rfi 2024-07-05 08:11:59



FRENCH ELECTIONS 2024

Le Pen insists National Rally will still win big in French elections despite slip in polls

Marine Le Pen has hit back at opinion polls suggesting her National Rally (RN) is losing its lead in this weekend’s legislative election runoff, saying the far-right party still had the capacity to secure an absolute majority in the French parliament.

The centrist forces of President Emmanuel Macron and a broad-left wing coalition have withdrawn over 200 candidates from the runoff on Sunday in a joint effort to ensure the far-right National Rally is defeated.

While the RN was ahead in the popular vote in the 30 June first round, a poll published Wednesday predicted it would now fall well short of an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

Speaking to BFMTV, Le Pen said: “I think there is still the capacity to have an absolute majority with the electorate turning out in a final effort to get what they want.”

“I say turn out to vote as it’s a really important moment to get a change in politics in all the areas that are making you suffer right now,” she added.

Posting on X, Le Pen wrote: “We have the capacity to win an absolute majority. I call on the French people to mobilise on Sunday, to obtain a change of policy in all the areas where they are currently suffering”.

  • More than 210 candidates exit French election runoff to block far right progress

Blocking the RN majority

If the RN wins an absolute majority of 289 seats in the 577-member National Assembly, it will be able to form a government with Le Pen’s 28-year-old protégé Jordan Bardella as prime minister.

But she acknowledged that the “operation” by Macron’s centrists and the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition to withdraw candidates “had the aim of preventing the RN from having an absolute majority”.

The moves have sparked speculation that a possible right-centre-left coalition could emerge after the election to hamstring the RN’s influence in parliament.

Le Pen alleged that the “biggest dream” for Macron was to have a “single party” taking in all forces from the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) to right wing Republicans (LR) but excluding the RN.

Macron however made clear at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that there was “no question” of the LFI being part of any coalition, according to a participant.

  • Far-right candidate exits French elections after Nazi cap controversy

Extremist ‘gaffes’

Le Pen – who is expected to make a fourth attempt to win the Elysée in 2027 – admitted there had been problems with a handful of RN candidates, one of whom had to withdraw after a picture of her emerged wearing a Nazi Luftwaffe hat.

She said: “There are been some inadmissable statements and they will involve sanctions; there are also statements that are just clumsy.”

A poll by Harris Interactive has projected the RN and its allies would win 190 to 220 seats in the National Assembly, the NFP 159 to 183 seats and Macron’s Ensemble (Together) alliance 110 to 135.


FRENCH ELECTIONS 2024

Fear of the far right overshadows voters’ qualms about the former French PM

Elisabeth Borne is counting on support from left-wing voters to hold her seat, even if many refuse to forget her role in passing a controversial pension reform. Campaigning at a market in the Calvados department of Normandy, Borne hopes to convince voters that backing her on 7 July will prevent the far right from taking power after she finished behind her National Rally (RN) opponent in last week’s first round of elections.  

The former head of government took 28 percent of the vote, ahead of left-wing candidate Noe Gauchard, who garnered 23 percent, but behind RN rival Nicolas Calbrix, who secured 38 percent.

Gauchard is now one of the more than 200 centrist and left-wing candidates who have withdrawn from France’s legislative election run-off, a move President Emmanuel Macron hopes will prevent the RN from winning an absolute majority.

 


UK elections 2024

UK voters expected to make a significant shift away from the ruling Tory party

British voters head to the polls this Thursday, with the opposition Labour Party projected to secure a landslide victory. However, experts suggest that the vote is driven more by fatigue from over a decade of Conservative rule marked by erratic policy decisions, political chaos, and a deteriorating economy, rather than strong support for Labour’s platform.

John Barry, a political scientist at Queens University in Belfast, predicts that the Conservative Party will “suffer a massive defeat”.

He explains, “There is a palpable sense of exhaustion within the Conservative Party, and the public has simply had enough of 10 years of Conservative rule.”

Key points of discontent include “the disaster of Brexit, the chaos within the Conservative Party under four prime ministers, the disgraceful behavior of former PM Boris Johnson during the COVID period,” and the failed policies of former PM Liz Truss.

For the past two years, polling has indicated that Labour is 20 points ahead of the Conservatives, and no amount of campaigning has managed to shift the dial.

Both the Conservative program and the Labour Party Manifesto present plans aimed at improving economic conditions for the population.

The Conservatives propose tax cuts as the core of their strategy to stimulate economic growth while also aiming to reduce borrowing and debt.

Labour, on the other hand, focus on wealth creation, pledging to be “pro-business and pro-worker” and to introduce a new industrial strategy that will put an end to short-term economic policies.

On healthcare, the Conservatives have pledged to increase funding for the National Health Service (NHS) above inflation every year and to recruit 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors.

Labour, meanwhile, promise to cut waiting times by adding 40,000 more appointments every week and doubling the number of cancer scanners.

Regarding defence, both parties aim to spend 2.5 percent of the UK’s gross domestic product.

On immigration, the Conservatives want to maintain the controversial scheme of sending illegal Channel crossers to Rwanda.

Labour plans to reform the points-based system by introducing visa restrictions and training workers where there are domestic shortages.

They vow to scrap the government’s Rwanda plan, focus on stopping people-smuggling gangs, and strengthen border security.

Brexit still an issue?

In 2016, then-Conservative MP and party leader David Cameron triggered the Brexit referendum, which resulted in a 52-48 percent vote in favour of leaving the European Union.

Fast forward eight years, and a  report issued by Cambridge Econometrics, commissioned by London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan last January, indicated that the UK economy had shrunk by €165 billion as a result of Brexit.

The report projected that the average Briton was nearly €2,358 worse off in 2023, while the average Londoner was over €4,000 worse off last year due to Brexit.

It also calculated that there are nearly two million fewer jobs overall in the UK because of Brexit, with almost 300,000 fewer jobs in the capital alone.

The public have simply had enough of ten years of Conservative rule.

01:42

REMARKS by John Barry, Political scientist with Queens University Belfast

A projection for 2035 is even gloomier: by then, the UK is expected to have 3 million fewer jobs, 32 percent lower investments, 5 percent lower exports, and 16 percent lower imports than if it had remained in the EU, according to the study.

Another report, published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in July 2023, supports this negative outlook.

It states that “Brexit has had a large and continuing negative impact on UK exports, with a particularly large impact on smaller firms” and that “the best estimate of Brexit’s negative impact on UK GDP to date is two to three percent.”

While the Conservatives grapple with the Brexit fallout – and Nigel Farage’s staunchly pro-Brexit Reform Party advocates for an even harder Brexit – Labour refrains from discussing reversing the decision.

“The Labour Party has ruled out rejoining the single market because they aim to win over the northern England constituencies that voted for Brexit,” says Barry.

“These constituencies then voted for Boris Johnson. Labour wants to win them back.”

According to Barry, Labour might be thinking about “at least two terms in office. The first term is about correcting the mistakes of the Conservative Party, implementing policies in energy and healthcare.”

If successful, a second Labour government might “consider reopening the debate around Europe” – but Labour leader Keir Starmer has been adamant that he doesn’t see the UK joining the European single market or customs union in his lifetime. 

  • Anxiety in Brexit territory on the eve of UK national elections

Rise of the far-right in Europe

The UK election takes place between the first and decisive second rounds of the French legislative elections.

In the first round, Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) secured 33 percent of the vote, while President Macron’s Renaissance party was reduced to just 20 percent.

However, Barry believes that Europe’s shift to the right – with far-right controlled governments in the Netherlands, Italy, and Hungary – won’t significantly influence UK voters.

“What’s happened in France would probably harden positions in the UK,” he says.

“If you’re very right-wing oriented, you’d probably be more likely to vote for Farage and that anti-immigrant sentiment, which Le Pen’s party also represents. For Labour Party voters, it would make them more likely to vote for Labour.”

While there might be a “sigh of relief within a lot of European capitals” if Labour wins, Farage’s Reform party (polling at 16 percent on June 26) and hard-core Brexit proponents united in groups like the ultra-Conservative, pro-leave Bruges Group will be inspired by the surge of far-right sentiments within the EU.

“Farage is appealing to those hard-core Brexit voters, some of whom are currently voting for the Conservative Party,” Barry explains.

“We will see many Conservative voters who want more Brexit switch to Reform, and they will do well in parts of Britain where the leave vote was very strong,” he concludes.

  • Anxiety in Brexit territory on the eve of UK national elections
  • Transport may pay high price for Brexit delays

     


UK election 2024

UK elections feature novelty candidates blurring lines between politics and satire

Every general election, the United Kingdom sees a handful of novelty candidates who often succeed in blurring the lines between politics and satire.

The crop of eccentrics running in Thursday’s vote includes an AI chatbot, an actual pub and an intergalactic space lord.

The tradition took off in the 1980s, when the Official Monster Raving Loony Party – motto “Vote for Insanity” –registered as a political party and fielded two candidates.

All a candidate needs to stand to become a member of parliament is a £500 (€630) deposit and 10 supporting signatures.

“There’s aspects of this that has to do with the UK sense of humour and our traditions of satire and mockery,” Andrew Blick, politics professor at King’s College London, told French news agency AFP.

But he said that as, politics have become “in some senses more ridiculous” in recent years, it can “ripe for satire”.

“I think they do have some value: they attract attention to the system, some of the issues they raise, though they do it in a humorous way, are serious issues,” he added.

Sometimes, the joke works: the furry mascot of Hartlepool football club, H’Angus the Monkey, actually won the town’s 2002 mayoral contest. All-day pub opening — now a reality — was once merely a Loony policy.

Count Binface

Count Binface, the “intergalactic space warrior” is running against Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in headgear shaped like a rubbish bin.

His pledges include building at least “one affordable home” and national service for all former prime ministers.

He has also proposed nationalising the singer Adele.

Binface – aka comedian Jon Harvey – ran against Boris Johnson in the 2019 general election and in London’s mayoral race this year, when he beat the far-right Britain First party by 4,000 votes.

“In the UK anybody, literally anybody, is free to stand in an election, no matter how idiotic the get-up”, he told news agencies.

He added that the British political system “fosters the eccentricity, the wonderment and the humour of politics”.

“That’s right, under the British system I get to stand against Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, it’s brilliant.”

The Mitre pub

A “good old fashioned” pub in Richmond in south London has been registered as a political party as part of a marketing stunt by its owner, Chris French, who is its only candidate.

“Just about the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” French said of the process of registering the pub as a party. “I just typed ‘how to register as a political party’ into Google.”

With his pub slowly recovering after the Covid pandemic and feeling the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis, French looked to the democratic process for its untapped marketing potential rather than its ability to effect policy change.

For £500 – a snip compared to the price of online marketing – he could have his pub name and address “advertised” on the ballot paper seen by the 77,000 people over the age of 18 in his local area.

His only aim?

“I’d like to not come last. But if I do beat any political parties – I’m a pub without a manifesto – they should probably quit politics,” he added.

Steve AI

Steve AI claims to be the country’s first artificial intelligence candidate and will appear on the ballot in Brighton Pavilion in southeast England as an independent.

The physical face of the campaign is its creator Steve Endacott, with the AI platform promising to be an MP you can talk to “anytime, anywhere”.

Its policies, which are created and approved by locals according to the website, include expanding prison capacity and improving cycling in the area.

On issues such as immigration and climate, Steve AI is generally left-leaning, including supporting “practical” climate policy, LGBTQ+ causes and “inviting those we need to support the economy”.

Steve AI told AFP it was running “to make a difference” and one of its strengths was that it would not be “swayed by emotions or special interests.”

But it then glitched as it tried to explain the advantages of technology.

 (with newswires)


FRANCE – RUSSIA

French national due in Moscow court to appeal spying accusations

Frenchman Laurent Vinatier, arrested in Moscow at the beginning of June on suspicion of collecting information on the Russian army, will appeal against his arrest in court this Thursday morning.

Following Vinatier’s arrest on 6 June, the Frenchman was remanded in custody until at least 5 August.

At an initial court hearing on 8 June, the employee of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue – a Swiss NGO that mediates conflicts outside official diplomatic channels – admitted that he had not registered as a “foreign agent” because he was unaware that a recent Russian law required him to do so. 

But the Russian Investigative Committee also suspects him of having collected information on Russian military activities that “could be used against State security”.

  • Russia arrests Frenchman suspected of collecting military intelligence
  • France detains Ukrainian-Russian man over suspected explosives plot

The suspicions have given rise to fears of more serious charges than the offence of failing to register, which carries a five-year prison sentence. 

The Moscow court that organised the first hearing also indicated that Mr Vinatier’s personal possessions had been “temporarily seized”. 

The Frenchman’s arrest comes amid rising tensions between Paris and Moscow over the Ukraine conflict, and a day after a Russian-Ukrainian man was arrested in the Paris region on suspicion of planning violent act in connection with a “terrorist” organisation, operating in France.


FRENCH POLITICS

Jean-Marie Le Pen declared ‘unfit’ to stand trial over misuse of EU funds

A Paris court has ruled that National Front founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen will not be called to give tesitmony in a case regarding the payment of European parliamentary assistants working for the National Rally, due to his deteriorating health. 

The Paris judicial court said on Wednesday that the deteriorating state of health of 96-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen is “incompatible” with his presence at a trial involving parliamentary assistants working for the National Rally (RN) at the EU parliament. 

All parties agreed that the co-founder of the far-right National Front – the pre-cursor of the rebranded National Rally – was “unfit” to attend the trial, but the decision will be formalised when the hearing opens on 30 September.

Experts appointed by the court examined Le Pen at his home on 19 June and could only note “a profound deterioration” in his physical and mental state.

  • Anti-Semitic hate trial opens for French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen

The experts observed that the former presidential candidate had “deteriorated physically and above all psychologically”, making it “incompatible” for him to appear in court. 

Jean-Marie Le Pen is unable to “concentrate for more than a few minutes”, the medical experts noted.

“He has no awareness of the purpose, meaning or significance of this hearing”, the experts insisted, adding that the National Front founder was suffering from “heart failure” which prevented him from leaving his home.

EU funds allegedly paid RN salaries 

The trial primarily targets his daughter Marine, who has been summoned along with 26 other people, and the RN – which has been summoned as a legal entity – to shed light on suspected misappropriation of European funds between 2004 and 2016.

The defendants are being prosecuted for having set up a system during this period whereby the European Union paid MEPs’ assistants who actually worked directly for the party.

  • National Rally marks 50th anniversary with symposium on far-right ‘victories’

Marine Le Pen – who has always denied these allegations – is charged with misappropriation of public funds and complicity.

Other defendants include the mayor of Perpignan, Louis Aliot, former Reconquête member Nicolas Bay – who has just been re-elected to the European Parliament – and RN spokesman Julien Odoul.

In all, 11 people who were elected as MEPs on National Front lists, 12 others who were their parliamentary assistants and four party employees are due to be tried. 

Spotlight on France

Podcast: France revives hemp farming, New Romance, Paris’s 1924 Olympics

Issued on:

France is reviving its industrial farming of hemp – ‘green gold’ – in the search for more sustainable, energy-saving building materials. French publishers are flocking to romance, as a new generation of authors are writing for a new and growing audience of young women readers. And when Paris hosted the 1924 Olympics 100 years ago.

Hemp farming nearly died out in France in the 1970s but is making a comeback in textiles and the construction industry. Fast-growing, pesticide-free, and a good absorber of CO2, the plant is proving to be an ally in the fight against climate change. Franck Barbier, head of Interchanvre, talks about cannabis sativus’s bright future on a tour of the Planète Chanvre mill in Aulnoy. And Jean-Michel Morer, mayor of Trilport, shows us how his town is using hemp in buildings as part of its commitment to sustainability and the circular economy. (Listen @3’10”)

Romance literature has long been looked down on for its simple language, basic story tropes and steamy sex scenes. But French publishers are taking note as a new generation of authors, inspired by English-language best-sellers, are writing for a growing audience of young women, many of whom are newcomers to books. Publisher Benita Rolland, of Hugo publishing, talks about developing the genre for the French market, and CS Quill, who started out as a reader before becoming a popular romance author, talks about connecting with her fans. (Listen @21’50”)

As Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, a look back on the last time the city held the Games in 1924. Those Olympics were a smaller, more eclectic and more masculine event, which nonetheless marked a turning point and brought the Games closer to what they are today. (Listen @14’30”)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).


FRENCH ELECTIONS 2024

Far right election gains ensure a financial jackpot for Le Pen’s National Rally

As France’s far-right National Rally celebrate their remarkable surge in popularity following the first round of snap legislative polls on Sunday, Marine Le Pen is also lauding the state of the party’s finances as electoral gains also translate into financial gains for their coffers. 

The RN, as France’s second largest political party, receives the most public funding after Emmanuel Macron’s presidential majority Renaissance party. 

But that was before the first round of early legislative elections that took place on Sunday.

Because the number of ballots cast last in the RN’s favour on 30 June, this will radically change the situation for Marine le Pen’s party.

In France, political parties receive public funding – with a total budget of just under €66.5 million for 2024 – as set out in the France’s Finance Act.

This sum is divided between the parties, half on the basis of the number of votes each obtained in the first round of the last legislative elections, and the other half on the basis of the number of members of parliament they have elected.

  • Results from first round of France’s snap elections mapped out

Coffers filled by high turnout

As a result – based on the 4.2 million votes the RN received in 2022 – the far-right party received almost €6.8 million in 2024.

A further €3.4 million should now be added to this sum for its 91 MPs, giving the RN a total of €10.2 million.

Within the current system, each vote earns €1.61 and each parliamentary member is pegged at €37,000.

With 9,377,297 votes cast last Sunday, the RN has more than doubled its 2022 score.

  • Horse-trading begins after France’s far right wins first round of snap elections

Marine le Pen’s party is therefore guaranteed to receive more than €15 million a year until the next presidential and legislative elections taking place in 2027.

Thanks to the high turnout, the RN will receive almost twice as much as Macron’s Renaissance has every year since 2022.

And that’s not accounting for the windfall from its MPs.

According to projections, that will add up to between €9 million and €10 million.

When the RN becomes profitable

This windfall should enable Marine Le Pen’s party to continue a debt reduction process that began in 2022, including money owed to Hungarian and Russian banks

From being the most indebted party in France in 2021, with almost €27 million in the red, the RN has begun to balance its books.

  • Has France’s far-right National Rally really turned on Russia?

According to the latest figures available from the CNCCFP – France’s political campaign finances commission – the RN’s accumulated debt was down to just €9 million in 2022, including some €6.5 million with credit institutions.

While this is a fine performance overall for the RN, it didn’t not prevent the party from posting an deficit of nearly three million euros.

Whatever the final outcome of the second round of polls on 7 July, the snap legislative elections are well on the way to making the far right – for once – profitable.


French elections 2024

The three-way factor that makes France’s election results so unusual

The second round of French parliamentary elections are typically a two-horse race, but unusual circumstances mean that a record number of candidates are still in the running after Sunday’s first-round vote. With the far right in the lead, whether or not third-place candidates choose to drop out will be a deciding factor when France votes again this weekend.

It’s normally straightforward: multiple candidates stand in the first round of French legislative elections, then the top two go through to a deciding round the week after.

But little about these elections is normal.

They are taking place three years ahead of schedule and were organised in less than three weeks, after President Emmanuel Macron took the shock decision to dissolve parliament when his party took a drubbing in EU elections last month.

The lightning lead-up, shifting political alliances and high turnout have all combined to shake up the usual patterns. 

After Sunday’s first round of voting, as many as 306 of the 577 seats in France’s National Assembly could be decided in three-way races.

In the last parliamentary elections two years ago, it was just eight.

Turnout crucial

While it’s always been possible for more than two candidates to qualify for the second round, falling voter turnout has made that outcome less and less likely.

Under France’s election rules, unless one candidate wins the first round by a landslide – by getting more than 50 percent of ballots cast, which have to add up to at least 25 percent of the total number of voters – the two highest-placing candidates go through to a runoff.

But candidates who come third or lower also qualify if they win the votes of at least 12.5 percent of the electorate. 

That’s hard to do if not many voters take part. The last three parliamentary elections have seen turnout of roughly 48 percent (2022), 49 percent (2017) and 57 percent (2012) in the first round, which effectively meant parties had to win a higher share of ballots cast to get across the threshold.

On Sunday, turnout reached almost 67 percent – its highest since 1997.

That year’s elections were also called early, and likewise resulted in an unusually high number of three-way races in the second round: 79. 

  • From power play to gamble, the history of snap elections in France

Conglomeration effect

Snap elections also mean a last-minute dash to field candidates, which in many cases leaves voters with fewer choices.

A total of 4,010 candidates stood in Sunday’s first round, compared to 6,290 in 2022 and 7,877 in 2017.

With smaller parties less likely to have found strong contestants in time, votes ended up concentrated in France’s biggest political blocs.

There are three: the far-right National Rally (RN) and its allies, Macron’s centrist Ensemble alliance, and the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) – a broad coalition freshly  formed to take on the far right.

By sweeping several parties into the same tent, its emergence further reduced the number of candidates competing.

All that narrowed the field from the first round and made it more likely three frontrunners would each take a larger share of the vote.

To run or not to run

That’s what happened in 306 of the 501 constituencies now going into a second round, Ipsos pollsters calculate based on official results

A further five constituencies are headed for four-way races, something virtually unheard of in recent elections.

With the RN qualifying for almost every runoff, the question now is whether third- or fourth-place candidates will step down. 

The NFP, which features in at least 272 of the three-way contests and all of the four-ways, has already promised to withdraw from races where another bloc stands a better chance of beating the RN. 

Macron has indicated his centrists will do likewise, though with the caveat that they’ll only give way to parties that share the “values of the Republic”. Candidates from his alliance qualified for at least 239 three-way runoffs and five four-ways.

Meanwhile the smaller right-wing Republicans, eligible for two four-way contests and 33 three-ways, have signalled they plan to stay in every race.

  • Horse-trading begins after France’s far right wins first round of snap elections

Tactical votes

Those decisions have to be made by Tuesday evening, the deadline for candidates to confirm whether or not their name will be on the ballot for the second round.

They could prove crucial when France votes again on Sunday. 

So-called “triangular” runoffs typically result in a win for whichever party came top in the first round, since the opposition is split. But two-way contests are more closely fought, especially when voters are galvanised. 

Polling conducted before the first-round vote suggests that a large majority of left-wing voters would be willing to back another bloc to keep the RN out of government, as would a smaller majority of centrists.

But after a polarising election campaign, there’s no guarantee French voters are prepared to cross party lines.


HUMAN RIGHTS

France’s top court to examine arrest warrant for Syria’s Assad

Prosecutors have asked France’s highest court to review the legality of a French arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over deadly chemical attacks on Syrian soil in 2013.

According to Syria’s opposition, one attack on the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 killed around 1,400 people – including more than 400 children.

Prosecutors said Tuesday they had made the request to the Paris Court of Cassation on judicial grounds on Friday – two days after another appeals court upheld an arrest order issued in November.

The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), lawyers’ association Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Syrian Archive – an organisation documenting human rights violations in Syria – filed the initial complaint.

However, SCM head Mazen Darwish criticised Tuesday’s move, saying: “We view [the] filing of the appeal as a political manoeuvre aimed at protecting dictators and war criminals”.

Legal question

“This decision is by no means political. It is about having a legal question resolved,” the prosecutor’s office at the court said in a statement.

France is believed to be the first country to issue an arrest warrant for a sitting foreign head of state.

Investigative magistrates specialising in cases of crimes against humanity issued the warrant after several rights groups filed a complaint against Assad for his role in the  series of alleged chemical attacks on 4, 5 and 21 August 2013.

  • France issues arrest warrant for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad
  • France declassifies report accusing Assad of Syria chemical attacks

However, prosecutors from a unit specialising in the investigation of “terrorist” attacks have sought to annul it, although they do not question the grounds for such an arrest.

They argue that immunity for foreign heads of state should only be lifted for international prosecutions, such as ones brought to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. 

Alongside Assad, the warrants target his brother Maher – the de-facto head of the Syrian army’s elite fourth division – and two generals, Ghassan Abbas and Bassam al-Hassan.

To date, the anti-terror prosecutors have only contested the warrant for Bashar al-Assad’s arrest.

(With newswires)


PARIS OLYMPICS 2024

Paris Olympics puts high-tech crackdown on doping to the test

In the battle against drug use at the Paris Olympics, the International Testing Agency plans to deploy a more streamlined, high-tech approach to identify and target potential cheats.

According to ITA Director General Benjamin Cohen, the potential tools at the agency’s disposal include biological and performance passports as well as a mountain of other data.

Upgraded software – possibly using artificial intelligence – could also help, while an investigative unit aided by whistleblowers was making inroads, along with increased cooperation with sports bodies and police. 

The ITA – which was founded in 2018 – runs the anti-doping programme for the Olympics, the Tour de France and “more than 65 international organisations”.

For Cohen, a Swiss lawyer who has headed the agency since its creation, the challenge is to refine the “risk analysis” and identify athletes to monitor using as little time and resources as possible.

  • Former French Open champion Halep banned for four years for doping

The problems, however, have been accentuated in the run-up to the Paris Games.

“We still have 30,000 potentially qualifying athletes and we cannot wait to have the final list to focus on the 11,000 participants,” Cohen said.

“Certain doping practices enable athletes to achieve results very quickly,” he said.

“Traditionally the pre-Olympic period is high-risk time … the last moment to make a difference.

“Athletes know that they will be very closely monitored at the Olympics, so I would hope that very few, if any, will be tempted to take drugs in the Olympic Village in Paris,” he added. 

At the Games, only medallists are automatically tested, but ITA wants to find ways to target potential dopers before the finish.

 

Cohen maintains the ITA tries to identify patterns: They look at the demands of each discipline and the substances it might tempt athletes to use.

Then the agency looks at delegations and “the history of doping in that country”.

Finally, it scrutinises each individual athlete and “the development of his or her performances, any suspicious biological passport profiles, suspicious anti-doping tests, and so on.”

“That’s hundreds of thousands of pieces of data.”

  • France defender Sakho wins damages from World Anti-Doping Agency over banned drugs slur

‘Risk analysis’

“Today we have our own software, and the next stage” will involve “programming computers to extract this data, because we still do a lot of this work manually.”

After that, the ITA hopes to “seize all the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence“, provided “we use these new tools ethically.” 

“If it’s done properly,” he said. “AI will enable us to go much further in risk analysis and prediction.”

The ITA is also developing a “performance passport” as a counterpart to the long-established biological passport.

The objective is to predict results on the basis of what an athlete has done over the last four years.

“Artificial intelligence will enable us to say: ‘this is really an unusual result, which could suggest doping’,” he said. “It could help us flag them.”

The performance passport project was initially tested in swimming and weightlifting, two indoor sports where athletes compete in identical environments each time.

Weightlifting also happens to be one of the two sports – along with athletics – that have returned the vast majority of positive tests at Summer Olympics.

  • Arkea-Samisc leader Quintana says his conscience is clear after Tour de France drugs swoop

In 2021, the ITA carried out “a major investigation into weightlifting” and that enabled them to set up a specialised unit in cooperation with the sport.

“Cycling is a particular focus” but “other sports are beginning to understand the benefits of gathering intelligence, having anonymous sources and promoting whistleblowers.

“It’s a new method that complements traditional testing.” 

The ITA has been working to build links with law enforcement and exploit ‘synergies’.

“They are bearing fruit,” he said, referring to the case of 23-year-old Italian cyclist Andrea Piccolo, arrested on June 21 by the Italian Carabinieri who caught him returning to the country with growth hormones. 

“ITA asked the Italian authorities to open his luggage, which would not have been possible six years ago,” Cohen said.


French elections 2024

Results from first round of France’s snap elections mapped out

France’s far-right National Rally made historic gains in the first round of snap elections on Sunday. But their progress is greater in small towns and rural areas than in big cities. RFI looks at how the map of France stands as the three leading parties prepare to battle it out in next Sunday’s runoff.

The party of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella topped the poll with 33.15 percent of the votes cast, ahead of the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) alliance on 28.14 percent, and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Ensemble coalition on 20.76 percent.

RN and its allies obtained around 9.3 million votes – more than double that of the previous legislative elections in 2022.

It qualified for the second round in 455 of France’s 577 constituencies and came out on top in 297 of them.

Compared to 2022, the RN increased its share of the vote in all constituencies with the exception of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, where it won just 4.6 percent of the vote.

Campaigning on a promise to boost purchasing power by cutting VAT on fuel and some essential items, RN performed strongest in the northern Haut-de-France region – a depressed former industrial region that used to vote Communist or Socialist but has swung to the far right over the past decade.

Thirty-nine RN candidates won enough votes (more than 50 percent) in the first round to secure their seat directly, and 17 of those were in that northern rust belt.

They included Marine le Pen, re-elected with 58.04 percent in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont in a former coal-mining region, and RN vice-president Sebastien Chenu.

Communist Party leader, Fabien Roussel, running with the NFP list, lost his seat to an RN candidate in a constituency that had been a Communist stronghold for over 60 years.

  • French far-right party to fund policies by cutting aid to foreigners

Biggest gains in southeast

RN made its biggest strides in the southeastern Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur region, which includes the cities of Marseille and Nice, as well as seaside resorts of Cannes and Saint-Tropez.

The region has historically been a bastion for the National Front – as the RN was called until 2018.

Founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 to build on nostalgia for France’s colonial past, the National Front found support among some so-called pieds noirs – former French settlers in Algeria who’d been forced to leave following independence from France in 1962. Many of them settled in cities like Marseille and Nice. 

Eric Ciotti, an MP from the conservative Republicans party, who backed a controversial pact with the RN that split his party, won election in the city of Nice in a constituency where the RN increased its score by 24 points compared to 2022.

In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, the vote was split three ways in most constituencies between the RN, the left and the centre, with the RN leading in half of them.

  • Macron urges democratic alliance against far right after National Rally’s election success

NFP strong in Paris region

However the centre of Marseille went to the hard-left France Unbowed – the largest party in the NFP alliance – with party coordinator Manuel Bompard on 67.49 percent.

NFP candidates qualified in 446 of the 577 constituencies, performing best in and around Paris. They came out on top in 13 of Paris’s 18 constituencies.

The multi-cultural French capital is traditionally left-leaning and all the RN candidates were eliminated in the first round.

Nine NFP candidates were elected directly, including six women, three of whom were from the Greens.

In two constituencies in the working class Parisien suburb of Seine Saint Denis, which has a large population of immigrant descent, NFP candidates obtained more than 70 percent of the vote.

The left-wing alliance also performed well in the cities of Nantes, Toulouse and Strasbourg.

But it fell down in the formerly industrial north east, as well as the Meuse and Aube where its candidates failed to get through to the runoff.

  • France’s Muslim voters fear far-right election win

Presidential alliance shaken but not out

Macron’s centrist Ensemble (Together) alliance made it through to the second round in 319 constituencies, down from 417 in 2022.

Ensemble candidates came out on top in 69 constituencies, five of which are in Paris.

It remains influential in the west part of the capital, parts of western France such as Maine-et-Loire, and in the southern rural area of Aveyron.

But it lost ground countrywide, scoring badly in areas where the RN and LFP did well – notably in Seine-Saint-Denis and Pas-de-Calais. Its candidates won less than 10 percent of Sunday’s vote in several constituencies in those areas.

Only two Ensemble candidates – one in the Hauts-de-Seine west of Paris, and another on the Wallis and Futuna islands – were elected directly.


Mali

Suspected jihadist attack in Mali kills at least 21 civilians

An attack blamed on jihadists in central Mali killed more than 20 civilians on Monday, two local officials said, in the latest killings in the troubled Sahel region.

“At least 21 civilians have been killed” in the village of Djiguibombo, several dozen kilometres (miles) from the town of Bandiagara, an official from the provincial authority said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He attributed the attack to jihadists.

Sources joined by RFI attribute this attack to jihadists from Katiba Macina of Jnim.

Another provincial authority official, who spoke overnight, said about 20 people had been killed and the security situation prevented authorities from going to the site.

But a local youth representative said the army had arrived afterwards.

Both local authority sources asked not to be identified given their positions. Since the junta came to power in 2020, information about such incidents is not generally made public.

  • UN mission in Mali officially ends after 10 years

The attack began before nightfall and “lasted around three hours”, the youth representative said, requesting anonymity for security reasons.

“More than half are young people. Some victims had their throats cut,” the source said.

“Many inhabitants fled towards Bandiagara. Those who stayed were not even able to bury the dead properly,” he said.

Spiralling violence 

Mali has for over a decade been ravaged by jihadists and other armed groups, with the centre of the West African country becoming a hotbed of violence since 2015.

The deteriorated security context, remote locations and a lack of reliable information mean that attacks often take a long time to confirm.

Mali has since 2012 been plagued by different factions affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, as well as by self-declared self-defence forces and bandits.

The jihadist violence that started in the north spread to the centre of the country in 2015, when Katiba Macina — an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group — was established, led by the Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa.

Human rights groups regularly denounce widespread impunity for attacks on civilians.

  • UN pulls peacekeeping force out of Timbuktu early amid insecurity in Mali

Radical Islamist groups impose pacts on local populations under which they are allowed to go about their business in return for paying a tax, accepting Islamic rules and not collaborating with the Malian army or other armed groups.

Communities are subject to retaliatory measures in the event of non-compliance.

Regional worry

The violence spilled over into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, with military regimes seizing power in all three countries.

Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by the violence.

Since taking power in a 2020 coup, Mali’s military rulers have broken off their anti-jihadist alliance with France and European partners, while turning politically and militarily towards Russia.

The junta has enlisted the services of what it presents as Russian military instructors, but who, according to a host of experts and observers, are mercenaries from the private Russian company Wagner.

Bamako regularly claims to have gained the upper hand against the jihadists, as well as separatists in the north.

 (with AFP)


Tunisia

Tunisia calls presidential election for 6 October

Tunisia will hold a presidential election on 6 October, the office of President Kais Saied announced Tuesday, though he has not indicated if he will seek a new five-year term after his 2019 election.

“The president of the republic issued a decree today, 2 July 2024, summoning voters for a presidential election on Sunday 6 October 2024,” Saied’s office said in a statement.

The political crisis sparked by his power grab has weighed heavily on Tunisia‘s economy, with unemployment standing at 15 percent and around four million of the country’s 12 million people living in poverty.

A media crackdown has also seen more than 60 journalists, lawyers and political opponents prosecuted, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists.

In May, Saied abruptly replaced the interior and social affairs ministers in a surprise cabinet shuffle following a wave of arrests of rights activists, lawyers and journalists.

Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a $2 billion loan have stalled since the 2021 power grab, with Saied rejecting reforms demanded by the body.

But in June, the European Investment Bank on Tuesday announced grants and loans worth 450 million euros ($480 million) to support infrastructure projects as well as small and midsize businesses.

The crisis has driven thousands of Tunisians to attempt perilous Mediterranean boat crossings in the hope of finding better lives in Europe.

President Kais Saied, a constitutional specialist, took full control of the country in 2021, ruling by decree after dismissing his prime minister and parliament, with many of his opponents now behind bars.

He had a new constitution approved by referendum in 2022 that created a presidential system with a parliament that has only limited powers.

 (AFP) 


French elections

Far-right candidate exits French elections after Nazi cap controversy

A far-right candidate on Tuesday dropped out of the race for France’s parliament over a social media post showing her in a Nazi cap, a party official told French media.

France’s anti-immigration National Rally (RN) party led the first round of snap elections on Sunday and is now aiming for an absolute majority in the upcoming runoff.

Other political parties are striving to prevent the far-right from gaining power in France for the first time since the Nazi occupation during World War II.

National Rally candidate

In the northwestern region of Calvados, RN candidate Ludivine Daoudi placed third in her district. However, controversy erupted online after a photo surfaced allegedly showing her wearing a Luftwaffe cap from Nazi Germany.

  • What happens now that far right leads in France’s parliamentary elections?
  • The three-way factor that makes France’s election results so unusual
  • Horse-trading begins after France’s far right wins first round of snap elections

On Tuesday, local RN party official Philippe Chapron announced on France Bleu radio that Daoudi’s candidacy would be withdrawn. “She has not denied anything. She took the photo several years ago,” he said, labeling the act as “in bad taste.”

Chapron did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment, and efforts to reach Daoudi were unsuccessful.

Emma Fourreau, a left-wing candidate who came second in the district and will compete against a right-wing contender for the parliamentary seat, declared Daoudi’s withdrawal a “victory.” She mentioned that several sources, including an old friend, had provided the controversial Facebook screenshot, which has since been removed from Daoudi’s social media.

Marine Le Pen, a three-time presidential candidate, has attempted to rehabilitate the RN’s image. The party, co-founded by a former Waffen-SS member and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial, still faces accusations of racism. “Despite their ties in the National Assembly, it’s still a racist party that references Nazi Germany,” Fourreau remarked.

(With newswires)


French elections 2024

What happens now that far right leads in France’s parliamentary elections?

The far-right National Rally party came out top in the first round of France’s snap legislative elections on Sunday. But with another round of voting to go, the next French parliament is not yet decided.

Preliminary results released overnight by the Interior Ministry put the National Rally (RN) and its allies on just over 33 percent, followed by the New Popular Front (NFP) left-wing coalition on around 28 percent.

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance, Ensemble, was third with just over 20 percent.

Nearly 67 percent of French voters turned out for the early election, almost 30 percent more than took part in the first round of the last parliamentary elections in 2022. 

The RN’s leader in parliament, Marine Le Pen, said the party’s victory was “without ambiguity”, while its candidate for prime minister, Jordan Bardella, was already looking forward to his time in office.

But who heads the next French government is still to play for, as the country heads into a crucial week before the second and decisive round of voting on 7 July.

  • Horse-trading begins after France’s far right wins first round of snap elections

Calls to unite

Le Pen was one of 76 candidates who won enough votes in the first round to secure their seat directly.

The remaining 501 seats will only be decided on Sunday. At least two candidates, and in many cases three or even four, are still in the running for each.

The next stage will largely depend whether other parties unite against the far right, as they have done successfully in previous elections.

The leaders of the NFP have already promised to pull out their third-place candidates from contests where another camp stands a better chance of beating the RN. 

Macron too has called for a broad “democratic and republican alliance” to keep the far right out of power, though other members of his camp expressed reservations about giving way to candidates from hard-left France Unbowed, the largest party in the NFP.

  • Macron urges democratic alliance against far right after National Rally’s election success

An official statement from the Ensemble list said its members would only stand down for rivals “with whom we share the essential: the values of the Republic”.

Macron’s outgoing prime minister, Gabriel Attal, said that Ensemble could withdraw third-place candidates in “more than 60” constituencies.

Meanwhile the right-wing Republicans, who placed fourth with just over 10 percent of ballots, declined to join the calls to vote strategically.

Their president Eric Ciotti, who has been shunned by the rest of the party leadership since throwing his hat in with the RN, called on other Republicans to follow his suit and help “the entire right wing” to victory.

Deadline to declare

All those who placed first or second in the first round, as well as any others who got the votes of at least 12.5 percent of the total electorate, are eligible to stand in the second round.

The race will take shape by Tuesday evening, which is the deadline for candidates to confirm whether or not they’re running.

A blitz of campaigning then runs until Friday night, followed by a media blackout throughout most of the weekend. 

Polls open Sunday morning, with the first predictions expected shortly after 8pm.

A faction needs at least 289 seats for an outright majority in parliament, which would allow it to choose a prime minister and form the next government.

While France’s two-round system makes forecasting unreliable, three polling institutes have predicted RN and its allies could win between 240 and 310 seats.


French overseas territories

New Caledonian activist jailed in France claims to be a ‘political prisoner’

An indigenous Kanak pro-independence activist from the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia said Monday that he considered himself a “political prisoner” as authorities held him in jail in mainland France pending charges over a wave of deadly rioting.

Christophe Tein, 56, is leader of the CCAT pro-independence group, accused by Paris of orchestrating the weeks of unrest. The group’s members deny the accusation.

Tein spoke to two French Green party senators who visited him in isolation in jail in Mulhouse, in the north-east of France. 

According to an exchange witnessed by the French news agency AFP, he said that “I am a political prisoner and the first one to have been extradited in this way along with my comrades.”

“I have been able to speak on the phone with my lawyer in Noumea but it is difficult because of the time difference. I have to make contact with a lawyer here,” he added.

Tein was one of seven pro-independence activists transferred to mainland France on July 23 from the territory, nearly 17,000 kilometres from Paris.

The move sparked a resurgence of rioting in New Caledonia.

  • More unrest in New Caledonia after protest leaders extradited

Authorities have placed Tein under judicial investigation on suspicion of colluding in attempted murder and other charges.

The wave of rioting and looting erupted in New Caledonia in mid-May over a proposed electoral reform.

Kanak people fear the plan would leave them in a permanent minority compared with French from the mainland, putting independence hopes out of reach.

The violence has left nine dead and more than 1,500 people have been arrested, according to the High Commission that represents the French state in the territory.

Monday’s visit was supervised by authorities and Tein was not permitted to discuss his role in the unrest.

But he said that “At some point we will have to sit down to resume discussions. The survival of New Caledonia depends on it.”

The CCAT on Monday demanded the “immediate release and return” of the detained activists so they can be tried in New Caledonia, accusing French authorities of “colonial tactics”.

Nathalie Tehio, President of France’s Human Rights League, said in a message on social media that the CCAT activists, detained far away from home, “have the right to their private- and family life” and “rights of defence.”

(With newswires)


Mauritanian election

Mauritania’s Ghazouani wins presidential vote, despite claim of fraud

Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani has secured re-election with a comfortable margin, garnering 56.12 percent of the vote. The results were announced by the electoral commission this Monday.

Mauritanians went to the polls on Saturday to choose between seven candidates vying to lead the sprawling nation, which has largely withstood the tide of jihadism in the region and is set to become a gas producer.

Overall turnout was estimated at 55 percent.

After all votes were counted, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) had said that former general Ghazouani would win the election with more than 56 percent of the vote.

That puts him well ahead of the country’s main opposition leader, human rights campaigner Biram Dah Abeid, the CENI predicting 22 percent of the vote in his favour.

Abeid said on Sunday that he would not recognise the results of “Ghazouani’s CENI”.

“We will only recognise our own results, and therefore we will take to the streets” to refuse the electoral commission count, he said.

But he insisted their response would be “peaceful”, calling on the army and the security forces “not to follow the orders of the regime”.

Some of his supporters demonstrated in the capital Nouakchott, burning tires and disrupting traffic.   

Contestation

The opposition had however contested the legislative elections a year ago, which were won by Ghazouani’s party.

They say the Mauritanian government has set up the national election monitoring body (CENI), which the opposition has denounced as a tool for manipulating the ballot.

In second place, the opponent and human rights activist Biram Dah Abeid had already in the last presidential election, and according to him, the result could be “false and manipulated” by the Electoral Commission, which he accuses of being used by those in power and of having committed fraud, as our correspondent in Nouackchott reported.

Ghazouani’s other main rival, Hamadi Ould Sid’ El Moctar, who heads the Islamist Tewassoul party, came third with 12.76 percent of the vote, according to CENI.

He said he would “remain attentive” to any breach of voting regulations.

At the end of Sunday’s afternoon, Abeid’s campaign headquarters were surrounded by security forces, according to an AFP journalist. His campaign manager was arrested, a spokesman said.

The police presence in the capital increased significantly later in the evening.

Business as usual

“The situation in the country is under control and citizens can go about their business in peace,” Interior Minister Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine told reporters however.

The ministry “hereby reaffirms that it will not tolerate any action likely to disturb the peace and tranquillity of citizens and residents living in our country”, he added.

A 2019 election brought Ghazouani to power, marking the first transition between two elected presidents since independence from France in 1960 and a series of coups from 1978 to 2008.

While the Sahel has in recent years seen a string of military coups and escalating jihadism, particularly in Mali, Mauritania has not seen an attack since 2011.

Ghazouani has made helping the young a key priority in a country of 4.9 million people, where almost three quarters are aged under 35.

The African Union sent a team of 27 short-term observers, while the European Union has sent three election experts.

 (with AFP) 


European Union

Dutch now have former secret service chief as prime minister

Former spy chief Dick Schoof was voted in as Dutch prime minister on Tuesday, heading a right-wing coalition cabinet with a mandate to implement the country’s “strictest-ever” immigration policy.

Two hundred and twenty-three days after far-right leader Geert Wilders swept to an election victory that stunned Europe and the world, Schoof takes over from Mark Rutte after 14 years in power.

Wilders was forced to shelve his own ambitions to be prime minister to keep rocky coalition talks on track, some negotiation partners considered his anti-Muslim and eurosceptic statements too extreme to lead the nation.

  • What next for the Netherlands after far-right Wilders storms elections?

Instead, the four coalition partners agreed their leaders would not serve in government, compromising on Schoof, 67, who was previously running the Dutch Secret Service AIVD.

He has vowed to implement “decisively” the coalition plans for the “strictest-ever admission policy for asylum and the most comprehensive package for getting a grip on migration”.

The 26-page coalition agreement, titled “Hope, courage and pride“, also called to examine the idea of moving the Dutch embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Without a party”

Schoof, an avid marathon runner, has said he aims to be “a prime minister for all Dutch citizens”, adding: “I am without a party. I don’t see myself kowtowing to Mr Wilders”.

He “will have a lot of work keeping ideological and personal conflicts under control”, Sarah de Lange, professor of political pluralism at the University of Amsterdam, told French press agency AFP.

She said Wilders will have plenty of work keeping his own PVV (Freedom Party) in check and Schoof would be given space.

“Given his extensive experience leading government agencies, he will surely know how to defend his position,” she said.

“It is still an open question though, how he will respond if Wilders tries to put him under pressure by voicing public criticism of his functioning” on social media.

Dutch daily De Volkskrant said in an opinion piece that the “Schoof coalition” was the “biggest political gamble” since WW2.

“Even after seven months, there is no trust between the coalition parties. The Schoof cabinet becomes a team in which the protagonists watch each other with one eye, looking at they way out with the other.”

(With newswires)


European union

Hungary assumes EU presidency amid controversies and corruption concerns

As of today,  1 July, Hungary has taken over the EU’s rotating presidency. However, diplomats are concerned because nationalist leader Viktor Orban, who has been in power since 2010, has frequently clashed with Brussels. What are the main points of contention?

Hungary has begun its six-month rotating chairmanship of the European Union. The presidency’s role is to chair council meetings, set the agenda, establish a work program, and facilitate dialogue within the Council and with other EU institutions. However, Hungary, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban—the EU’s longest-serving head of government—is often seen as the EU’s enfant terrible.

Orban is the only EU leader who has maintained close ties with Moscow despite its invasion of Ukraine. As such, he is against aid for Kyiv

Orban refused to send arms to Kyiv and has called for a ceasefire and peace negotiations, saying he alone in the EU is looking for peace. He also criticised sanctions against Russia and is opposed to Ukraine’s EU ambitions, though he has stopped short of blocking accession talks.

Under a policy of “eastern opening”, Orban has also sought close ties with China.

  • China’s Xi feted in Hungary, the last stop of his European tour

Indeed Budapest seems to revel in taking controversial stances in the EU, opening its presidency under the slogan “Make Europe Great Again”, a nod to Orban’s “good friend” former US president Donald Trump.

‘Christian Europe’

A proponent of the “great replacement” narrative, which claims that there is a plot to supplant white Europeans with non-white immigrants, Orban rails against immigration and has heavily restricted the right to asylum, saying he wants to defend a “Christian Europe”.

In 2015, after Orban had won a record fourth term in office, he was quick to put in place harsh restrictions on immigrants flooding into the EU as a result of the war in Syria, refusing onward travel, closing off the border with high fences of barbed wire, and running patrols of some 3,000 “border hunters” to join 10,000 police tasked with keeping refugees out of the country.

He then introduced a series of anti-immigration “pushback laws”, and refused an EU request to find homes for 1,294 refugees.

Today, he is still fighting against the EU’s recent overhaul of its laws on handling asylum-seekers and migrants. In June, the EU’s top court fined Hungary €200 million and imposed a daily €1 million penalty for failing to follow the bloc’s asylum laws and illegally deporting migrants, a decision Budapest slammed as “unacceptable”.

‘Illiberal Democracy’

Since coming back to power, Orban has moved to transform his country into what he calls an “illiberal democracy,” involving wide-ranging changes he has made include curbs on press freedom and judicial independence.

He has also clamped down on LGBTQ rights, with a law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors drawing EU infringement proceedings.

Billions of euros in EU funds remain frozen over issues including LGBTQ rights, the treatment of asylum seekers, alleged corruption in public procurement and the independence of academics.

Most recently, Brussels also launched infringement proceedings against Hungary over the creation of what critics say is a Russian-style agency with investigative powers to curb foreign influence.

In 2018, the European Parliament voted to trigger an “Article 7” disciplinary procedure against Hungary, the “suspension clause,” which could, in theory, result in Budapest being stripped of its right to vote in EU proceedings, while it tried to determine whether Budapest is undermining European legal standards and democratic values.

In 2022, the European Parliament declared that Hungary was no longer a “full democracy”, but a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” in “serious breach” of EU democratic norms.

  • Hungary’s Orban forms new EU parliament group ahead of rotating presidency
  • What can Europe learn from Orban’s victory in Hungary’s elections?

Rampant corruption

On top of that, according to Transparency International, Hungary is themost corrupt country within the EU, and ranks number 76 on a worldwide list of 180 states. 

Hungary has also not joined the EU’s independent European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), whose job it is to investigate and prosecute EU budget fraud.

Critics often cite corruption to illustrate Hungary’s authoritarian drift, accusing Orban’s family and allies of benefiting from EU funds.

Oligarchs Lorinc Meszaros, Orban’s childhood friend, and Istvan Tiborcz, Orban’s son-in-law, today control large sections of the economy.

(With newswires)


South African elections

South Africa’s Ramaphosa announces cabinet that includes ex-opposition leader

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed former opposition leader John Steenhuisen as minister of agriculture on Sunday, bringing the Democratic Alliance and other parties into his new coalition cabinet.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC) was forced to join forces with rival parties to stay in power after losing its majority for the first time in three decades in the 29 May election.

The announcement of the new cabinet of the government of national unity followed weeks of protracted and at times acrimonious negotiations.

Ramaphosa retained the ANC’s Enoch Godongwana as finance minister while Ronald Lamola was appointed minister of international relations and cooperation, replacing Naledi Pandor.

Gwede Mantashe stayed on as mineral and petroleum resources minister but the president removed energy from his portfolio. The combination of mineral resources had been seen by many as creating a prejudice in favour of coal as a source of power generation.

Energy will now fall within the portfolio of Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

“These men and women we have appointed to the executive reflect the diversity of our nation,” Ramaphosa said. “In the spirit of partnership and collaboration, the incoming government will work together.”

  • Ramaphosa re-elected as South African leader after historic coalition deal

Moving on from history

Wrangling over who gets what cabinet seat was the last hurdle to setting up a government, which now faces the task of reviving a moribund economy, fixing crumbling roads and power stations and creating jobs for the third of South Africans out of work.

“We look forward to being part of a new era in South Africa’s democratic journey, and to bringing real and tangible change to the millions of citizens who voted for it,” Steenhuisen said in a statement following the announcement.

Some minor parties also saw their leaders receive cabinet posts.

For decades, the ANC had traded on its legacy of ending apartheid 30 years ago, when Nelson Mandela came to power and successfully reconciled a country deeply divided along racial, ethnic and class lines.

But voters became angered by the ANC’s poor record on delivering on basic services including water, schools and electricity.

“It is a major shake-up with very few of the old faces still in there, which is a good thing,” said Melanie Verwoerd, political analyst and former South African diplomat. “I think in general it’s a very positive step and of course very positive that they could actually get this done.”

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

New territories

Whether the current loose coalition of former enemies can improve on the ANC’s record may depend on the extent to which they can put aside their ideological differences, analysts have said.

There are several potential hurdles to policymaking.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) wants to scrap some of the ANC’s Black empowerment programmes, saying that they have mostly made a politically connected business elite fabulously wealthy while much of the Black majority stays poor.

It opposes the ANC’s desire to expropriate land – most of which is in white hands as a legacy of conquest by colonists and subsequent entrenched white minority rule – without compensation and give it to Black farmers.

The DA also seeks to phrase out South Africa‘s minimum wage, currently sitting at 27.58 rand ($1.52) a hour, arguing it makes the workforce uncompetitive.

 (with Reuters)

Spotlight on France

Podcast: France revives hemp farming, New Romance, Paris’s 1924 Olympics

Issued on:

France is reviving its industrial farming of hemp – ‘green gold’ – in the search for more sustainable, energy-saving building materials. French publishers are flocking to romance, as a new generation of authors are writing for a new and growing audience of young women readers. And when Paris hosted the 1924 Olympics 100 years ago.

Hemp farming nearly died out in France in the 1970s but is making a comeback in textiles and the construction industry. Fast-growing, pesticide-free, and a good absorber of CO2, the plant is proving to be an ally in the fight against climate change. Franck Barbier, head of Interchanvre, talks about cannabis sativus’s bright future on a tour of the Planète Chanvre mill in Aulnoy. And Jean-Michel Morer, mayor of Trilport, shows us how his town is using hemp in buildings as part of its commitment to sustainability and the circular economy. (Listen @3’10”)

Romance literature has long been looked down on for its simple language, basic story tropes and steamy sex scenes. But French publishers are taking note as a new generation of authors, inspired by English-language best-sellers, are writing for a growing audience of young women, many of whom are newcomers to books. Publisher Benita Rolland, of Hugo publishing, talks about developing the genre for the French market, and CS Quill, who started out as a reader before becoming a popular romance author, talks about connecting with her fans. (Listen @21’50”)

As Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, a look back on the last time the city held the Games in 1924. Those Olympics were a smaller, more eclectic and more masculine event, which nonetheless marked a turning point and brought the Games closer to what they are today. (Listen @14’30”)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).

International report

Crackdown on organised crime gifts Istanbul police with luxury supercars

Issued on:

Istanbul police now have some of the world’s most expensive sports cars – spoils of seized assets in a crackdown on international organised crime. It’s part of Ankara’s efforts to escape international scrutiny over money laundering as it seeks global investment.

In the heart of Istanbul, onlookers gather around taking selfies of the police’s latest addition to its carpool: a Ferrari. City police now boast some of the world’s flashiest supercars, not only Ferraris but also Bentleys and Lexuses.

They’re the pickings of a nationwide crackdown on international organised crime involving narcotics smuggling and money laundering.

Turkey‘s unique geography straddling Europe and Asia makes it an ideal centre for international crime.

“Turkey is in between the continents. So once you want to transfer a commodity which is illegal, it may be drugs, etc, you must have a step here,” says Murat Aslan of the Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research, a think tank in Ankara.

Gang links

“Most criminal gangs in Europe or the United States or South America have links to the ones here in Turkey – and that is why police have started operations, especially focusing on the ones who have warrants or arrest warrants by Interpol.

“It’s a process, and Turkey is currently in the middle of it.”

Interior Ministry videos show heavily armed police breaking down doors in the middle of the night at luxury addresses usually associated with Istanbul’s high society.

Vast quantities of cash and guns are invariably recovered. Among those arrested are some of the world’s most wanted criminals from Europe, Asia, and the United States, most connected to the illicit drugs trade, underlining Turkey’s status as a hub for the European narcotics trade.

Last week, Turkish police, with their Spanish and French counterparts, broke up a European Central American drug cartel, resulting in dozens of arrests.

“According to Interpol and the Turkish police’s narcotics department, Turkey has become a transshipment hub for Europe and the Middle East,” says Atilla Yesilada, a Turkey analyst for Global Source Partners, another think tank.

“There are huge amounts of money floating around here.”

  • Turkey set on rebuilding bridges with China to improve trade

Crime hub

Yesilada says Turkey became a hub for international crime not only because of its geography but also because of the government’s recent efforts to attract foreign currency to prop up the Turkish lira with a wealth amnesty.

“Look at our wealth amnesty, bring cash, bring diamonds, we don’t really care. Just check it at the border or deposit it in a bank, and we’ll never ask questions. This never-ask-questions part is, of course, completely in violation of the spirit of the global anti-money laundering legislation,” Yesilada says.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, at a recent press conference on the crackdown, announced that over 1,000 arrests – including 50 people wanted by Interpol – had been made this year, along with over 3 billion dollars in seized assets.

Yerlikaya says he’s committed to ending Turkey’s reputation as a haven for drug kingpins.

“Thirty-eight mafia-type organised crime gangs, seven of which were international and 31 of which were local, were broken up,” Yerlikaya says.

“We consider drugs a global disaster in the Turkish century. Our main goal in the fight against drugs is to ensure that Turkey becomes an inaccessible and Prohibited Zone for drugs. We consider drug crime equivalent to terrorism.”

  • Turkey cuts trade with Israel but seeks role in resolving Gaza conflict

Turkey grey-listed

The crackdown follows the international anti-money laundering organisation the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) putting Turkey on its grey list of countries failing to combat global money laundering.

“Commercial banks and global funds are reluctant to do business with a country that’s still on the grey list because, you know, too many sanctions,” warns Yesilada.

Turkey‘s crackdown on organised crime and tightening of its financial controls are part of efforts to remove itself from the grey list and escape its damaging economic impact.

  • Interpol fights crime and controversial image, 100 years on

“If we remain on the FATF grey list again, from the top of my head, 20 percent of the institutions that would otherwise be interested in investing in Turkey probably won’t be able to do so because of compliance fears,” Yesilada says.

“It is going to be a significant concern when this extensive due diligence work is undertaken, whether to make a particular investment in Turkey.”

The Turkish government sees increasing international investment as key to solving the country’s economic woes, which means the raids on wanted international crime figures seem set to continue, along with confiscating their valuable assets.

For the Istanbul police, the supply of fancy cars looks set to continue.

The Sound Kitchen

A nail-biting tennis match

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the Roland Garros French Open Tennis Tournament. There’s “On This Day”, “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, and lots of good music. All that and the new quiz and bonus questions too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music … so be sure and listen every week.

Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr – tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

The ePOP video competition is open!

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.

You do not need expensive video equipment to enter the competition. Your phone is fine. And you do not need to be a member of the RFI Clubs to enter – everyone is welcome. And by the way – the prizes are incredibly generous!

Go to the ePOP page to read about past competitions, watch past videos, and read the regulations for your entry.  You can also write to us at thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr, and we’ll forward your mail to Planète Radio.

The competition closes on 12 September, but you know how “time flies”, so get to work now! We expect to be bombarded with entries from the English speakers!

Facebook: Be sure to send your photos for the RFI English Listeners Forum banner 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 to 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: Tahmidul Alam Orin from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Welcome,Tahmidul! 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 1 June, the Roland Garros French Open International Tennis Tournament was in full swing, and our very own Paul Myers was there to keep you in the know.

Earlier that week, there was a nail-biting match between Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal, the 14-time winner of the Roland Garros French Open tennis tournament. You were to re-read Paul’s article “Zverev sees off Nadal to advance to second round at French Open”, and send in the answer to this question: What was the final score in the match between Zverev and Nadal?

The answer is: 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “How do you stay cool?”

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Sahadot Hossain from Kishoreganj, Bangladesh, who is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Sahadot!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Ras Franz Manko Ngogo, the president of the Kemogemba RFI Club in Tarime, Mara, Tanzania, and RFI Listeners Club members Radhakrishna Pillai from Kerala State, India, as well as Ajharul Islam Tamim from Kishorganj, Bangladesh.  

Last but not least, there’s RFI English listener Sadman Al Shihab from Naogaon, also in Bangladesh.

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Liber Tango” by Astor Piazzolla, performed by Layers; the scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn, performed by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Southern Freez” by Andy Stennett, John Rocca, and Peter Maas, performed by Freez.

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, listen to Sarah Elzas’ report on the latest Spotlight on France podcast, and consult her article “French far-right party to fund policies by cutting aid to foreigners”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 12 August to enter this week’s quiz. The winners will be announced on the 17 August podcast. When you enter be sure to 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

African displacements and the search for refuge, in life and art

Issued on:

Displacement takes many forms, from refugees forced into exile to returnees who find themselves strangers in what was once home. In this episode, we speak to aid workers about the very different experiences of refugees in Sudan and Mauritania, and hear from an artist who draws inspiration from his own migrations between France, Algeria and beyond.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, more than 120 million people are forcibly displaced today by war, violence and persecution.

It is an unprecedented number, one the organisation calls a “terrible indictment on the state of the world”.

Sudan alone has 9.9 million internally displaced people, as well as South Sudanese refugees who escaped civil war and now find themselves caught up in conflict once again. Aaron Adkins of the International Organisation for Migration discusses the complex needs of people repeatedly forced to flee.

Meanwhile Maribeth Black from the UN’s World Food Programme describes how Mauritania has successfully managed to integrate refugees, providing an example for other countries in Africa and beyond.

Finally, we head to the Mo.Co museum of modern art in Montpellier, in the south of France, to meet the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia at his new exhibition, “Descent into Paradise”.

He is inspired by his own story of migration, multiple identities, and his main theme: how to repair past traumas through art.


Episode mixed by Nicolas Doreau.

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 

The Sound Kitchen

Politics make strange bedfellows

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the possible alliances for South Africa’s ANC political party. There’s some poetry as a starter dish, “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, and “Music from Erwan” from Erwan Rome. All that and the new quiz and bonus questions too, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music … so be sure and listen every week.

Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr  Tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

The ePOP video competition is open!

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.

You do not need expensive video equipment to enter the competition. Your phone is fine.  And you do not need to be a member of the RFI Clubs to enter – everyone is welcome. And by the way – the prizes are incredibly generous!

Go to the ePOP page to read about past competitions, watch past videos, and read the regulations for your entry.  You can also write to us at thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr, and we’ll forward your mail to Planète Radio.

The competition closes on 12 September, but you know how “time flies”, so get to work now! We expect to be bombarded with entries from the English speakers!

Facebook: Be sure to send your photos for the RFI English Listeners Forum banner 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 to 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!

This week’s quiz: On 18 May, I asked you a question about the South African legislative elections that were, at the time, on the horizon (they took place on 29 May). RFI English journalist Melissa Chemam was there; one of the articles she sent us was about the possible alliances if the African National Congress – Nelson Mandela’s party – did not win a majority. As she wrote: “Polls are predicting the party will lose its majority with many voters disgruntled by its failure to address inequality.”

The question was: If the ANC no longer has the majority, what are the names of the two parties that the ruling ANC could pick as coalition partners?

The answer is: The centre-right, business-friendly Democratic Alliance (DA), or the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Here’s what happened, as Melissa noted in her recent article “Ramaphosa re-elected as South African leader after historic coalition deal”.

That “historic coalition deal” was made between the governing ANC and the centre-right DA party.

The ANC has been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994 but lost its majority for the first time in the 29 May vote. It keeps 159 seats in the 400-seat National Assembly, and the DA now has 87 seats. The EFF has 39 seats.

The new coalition voted to keep ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa as president – this will be his second term – by a 283 vote.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “What is your idea of a great weekend?” It was suggested by Radhakrishna Pillai from Kerala State in India.

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Helmut Matt from Herbolzheim, Germany. Helmut is also this week’s bonus question winner. Congratulations on your double win, Helmut.

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are RFI Listeners Club members Mohammad Mustansar Billah from Sunamganj, Bangladesh; also hailing from Bangladesh, this time from Rangpur, is Ataur Rahman Ranju, who’s the president of the Alokito Manush Cai International Radio Listeners Club. From West Bengal, India, there’s the faithful listener and correspondent Bidhan Chandra Sanyal – who extended his sincere love and greetings to all Muslims for Eid al-Hada last weekend  … and added, “No, I am not a Muslim.  I am a Hindu.  But I respect all religions of the world.” 

Last but not least, there’s RFI English listener Tara Regmi from Biratnagar, Nepal.

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: The prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite no 1 in G major, performed by Yo-Yo Ma; the South African National Anthem; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Pay Me” by Christian Gates, performed by Gates and The Philharmonik.

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 Jan van der Made’s article “Israel and Russia barred as world’s largest arms show opens in Paris”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 15 July to enter this week’s quiz. The winners will be announced on the 20 July podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here. 

Spotlight on France

Podcast: Imagining a far-right government in France, forgotten fashion icon revived

Issued on:

As France heads into snap parliamentary elections with the prospect of the far-right National Rally winning a majority, what powers would its prime minister have, and what would change in France? Also, a look at previous presidents who dissolved parliament and risked getting a result they didn’t like. And the story of Jenny Sacerdote – France’s Roaring Twenties haute couture designer, whose mould-breaking designs are finally being revived.

France’s far-right National Rally (RN) could well win a majority in the upcoming snap legislative elections, which would mean the party’s leader, Jordan Bardella, would become prime minister. How would a far-right government rule France? Economic journalist Romaric Godin lays out the RN’s economic policy based on national preference, while political scientist Nicolas Tenzer worries about shifts in France’s foreign policy and its relationship with the outside world. And Arnaud Schwartz of the France Nature environment NGO questions the party’s commitment to withdraw from solar and wind power in favour of nuclear. (Listen @0′)

Jenny Sacerdote built up a huge fashion empire in the early part of the 20th century, clothing the likes of the Empress of Japan and silent movie star Mary Pickford with her elegant but comfortable silk garments. “Jenny’s grey suit” was as famous in the US as Chanel’s “little black dress”. She was also a pioneer in her approach to entrepreneurship and defending workers’ rights. And yet she fell into oblivion after World War II. Designer Anne Vogt, author of a biography of Sacerdote, talks about breathing new life into this forgotten icon through her label La Suite Jenny Sacerdote. (Listen @20’10”)

France’s snap elections are the sixth in the country’s post-war history. The most recent examples suggest that President Emmanuel Macron may not get the outcome he wants. (Listen @14’24”)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).


Sponsored content

Presented by

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

Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


Sponsored content

Presented by

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

Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a Reply