as Jury President.

The overall winner was Black Dog, by Chinese director Guan Hu. It tells the story of a man who returns to his home town after a spell in prison. While working for the local dog patrol team to clear the town of stray dogs before the Olympic Games, he strikes up an unlikely connection with a black dog. 

The Jury Prize went to French migrant drama set in Paris, L’Histoire de Souleymane by Boris Lojkine, with his leading man Abou Sangaré grabbing the prize for Best Actor.

The Best Director award went to two films from Un Certain Regard: Roberto Minervini’s The Damned – set in the United States during the Civil War.

It shared the prize with Zambian director Rungano Nyoni for her family drama On Becoming a Guinea Fowl.

India’s Anasuya Sengupta scooped up the Best Actress for her role in The Shameless – the gritty story of a sex worker who flees a Delhi brothel after stabbing a policeman.

  • Erotic dancer comedy-drama wins top prize at Cannes Film Festival

A special mention went to Tawfik Alzaidi for Norah, the youth award to French director Louise Courvoisier’s Holy Cow

The annual Citizens Award went to  Andrea Arnold’s Bird, starring Barry Keoghan as a young dad in working-class England. 

Arnold is one of Britain’s most acclaimed directors, with an Oscar for short film Wasp and three Jury Prizes at Cannes for Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey.

Documentary films recognised

The Best documentary award – known as theL’Oeil d’Or (Golden Eye) at the Cannes Film Festival was shared between two films. 

Ernest Cole: Lost and Found is the latest from Haitian director Raoul Peck, who made the Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro about US writer James Baldwin.

It tells the story of Cole who documented the horrors of apartheid in South Africa until he was forced into exile.

It shared the prize with On the Brink of Dreams, which follows a group of teenage girls in rural southern Egypt over four years, between rehearsals, as they navigate the tough decisions that will determine their adulthood.

Palm Dog

Meanwhile, the annual Palm Dog for best canine performer on Friday went to griffon pup Kodi.

His film, Dog on Trial, by French director Laetitia Dosch, is exactly as its title suggests.

His character Cosmos is hauled before a judge for biting three people, and a young lawyer battles to save him from being put down in this bittersweet Swiss comedy.

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

The film’s director initially “told us Kodi wouldn’t have much to do”, recalled animal trainer Juliette Roux-Merveille.

But when she received the script, she realised Kodi would have to perform as many as 100 on-camera movements – including a few new tricks.

“Kodi didn’t know how to howl, so we played him the sound of a meowing kitten and it worked,” she told AFP.

 Initially conceived as a bit of a joke, the Palm Dog awards have become a valuable way for Cannes movies to earn extra attention.

Last year’s Palm Dog winner Messi – star of Anatomy of a Fall – was invited back to “interview” stars on the red carpet.

Equipped with a special 360-degree microphone and camera attached to his back, the Border Collie bounded up the steps to pose for photographers at the festival’s opening ceremony.


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Erotic dancer comedy-drama wins top prize at Cannes Film Festival

Cannes (France) – 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.

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

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.”

Emilia Perez also won the Jury Prize for its French director, Jacques Audiard.

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.

‘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.

Prize for first film

The Camera d’Or for best first film went to Armand playing in the Un Certain Regard section about a celebrity single mother brought into school where her young son is accused of abusing another boy.

It was directed by Halfdan Ullmann Tondel forTondel, grandson of Swedish cinema legends Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann.

The jury members Baloji and Emmanuelle Béart decided to give a Special Mention to Mongrel by Chinese directors Wei Liang Chiang and You Qiao Yin.

The Best short film went to Nebojsa Slijepcevic for The Man who Could Not Remain Silent.

(with AFP)


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.


Comoros

Comoros President sworn in for fourth term after disputed poll

Comoros President Azali Assoumani has pledged to work for peace and rapidly grow the economy as he was sworn in for his fourth term in office, following a tense January election which his opponents claim was tainted by voter fraud.

One person was killed and at least 25 injured in violent protests that erupted in Comoros, after the election body declared Assoumani had been re-elected to another five-year term with 63 percent of the vote.

The country, a group of three islands off the coast of Mozambique with a population of about 800,000, has experienced around 20 coups or attempted coups since winning independence from France in 1975 and is a major source of irregular migration to the nearby French island of Mayotte.

Opposition leaders claimed the latest presidential poll was rigged, alleging ballot stuffing and voting halted before the official closing time. The government denied the claims.

“Disputes after the elections are not a Commorian exception. I thank the Commorians for the renewed trust, I will not disappoint you,” Assoumani said on Sunday at a ceremony in a stadium in the capital Moroni.

“After this inauguration, I invite civil society, the opposition and all political actors to put aside differences in favour of peace and democracy,” said the former army officer, adding he would grow the economy at 5 percent per year.



Increasingly authoritarian

Security was tight in the capital Moroni ahead of the ceremony, attended by the presidents of Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mozambique and Congo. Tanzania and Burundi were represented by their vice-presidents; France by its Minister Delegate for Parliamentary Relations.

Assoumani first came to power through a coup in 1999. He stepped down after one term but reclaimed the presidency in an election in 2016.

In 2018 he changed the constitution to allow himself to run for a fourth term, a move that triggered widespread protests and a rebel uprising on one of the archipelago’s three main islands.

The army put down the fighting and protests have been regularly banned since then.

Since Assoumani was re-elected in 2019, observers say he has become increasingly authoritarian.

“Assoumani’s latest term has been marked by crackdowns on dissent and curtailments of press freedoms,” according to the US-based Africa Center for Strategic Studies, which describes the intimidation of journalists and detention of opposition figures.

(with Reuters)

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

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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.