rfi 2024-07-11 20:12:01



Mali

Mali junta re-authorises political activities suspended in April

Mali’s ruling junta has announced it will allow political parties and political associations to resume their activities, which it had suspended in the spring.

“The government decided to lift the suspension that barred political parties and the activities of political associations,” said a statementon Wednesday from the council of ministers, which is dominated by the military leaders who took power in a 2020 coup.

The head of the military government, Colonel Assimi Goita, had justified the suspension by citing the political parties’ “sterile discussions” and “subversion”, which he said posed a danger to an ongoing national “dialogue” on Mali’s political future. 

The parties at the time were protesting the colonels’ decision to stay in power beyond a March 2024 deadline for returning to civilian rule. 

The main parties and what remains of the opposition boycotted the “dialogue”, which went ahead anyway with supporters of the regime.

  • Mali political parties to challenge junta’s order suspending political activities

“Untenable” situation

In May, pro-junta figures issued “recommendations” that the military remain in power “for two to five additional years”, and that the current head of the junta be allowed to run in any future presidential elections.  

Late June, 11 members of the opposition were arrested after calling on the junta to return power to civilians. 

Mali’sSahel Tribune website welcomed the lifting of the ban. “A new page is being turned for Mali (…] political leaders are now called upon to return with a new vision, one in which the national interest takes precedence over personal ambitions,” it wrote.

But Burkina Faso daily Aujourd’hui au Faso said Assimi Goita had little choice but to “ease off” because the situation was “untenable”.

“Keeping politicians in a straitjacket was a constant source of trouble and minor setbacks,” it said.

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

  • Mali opposition declares transition government in exile

(with newswires)


French elections 2024

Macron urges mainstream coalition after election, angering leftist alliance

French President Emmanuel Macron has called on mainstream parties to join forces to form a solid majority in the National Assembly, in his first public comments since Sunday’s snap election delivered a hung parliament. The left-wing NFP alliance, which won the most seats, has called for the will of the voters to be respected.

The vote, which Macron unexpectedly called after losing to the far-right National Rally (RN) in European elections, has plunged France into uncharted waters, with three politically divergent blocs and no obvious path to forming a government.

In a letter to regional newspapers published Wednesday, the deeply unpopular Macron urged mainstream parties with “republican values” to form a governing coalition and said he hoped to pick a prime minister from such a grouping.

“Let us place our hope in the ability of our political leaders to demonstrate sense, harmony and calm in your interest, and that of the country,” he wrote. “It is in the light of these principles that I will decide on the appointment of the prime minister.”

Left denounces ‘machinations’

The New Popular Front (NFP), a hastily assembled alliance of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party and the Socialist, Green and Communist parties, unexpectedly won the most seats in Sunday’s vote, but not a majority.

Macron’s centrist camp came second and the RN third after 215 third-placed candidates from the left and centre withdrew from the run-off to avoid splitting the anti-RN vote, scuppering the far right’s hopes of winning a majority and forming a government.

It would be customary for Macron to call on the biggest parliamentary group, in this case the left-wing bloc, to form a government, but the constitution does not oblige him to do so.

Macron did not explicitly call for the RN or France Unbowed to be excluded from a governing coalition, but his mention of “republican values” is typically understood to exclude parties on the far left or the far right.

Several France Unbowed lawmakers reacted to Macron’s letter by saying that he should accept the left-wing alliance’s pick for prime minister, when it has agreed on one, and allow the bloc to form a government.

“The best he can do for the country at this stage is to allow the group that won the most seats, the New Popular Front, to govern. Any other machinations would be truly problematic and dangerous for democracy,” said one of them, Eric Coquerel, on LCI television.

Centre-left Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France 2 television that Macron must “respect” the choice of French voters and nominate a prime minister from the NFP.

Sophie Binet, head of France’s biggest trade union federation, the CGT, invoked the image of France’s long-defunct monarchy to attack the president.

“It’s like having Louis XVI locking himself away in Versailles,” she said, referring to the king guillotined in 1793 during the French Revolution.

If Macron “doesn’t respect the result of the polls, he risks plunging the country into chaos once again,” she said.

  • What is the New Popular Front, surprise winner of France’s election?

Political paralysis

Financial markets, the European Commission and France’s euro zone partners are all watching closely to see whether the impasse can be broken.

Options include a broad coalition, a minority government or a technocratic government led by a non-politically affiliated person, which would seek to pass laws in parliament on a case-by-case basis.

But any government – of the left, centre, or a broader coalition – could quickly be toppled by a vote of no confidence from the opposition if it had not secured sufficient support.

RN leader Jordan Bardella said Macron was to blame for the political paralysis.

“And now his message is: ‘sort something out’. Irresponsible!” he posted on X, referring to Macron’s letter.

  • French election leaves far-right National Rally down but not out

Tone hardens

Bardella’s mentor, the long-time RN leader Marine Le Pen, has spent the last few years cleaning up the image of a party once known for racism and antisemitism, and must now decide what strategy to adopt to win the 2027 presidential election.

She has framed the tactical withdrawals as an establishment plot to keep her party from power.

On Wednesday her tone hardened, when she drew parallels between a hard-left politician’s call for a march towards the prime minister’s office and the assault on Capitol Hill by supporters of former US President Donald Trump.

She said the NFP has almost “subversive attitudes since they are calling for Matignon to be taken by force,” referring to the prime minister’s office. “It’s their assault on the Capitol.”

She was reacting to a social media post by France Unbowed lawmaker Adrien Quatennens, who accused Macron of wanting to “steal” the left’s victory after he asked centrist Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to stay on for now, for stability. Quatennens had called for “a big popular march” on Matignon.

Responding to Le Pen, Quatennens said she was “nuts” to liken his suggestion to a call for insurrection.

  • Macron under fire over ‘civil war’ comments ahead of French legislative elections

(with Reuters)


French elections 2024

French election leaves far-right National Rally down but not out

France’s snap elections didn’t result in the thundering parliamentary majority the National Rally wanted. But while tactical voting by the left and centre kept the far-right party out of power yet again, analysts say its gains should not be underestimated.

For a party that came top of the first round of voting, third place can only be a disappointment. 

The National Rally (RN) took an early lead in snap parliamentary polls, as it had in EU elections three weeks earlier.

Then its opponents mustered their supporters to vote for anyone but the RN in the second-round runoff, denying the party a chance to dominate parliament in a result widely hailed as a triumph for France’s so-called “Republican front”.

French left-wing alliance wins big in unexpected snap election result

But it all depends how you look at it, says Félicien Faury, a sociologist and political scientist who specialises in the French far right. 

“On the one hand, the Republican front, the blocking vote, worked very effectively. On the other, the National Rally got more than 140 seats, which is truly historic for the party – it has never before reached that level,” he points out.

The party now claims 143 members of the National Assembly, France’s lower house, 126 belonging to the RN itself and 17 of them allies from a breakaway bloc of the conservative Republicans party.

That’s compared to the 89 deputies the RN had in the outgoing parliament – which was already a record tally.

Some 37 of them, including party figurehead Marine Le Pen, were elected outright in the first round, more than any other movement achieved.

And while both the left and the centre owe their success to alliances – sometimes strained – between multiple parties, the RN is the single largest party in the French parliament.

Political professionals

That not only gives it more sway in parliamentary debates, it comes with material advantages – such as the public funding France allocates to political parties in proportion to the number of seats and votes they win.

After the RN’s latest performance, the party calculates that this funding will rise from around €10 million a year to around €15 million.

That’s not to mention the salaries and hiring budgets that each of its 126 members of the French parliament and 30 members of the European Parliament are entitled to.

Faury believes the extra resources will contribute to what he calls the “professionalisation” of the RN. Its deputies stand to gain concrete experience of legislating, while the special advisers, assistants, researchers and other staff they hire will constitute a new generation of trained political operatives. 

That’s especially significant given that the RN blamed its failure to win a majority, in part, on a lack of qualified candidates.

Party leader Jordan Bardella referred to “casting mistakes” that led the RN to field candidates subsequently revealed to have made unmistakably racist, antisemitic or otherwise offensive remarks.

Far-right candidate exits French elections after Nazi cap controversy

More political experience will make RN members slicker, Faury predicts. While they won’t renounce the discriminatory ideas that continue to underpin the movement’s project, he says, they will at least learn how to dog whistle.

“Once we no longer have these candidates who allow themselves to be caught out by journalists, once we only have people who know how to couch the ideas of the far right in respectable terms, will we see the same effect?”

No longer off-limits?

The controversies that emerged during this campaign don’t seem to have put many RN voters off.

The party got just under 9.4 million votes in the first round and around 8.7 million in the second – not much of a drop-off considering that dozens fewer candidates were standing in the runoff, having either been eliminated or elected outright.

“The RN, as it has managed to do for several years now, has broken through the glass ceiling with certain voters for whom it was previously off-limits,” says Hugo Touzet, a sociologist who studies voting patterns.

For instance, early analysis suggests the party scored well among professionals earning more than €3,000 a month, he told RFI. “The RN is picking up a section of the electorate that used to vote for the traditional right.”

It’s the latest step towards a scenario the RN’s opponents have long feared: that one day, the party will successfully convince the electorate that it’s no longer a fringe movement but a respectable part of mainstream politics.

How far has France’s far-right National Rally come in 50 years?

Opposition energised

That day is still some way off, according to Faury.

He points out that the latest election repeated a pattern that’s become familiar: the RN manages a strong performance in the first round, followed by a second-round result that “puts them back in their place and demonstrates that so-called normalisation is a process, one that remains far from complete”.

That the RN’s opponents were able to mobilise so many people against it, including some who might not otherwise have voted at all, is proof that the electorate sees through its claims to respectability, agrees Ulysse Rabaté, a political scientist and co-founder of Quidam, an association that seeks to engage young, working-class people in politics.

“There was a ‘detoxification’ that came from above and now a ‘retoxification’ that came from below,” he says.

Lacklustre opposition and disillusionment with politics in general have aided the RN’s rise, Rabaté argues – but by uniting the left and foregrounding the RN’s racist roots, this election has gone some way towards countering both.

He’s optimistic that the new current of resistance will continue to check the party as France heads towards a presidential election in 2027.

“What’s interesting here is that ultimately the political landscape has shifted and people who didn’t think politics really concerned them have decided, with the anti-racism argument, to get involved – and that won’t be inconsequential in the future.”

Winds of change?

What happens next also depends on other parties setting another agenda.

“The RN’s success can’t just be attributed to its own victories or failures, it’s also a question of the broader climate,” says Touzet.

He suggests that the political discourse of recent months – dominated by immigration – left the party “playing with a home advantage” of sorts.

The advantage is also geographic. Mapping the election results shows the RN further consolidated its hold on rural areas and the heartlands of the north and south-east, while its main opponents on the left drew their support from cities.

In the Mediterranean region in particular, the party is becoming the dominant force, according to Faury.

“The wind can change,” he says, “but in certain areas it’ll have to blow hard.” 


French elections 2024

Less female, older, split: What will France’s new parliament look like?

A new left-wing alliance won the most seats in France’s snap elections, but did not secure an absolute majority. As the National Assembly prepares to convene for the first time on 18 July, what will the lower chamber look like?  

Three main blocs emerged from the snap election runoff on 7 July: left, centrist and far right.

While the left-green New Popular Front (NFP) alliance came out on top with 182 seats, Macron’s centrist Ensemble! (Together) coalition came close behind on 168, and the far-right, anti-immigration National Rally (RN) and its allies secured 143.

The final numbers could vary slightly with individual MPs choosing to join different groupings before the Assembly’s opening session on 18 July.

But so far the picture is as follows:

Breakdown by party

The largest group – NFP – is made up of the hard-left France Unbowed, the Socialists, Communists and Greens.

France Unbowed has 75 seats, the Socialists 65, Greens 33 and Communists nine.

It means that France Unbowed has less weight than before, the other three parties, notably the Socialists, having performed better in these elections than in the last polls of 2022.

  • What is the New Popular Front, surprise winner of France’s election?

President Macron’s Ensemble! coalition has 168 seats, 80 fewer than in the previous Assembly.

His own Renaissance party won 99 seats, the centrist Modem 33, Horizons – a centre-right movement created by former prime minister Edouard Philippe – won six, and other unaffiliated centrists have five.

The far-right RN won 126 seats, 38 more than in 2022, making it the largest single party to sit in the lower house.

Its ally LR-RN, a breakaway bloc of the conservative Republicans (LR) party, won 17 seats, bringing the combined score for RN and its allies to 143. 

The main LR faction won 39 seats. When their allies UDI (three) and unaffiliated right (27) are added on, it gives France’s mainstream conservative bloc 68 seats, similar to the previous Assembly. 

  • What are the next steps now France finds itself with a hung parliament?

Breakdown by geography

RN did well in rural areas and particularly in the formerly industrial north and east of France, in the south-east and on the Mediterranean coast.

Left-wing MPs won big in urban areas, with more than 40 percent of NFP lawmakers from France’s 10 largest cities.

All the MPs returned in Lyon, Nantes and Strasbourg are from the left.

NFP won 12 out of the 18 seats in the capital; the other six went to Ensemble, which also also secured a constituency in Bordeaux, Toulouse, and two in Lille.

RN won just seven seats in urban areas and all were in the south-east – three in Nice, three in Marseille and one in Montpellier.

  • Why did Macron call snap elections and what does it mean for France?

Breakdown by gender, age, profession

Le Monde has crunched the numbers regarding the new Assembly’s sociological profile.

It’s less female than before. Only 208 out of the 577 MPs are women – 36 percent – down from 37.3 percent in 22. 

NFP has the highest number of female MPs – 41.7 percent, with Ensemble! on 38.7 percent and both RN and LR on 32.2 percent.

  • Drop in the number of female MPs shows ongoing battle for gender parity in French politics

Some 74 percent of the MPs who have kept other jobs are managers or professionals – a socio-professional category to which just 21 percent of France’s working population belong. 

The average age of MPs is 49 years and two months, only six months older than the previous Assembly. The oldest deputy is 81 and the youngest 22. Both are from the RN.

In line with tradition, the eldest, José Gonzalez, will chair the Assembly’s opening session on 18 July when the president of the house – the equivalent of a speaker – will be elected.


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris airports labour dispute threatens Olympics arrivals

A dispute between aviation workers and management at the French capital’s airports threatens to overshadow years of preparations for visitors and athletes arriving for the Paris Olympics this month. 

Unions at state-controlled ADP group, which runs Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, announced a one-day stoppage on 17 July to press for bigger Olympics bonuses and staff recruitment.

“The fact that we are forced to call for a strike is because of the obstinate refusal of management and in particular the CEO of the company,” unions said in a joint statement on Monday.

The stand-off with management could impact the Paris Games, with athletes set to start arriving  from 18 July and hundreds of thousands of ticket holders flying in ahead of the 26 July opening ceremony.

Along with train stations, Charles de Gaulle and Orly are set to be the main gateways into France for foreign Olympics fans, as well as athletes and equipment.

The ability of ADP’s unions to mobilise workers next week is uncertain, however, with a previous stoppage called on 19 May having little effect on operations.

The country’s air traffic controllers, despite winning large pay increases last year, went on strike again on 25 April, causing thousands of flight cancellations.

  • CGT union says it will stage strike during Paris Olympics
  • Paris train drivers join strike action over Olympic bonuses

‘300,000 travellers on the same day’

Charles de Gaulle and Orly will be the first glimpse many foreign visitors and athletes have of the French capital when they arrive for the Games.

As a result, ADP has spent 50 million euros upgrading its infrastructure and French authorities are deploying extra resources to make the experience as smooth and safe as possible.

“We know that there are some days that will be really intense and we will maybe have 300,000 travellers on the same day at Charles de Gaulle,” Julien Gentile, director of border security forces at Paris’s airports, told reporters last week.

That number is well above the daily summer average of 200,000 at the airport and is far beyond the record 250,000 daily fliers reached in the summer of 2019.

For the duration of the Games, 250 border posts will be open – 100 more than normal – and they will be staffed almost round-the-clock thanks to 2,000 reinforcements, including from the EU’s border force Frontex.

“It’s like if your supermarket had all of its tills open from the start of the day to the close,” Gentile added.

Automated passport control machines, which can be used by EU travellers, as well as crowd-monitoring technology that alerts managers to the arrival of passengers, are also part of the efforts to avoid bottlenecks.

  • River boats carry out successful Paris Olympics opening ceremony rehearsal

Oversized baggage terminal

The busiest days are expected to come after the closing ceremony on 11 August when spectators, officials and most of the 10,000 athletes will head home.

This coincides with a big changeover period during the French school summer holidays.

“Athletes and delegations arrive in a fairly dispersed manner and will leave in very concentrated fashion,” ADP deputy chief executive Edward Arkwright told reporters in April this year.

Athletes will also arrive and depart with an estimated 47,000 pieces of luggage, many of them large and cumbersome, containing items such as kayaks, bikes or polevaulting poles.

A large, specially designed temporary oversized baggage terminal has been built at Charles de Gaulle, measuring 8,000 m2, with a smaller version constructed at Orly.

As well the strike threats, the unusual baggage, and the spikes in demand, the city’s airports will also have to contend with the arrival of thousands of VIPs, journalists and officials from the International Olympic Committee.

The opening ceremony – to be proceeded by a summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron – will draw more than 100 heads of state and government, all of whom require protocol services and parking space for their jets.

(with AFP)


New Caledonia

Alleged gunman killed by French police in New Caledonia, death toll reaches 10

French police shot and killed an alleged gunman in New Caledonia on Wednesday, local prosecutors said, bringing the toll of almost two months of unrest in the French Pacific territory to 10.

The suspect was killed during a gun battle in the Mont-Dore district outside New Caledonia’s capital Noumea, where police were deployed to clear roadblocks.

Police under fire

When the police came under fire, members of the GIGN elite tactical unit covering the operation shot back, killing the man, a source close to the case told French press agency AFP.

A second source familiar with the case said police had been deployed to arrest people behind gun attacks that have become common in the area, only to come under fire themselves as they cleared a major road.

Unrest broke out in mid-May in New Caledonia, almost 17,000 kilometres from Paris, over a planned expansion of the electoral roll that indigenous Kanak people fear would leave them in a permanent minority, crushing their hopes for independence.

  • Deadly unrest in New Caledonia tied to old colonial wounds

Some barricaded roads and burned or looted cars, businesses and public buildings, prompting Paris to send thousands of troops and police in response.

The electoral change, which requires altering the French constitution, is effectively in limbo since President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament for new elections that on Sunday produced a lower house with no clear majority.

Pro-independence arrests

But unrest has again been stoked by the arrests of pro-independence figures on June 19.

Of 13 people accused of helping orchestrate the riots, five have been jailed in mainland France awaiting trial.

The most prominent of them is Christian Tein of the pro-independence group CCAT, which Paris accuses of being behind the violence.

Last weekend, gatherings were banned this weekend in New Caledonia during the second round of France’s parliamentary polls.

  • New Caledonia elects pro-independence candidate in French elections

 

(With newswires)


Euro 2024

Watkins fires England past the Netherlands into Euro 2024 showdown with Spain

England substitute Ollie Watkins produced a stunning last-minute strike on Wednesday night in Dortmund to sweep England into the final of the 2024 European championships against Spain on Sunday night in Berlin.

The Aston Villa attacker entered the fray in the 81st minute with Cole Palmer in place of skipper Harry Kane and Phil Foden as the England coach Gareth Southgate attempted to dynamise a front line that had lost its zip and verve.

At the time of their arrival, the Netherlands seemed the likelier of the sides to grab the winner before extra-time.

Wout Weghorst, who had come on at the start of the second-half for Donyell Malen, was a thorny presence among the England backline using his brawn – and his elbow as John Stones’ face could testify.

The Dutch, seeking their first title since winning the 1988 European crown, took the lead in the sixth minute when Xavi Simons muscled Declan Rice off the ball 35 metres from the England goal. The midfielder advanced and unleashed a shot that flew past England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

But 10 minutes later, England were level. 

Netherlands defender Denzel Dumfries was adjudged to have fouled Kane in the penalty area.

The Bayern Munich striker dusted himself off after the collision and swept his penalty into the net to the right of the Netherlands goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen.

With parity restored, England appeared intent on an advantage. They hogged possession and, in contrast to their previous outings at the 2024 tournament, were incisive. Foden curled a shot which hit the outside of Verbruggen’s right hand post. Verbruggen had to be alert to get down smartly to another snap shot from Foden.

In one of the rare excursions into England territory, Dumfries’ header from a corner grazed Pickford’s crossbar before going out for a goal kick.

Change

After the pause, the Netherlands gradually started to exert some authority on proceedings. But it was England who scored. But Bukayo Saka’s goal was disallowed for offside. 

That dud marked the end of Kane and Foden’s involvement. Enter Watkins and Palmer for the duo.

It could have been the dream switch had Palmer kept his strike down two minutes from time. The miss was merely ecstasy deferred.

Palmer made up for his lack of precision a few minutes later threading a simple ball into Watkins in the area.

Though Stefan De Vrij was close by, Watkins took a quick touch to his left, turned and rifled a low shot through the defender’s legs and past Verbruggen into the far corner. 

England’s bench flooded the pitch to engulf the striker as the Dutch stood desolate.

“Amazing achievement, I am so proud of every player and all the staff,” Kane told journalists after the match.

“It’s been a really difficult tournament. There is one more game left and we need to turn up on Sunday.

“We have one more game to make history, 90 minutes, penalties, whatever it takes.”


French politics

Bruni-Sarkozy charged with witness tampering in cash for husband’s campaign case

France’s former first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has been charged for involvement in alleged efforts to pressure a witness who accused ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy of receiving illegal campaign financing from Libya.

Bruni-Sarkozy, 56, a former supermodel turned singer, was placed under judicial supervision which included a ban on contact with all those involved in the proceedings with the exception of her husband, said a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Preliminary charges against Bruni-Sarkozy include witness tampering. She is suspected of taking part in a plot to deceive magistrates who were investigating allegations that her husband had received illegal funds during his 2007 presidential election campaign.

Bruni-Sarkozy’s lawyer did not respond to requests on Wednesday for comment.

After she was questioned by police in May, her legal team said she had provided useful clarifications and explanations.

Sarkozy, 69, was charged in October 2023 with illegal witness tampering, as part of an inquiry into whether he took money from the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi to fund his 2007 election campaign.

Key player

The witness involved, Ziad Takieddine, is central to accusations that Sarkozy received millions in illegal payments from Gadhafi’s regime. 

The Franco-Lebanese businessman had claimed several times that he helped deliver up to five million euros cash from Kadhafi to Sarkozy and his chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.

But in 2020, Takieddine suddenly retracted his incriminating statement, raising suspicions that Sarkozy and close allies may have paid the witness to change his mind.

Sarkozy is set to stand trial in 2025 over the allegations that he conspired to take cash from the Libyan leader to illegally fund his subsequently victorious 2007 bid to become French president.

In February, an appeals court in Paris upheld a guilty verdict against the former president for illegal campaign financing in his failed 2012 re-election bid.

He was accused of having spent almost twice the maximum legal amount of 22.5 million euros on the re-election bid that he lost to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy was sentenced to a year in prison, of which six months were suspended. Sarkozy’s lawyers have appealed to France’s highest court. With the appeal pending, Sarkozy can not be imprisoned.

In a separate case in 2021, Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption and influence peddling.

He’s the first former French president in modern history convicted and sentenced to prison for actions during his term.

Sarkozy retired from active politics in 2017.

(with newswires)


Justice

French investigators probe far-right leader Le Pen’s 2022 campaign finances

French investigators are looking into far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s 2022 campaign finances for an election she lost to President Emmanuel Macron, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

A probe was opened on 2 July to examine allegations of embezzlement, forgery, fraud, and that a candidate on an electoral campaign accepted a loan, the Paris prosecutor’s office said, giving no further details.

The National Commission for Campaign Accounts and Political Financing (CNCCFP), in charge of monitoring candidates’ expenses, had alerted the prosecutor’s office last year.

Marine Le Pen, then head of the far-right National Rally (RN) party, had invested around 11.5 million euros in her third bid for the presidency in 2022 – the second time she faced Macron in the run-off and lost to him.

In December 2022, the CNCCFP had objected to expenses linked to putting up and taking down campaigning material on 12 buses, describing it as “irregular”.

The RN leader appealed but then dropped the case.

In her 2017 campaign against Macron, the commission had rejected 873,576 euros in spending, most of which had been a loan from the then Front National – as the RN was called under her father, far-right firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen. She did not appeal.

Last month, the country’s top court upheld a conviction against the RN for overcharging the state for the campaigning kits used by its candidates during the 2012 parliamentary polls.

  • Far-right Le Pen to stand trial on EU embezzlement, fraud charges
  • Jean-Marie Le Pen declared ‘unfit’ to stand trial over misuse of EU funds

Separately Le Pen, who was re-elected to parliament on Sunday, is to stand trial later this year alongside 27 others over alleged misuse of European Union, charges that Le Pen’s party has said it contested.

That investigation, opened in 2016, aimed to ascertain whether the then National Front had used money destined for EU parliamentary assistants to pay staff who were working for the party.

(with newswires)


French elections 2024

What is the New Popular Front, surprise winner of France’s election?

Formed in haste to keep the far right out of power, the left-wing New Popular Front defied expectations to take the lead in snap elections and become the biggest bloc in France’s new parliament. Who is in the alliance? What do they stand for? And now that the immediate danger is past, can they continue to work together?

The New Popular Front, known by its French initials NFP, was born of opposition.

But now, less than a month after it united France’s fractured left behind the common goal of stopping the far-right National Rally (RN) surging into government, it finds itself first in line to govern. 

Winning 182 seats, the alliance came out top in snap parliamentary elections that concluded last weekend, albeit around 100 seats short of the majority it would need to form a government alone.

Yet the NFP’s origins suggest that translating its current momentum into lasting consensus will be far from straightforward. 

Surprise election win for left-green coalition plunges France into uncertainty

Where did the New Popular Front come from?

The NFP rose from the ashes of an earlier left-wing opposition bloc: the New Ecological and Social People’s Union, or Nupes.

That alliance, which comprised roughly the same members, lasted barely a year and a half. Formed to contest the last parliamentary elections in June 2022, it won around 140 seats and successfully denied President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists a majority. 

But with no overall leader and its various factions jostling for position, the union was always precarious. In October 2023, disagreements over the war in Gaza brought the infighting to a head and the alliance collapsed for good. 

Or at least, until a new emergency. When the RN came out top in EU elections last month and Macron unexpectedly called a national vote, the left agreed to join forces once again against the far right.

After frantic negotiations, the different camps unveiled their new union on 13 June. 

They chose not to revive the Nupes brand. Instead the name invoked one of the most emblematic victories in the history of the left in France: the Popular Front, an alliance formed in the 1930s to counter fascism that went on to pass reforms that radically advanced workers’ rights. 

Which parties are in it?

The NFP is a big tent that spans the radical left to the centre to the greens. It has four main members:

  • France Unbowed (LFI) – 75 seats in parliament

The largest party in the NFP is the furthest to the left. Critical of NATO, the EU and establishment politics in general, it has also proven fiercely opposed to Israel’s actions in Gaza – with some prominent members accused of antisemitism

France Unbowed was founded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a polarising figure given to hard lines and a combative approach.

He continues to dominate the party despite handing over day-to-day leadership to a lieutenant, Manuel Bompard, and putting younger deputies like Mathilde Panot – who heads the party’s parliamentary group – front and centre.

Mélenchon is anathema to many in France’s political mainstream, and even fellow leftists have abandoned France Unbowed over what they say are his bulldozer tactics. For loyalists, he remains a defiant figurehead.

  • Socialist Party (PS) – 65 seats

Once the dominant force on the left, the Socialists have seen their support collapse in recent years as both France Unbowed and Macron’s centrist movement arrived to chip away at their votes.

They are the second-biggest faction in the NFP, but the one with the most experience of governing.

The party is social democratic, pro-European and broadly centre-left. It is led by Olivier Faure, a solidly mainstream figure who has previously distanced himself from the hard left and is already being touted as a possible compromise prime minister.

  • The Ecologists (LE) – 33 seats

France’s green movement has steadily built support in local and European politics, and at national level is now a regular partner in left-wing alliances. 

As well as pushing for renewable energies, sustainable agriculture, a carbon tax and other action to fight climate change, the party is opposed to many of Macron’s neoliberal policies – including his flagship pension reform

Leader Marine Tondelier was one of driving forces behind the NFP and quickly emerged as a forceful and charismatic campaigner for the broader progressive cause. 

  • French Communist Party (PCF) – 9 seats

The oldest and smallest of the main parties in the NFP, the Communist Party has lost most of its seats in the French parliament over the decades, but retains a few strongholds.

It continues to defend the social security and pension systems it helped put in place after World War II.

It is headed by Fabien Roussel, who was knocked out of the last election in the first round.

Various smaller parties are also part of the alliance, notably Place Publique (“Public Square”) – a centre-left, pro-European party led by co-founder Raphaël Glucksmann.

The journalist and documentary maker turned member of the EU parliament is a rising name in politics, and one of the few figures in the NFP with a good chance of building bridges with other camps.

What’s the manifesto?

The NFP wants first and foremost to up public spending, floating the figure of 100 billion euros in 2025. 

Big-ticket pledges include reversing Macron’s pension reform and putting the retirement age back to 60; raising the minimum wage and public sector pay; linking salaries to inflation; cutting income tax and social security for lower earners; and freezing the prices of essentials such as food and fuel.

The alliance says a new wealth tax and other fiscal reforms would offset the extra expense.

Its programme also promises to “ensure a dignified welcome” for immigrants in France, including by streamlining the asylum process and repealing recent laws that sought to facilitate expulsions. 

What are the main French parties’ campaign promises on immigration?

On foreign policy, the NFP says it will defend Ukraine and call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, including the release of hostages by Hamas. It also plans to recognise a Palestinian state.

The alliance has equally promised to take action against antisemitism, Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination.

What will the NFP do now?

As the largest bloc in parliament, the NFP can reasonably lay claim to the position of prime minister – but with no single leader, it doesn’t have an obvious candidate.

The alliance has said it hopes to put forward a name within the week.

It’s up to the president to appoint a PM – subject to parliament’s approval – so any NFP candidate will only get the job if they stand a reasonable chance of forming a workable government.

What are the next steps now France finds itself with a hung parliament?

That depends on the alliance’s willingness to compromise. Mélenchon has insisted that the NFP will enact its policies and only its policies, while Faure is ruling out partnering with the second-biggest alliance in parliament, Macron’s centrists.

Without a formal coalition, the NFP would be left to rule by minority, seeking consensus bill by bill – as Macron’s outgoing government has done for the past two years.

But moderates including Glucksmann say the bloc must be open to negotiation. If push came to shove, its smaller factions might just have enough weight to form a rival group that could work with the centrists and shut out hardliners.


Space Exploration

Ariane 6 rocket debuts successfully restoring Europe’s space independence

Paris – Europe’s newest and most powerful rocket, Ariane 6, made its inaugural flight on Tuesday, successfully launching satellites into orbit and reestablishing the continent’s autonomous access to space. This achievement marks a significant milestone for European space efforts, which have faced setbacks and delays in recent years.

The launch took place at 4 pm local time (1900 GMT) from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, after a brief one-hour delay due to a minor technical issue. Despite clear skies and a smooth liftoff, the mission encountered a slight deviation from its planned trajectory towards the end, affecting the rocket’s re-entry and Pacific Ocean landing. However, this did not overshadow the primary objective of satellite deployment.

‘Historic day’

European Space Agency (ESA) chief Josef Aschbacher hailed the event as “a historic day for Europe,” while Philippe Baptiste, head of France’s CNES space agency, declared that “Europe is back” in the space race.

The successful launch carries immense significance for European space sovereignty. Since the retirement of Ariane 5 a year ago, Europe has relied on competitors like SpaceX for satellite launches. Ariane 6, selected by ESA in 2014, is designed to place satellites in various orbits, from geostationary positions to lower Earth orbits for satellite constellations.

This maiden flight carried a payload of university microsatellites, scientific experiments, and two atmospheric re-entry capsules. The mission also included a planned maneuver to de-orbit the upper stage’s Vinci engine to mitigate space debris.

While the launch was largely successful, Martin Sion, CEO of ArianeGroup, cautioned that the “mission is not yet complete” until the final stages of the flight are concluded.

Ariane 6 development

The development of Ariane 6 faced numerous challenges, including a four-year delay. However, its successful debut is seen as a crucial step in maintaining Europe’s competitiveness in the global space industry.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated ESA on this “giant leap forward” via social media.

The launch was watched by thousands in Toulouse, France, where spectators gathered at the Cite de l’Espace museum to witness the event on a big screen. Catherine Gerard, a 56-year-old attendee, described the experience as “something a bit magical.”

This achievement not only restores Europe’s independent access to space but also sets the stage for future advancements in the continent’s space program.


Euro 2024

England and the Netherlands vie for Euro 2024 final slot against Spain

England and the Netherlands play on Wednesday night in Dortmund for the right to take on Spain on Sunday in Berlin in the Euro 2024 final.

England, who lost in the 2020 showdown against Italy, will be attempting to become only the fourth team after the Soviet Union, Germany and Spain to reach consecutive finals in the 64-year history of the competition.

However, unlike the troika, England have failed to lift the crown.

“We have a chance to get to the first final not held in England,” said England boss Gareth Southgate on the eve of the clash at the Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund.

“So we’re we’re trying to break new ground,” he added. “That’s difficult and it’s complicated but the players have responded brilliantly and the resilience that’s been built … we’ve been very fortunate.”

England were promoted as one of the favourites for the title but their performances during the group stages swiftly dampened expectations.

They edged past Serbia 1-0 in their opening game in Group C. That was followed by two stalemates against Denmark and Slovenia to give them top place and a last-16 rendez-vous with Slovakia.

Southgate’s men were 85 seconds from eleimination when Jude Bellingham scored a spectacular scissors kick to equalise.

In the first minute of extra-time skipper Harry Kane scored his second goal of the tournament to give them the lead and they held on.

In the quarter-finals against Switzerland in Düsseldorf, Bukayo Saka cancelled out Breel Embolo’s opener before England claimed the penalty shootout.

Grit

“The players have ground results out and found ways to win,” added Southgate. “I felt that shifted once we’d got into the knockout stage and definitely in the quarter final.

“And, you’re now into that moment in the tournament where it’s more what’s possible and ‘what’s achievable’, rather than what might go wrong. “So this is now the chance to make history, which we’ve enjoyed doing.”

Southgate’s counterpart, Ronald Koeman, was part of the glittering team that lifted the European crown in 1988, the last time the competition was held in Germany.

“We know that there is really not much difference between the two teams,” said the 61-year-old.

“It’s really 50-50 in my opinion. But we will need the perfect game to win.

“We know England have a lot of individual qualities but both teams are really strong and it will be a good fight,” he added.

The Netherlands advanced to the knockout stages as one of the four best third-palced teams.

They beat Romania 3-0 in the last-16 and came from behind to outwit Turkey 2-1 in the last eight in Berlin last Saturday. 

“We are sharp. We are focused and we are looking forward to playing a good match against England,” Koeman added.

The winners will take on Spain on Sunday night at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. 


Euro 2024

Yamal wonder goal helps Spain conquer France and reach Euro 2024 final

Spanish wunderkind Lamine Yamal curled in a stunning strike on Tuesday night to relaunch his side’s fortunes during their Euro 2024 semi-final against France in Munich.

France took the lead in the ninth minute at the Allianz Arena when skipper Kylian Mbappé swung in a cross from the left for Randal Kolo Muani to head home past Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.

It was the first goal scored by a Frenchman in open play since the start of the tournament  on 14 June.

But Yamal, who will celebrate his 17th birthday on Saturday levelled mid way through the first-half.

The Barcelona starlet cut in from the right wing, swerved past two France defenders and with his left foot sent the ball round the despairing dive of the France goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

The strike made him the youngest player to score at the European championships in its 64-year history.

And before France could react to such a sumptuous equaliser, Spain were in front. Dani Olmo’s shot took a wicked deflection off France defender Jules Koundé to beat Maignan.

France regrouped from the double whammy and held their ground to reach half-time with the scoreline still at 2-1.

Return

France came out after the pause bristling with intent. Dayot Upamecano and Aurélien Tchouaméni went close with headers from corners but the feted fleet-footed front line of Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé failed to whizz past a Spain defence superbly marshalled by Nacho and Aymeric Laporte in the centre and a dynamic Marc Cucurella on the left.

Even the introduction of winger Bradley Barcola and striker Antoine Griezmann failed to inject vitality into the French attack.

“Spain are a very good team,” France boss Didier Deschamps told French broadcaster TF1.

“We knew that before the game and we saw it this evening.

“We opened the scoring and we were causing them problems but Spain have been impressive up until now and showed it again.”

Spanish teams won back-to-back European championships in 2008 and 2012 either side of their first World Cup victory.

They will be seeking their fourth European title since the inception of the tournament in 1960 when they take on England or the Netherlands in the final on 14 July at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

Spanish inquisition: France boss Deschamps on the rack after exit at Euro 2024

France head coach Didier Deschamps was under pressure on Wednesday to quit after his side’s 2-1 loss to Spain in the semi-finals at the European championships in Germany.

Deschamps’ men took the lead in the ninth minute at the Allianz Arena in Munich on Tuesday night but were pegged back midway through the first-half after 16-year-old Lamine Yamal’s sumptuous strike into the top left hand corner.

Dani Olmo added Spain’s second shortly afterwards.

And though France enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the second-half, they spurned several chances to draw level.

During a post-match press conference, 55-year-old Deschamps slapped down questions over his future.

“You’re a piece of work,” he told one reporter. “Ask my federation chief that question. I just lost a semi-final, do you think I’m already thinking about that? I respect you and ask that you also respect those who have responsibilities.”

But Daniel Riolo, an influential pundit, told French broadcaster RMC that the doubts would resurface over his role after more than a decade in the job.

Exit

“Deschamps hangs on. Deschamps stays,” said Riolo. “Maybe at the time just after the match, asking him if he’s leaving might upset him, but the question will come up tomorrow, or whenever he wants.

“The man has been here for 12 years and doesn’t want to hear the question. Stop. I’ve had enough. Get out of here. Go and play a quiet game of padel in sunny Monaco. Get on with it.”

Since taking over in 2012 from former France international teammate Laurent Blanc, Deschamps – who skippered France to the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European championships – has steered his squad to the final at the 2016 European championships, the 2018 World Cup crown, the last-16 at Euro 2020, the 2022 World Cup final and the semis at Euro 2024.

Just before the semi-final, Philippe Diallo, Deschamps’ boss at the French football federation, hailed him on French broadcaster RTL as the best coach in the team’s history.

“I’m focused on helping him continue since he has a contract until 2026,” said Diallo who took over in January 2023 from Noël Le Graët who controversially reappointed Deschamps after the 2022 World Cup.

“I hear the critics, of course,” Diallo added. “I often find them harsh. Major tournaments, especially the European championsips, are played between 24 teams who are very close.

“Reaching the last four is always an achievement that shouldn’t be trivialized.”

Support

Despite the supremo’s backing, Deschamps and his coaches will be forced to review how they can compensate for slumps in form from key personnel.

“The responsibility for the defeat is mine,” Deschamps said following the game. “I’m not going to assign more responsibility for it to one player more than another.”

In the prelude to the match, Deschamps singled out the Spanish as the most impressive side at the tournament.

And Luis de la Fuente’s outfit showed mental fortitude to come from behind, take the lead and resist the French incursions.

“This Spanish team has a lot of qualities,” Deschamps added. “We were less effective and lacked verticality in our play.

“Even though we pushed until the end, I won’t blame the players. They gave everything they had. Obviously, not all of them were at 100 percent for this competition for various reasons.”

Skipper Kylian Mbappé, playing without a face mask to protect a broken nose, set up France’s opener for Randal Kolo Muani.

But the Real Madrid-bound striker – touted to be one of the stars of the tournament – missed a presentable chance after being set up by Bradley Barcola in the closing stages.

“Bradley did a great job getting the ball to me,” said Mbappé. “I beat the defender and after that I should score or at least get the shot on target … it goes over the bar. 

“That’s the harsh reality of football. It stays 2-1 and we go home,” the 25-year-old rued.

“The competition was a failure. I wanted to be European champion with the team and we’re not.”


rugby

Sexual assault allegations overshadow France’s rugby Test against Uruguay

France rugby boss Fabien Galthié admitted his touring squad had been traumatised by the arrest of Hugo Auradou and Oscar Jégou after they were accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel following the team’s match against Argentina.

Galthié’s squad travelled to Montevideo for the game against Uruguay on Wednesday night as senior executives from the French rugby federation remained in Buenos Aires to assist Argentine police with their investigation into the alleged attack on Saturday night in Mendoza.

“We’ve got to play,” said Galthié. “We’ve got to wear the France jersey, we’ve got to keep going through this difficult period.

“It’s an important game for Uruguay, it’s important to talk about this team.”

Auradou, 20, and Jégou, 21, were detained on Tuesday in Buenos Aires as the touring group prepared to leave its hotel for Uruguay.

“For the group, for the delegation, it was a traumatic experience,” said Galthié. “We were stunned when we heard the news and when the police arrived at our hotel in Buenos Aires.

“It was a very difficult day, very, very hard. It was a very difficult time to live through. That’s how we’re preparing for the Uruguay match. It’s very difficult, very complex.”

Rising stars

Auradou, who plays for Section Paloise and Jégou, a rising star at Stade Rochelais, were called into the senior squad after their stellar performances during France’s surge to the crown at the 2023 World Rugby under-20 Championship.

The pair each made their senior debuts in the 28-13 win over Argentina at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.

“First of all, the first thing is to address the victim, our thoughts are with the victim,” added Galthié.

“I’ve spoken with the players, of course. Everything is being done on our side to support the work of the Argentinian justice system, everything is being done to help the justice system do its job, but also for the players involved, but also for the whole delegation, so that they can live through this moment.”

The assault allegations emerged less than a day after France full-back Melvyn Jaminet was thrown out of the squad after a video emerged of him making a racist remark.

Jaminet, who has played 20 times for his country, issued an apology on social media shortly after his suspension was announced.

“I understand that this has hurt and offended many people, and I want to make it clear that these remarks do not reflect my values or those of the French rugby team.

“Racism in any form is unacceptable and goes against everything I believe in,” he wrote on Instagram.

Jaminet’s club side Toulon also published a statement on social media to condemn the comments.

Galthié added: “We’re uncompromising. Uncompromising with respect for the rules and the protection of freedom.  It’s a fundamental value of our operation.”

France are due back in Buenos Aires to play a second Test against Argentina on Saturday.

International report

Erdogan and Putin meet at Shanghai summit, reaffirm strong bilateral ties

Issued on:

Turkey’s bid to join the BRICS trading group is the latest move in the Turkish President’s delicate balancing act between Western and Eastern allies.

The recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Almaty, Kazakhstan, provided a platform for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in person.

Their encounter was marked by a display of cordiality, with both leaders appearing at ease and Putin emphasizing the significance of their bilateral relationship.

Active engagement

Putin, standing alongside Erdogan, stated, “We continue to actively engage on crucial matters of international politics.” He further added, “Our communication is constant, and our respective ministries and departments regularly share information and align our stances on key issues.” Erdogan was observed nodding in agreement with these remarks.

  • Turkey set on rebuilding bridges with China to improve trade
  • How Turkey’s support for Ukraine is a double-edged sword

According to reports, a notable topic on the leaders’ agenda was Turkey’s aspiration to join BRICS, an economic alliance comprising Russia, China, and several nations from Asia, Africa, and South America. This potential membership represents a significant shift in Turkey’s international alignments.

Atilla Yesilada, a Turkey analyst at GlobalSource Partners, explains, “A core principle of BRICS is reducing the dollar’s role in mutual trade, which aligns with Turkey’s interests.” He argues that BRICS membership complements Turkey’s broader foreign policy objectives, stating, “The concept of a new platform fostering trade among geographically distant countries naturally appeals to Turkey and fits its foreign policy stance.”

Yesilada suggests that Turkey’s BRICS bid serves an additional purpose: “It signals to Putin that Turkey intends to maintain and strengthen its growing commercial ties with Russia.” This comes despite Putin’s recent cautions to Turkey regarding its efforts to improve relations with its traditional Western allies.

The Russian leader strongly supports Turkey’s BRICS membership bid. Ceren Ergenc, a China specialist at the Centre for European Policy Studies, posits that Moscow views Turkey’s potential BRICS membership as a strategic move to balance Beijing’s increasing influence within the group.

Turikey and BRICS

Putin strongly supports Turkey’s BRICS membership bid. Ceren Ergenc, a China specialist at the Centre for European Policy Studies, suggests this support is part of Moscow’s strategy to counterbalance Beijing‘s growing influence within BRICS.

Ergenc explains, “BRICS has become China’s domain, with recent membership invitations primarily extended to countries China seeks closer ties with, effectively sidelining Russia and India as the group’s other major powers.”

Turkey’s pursuit of BRICS membership coincides with its stalled EU accession process, hampered by Turkey’s non-compliance with the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria on human rights. This impasse is reportedly affecting Turkey’s trade relations with the EU. Atilla Yesilada, a Turkey analyst, notes, “Erdogan’s frustration with the EU’s lack of progress on Turkey’s accession and customs union update contributed to the BRICS bid.”

However, Yesilada argues that Turkey’s interest in BRICS transcends Erdogan’s presidency, reflecting a broader foreign policy strategy. He states, “This aligns with Turkey’s overarching policy goal, widely supported by the country’s policy establishment, of maintaining independence from any single political bloc, be it Western or Eastern.”

As Erdogan prepares to attend the NATO summit in Washington, where he’s expected to reaffirm Turkey’s Western security commitments, analysts view the BRICS bid as a clear indication that Ankara is diversifying its international partnerships beyond its traditional Western allies.


French elections 2024

What are the next steps now France finds itself with a hung parliament?

France is without a permanent government after snap elections resulted in a hung parliament. The country looks set for tricky negotiations over which parties should form a government and who could lead it – but the constitution sets strict deadlines for when key positions must be filled.

The final round of legislative elections on Sunday made the left-wing New Popular Front the largest bloc in parliament, followed by the centrist Ensemble alliance in second place and the far-right National Rally party in third.

The left is short of a majority by over 100 seats, however, and lacks an obvious leader who could secure the backing of rival groups to rule by coalition.

President Emmanuel Macron will remain in post as head of state, a position that is elected separately from the parliament.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who belongs to Macron’s party, offered his resignation but has been asked to stay on in a caretaker capacity.

The rest of the cabinet will also remain in place temporarily to handle day-to-day matters, though policy decisions are for now on ice.

France keeps PM on as caretaker as wrangling over new government begins

Next steps

After the full count is finalised, the members of the National Assembly – France’s lower house of parliament – will be sworn in. 

Out of 577, 76 were elected outright in the first round of voting on 30 June and have already been initiated, leaving 501 still to take office.

They will begin visiting the parliament building from Monday to familiarise themselves with the chamber and pick up security badges.

The next task will be to form parliamentary groups, the blocs into which MPs are organised according to their political affinities.

These groupings generally follow party lines, though those who don’t have the 15 members required to form their own sometimes join forces. Others represent a broader alliance of shared interests, such as Macron’s centrist Ensemble group, made up of his party plus two others. 

Forming a group confers several advantages, including funding, office space, guaranteed speaking time and the right to pursue key leadership positions within the Assembly. 

The new groups must designate their potential candidates for these positions, as well as choosing a leader who will represent them in parliament.

Surprise election win for left-green coalition plunges France into uncertainty

First sessions

France’s constitution states that parliament must sit on the second Thursday after snap elections have concluded, which in this case is 18 July. 

The incoming Assembly will be formally opened in a session presided over by the oldest member, assisted by the six youngest MPs.

The first order of business will be to elect a president of the Assembly, the equivalent of a speaker of the house. That is decided by MPs in a secret ballot with up to three rounds of voting.

The various groups will also submit their lists of candidates for parliamentary roles.

The following day, MPs will vote for the six vice-presidents, 12 secretaries and three financial administrators that make up the Assembly’s leadership bureau, which will ultimately be responsible for setting the order of business.

On 20 July, legislators decide who chairs each of the eight standing parliamentary committees: finance, foreign affairs, defence, economy, social affairs, culture, sustainable development and law.

Rules say that the finance committee at least must be headed by a member of the opposition. Seats on the committees, meanwhile, are divided proportionally between parliamentary groups.

Cautious relief in Europe as French vote keeps far right from power

Choosing a prime minister

The new session falls when lawmakers had planned to be on summer break, which this year was due to start on 12 July ahead of the Paris Olympics.

In such circumstances, the constitution says parliament must sit for 15 days – which would take the session up to 2 August.

There is no fixed deadline for nominating a prime minister, however. The choice is up to the president, though MPs can swiftly topple a premier they’re unhappy with by calling a vote of no confidence.

While it’s usually a straightforward choice – the leader of the party or bloc with a majority – the fragmented nature of this parliament means finding someone who can command consensus will be tough.

There is no requirement for the prime minister to be a sitting MP. As a last resort, Macron could decide to look outside politics altogether and appoint technocrats to run the government.

As for calling fresh elections, that’s only an option one year after the last snap polls – in other words, no earlier than June 2025.


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris to contest plans for river landing pad for flying taxis at 2024 Olympics

France’s government has given the go-ahead for a floating landing pad for flying taxis to be built on the River Seine. It’s set to be shown off during the Paris Olympics, but Paris City Hall says it plans to challenge the landing pad permit in court.

 

An official decree published Tuesday said that the pad “can be used until 31 December, 2024” after months of suspense over whether the taxis would take to the air during the July 26 – August 11 Paris Games.

Flying taxis

The landing site will float on the Seine near Austerlitz railway station in southeastern Paris.

So called “flying taxis” are large futuristic drones capable of transporting several people. (You can see the new Volocopter in the accompanying video between 3:47 – 5:13)

Flights will be limited to two per hour, between 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and no more than 900 over the whole trial period “given the experimental nature” of the vehicles, the decree read.

Private firms involved in the flying taxi project include Paris airport operator ADP and Germany-based Volocopter.

Its “Volocity” two-seaters are fitted with 18 electric-powered rotors on a circular frame above the fuselage.

They hope to use the global draw of the Olympics to show that the technology can efficiently link “vertiport” take-off and landing sites.

Four vertiports – airports for vertical take-off and landing vehicles – have already been set up in the Paris suburbs, including one at Charles de Gaulle airport, but the Austerlitz site will be the first within the city itself.

  • ‘Flying taxis’ to be tested during Paris Olympics: minister

 

 

City Hall opposition

Backers tout flying taxis as a low-carbon form of aviation and hope future larger versions could be used as ambulances or in other roles.

But several city officials in Paris have derided the plans as harmful to the environment.

The Council of Paris had already expressed its opposition to the project.

“All of the Paris Council – the left, ecologists and the right –  voted against flying taxis,”  David Belliard, the head of transport at Paris City Hall and a member of the Greens, told French public radio on Tuesday.

“They’re not useful, they’re un-ecological and very expensive. Only the wealthiest people are concerned by this,” he said, slamming a tarriff of 135 euros for a 35-km journey as “outrageous“. 

Belliard also questioned the government’s legitimacy since the presidential majority lost out to a new left-wing alliance (NFP) in last Sunday’s snap leglislative elections.

People close to mayor Anne Hidalgo told French news agency AFP  that City Hall would challenge the landing pad permit in court.

In a report published in September 2023, France’s national environment authority (AE) found that an impact assessment for the landing pad was “incomplete” on issues including noise pollution, energy consumption and greenhouse emissions.

The taxis have yet to be certified by the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) – meaning operators can only offer free demonstration flights during the Paris Olympics.

  • France to invest in low-emission planes, sustainable aviation fuels

(with AFP)


Space Exploration

Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket set for inaugural launch from French Guiana

The Ariane 6, Europe’s latest heavy-lift launch vehicle, is scheduled for its maiden voyage on 9 July from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This debut mission will carry a payload of eight satellites and various experimental instruments.

When asked about the significance of Ariane 6’s first flight, a spokesperson of the European Space Agency (ESA) said Ariane 6 will ensure European independent and autonomous access to space for primarily mid- and heavy institutional and commercial payloads that were previously launched on Soyuz and Ariane 5 launchers. 

“In addition, Ariane 6 will offer a greater flexibility to launch an even wider range of payloads (as compared to its predecessor Ariane 5), including constellations and payloads of different sizes combined in a single launch. Its re-ignitable upper stage will also help inject satellites in multiple orbits and allow controlled de-orbiting in line with space debris regulation,” the spokesperson said.

The rocket comes in two booster configurations: the A62 with two boosters and A64 with four boosters.

The ESA spokesperson said Ariane 6 is designed to provide great power and flexibility at a lower cost than its predecessors. 

“The launcher’s configuration – with an upgraded main stage, a choice of either two or four powerful boosters and a new restartable upper stage – will provide Europe with greater efficiency and possibility as it can launch multiple missions into different orbits on a single flight, while its upper stage will deorbit itself at the end of mission.”

The launch comes a year after the final flight of its predecessor Ariane 5. 

European space amitions

The Ariane 6 programme was launched around the end of 2014. The first flight was originally scheduled for 2020. However, it was delayed due to technical setbacks as well as the Covid-19 crisis.

European space ambitions have evolved significantly over the past decades, driven by the need for technological independence, economic competitiveness, and scientific advancement.

At the heart of this policy is the European Space Agency (ESA), the intergovernmental organisation of 22 member states, working in close cooperation with the European Union (EU).

The cornerstone of European space policy is ensuring autonomous access to space. This began with the Ariane rocket family and continues with the development of Ariane 6 and Vega-C launchers.

These programs aim to maintain Europe’s ability to launch satellites and other payloads without relying on foreign providers.

Another key aspect of Euroepan space strategy is Earth observation. The Copernicus program, jointly managed by ESA and the EU, operates a fleet of Sentinel satellites that monitor the planet’s environment, providing crucial data on climate change, land use, and natural disasters. This information supports policy-making and aids in emergency response efforts across Europe and beyond.n.


Kenya

Kenyan cult leader faces terrorism charges over mass starvation deaths

The self-proclaimed leader of an evangelical doomsday cult in Kenya has gone on trial  in Mombasa, facing charges of terrorism for allegedly inciting more than 400 of his followers to starve themselves to death.

Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie appeared in court in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa on Monday, along with 94 co-defendants.

The accused are also facing charges of  murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, torturing children and cruelty in separate cases.

They all pleaded not guilty at a first hearing in January.

Mackenzie, who was arrested in April 2023, is alleged to have incited his acolytes to starve to death in order to “meet Jesus”.

The remains of more than 440 people have been unearthed so far in a remote area inland from the coastal town of Malindi, in a case that has been dubbed the “Shakahola forest massacre”.

Autopsies have found that while starvation appeared to be the main cause of death, some of the victims – including children – were strangled, beaten, or suffocated.

Previous court documents reported that some of the bodies had had their organs removed.

  • Kenyan preacher to face murder charges over mass starvation deaths

 

​Breach of security

Mackenzie, a former taxi driver, founded the Good News International Church in 2003.

He turned himself in on 14 April last year after police, acting on a tip-off, first entered Shakahola forest and found mass graves.

In March, the authorities began releasing some victims’ bodies to distraught relatives after months of painstaking work to identify them using DNA.

Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie, a self-styled pastor with a history of extremism, managed to evade law enforcement despite his prominent profile and previous legal cases.

“The Shakahola massacre is the worst breach of security in the history of our country,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki told a senate committee hearing at which he vowed to “relentlessly push for legal reforms to tame rogue preachers”.

Kindiki had accused Kenyan police of laxity when they began investigating initial reports of starvation.

The state-backed  Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) in March criticised security officers in Malindi for “gross abdication of duty and negligence”.

Kenya is a mainly Christian country and President William Ruto has vowed to intervene in homegrown religious movements.

  • Kenya’s Ruto vows action as religious cult death toll continues to rise

(with newswires)


Sahel politics

New Sahel Confederation challenges regional order as ECOWAS seeks dialogue

The military heads of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger convened for the inaugural summit of the Confederation of the Sahel States (AES). The leaders emphasised territorial and popular sovereignty as core principles of their leadership through a new treaty. Concurrently, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is exploring strategies to persuade these nations to realign with the regional bloc.

Colonel Assimi Goïta of Mali, Captain Ibrahim Traoré of Burkina Faso and Niger’s General Abdourahamane Tiani met in Niamey, a day ahead of the summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), held on Sunday 7 July in Abuja.

The three Sahel leaders, who came to power through military coups between 2020 and 2023, said they wanted to take the Alliance, set up in September 2023, a step further by establishing it as a confederation.

The Confederation of the Sahel States, which will use the acronym AES, is headed by Mali in its first year. AES regroups 72 million people.

“Our people have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS,” Niger’s ruling General Abdourahamane Tiani told the cheering crowd attending the Niamey summit.

AES pulled out of ECOWAS in February 2024.

However, the ECOWAS leaders are intent on reconciliation. They chose Senegal’s President Faye – who said he wanted to break away from old alliances – to act as special envoy for Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, along with Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe.

“We cannot stand idly by,” said Faye.

He stressed that, on paper, the three Sahel states are still members of ECOWAS for another year, as per article 91 of the organisation.

“Our region is facing the risk of disintegration,” said Omar Alieu Touray, the head of the ECOWAS commission.

But, the speeches made by the military leaders of Mali, Niger and Burkina-Faso seem to indicate that they are done with ECOWAS.

House slaves

Captain Ibrahim Traoré sharply criticized what he termed “house slaves,” a euphemism for African leaders he perceives as still under the influence or control of former colonial powers. Addressing an approving audience, Traoré stated:

“Imperialists view Africa as their dominion, believing they own our people, lands, and resources. Since the illusory independence granted to African nations in the 1960s, they’ve installed local proxies to maintain their control. We refer to these proxies as ‘house slaves’ – individuals whose sole aspiration is to emulate and serve their masters.”

  • Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso to launch anti-jihadist force

  • Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso quit ECOWAS regional block

He also said that he does not understand why foreign powers refused to leave the three Sahel state when they have been asked to do, whilst each year claiming that Burkina, Mali and Niger are the poorest countries in the world.

“When we decided to break the chains, the house slaves brought the message of their masters to stop and comply.

“The people of Sahel will no longer be manipulated; we will not allow this anymore,” the Burkinabe leader said.

Traoré added that, on 26 July 2023, when Niger decided to move on, the “house slaves” and their masters were incandescent and decided to wage a war against the country.

“We then told them; whoever attacks Niger will have to contend with us. We’ll be ruthless against whoever attacks us,” he said.

After the July 2023 coup that brought Tiani to power, ECOWAS threatened to intervene militarily to restore ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Terrorism

Tiani criticized ECOWAS for its perceived failure to protect citizens from terrorist threats. He asserted that the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) is uniquely positioned to combat terrorism in the region, surpassing the capabilities of other regional or international bodies.

The AES has initiated a cross-border military force, leveraging each member state’s strengths to counter jihadist activities. Seidik Abba, chairman of the International Center for Studies and Thoughts on the Sahel (CIRES), explained:

“The Sahel Alliance has adopted a more effective strategy against jihadist forces through joint military operations. Previously, militants could attack one country and retreat to another. Now, with shared intelligence and collaborative efforts, the three countries can capitalize on their combined strengths.”

Economic cooperation

Colonel Assimi Goïta, Mali’s military leader, reported that economic cooperation among the three Sahel states is progressing, with specific projects already outlined. He expressed gratitude to his Nigerien counterpart for providing crucial hydrocarbon assistance to Mali.

In April, Niger agreed to supply Mali with 150 million liters of hydrocarbons at approximately half the market rate. This arrangement aims to fuel Mali’s power plants and alleviate frequent power outages.

Analyst Seidik Abba noted that the Niamey declaration appears to suggest the AES states’ intention to establish a common currency to boost their economic development.

Goïta emphasised that the alliance between the three neighboring countries is fundamentally people-centric, promoting free movement across their territories. He said at the summit:

“We’re moving beyond individual national identities. Instead of citizens of Mali, Burkina Faso, or Niger, we’ll refer to ourselves as people of the AES. In this alliance, a Burkinabe or Nigerien will feel at home in Mali, and vice versa, without encountering administrative barriers.”

International report

Erdogan and Putin meet at Shanghai summit, reaffirm strong bilateral ties

Issued on:

Turkey’s bid to join the BRICS trading group is the latest move in the Turkish President’s delicate balancing act between Western and Eastern allies.

The recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Almaty, Kazakhstan, provided a platform for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in person.

Their encounter was marked by a display of cordiality, with both leaders appearing at ease and Putin emphasizing the significance of their bilateral relationship.

Active engagement

Putin, standing alongside Erdogan, stated, “We continue to actively engage on crucial matters of international politics.” He further added, “Our communication is constant, and our respective ministries and departments regularly share information and align our stances on key issues.” Erdogan was observed nodding in agreement with these remarks.

  • Turkey set on rebuilding bridges with China to improve trade
  • How Turkey’s support for Ukraine is a double-edged sword

According to reports, a notable topic on the leaders’ agenda was Turkey’s aspiration to join BRICS, an economic alliance comprising Russia, China, and several nations from Asia, Africa, and South America. This potential membership represents a significant shift in Turkey’s international alignments.

Atilla Yesilada, a Turkey analyst at GlobalSource Partners, explains, “A core principle of BRICS is reducing the dollar’s role in mutual trade, which aligns with Turkey’s interests.” He argues that BRICS membership complements Turkey’s broader foreign policy objectives, stating, “The concept of a new platform fostering trade among geographically distant countries naturally appeals to Turkey and fits its foreign policy stance.”

Yesilada suggests that Turkey’s BRICS bid serves an additional purpose: “It signals to Putin that Turkey intends to maintain and strengthen its growing commercial ties with Russia.” This comes despite Putin’s recent cautions to Turkey regarding its efforts to improve relations with its traditional Western allies.

The Russian leader strongly supports Turkey’s BRICS membership bid. Ceren Ergenc, a China specialist at the Centre for European Policy Studies, posits that Moscow views Turkey’s potential BRICS membership as a strategic move to balance Beijing’s increasing influence within the group.

Turikey and BRICS

Putin strongly supports Turkey’s BRICS membership bid. Ceren Ergenc, a China specialist at the Centre for European Policy Studies, suggests this support is part of Moscow’s strategy to counterbalance Beijing‘s growing influence within BRICS.

Ergenc explains, “BRICS has become China’s domain, with recent membership invitations primarily extended to countries China seeks closer ties with, effectively sidelining Russia and India as the group’s other major powers.”

Turkey’s pursuit of BRICS membership coincides with its stalled EU accession process, hampered by Turkey’s non-compliance with the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria on human rights. This impasse is reportedly affecting Turkey’s trade relations with the EU. Atilla Yesilada, a Turkey analyst, notes, “Erdogan’s frustration with the EU’s lack of progress on Turkey’s accession and customs union update contributed to the BRICS bid.”

However, Yesilada argues that Turkey’s interest in BRICS transcends Erdogan’s presidency, reflecting a broader foreign policy strategy. He states, “This aligns with Turkey’s overarching policy goal, widely supported by the country’s policy establishment, of maintaining independence from any single political bloc, be it Western or Eastern.”

As Erdogan prepares to attend the NATO summit in Washington, where he’s expected to reaffirm Turkey’s Western security commitments, analysts view the BRICS bid as a clear indication that Ankara is diversifying its international partnerships beyond its traditional Western allies.

The Sound Kitchen

China’s 1989 sea change

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about Tiananmen Square. There’s “The Listener’s Corner”, Ollia Horton’s “Happy Moment”, 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 8 June, I asked you a question about an article we had written earlier that week about the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, China. On 4 June 1989, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army broke up protests by pro-democracy students in the Square. According to various reports, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of students were killed.

One of the student leaders, Wang Dan, after two periods of imprisonment in China, was allowed to emigrate to the US. He currently lives in San Francisco, where he leads the Dialogue China think tank.

He was in Paris recently and came to RFI for an interview, which you read in our article “Tiananmen Square at 35: top Chinese dissident looks back”.

In the interview, we asked Wang Dan: “How did the 4th of June 1989 change China?”  What does he answer? That was your question.

The answer is, as Wang Dan explained: “June 4th is a turning point in China’s contemporary history. There are two Chinas: the China of before 1989 and the China of after. The main difference is [that] before 1989, the state and the society cooperated. That’s why we took to the streets: we as, a representative society, go to the street and ask to cooperate with the government to promote democracy. There’s no difference between “us”. We think we are all “us”. We all take responsibility for this country.

But after 1989, many Chinese people gave up on this idea. “You” are the government. “We” are the normal Chinese people. There’s no more “us”. It’s just “you” and “me”. After 1989, the Chinese people gave up the responsibility for the country’s future because they thought that they could not do anything and that it is the government’s responsibility to change China, not the people’s.” 

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “What is the ideal human relationship?” It was suggested by Debashis Gope from West Bengal, India.

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Karuna Kanta Pal from West Bengal, India. Congratulations, Karuna.   

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Nafisa Khatun, the president of the RFI Mahila Shrota Sangha Club in West Bengal, India, and RFI Listeners Club member Kashif Khalil from Faisalabad, Pakistan.   

Last but not least, there are RFI English listeners John Yemi Sanday Turay from Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Rafiq Khondaker, the president of the Source of Knowledge Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh.

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s program: “Take the A Train” by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, performed by Duke Ellington and his orchestra; “El Bueno y El Malo” composed by and performed by the brothers Estevan and Alejandro Gutiérrez (Hermanos Gutiérrez); “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer; “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra) by John Adams, performed by Edo de Waart and the San Fransisco Symphony. 

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 Jessica Phelan’s article: “The three-way factor that makes France’s election results so unusual”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 19 August to enter this week’s quiz. The winners will be announced on the 24 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. 

International report

Does the UK’s change of leaders spell better relations with the EU?

Issued on:

The EU on Friday congratulated Keir Starmer on Labour’s election win in Britain, with European Council President Charles Michel calling it “historic”. But Labour’s landslide victory doesn’t mean that London will turn back the clock on Brexit.

Keir Starmer has pledged to “make Brexit work” and seek “an ambitious” security pact with the the European Union.

But contrary to the hopes of many in the UK who may have hoped that London would return to the EU mainland fold, Labour is careful not to offend its pro-Brexit constituencies.

Over the years, especially in the north of England, many voters shifted to the pro-Brexit ideas of the Conservative party, afraid that EU immigrants would take away their jobs.

RFI talks to political scientist John Barry, of Queens University in Belfast, about how he thinks Brexit affected the UK economy, and if London will ever rejoin the common market.

“Brexit has framed UK politics since 2016.”

06:07

INTERVIEW: John Barry, political scientist with Queens University in Belfast

This interview was carried out online.

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 undemanding 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. 


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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