Feminist foreign policy: Can Scotland succeed where Sweden failed?

Scotland will be the first part of the UK to adopt a feminist approach to international relations. But is it merely symbolic or transformative?


Scotland has become the latest country to adopt a feminist approach to its foreign policy.

International Development Minister Christina McKelvie made the announcement at a forum on women’s leadership in Iceland on Monday, and although Scotland has a limited foreign policy scope under its devolved agreement with London, McKelvie says it was important to refocus efforts.

“We want a feminist policy that questions colonialism, that’s actively anti-racist, that targets patriarchy and in some ways the capitalist, imperialist, male-dominated power structures,” McKelvie told Euronews.

“One of the things we want to prioritise is peace and how peace can protect the rights of women and marginalised groups,” she added.

Scotland becomes the first part of the UK to take a feminist approach to international relations, helping women and girls in less developed countries.

Several other European countries have adopted similar policies over the last decade with variable long-term follow-through and mixed results, leading many to question whether adopting such policies is merely symbolic or has real transformative potential.

So can a feminist foreign policy be a game changer?

‘Is this Wokeness gone mad?’

What was born as a way to challenge the status quo of international politics is seen by some as a necessary reframing of a staid foreign policy narrative, while others are sceptical.

In the absence of a concrete definition, each state has its own interpretation of what exactly a ‘feminist foreign policy’ entails.

The term came into use first in Sweden in the midst of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and an incursion into Swedish territorial waters. In this context, the international media joked:  could Vladimir Putin be intimidated by Swedish feminism?

As the feminist movement has gained momentum, and since Sweden took the first step, other countries have followed suit, including Canada, Mexico, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Libya, Germany, the Netherlands and Chile.

“There’s been a lot of development work on what works and what doesn’t and how other countries have approached this. We’ve learned a lot from countries like Spain about how to implement this policy,” says McKelvie.

“When we announced it, we had the usual ‘this is Wokeness gone mad’ or ‘what does it mean? It’s all about being fluffy and cuddly’. Patriarchal organisations will laugh, but we know we are committed to making a difference for people around the world,” she added.

Scotland is still debating the total amount of money it will allocate to the policy, but the minister has already said she plans to “spend every penny in the budget”.

“It’s hard to put a price tag on what we want to do,” McKelvie added.

The cautionary tale of Sweden

When Swednen’s then-Foreign Minister Margot Wallström announced in 2014 that her country would be the first in the world to adopt a feminist foreign policy, the proposal was greeted with no small amount of amusement.

The idea was to make gender equality a priority in Stockholm’s relations with other countries.

Although the Nordic nation has recently, officially, scrapped the policy, other foreign ministers both inside and outside the European Union took notice at the time and embarked on their own journeys to a more feminist foreign policy stance.


The country that pioneered feminist foreign policy was also the first to repeal it.

After eight years in force, a conservative government came to power in last year’s elections, putting an end to feminist diplomacy.

Sweden’s foreign minister, the conservative Tobias Billström, argued that it had become a ‘counterproductive label’.

“Their reasoning was that such a label of feminist foreign policy obscures the policy behind it, and that they were still somehow focused on prioritising gender equality, but they felt that the feminist label was just an empty label,” Jennifer Bergman from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, told Euronews.

While organisations such as Human Rights Watch criticised the country’s move, there was much internal disagreement over the policy’s performance.


The most notorious incident involved a diplomatic dispute between former FM Wallström, and Saudi Arabia, after she was sharply critical of repression in the Middle Eastern theocracy.

Speaking in the Swedish parliament, she described the 1,000 lashes to which the blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi had been sentenced as a “medieval punishment”.

Saudi Arabia reacted furiously to this first diplomatic strike, blocking a speech Wallström was due to give to Arab leaders on women’s rights and temporarily severing ties with Sweden.

The row did not stop there.

In retaliation, Sweden stopped selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which was its main customer, and cancelled a multi-billion dollar deal that was to be implemented in the future.


Balancing feminist ambitions with national interests?

Although this incident was never officially cited as the reason for the country’s reversal of its feminist foreign policy stance, the Swedish arms industry previously had a turnover of more than €1.2 billion in sales to the Arab country.

“Even though Sweden has a long tradition in politics of promoting gender equality, the parties on the left that have implemented these policies have been more in favour of using the feminist label, whereas the parties on the right tend to be more against it,” says analyst Jennifer Bergman.

Another challenge for Swedish feminist politics was the balance between national interests and the lofty ambitions of its feminist diplomacy, according to Inés Arco Escriche, a researcher at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.

Sweden tightened in 2016 its asylum and border control policies, making family reunification almost impossible.

While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in its action plan that feminist diplomacy aimed to protect and empower women in other countries, including refugees and migrants, the tightening of migration policies left thousands of women in refugee camps or living in war-torn countries.

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How Ukraine’s secret agents re-learned the art of shadow warfare

New revelations in the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in September 2022 have strengthened the case for Kyiv’s involvement, with a controversial Ukrainian secret agent alleged to have been the brains behind the operation. Although Kyiv continues to deny responsibility, there is little doubt that the Ukrainian intelligence services are playing a very special role in the war against Russia.

New “proof” of Ukrainian involvement in the sabotage of the Nord Stream I and II natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea was published by the Washington Post and German magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday November 11. The two publications claimed to have identified the Ukrainian “mastermind” behind the explosive operation.

Roman Chervinsky, a veteran Ukrainian spy, is alleged to have “coordinated” the team of six saboteurs suspected of setting off explosive charges near the Nord Stream pipelines on September 26, 2022, several sources – “both Ukrainian and among the international teams of security experts connected to this case” – told the two publications, according to Der Spiegel.

‘Hothead’ or ‘patriot’?

This 48-year-old expert in “clandestine actions” was a controversial figure even before his name came up in the pipeline affair. Chervinsky has been in pre-trial detention in Kyiv since April 2023, awaiting trial for his involvement in a high-risk operation that ended in disaster for Ukraine’s intelligence services.

Chervinsky is accused of having attempted to recruit a Russian pilot in the summer of 2022 amid a broader campaign to lure potential defectors. It soon became clear that the pilot remained only too loyal to Moscow. Instead of flying to Ukraine as promised, he apparently provided the coordinates of a military airport to the Russians, who wasted no time in bombing it. At that time, Chervinsky had joined the Ukrainian army’s ‘special forces’, specialists in intelligence and sabotage operations.

Read moreNord Stream 2: Russia-Germany gas pipeline becomes a geopolitical lever

This failure pushed the Ukrainian authorities to distance themselves from their spy, claiming that he had gone off on his own and exceeded his prerogatives. Since then, Chervinsky has been seen by some Ukrainians as a “risk-taker” who endangers national security. His defenders, however, hail him as a “great patriot” who pulled off one of the Ukraininan intelligence services’ greatest coups in 2019 after he had succeeded in capturing a “Russian witness” supposedly in possession of evidence showing Russian involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in the skies over the Donbas in 2014.

When contacted for comment by the Washington Post and Der Spiegel, Chervinsky, speaking through his lawyers, accused “Russian propaganda” of trying to frame him for the Nord Stream sabotage. Kyiv, for its part, refused to comment on the “revelations” published by the two Western media outlets.

These new developments are a reminder that behind the trench warfare taking place in Ukraine, a shadow war is also being fought between the countries’ intelligence services. Because, notwithstanding the imbroglio behind Chervinsky’s alleged involvement, the fact remains that, faced with the vast Russian spy machine, Ukraine’s secret agents “have shown themselves to be up to the task”, according to Jeff Hawn, an expert on Russian security issues and a non-resident fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a think-tank based in Washington, DC.

“Their actions have a strategic impact on the course of the conflict,” he said.

Soviet Union’s long shadow

Hawn said that the Ukrainian intelligence services seemed to have come a long way since their dark days following the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Before 2014, they were really kind of a joke,” he said. “The SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] was used to spy on political enemies – and was corrupt.”

These criticisms apply equally to the two main intelligence agencies, the SBU, the counter-espionage service that reports to the interior ministry, and the GUR, the military intelligence agency, he said.

After the pro-European Maidan revolution in 2014 and Kyiv’s geopolitical slide to the West, the situation changed. The wave of state modernisation that swept the country has not left the intelligence services behind, even if their Soviet heritage – Ukraine had been the KGB’s second-most important centre of operations in the former Soviet republics – has made the task all the more difficult.

One of the main innovations of the past decade has been the addition of a third branch to Ukraine’s burgeoning espionage. In 2016, the army created its own agency, the Special Operations Forces (SSO), supposed to be made up of elite fighters.

Chervinsky’s career shows the extent to which the three services can step on each other’s toes. As Der Spiegel points out, the spy held similar positions in both the SUB and the GUR before joining the special forces.

Psychological games

Since Russia’s full-scale offensive in February 2022, the operations attributed to Ukrainian agents have shown a mode of operations inspired by Western methods combined “with an almost suicidal approach reminiscent of what KGB agents were ready to do to fulfill their mission”, said Jenny Mathers, a specialist in Russian intelligence services at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

For her, the most surprising operation was the August 2022 assassination of Daria Dugina, the daughter of ultranationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, which the US believes to have been the work of Ukrainian agents.

“It’s kind of a strange use of precious resources to go after someone like Dugina, who isn’t a prime war target per se,” Mathers said.

At first glance, the sabotage operations launched against the Crimean Bridge and the assassination on Russian soil of submarine commander Vladislav Rzhitsky in July 2023, who was accused of having ordered a missile strike on a Ukrainian town that saw more than 20 civilian deaths, seem to be more in line with the war’s objectives.

But “the big picture seems to be that they are dividing their resources between targets that clearly disrupt the war effort … and other targets with a less direct goal”, Mathers said.

“It’s more about demonstrations of force, showing that they can hit close to Putin’s inner circle. A bit of a psychological game with Russia,” she said.

The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline could be a part of this same logic: proving that the Ukrainian secret services can hit Russian interests, no matter where.

For Mathers, it is still too early to evaluate the impact of all these operations on the course of the conflict. But even if “it won’t be decisive, like a tank breaking the defense line, it will have a strategic effect”, Hawn said: Ukraine’s spies are a constant irritant for the Russians, never letting them forget that the war is also being fought far from the front lines.

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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From Pogba to potions: The secret world of witch doctors in France

“There’s a lot of jealousy in football,” said Sheikh Issa, holding up a piece of bark and a bottle of a yellowish potion.

Which is why many professional players beat a path to the African faith healer in the Paris suburbs looking for ways to ward off the “evil eye” and other afflictions.

Since World Cup winner Paul Pogba was sensationally accused of having spells cast on his French teammate Kylian Mbappe, the surprisingly influential role folk healers or “marabouts” play in the game has begun to come to light.

“This is what I use to treat a player who keeps getting injured in big games,” said Sheikh Issa, whose name we have changed at his request.

He was really low and “I had to clean his star”, said the Ivory Coast-born “traditional practitioner”, who claims to be able to “see both the past and the future”.

With so much money at stake, and careers that can end on a single tackle, elite sports people “regularly turn to witch doctors and to the paranormal”, said Joel Thibault, an evangelical pastor who is a spiritual advisor to French striker Olivier Giroud and other top athletes.

All this had been discreetly going out of the public eye until Pogba — whose parents come from Guinea — fell victim to an alleged extortion attempt by some of his entourage last year.

His brother later claimed Pogba paid a witch doctor to hex Mbappe, but both the former Manchester United star and the healer told police they did nothing of the kind.

The marabout said the substantial payments Pogba made to him were for “good works in Africa”.

In torment: Juventus’ French star Paul Pogba. © Marco Bertorello, AFP

With three out of 10 people in France prone to believe in some sort of sorcery, according to a 2020 survey, AFP has been investigating this closed world for the past year.

We discovered how faith healers are “half feared and half despised” — as one anthropologist put it — and why they hold such sway in some communities.

‘A gift’

Sheikh Issa wears jeans in the street, but when he welcomes his clients into his surgery he sports a long African boubou robe. “I don’t believe in gris-gris or amulets, I believe in the Koran and in plants,” said the 45-year-old, who also runs a cleaning business.

The tools of his trade are arranged around him in a couple of dozen bottles and plastic bags — tree bark that protects you from the “evil eye”, ground seeds that “keep you lucky”, and potions to “add sheen” and charisma to “politicians, lawyers and business people” who Sheikh Issa said come to him looking to “be loved and admired”.

African faith healer Sheikh Issa takes geomantic notes during a consultation near Paris
African faith healer Sheikh Issa takes geomantic notes during a consultation near Paris © Joel Saget, AFP

And, of course, remedies to enhance “sexual power”, he said pointing to another bottle. France is a “stressful country and some people are weak in bed”, added the sheikh, a little sheepishly. Afterwards they call and say, “Thank you, Sheikh.”

Sheikh Issa got “the gift” from his mother “who read shells” and his father, who is an imam. He trained with faith healers in West Africa — where people often consult marabouts — after studying at a koranic school.

He said his reputation took off when he “helped” a politician become a government minister. His three phones buzz constantly with messages.

Most of the sheikh’s clients — who he insists only pay the cost of importing his plants and his travel expenses — are mostly African and South Asian, although some come from both the French Caribbean and France itself.

One summer’s day when AFP visited his consulting room, a young Comorian woman “who lives with spirits and self harms” was waiting to see him along with “a Moroccan desperate” about his failing bakery.

“People don’t talk when they come for the first time,” he said. “I have to guess” what is wrong. Some are having trouble at home or at work, have health problems or are looking for “the love of their life”, he said.

African faith healer Sheikh Issa listens to a patient.
African faith healer Sheikh Issa listens to a patient. © Joel Saget, AFP

‘Everyone has a star’

The mostly West African witch doctors operating in France — who see themselves as healers of the soul — have learned to adapt to “malheurs” of their French clients.

Many go to them as others would go to a psychologist or a clairvoyant, experts say.

Anthropologist Liliane Kuczynski, author of the definitive book, “African marabouts in Paris”, found clients come from a wide social spectrum, from undocumented migrants to graduates and teachers.

“Far from being obscure and marginal, belief in superstitions and the paranormal has become a constantly rising majority phenomenon,” French polling company Ifop found in 2020.

Rosaries used by an African faith healer or 'marabout'.
Rosaries used by an African faith healer or ‘marabout’. © Joel Saget, AFP

“Marabouts are particularly gifted with emotional intelligence,” anthropologist Marie Miran-Guyon of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris told AFP.

“And for some it works. Placebo effect or not, from the moment people believe it can make a difference,” it can, she added.

But Monsieur Fakoly, a Guinean healer working in Paris, who comes from a line of marabouts, had his own view of how it works.

“Every one of us has a star. If it is dirty, people fail and have bad luck. So you have to purify the soul,” he said.

“Prayers and advice will help the person feel better. We listen, we give medicine, but not the kind you get in a pharmacy!” said the healer, one of eight interviewed by AFP.

‘The spirits are working on me’

Raymond, 61, had just arrived in Sheikh Issa’s consulting room. The sheikh slowly shook his hand, pressing his thumb to “test the energy… I feel it’s angry, that things are not good.”

African faith healer Sheikh Issa tests the hand of his client Raymond before a consultation.
African faith healer Sheikh Issa tests the hand of his client Raymond before a consultation. © Joel Saget, AFP

Then Raymond picked up a pen and brought it to his lips without saying a word. In the silence, the sheikh wrote in his notebook, then traced some lines between the letters to evoke the “16 spirits” using a technique called geomancy.

“My ears are hot, I feel a bar in the middle of my forehead,” he told his client. “The spirits are working on me.”

Raymond — who asked that we not use his real name — was convinced his ex-wife had “cast a spell on him” after they divorced a decade ago. He was tired and in pain and “I went to work like a zombie”.

Rather than go to a doctor he sought succour at a prophetic African church, but to no avail. So he began to consult healers who read shells. “All they did was take my money,” he said.

A fellow construction worker recommended Sheikh Issa. “It was if he had lived alongside me all those years,” Raymond recalled. “He recounted my life from A to Z. I couldn’t believe it.”

The sheikh prepared him potions in West African jars called canaris. “Take the canari home wash yourself with the potion,” Raymond remembered him telling him.

Branches from the
Branches from the “djoro” tree used by African faith healers to ward off the “evil eye”. © Joel Saget, AFP

From that day on “I got my health back”, said Raymond.


“Some (marabouts) are like psychotherapists… while others are swindlers,” said anthropologist Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Some come from a Sufi tradition with a deep “religious culture and desire to help”, he said, but others know little more than “a few surahs of the Koran and extract the maximum for their victims,” he added.

Anyone who says they have the gift and some knowledge of Islam, divination and miracle working can call themselves a marabout.

Some charge no more than a dozen euros for an appointment, though the price can go up to several hundred or thousands for a sacrifice, even tens of thousands in some cases.

Therapist Assa Djelou regularly receives clients who have been let down by marabouts.

She said some have a “dangerous” hold on people. Rather than “facing up to reality”, the healers convince people their problems “have been caused by spells cast on them, which can lead to anxiety and depression”.

The French police only get involved when there are complaints about fraud or practising medicine illegally. But such cases are rare and there’s a “taboo” about talking about it, said Djelou.

‘Dependent’ on witch doctors

In sport, where superstition is commonplace, things can also quickly get out of hand.

“Careers are short and the least injury” can be catastrophic, said Thibault, the pastor who has supported several top athletes. Sometimes they need help because they “do not have the inner strength to get over everything” thrown at them.

But “what these marabouts do is very dangerous”, he claimed.

Former footballer Cisse Baratte told AFP how he fell under the influence of witch doctors as a rising young player plucked from the Ivory Coast to play in France. Soon he had become “dependent” on the amulets, “protection belts” and sacrifices they made for him.

The legendary French football manager Claude Le Roy, who managed six African national teams, knows the problem well.

Legendary French football manager Claude Le Roy, who managed six African nations
Legendary French football manager Claude Le Roy, who managed six African nations © Ludovic Marin, AFP

He was even threatened and branded the “white sorcerer” for driving marabouts away from his staff and players.

“Some players have a need to talk with their marabouts, it can comfort them, and it is also a link with their homeland,” he added.

Even though he insists that “he doesn’t believe in the slightest” in their powers, Le Roy is still troubled by one incident.

In 1997, after a catastrophic away leg in the Champions League against Steaua Bucarest which they lost 3-0, Paris Saint-Germain had to win by four goals to go through.

Desperate for anything that might help, the club paid “a grand Malian marabout” 500 euros.

“He asked us for photos of the players and their numbers, and just before the home leg told us that number 18 would score the fourth goal in the 37th minute.”

PSG won 5-0, with its number 18 scoring the fourth goal in the 41st minute…


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Everything you need to know about the Dutch general election

As voters in the Netherlands go to the polls on 22 November, here’s everything you need to know about the election.


The longest-serving prime minister in the Netherlands steps down after 13 years in office after elections this month. Mark Rutte will leave his office in The Hague and will replace it with a classroom.

He made the announcement in July after his government collapsed, plunging the Netherlands into an unexpected election campaign.

The country goes to the polls on 22 November in a snap general election called two years early.

Here’s everything you need to know about Dutch politics, parties, personalities and the issues at stake when the European country goes to the polls:

How did we get here?

Nicknamed ‘Teflon Mark’ for his ability to keep government crises at bay, or ‘Mr Normal’ for his simple lifestyle, Rutte’s resignation marks the end of an era for the country.

After three terms in office, immigration was the turning point that brought down his fourth coalition government.

For months, the prime minister had been working on a package of measures to reduce the flow of new immigrants to the Netherlands.

But infighting within the coalition government over limiting family reunification and creating a two-tier asylum system led him to throw in the towel.

Two of the four parties in the ruling coalition – the Democrats 66 (D66) and the Christian Union (CU) – opposed the bill, while the other two, the VVD and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), supported it.

The idea was to reduce the number of family members allowed to join asylum seekers in the country and to make families wait two years before they could be reunited.

A few days after the coalition collapsed, Rutte announced: “I will not stand as leader of my party [the right-wing liberals, VVD] in the next elections”.

“Rutte’s ability to build consensus, his ‘managerial style’ and his pragmatic way of doing politics, notwithstanding his ability to survive political scandals and fend off the far right, are certainly among the main reasons explaining his longevity in office,” Philippe Mongrain, a postdoctoral researcher at the Media, Movement and Politics Research Group at the University of Antwerp, told Euronews.

“Rutte has been able to stay in power in one of the most fragmented party systems in Europe by showing a willingness to compromise and demonstrating ideological flexibility when needed. Perhaps, his successors will follow a similar path. Perhaps not,” he added.

The big question now is: who will shake up Dutch politics after Rutte?

How do Dutch elections work?

Unlike other European countries, elections in the Netherlands are usually held on Wednesdays. This is done to increase voter participation.

In the open list system used in the Netherlands, each party presents a list of candidates on the ballot paper and citizens can choose which candidate to vote for.

To win a seat in the Dutch House of Representatives, the only threshold a party has to meet is the number of valid votes cast divided by 150, the number of seats in the chamber. This absence of a threshold is rare in the EU.

Dutch residents on the islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten can only vote if they have lived in the Netherlands for at least 10 years or have worked in the Dutch civil service on one of these islands, according to the Dutch government’s voting page.


Since the Second World War, the country has taken an average of 94 days to form a new coalition, but the last cabinet was the longest in post-war history. It took 299 days of negotiations to reach agreement.

Opinion polls suggest that at least three political parties will be needed to form a coalition government after the next election.

Which are the main parties?

The vote for the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament will usher in a new generation of leaders after key members of Rutte’s fourth ruling coalition also announced they were leaving politics.

Among them was the country’s deputy prime minister and leader of the left-liberal D66 party, Sigrid Kaag. She took the decision because of the impact on her family of the repeated threats she received while in office.

Of the 26 political parties contesting the elections, only 17 are currently represented in Parliament.


“Dutch elections are among the most volatile in Western Europe,” says Mongrain.

According to the postdoctoral researcher, in contrast to the 2021 elections, the ruling VVD now has two close rivals: the new centre-right and anti-establishment Nieuw Sociaal Contract (NSC), founded in August by former independent and long-time Christian Democratic Appeal MP Pieter Omtzigt; and the joint list of the Labour Party and the Green Left, formed in July and led by Frans Timmermans, former vice-president of the European Commission.

The latest poll by I&O Research shows that these three parties are vying for power: Pieter Omtzigt’s NSC with 27% of the vote, the former prime minister’s party VVD with 26% and the coalition of the Green Left and the Labour Party with 25%.

“The former prime minister’s party, the VVD, is not in a particularly good position, but the premiership is certainly not out of reach, especially as Omtzigt seems to have ruled out taking the premiership if his party is successful,” says Mongrain.

“Omtzigt’s new party is attracting voters from several parties, including the VVD, CDA and D66, which could at least partly explain the somewhat disappointing performance of these parties in the voting intention polls,” he adds.


The Farmer-Citizen Movement (BoerBurgerBeweging, BBB) is another party that made a strong showing in the recent regional elections.

The Rutte government’s anti-climate change policies affected the country’s farmers, and they turned out in force to protest.

Who is Omtzigt and why is he shaking up Dutch politics?

Pieter Omtzigt is one of the most popular conservative politicians in the Netherlands, and although he only founded his political party, NSC, two months ago, many are betting on him to win the elections.

The technocrat wants to bring radical change to the country: “We want to realise our ideals, not seek power for power’s sake,” the 49-year-old politician told reporters.

His popularity lies in his charisma and his fight against the political establishment.


The former Christian Democratic Appeal MP, now an independent, became a martyr by leaving his party after writing a critical report on it.

Omtzigt played a key role in uncovering the child benefit scandal that led to the collapse of Rutte’s government in 2021.

The Dutch tax authorities had used an algorithm to create risk profiles to detect tax fraud. Based on these indicators, the authorities penalised families simply on suspicion of fraud.

Tens of thousands of families from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were left with debts they could not pay.

His track record of exposing what happened and investigating political scandals has positioned him as a rising star, but will he be able to seize his moment?


What is on the voters’ minds?

When asked what keeps the Dutch voter awake at night, there are three clear winners: purchasing power, migration and the Dutch healthcare system, according to recent research by AD Nieuws.

As Mongrain points out, monthly food inflation was approaching 20% at the beginning of the year and is currently around 10%, according to Statistics Netherlands, a significant burden for Dutch consumers.

“In order to maintain consumer purchasing power and fund the healthcare system, many voters see cutbacks on migration as a viable solution to free up public funds,” he adds.

Over 40% of voters surveyed by AD believe that too much money is spent on the system of resettling asylum seekers in the country, as well as other financial costs associated with migration.

Housing shortages, energy transition and climate change are also on voters’ minds ahead of the election later this month.

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In wave of anti-Semitism, Russian mob storms plane ‘looking for Israelis’

Several anti-semitic incidents were recorded in the Caucasus, a Russian region made up of three majority-Muslim republics, on October 28 and 29. In one of these incidents, a mob stormed an airport to search for “Israelis” and “Jews” on a flight from Tel Aviv. Our team spoke to a researcher who said that while these incidents were sparked by the war between Hamas and Israel, there is also a more complex regional context.

Issued on:

5 min

A mob made up of hundreds of men flooded an airport in the Russian republic of Dagestan to search for “Israelis” or “Jews” on a flight from Tel Aviv. This was one of several anti-Semitic acts that occurred on October 28 and 29 in the Russian Caucasus region, which is majority Muslim. These acts were sparked by anger over the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

A number of videos posted online show men gathered outside the airport in the capital city of Makhatchkala. They force open the doors of the airport, then flood onto the tarmac. Some of the men were wearing masks. Some carried Palestinian flags. Others could be heard shouting “Allah Akbar”.

This X post in French features a video of the moment that a group of men forced their way into Uytash airport in Makhatchkala, Dagestan on October 28. The men shouted “Allah Akbar” and pushed aside security forces as they entered. Some of them then spilled onto the tarmac.

Passengers on several flights were stuck inside the planes for several hours until the disturbance ended.

The video on the left of this tweet was filmed on October 28. In it, a captain on board a plane that had just arrived at Makhatchkala Airport from Tel Aviv can be heard saying to passengers, “Don’t try to open the airplane doors, there is a mob outside that doesn’t know where you are from or why. Stay in your seat.” The video on the right shows men trying to force open airport doors.

Passengers getting ready to deplane see a mob rush onto the tarmac at Makhatchkala Airport on October 28, 2023. An employee tells the passengers to get back on board and they quickly turn around.

Men were also stopping cars that were leaving the airport in order to check who was inside. Security forces eventually arrived, arresting nearly 60 people. Nine police officers were injured, according to authorities.

On the same day, mobs formed outside two different hotels in another town in Dagestan, Khassaviourt. The mobs said they wanted to check the hotel guests to make sure they didn’t include any Israelis.

“Get out!”, “Show your face!”, “Either we come in or you come out!” are some of the phrases you can hear people yelling in this video filmed in front of the Flamingo Hotel in Khassaviourt on October 28, 2023.

At a protest in support of Palestinians in Cherkessk, the capital of the Russian Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, some people called for the “expulsion of the Jews”.

On October 29, the next day, a Jewish cultural centre that was under construction was burned down in Naltchik, the capital of the Republic of  Kabardino-Balkaria. Someone also spray-painted the phrase “death to Jews” in Russian on the building.

This Jewish cultural centre under construction in Naltchik was set on fire on October 29, 2023. Someone also spray-painted the phrase “death to Jews” on the walls.

‘It seems that the initial intention was not to target local Jews’

Anna Colin Lebedev is a specialist in post-Soviet societies and a lecturer at the University of Paris-Nanterre.

These incidents occurred in reaction to the current situation in Israel and Gaza. It seems that the initial intention was not to target local Jews. For example, there were no incidents reported in Derbent, in Dagestan, where there is a large Jewish community. 

In most cases, the mobs said they were looking for “Israelis”. In the case of the graffiti sprayed on the Jewish cultural centre, the term used to refer to Jews was “yahud”, which is an Arabic term. Arabic is not a language used in the region. However, there has been a mixing of the terms “Jews” and “Israelis” in the discourse. So, in the end, there is a blurring between opposition to Israel and anti-Semitism. 

In general, it is hard to know how widespread anti-Semitism is in Russia. To know that, there would have to be a record of anti-Semitic acts, but that’s not the case. That said, I haven’t heard of any major anti-Semitic actions in recent years. 

Moreover, the Jewish communities in the Caucasus spoke out after the incidents, saying that they had lived peacefully up until now and that they didn’t want that to change. Jewish people are native to this region, but there aren’t many of them. There are less than one thousand Jewish people in Dagestan, for example, out of three million residents, according to the latest census. In Russia, Jews are considered an ethnic, not religious, group. 

After these incidents, the Russian government said that the riots at the airport had been organised on the Telegram channel “Utro Daghestan” [Editor’s note: the channel has since been shut down]. The people in the channel are very clear about their solidarity with Hamas and Palestine, they refer to “our brothers in Hamas”.

That surely played a part, but it is more complicated than that. Aside from the question “who is behind this”, you also have to ask the question “how did this happen?” 

In Dagestan, there have been a lot of protests in recent years – against the military mobilisation for the war in Ukraine, against Covid restrictions, etc. 

Dagestan is a poor region with a pretty low level of education for Russia. There are many young people. And so what’s happening is a sort of dynamic of urban riots sparked by social media.

Russian authorities launched an investigation into public disturbances after the incidents that took place on October 28 and 29. The president of Dagestan indicated that they had been orchestrated “by the enemies of Russia”. The mufti of Dagestan, a Muslim legal expert who can rule on religious matters, called for calm.

Anna Colin Lebedev continued:

After the wars in Chechnya [Editor’s note: the Second Chechen War started in 1999 and ended in 2009], Islam took two different forms in the Caucasus, especially in Chechnya, as shown by the work of my colleagues. 

First of all, there is the Islam of the state, which is loyal to Moscow. This is the Islam of the muftis, who have official government roles. But there is also a protest form of Islam that is linked to Islamist movements in Arabic countries. I tend to think that the latest incidents find their roots in this Islam, which is sensitive to the international situation.  

There were relatively few arrests at the airport, even though in Russia you can go to prison for a simple social media post. 

The people who were arrested were charged with “hooliganism” and “attempt[ing] to disturb public order” and not for “extremist acts” or “inciting racial hatred’’. I think that the security forces who intervened during the riots reacted in an ambiguous manner, uncertain what position to take: should they let the rioters do what they wanted, because Russia did actually receive a visit from a Hamas delegation [Editor’s note: on October 26], even if the people behind these protest movements don’t really seem to have any loyalty to the Kremlin? We’ll need to wait and see what happens within the legal system, but if the government shows signs of letting people get away with this, then we may be seeing other anti-Semitic incidents.

On November 3, Israel told its citizens not to travel abroad because of “an increase in anti-Semitism”, while tension related to the Israeli-Palestinian situation grows around the world.

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Allegations of fake matches, murky finances plague cricket in France

Players, clubs, and recent members of France Cricket – the sport’s official governing body in France – accuse the organisation of lying to access International Cricket Council funds and concealing how it spends them. As the Cricket World Cup takes place in India, FRANCE 24 investigates the claims.

Mithali Raj, the world’s highest run-scoring female cricketer ever, spoke at an event on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower that was glittering with ambassadors, Indian film stars, models, cricketers and members of France Cricket – the sport’s official governing body in France.

The August 19 celebration marked the arrival of the Men’s Cricket World Cup trophy in Paris – on its global tour before the World Cup began on October 5 in Ahmedabad in western India – but was also an opportunity to shine a light on how far cricket has come in a country with no historic ties to the sport.

Raj told the crowd that she joined the trophy tour to meet the French women’s team. “[This event] reflects the growth of women’s cricket and the evolution of women’s cricket from when it started to where it is now.”

But the glitz and glamour of the event may be masking an ugly reality. Players, clubs and recent members of France Cricket have accused it of mismanagement and fraud, including allegations that the organisation exaggerates its commitment to women’s cricket to access International Cricket Council (ICC) development funds, and conceals how it spends them.

Members of France Cricket pose with the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy in the Eiffel Tower on August 19, 2023. © FRANCE 24

Phantom matches

In a statement released by France Cricket in March 2022 titled “The Evolution of Women’s Sport and Cricket in France”, the organisation said 25% of French cricket players are women and that 91 women’s matches were to be organised that year.

But after interviewing people familiar with the workings of France Cricket, FRANCE 24 has ascertained that these figures are most likely significantly exaggerated.

Former France international cricketer Tracy Rodriguez, who has long tried to champion women’s cricket in the country, had always doubted that so many women’s matches were taking place, notably in the women’s second-division tournament, which comprises nine teams, all but one based within the Paris region.

After she was elected to the France Cricket Board in June 2021, Rodriguez said other members would laugh when she raised questions about women’s matches. Last year she decided to see if her suspicions were justified.

In her spare time, Rodriguez took a picnic to the cricket grounds where women’s games were scheduled and waited to see if anyone would turn up. No one did, she says. “Two or three times I [went] there, people were having picnics and kids cycling around at the time of the games. Then the day after I would see the results of the games online.”

Rodriguez quit her position on the France Cricket board in February this year.

To verify whether some of the matches are being faked, we attended scheduled fixtures. According to the France Cricket official fixture list, Sarcelles Cricket Ground north of Paris was meant to host the semi-final of the women’s second division between the Paris Knight Riders and Saint-Omer on September 2, at 2pm.

Instead of the scheduled women’s match, the men’s under-19 semi-final – which should have ended far earlier – was taking place. Once the game ended, around 3:30pm, both teams packed up and left. The women’s second division game apparently did not follow. Three days later, France Cricket rubber-stamped the match as having taken place and posted the results on their website.

Men play at Sarcelles Cricket Ground on September 2, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division semi-final.
Men play at Sarcelles Cricket Ground on September 2, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division semi-final. © Gregor Thompson, FRANCE 24

Confirmation of women’s second division semi-final in France Cricket meeting report, 5/9/2023.
Confirmation of women’s second division semi-final in France Cricket meeting report, 5/9/2023. © France Cricket website

When asked about the match, representatives of Paris Knight Riders and Saint-Omer contradicted one another. One, unaware of our presence, said the game did take place at the Sarcelles ground at 2pm as scheduled. The other said the game was moved on short notice to another ground in Chantilly, 25 kilometres north of Sarcelles.

After making these calls, we received a phone call from a spokesperson at France Cricket, telling us not to contact the clubs directly.

We also attended the scheduled final of the women’s second division on September 16 between the Paris Knight Riders and Balbyniens Cricket Club 93 at Dreux, west of Paris. Again, the game seemingly did not take place and again, three days later, France Cricket validated the result.

Men play at Dreux cricket ground on September 16, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division final.
Men play at Dreux cricket ground on September 16, 2023, during the scheduled women’s second division final. © FRANCE 24

We could not find a single photo of a women’s second-division team on the social media of any of the clubs involved. Balbyniens, who regularly post pictures of their male team and who, according to France Cricket, won the women’s second division, have not posted anything about their apparent victory.

There are France Cricket directors at two of the clubs involved in this supposed final. Prethevechand Thiyagarajan, France Cricket’s treasurer, is registered as a player for Balbyniens. His assistant treasurer, Asif Zahir, is registered as a player for Dreux, which was meant to host and umpire the match.

Our information indicates each man has a senior leadership role at their respective clubs. Neither responded to an email asking why the matches did not take place as scheduled.

‘We don’t have a choice’

In the records of France Cricket board meetings, there are repeated mentions of an “ICC scorecard”, which is how the International Cricket Council evaluates how much development funding to allocate its associate member countries. According to a 2021 ICC presentation on the state of cricket in France, the ICC provides 60-70% of France Cricket’s total budget, roughly $320,000 out of a total of $520,000 for the year 2022. Almost half of these ICC funds are meant to support women’s and juniors’ cricket.

According to the minutes of a board meeting on January 10, 2020, France Cricket decided on an annual budget that was “largely inspired” by ICC requirements. “The Board is also aware that ICC subsidies are now closely linked to France’s performance on a number of indicators,” the document reads. “The risk of being downgraded (or overtaken by another better-performing country) is quite simply the loss of USD 100,000 from one year to the next.”

The minutes then reveal the direction France Cricket intended to take. Under a section titled “Scorecard and 2020 implications”, it reads: “The data will influence the next ICC Scorecard, hence the importance of figures … Development should focus on recruiting juniors and women.”

Throughout subsequent meeting notes and in a 2021-2024 strategy presentation France Cricket sent to the ICC, the association outlined various development initiatives it intended to undertake. The latter document, seen by FRANCE 24, contains a raft of measures that sound impressive on paper, such as “bi-monthly regional training camps”, “girls’ school competitions”, and the launching of new leagues.

Instead, France Cricket built a system that obliges top-performing clubs to create their own women’s and junior teams and begin filing results, or else face fines or relegation.

James Worstead, coach of men’s fourth-division team Vipères de Valenciennes, occasionally organises bilateral women’s games with first-division teams despite not having a women’s team within the France Cricket system.

He says France Cricket has created a system that links the fortunes of the men’s teams to the creation of female and junior teams – if a side cannot field a women’s team, it cannot compete in the top men’s leagues. Because assembling a women’s team is difficult, clubs sometimes just invent results, says Worstead.

“Most clubs cheat, they pretend to have a women’s team. They pay for licences and then they fake score sheets online … We have refused to fake matches and that means that even if we qualify we’re likely to never be able to get a promotion.”

Read moreExclusive: Alleged fake matches plague cricket in France

Irma Vrignaud, another former French international player and a current France Cricket board member, has tried repeatedly to enquire about women’s teams. In a France Cricket meeting in August, for instance, she says she asked whether there were any scorecards or photos to prove the matches took place, and received no clear answers.

Vrignaud says honest clubs get punished, whereas there are strong incentives for clubs to post fake results.

“The clubs that have fake women’s teams don’t get fined. But the clubs that have real women’s teams and that really say when the match is cancelled – because it’s the reality, because we struggle to find a squad, because we struggle to find a ground – when we [tell] the truth, we get fined because we didn’t do the match.”

According to France Cricket’s own guidelines, the fine for not showing up or forfeiting a fixture is €200. In case of repeat offences, the fine rises to €300. Not turning up to a semi-final or a final leaves your club with a penalty of €1000 – all significant sums for these amateur clubs.

In 2021, the year France Cricket began mandating clubs have women’s and junior teams, the organisation declared €20,210 in income from fines on its annual tax invoice – a ten-fold rise from 2019. During the 2022 season, when evidence of phantom matches started emerging, the income from fines dropped back down to €5,248.

A manager from one of France’s top-performing clubs, who denied the existence of fake matches, expressed his interest in developing a women’s team but says he “finds it difficult to find female players”.

“We are obliged to have a women’s team. We don’t have a choice,” he says, adding that he has resorted to encouraging his mother-in-law, his mother and his sister-in-law to play to make up numbers.

This situation isn’t necessarily de rigueur at every club which is close to France Cricket. The Lycée Français de Pondichéry Cricket Club à Morangis, for instance, has demonstrated a real commitment to promoting interest in cricket among French children, even partnering with the national agency for sports in schools, the UNSS.

France Cricket has not responded to multiple requests for comment on these allegations. The association has not been the subject of any legal proceedings to date.

Opaque finances

Former France Cricket CEO Marjorie Guillaume, who wrote the press release on the “Evolution of Women’s Sport and Cricket in France”, says she wrote it in the early stages of her tenure at France Cricket, before she knew what was really going on.

Guillaume says she took the position after France Cricket was pressured by the ICC to get a CEO, and that she believed she could help reform the organisation. “There was pressure by the ICC for numbers, which is why they wanted to show the ICC they were making moves to make changes, but I did not know that it was just mise en scène [stagecraft]. There was no real commitment.”

Guillaume’s most serious complaints are related to the opaque way the organisation runs its finances. At first, Guillaume started to notice that there was “a lot of incoherence” with the way France Cricket discussed its budget. “We got to a point where they were very uncomfortable with me because I was asking too many questions.”

Later, in a meeting with the ICC in Birmingham, France Cricket stipulated that Guillaume was not to be involved in the budget for 2022. “I said, how can I be a CEO of an organisation and you’re not letting me see where the money is going?”

Guillaume describes a situation where France Cricket appeared to be spending “hundreds of thousands of euros” on cricket equipment and locking it up in the basement of the France Cricket headquarters. “I was never allowed to go downstairs in the basement to see the equipment,” she says.

FRANCE 24 was not able to independently verify these claims.

After Guillaume’s tumultuous year with France Cricket, she went to the ICC to complain about the organisation. She is one of at least five people FRANCE 24 spoke to who have gone to the ICC about the mismanagement of cricket in the country.

Andrew Wright, in charge of European development at the ICC, said it “wouldn’t be right” to comment on the specific allegations mentioned in this article. But he said the ICC has “a process to make sure the levels of cricket activity that take place within a country are proofed, and checks and balances are in place”.

The French sports ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment. But they may want to take notice soon. Cricket is set to become an Olympic sport for the 2028 Los Angeles Games, which means it will receive “high level” status in France, making the national governing body eligible to apply for much more public money.

Women’s World Cup qualifiers

Despite concerns about the management of women’s cricket in France, the national team has produced some good results.

On 2 June, they exceeded expectations by beating Germany to make it into the European World Cup Qualifiers in Spain this September. They struggled to assemble a full squad for that competition and lost every match.

To play in the women’s World Cup Qualifiers, the ICC demands nations have at least eight domestic women’s teams “competing in a minimum of five hard-ball matches for the previous two years”. We could only verify the existence of four teams that fulfil this criteria.

Asked about this, the ICC responded in an email saying, “France’s entry into the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers was determined by domestic activities that took place in 2021 and 2022 and pre-Covid,” adding: “Members are also obliged to confirm to us that the information they provide to us is true and accurate.”

Lost potential

Five of the squad who played in the European World Cup Qualifiers in Spain honed their skills at Nantes Cricket Club, one of many clubs outside the Paris region that say they receive little to no support from France Cricket.

Club president Sabine Lieury worries that, with no effort being made to develop grassroots cricket, the sport will fail to get off the ground. “We don’t get any funding from France Cricket. They don’t help us when we go to the authorities to ask for money,” she says. “This association should be working to help clubs, but I don’t think that’s the case.”

Pradeep Chalise set up Aunis Cricket Club near La Rochelle in the west of France in 2017. In his quest to set up a cricket academy for children, Chalise went looking for funding for a practice cricket net. The town hall’s response was encouraging, and they told Chalise to reach out to France Cricket to see if it could also contribute.

He did so in March 2021, and in an email nine months later, France Cricket told Chalise they would loan – not donate – 25% of the cost of the practice nets to Aunis Cricket Club. “It’s a very small club and there’s no way we could pay €4,000 back to France Cricket,” says Chalise. “So, I talked to the president and I explained to them why it was very important to have the practice nets but they simply did not care.”

Despite not using their development budget – €100,000 that year – to help the club, Chalise says France Cricket used images of the academy’s children in a strategy presentation to the ICC to demonstrate they were committed to junior development.

This experience soured Chalise’s perception of France Cricket. Today, he continues running the club and the academy outside the framework of France Cricket, working to grow the sport without official support, just like several other cricket clubs around France.

It’s a real shame, says Chalise. “What I can tell you after having run Aunis CC for the last six or seven years is that French people are interested in cricket.”

This article is also available in French. Our investigation is also available in video format.

FRANCE 24’s Peter O’Brien tells us more about covering this story

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‘Lone wolves’: Who is recruiting Europe’s biggest terror threat?

Europol warns that lone actors will carry out the majority of terrorist attacks in the EU – with Islamist terrorism the biggest threat in Western Europe.


Just a week ago, Abdesalem Lassoued plunged the city of Brussels into chaos.

Not even his wife or his closest friends knew that the Tunisian, who was in Belgium illegally, was about to commit an act of terrorism.

After he shot dead two Swedish citizens and wounded a third to ‘avenge Muslims’, his wife, who worked in a hairdressing salon, took refuge in a local police station with their daughter.

“I never noticed anything or saw any signs of radicalisation. We were a couple like any other,” she told Belgian media.

Hours after the attack, Islamic State claimed that Lassoued was a “fighter” for the terrorist organisation. However, local authorities suggested that he had acted alone.

“The lone wolf hypothesis seems the most likely,” said federal judge Frederic Van Leeuw. But a few days into the investigation, French prosecutors charged two more people over the attack.

While many questions remain unanswered, the country has raised its terror alert.

And it is not the only one in Europe to be particularly vigilant: the actions of Islamists in France and Germany have rung alarm bells.

Islamist terrorism remains the biggest terror threat in Western Europe and “lone actors are expected to continue to perpetrate most of the terrorist attacks in the EU”, Europol’s Spokesperson, Jan Op Gen Oorth, told Euronews.

What the organisation is suggesting is that lone wolves may not be so lonely, as the process of recruitment and radicalisation is organised.

So who’s recruiting Europe’s biggest terror threat?

All wolves are part of a pack

Within six days in October, two lone wolf Islamist attacks took place in France and Belgium, with a stabbing at a school in northeast France coming just before the Brussels shooting.

Since then, Europol has confirmed that it is monitoring events on a daily basis and taking precautionary measures following the escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Spain alone has more than 300 lone wolves under surveillance, according to the newspaper El Mundo, as it is a transit country for many radicals from North Africa to Europe.

“If we analyse terrorism in the EU, we see that after the wave of attacks it suffered in the context of the Syrian war, the intensity started to decrease since 2018,” Carola García-Calvo, senior researcher on global terrorism at Madrid’s Elcano Royal Institute, told Euronews.

The attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris was the last “sophisticated” attack coordinated by the Islamic State, after which Europe has seen only lone wolf attacks.

“What we often see is that although they carry out their acts alone, the investigation later reveals that the attacker had contacts with other people linked to terrorist groups. It turns out that they were not as alone as they seemed,” adds García-Calvo.

How are lone wolves recruited?

The figures in Europol’s latest EU terrorism situation and trends report are clear. In 2022, out of 330 terrorism arrests in Europe, 266 were jihadist terrorists.


The spread of online propaganda and its potential for radicalisation is a key concern.

It makes it easier for vulnerable people with no previous or direct links to terrorism to be exposed to radical content and ideas.

“Terrorist networks may target these vulnerable individuals and manipulate them to commit terrorist acts as lone actors, seemingly alone, but in reality serving the objectives of the larger networks,” said Jan Op Gen Oorth, from Europol.

“Social isolation and lack of a solid support system remain key vulnerabilities. Terrorists exploit these vulnerabilities to spread their message and recruit new followers. This is particularly worrying given the growing number of young people, including minors, who are exposed to terrorist propaganda online”, he added.

Major global terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, have turned to the Internet because their external operational apparatuses have been severely damaged, according to the researcher at the Royal Elcano Institute.


“For this reason, the preferred strategy of these groups in Europe at the moment is that of individual actors who share the ideology and objectives of the organisation and who mobilise spontaneously,” García-Calvo adds.

Among the most worrying profiles for security forces are those who have been in conflict zones, known as “foreign fighters”, and those who have been identified by networks to take the next step and attack individually.

“In the old days, you had to go to a meeting of different people who would talk about the latest speech of a jihadi scholar. Nowadays, with just five clicks, you can find propaganda books and manuals on how to carry out a knife attack,” says Olivier Cauberghs, former Belgian Federal Police detective and radicalisation expert at Textgain.

“The internet has speeded everything up because it is easy to get this information,” he adds.

‘No EU country free from threat’

The seismic shock of the war between Israel and Hamas has already been felt in Europe.


The call for global jihad by Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas fighters and one of the group’s founders, left European cities fearing the worst.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key recurring element in jihadist propaganda. It is used to further incite the mobilisation of sympathisers of groups linked to global jihadism,” says García-Calvo.

“Today, we cannot say that any country in Europe is free from this threat. Although there are some that are more affected, such as France, Belgium, the United Kingdom or even Spain,” she adds.

As police focus on these individuals, Europol warns that the radicalisation process is becoming increasingly decentralised and volatile.

“Diffuse actors connect and inspire each other, uniting behind grievances that transcend ideology or group affiliation,” says Jan Op Gen Oorth.


Experts point to the media as a means of amplifying terrorist propaganda.

“The media gives a lot of details about the attacker and his life. People see that this person is a human being like anyone else, and they want to follow in his footsteps because they identify with him,” says Cauberghs.

“That’s why we should be very careful about what we share online, so that terrorists are not made into heroes, martyrs or saints,” he adds.

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Tide turns against whalers in Iceland after video emerges of whale’s tortured death

The company that has a monopoly on commercial whaling in Iceland has come under fire in the wake of two brutal killings captured on camera this summer – the first showing a whale in agony for a full 30 minutes before dying, another showing the slaughter of a pregnant female. Though tougher restrictions on whaling have been introduced, Icelandic activists say that the only path forward is a total ban on the practice.

Issued on:

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A video showing a whale suffering for nearly 30 minutes before its death after being struck in the head by a harpoon was posted online by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) in mid-September. The footage was filmed on September 7 on board the Hvalur 8, a boat belonging to the whaling company Hvalur. The footage shows a fin whale, an endangered species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), swimming for nearly half an hour with a harpoon in its head –  a rope attached to the harpoon connecting him to the boat. It’s not until 29 minutes after the first blow that the whale is harpooned again and killed.

The whale’s suffering wasn’t just awful, it was illegal – breaking a law enacted this summer requiring whalers to kill the animals “without delay.”

This video, filmed by an independent observer with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture who was on the Hvalur 8, shows a whale being harpooned a first time (at 3’27) and a second time (at 32’08.) The second blow kills him, but not before an immense amount of suffering. It was published by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), which also shared the footage with our team.

This bloody hunt was caught on camera because, since 2022, the Hvalur has been required to carry independent observers who film everything that happens on board.  A 2023 MAST report showed that Hvalur’s method of killing whales didn’t follow the recommendations made by the Icelandic Convention on Animal Welfare, especially because of the long duration of the agony.

In 2022, the Guardian reported on the hunting of 58 whales, filmed by experts. Thirty-six whales were shot more than once. Five whales were shot three times and four whales were shot four times. Whalers pursued one whale with a harpoon embedded in its back for five hours.

This incident led to the suspension of Hvalur’s whaling license on June 20, 2023. The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries also adopted strict new rules that meant that whalers were only allowed to target whales in parts of their bodies which would mean the animals would die quickly. The Ministry lifted the suspension on August 31. However, in the video filmed on September 7, the animal was hit in the head – which was not part of the target zone.

This diagram was included in the new rules enacted by the Icelandic Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. The shaded parts indicate the areas of the body that whalers must target so the whale will die quickly. © MAST

‘When a whale is killed, it must be done without delay’

Arne Feuerhahn is a member of the NGO Hard to Port, which fights for the protection of marine life in Northern Europe, with a focus on whale hunting in Iceland.

The new regulations don’t specify what is the maximum amount of time that can be taken to kill an animal. However, they do say that when a whale is killed, that needs to be done without delay once the harpoon has been launched. It is possible that a whale might dive after being hit in a part of its body outside the authorised zone. Whales are highly intelligent animals. Imagining them swimming underwater for nearly 30 minutes with a harpoon in their head is horrible. 

One of our photographers was at the port on September 7 when the boat came back with the whale and he confirmed this incident with his own eyes. We contacted a lawyer, who contacted the authorities and on September 14, the boat was suspended

The head of Hvalur, Kristján Loftsson, justified the incident by claiming that a technical failure had made it impossible to shoot immediately again. However, when MAST looked into the incident, they said that the technical issue only lasted for 12 minutes after the first shot was fired.

When MAST contacted our team, they said that, after the incident, the Hvalur 8 was suspended and then allowed to return to hunting when the company proved that they had trained their personnel and they demonstrated an ability to hit a target repeatedly both on land and on sea and that all of the equipment used to hunt whales was verified by the relevant authorities. MAST reported that there is an ongoing discussion about whether the company will be fined.

‘I immediately saw that the female was pregnant, she was enormous’

Commercial whale hunting is only allowed in three counties – Iceland, Norway and Japan.  According to Hard to Port, 23 fin whales were killed in Iceland during the 2023 season, which was interrupted in the middle of the summer. In 2022, a total of 148 whales were hunted. Our Observer documented that the whaling company killed at least one pregnant female on September 22:

I was there when the whaling boat came back with a male and a female. With the experience of years of observation, I immediately saw that the female was pregnant. She was enormous. 

The team put her on the ground. They made a few incisions and, suddenly, an enormous baby appeared. I was in shock but managed to focus on what I needed to do, document what I saw. 

I had already seen pregnant females hunted and brought to port, but in this case, the baby was huge and you could see that the female was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. 

I immediately told my colleagues what had happened and I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Unfortunately, it isn’t illegal to kill pregnant whales. At this time of year, it is very easy to catch a pregnant female [Editor’s note: because of the cycles of reproduction]. However, it is illegal to hunt mothers with babies.

We were really disappointed that the Ministry ended the suspension on hunting at the end of the summer. However, the new laws are very strict and hard to follow, the proof being that they were violated in the first few days of hunting

Hvalur’s five-year license expires this year. The Icelandic government will announce this year if they will give the company another five-year hunting license.

Support for whale hunting in Iceland has dropped massively in recent years. A poll published in June indicated that 51% of Icelandic people were against whale hunting and only 29% were in support of it. Those over 60 were most likely to support the practice

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Biden calls US allies to ‘coordinate’ support for Ukraine

US President Joe Biden called key allies on Tuesday to “coordinate” support for Ukraine, the White House said. Western allies have raised concerns on the subject after Republican hardliners in Congress derailed US funding for Kyiv. The news came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited frontline areas in eastern Ukraine. Read our liveblog to see how the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

This liveblog is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage on the war in Ukraine, please click here.

8:18pm: Russia summons Moldova ambassador in media row

Moscow on Tuesday summoned Moldova‘s ambassador to protest against what it called “politically-motivated persecution” of Russian-language media in the pro-Western country.

In mid-September, Moldova expelled the country chief of Russia’s state news agency Sputnik, accusing the outlet of spreading “propaganda and disinformation”.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the expulsion of Moldova’s Sputnik bureau chief was part of an ongoing campaign of “politically motivated persecution” of Russian-language media in Moldova.

Moscow said that a number of people who are involved in restricting “freedom of speech and the rights of Russian journalists in Moldova” will be banned from entering the country.

8:15pm: Russia says it shot down Ukrainian missile off Crimea coast

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday evening it had shot down a Ukrainian missile off the Crimea coast.

According to the statement, Russian air defence systems downed a Ukrainian Neptun missile over the north-western part of the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimean peninsula.

7:50pm: US aid for Ukraine to last ‘couple of months’ without funding, White House says

US aid for Ukraine‘s fight against Russia will run out in “a couple of months” if Republican hardliners fail to pass new funds for Kyiv, the White House said Tuesday.

“You’re talking perhaps a couple of months or so, roughly,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told a briefing.

7:30pm: White House warns ‘time is not our friend’ on Ukraine aid

The White House warned on Tuesday that time is running out to fund Ukraine‘s fight against Russia’s invasion, after hardline Republicans in Congress blocked US aid for Kyiv.

“Time is not our friend. We have enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine’s battlefields needs for a bit longer, but we need Congress to act,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

President Joe Biden told US allies in a call earlier Tuesday that he was “confident that we’re going to continue to have bipartisan and bicameral support” for aid, Kirby added.

6:50pm: Ukraine’s troops advance on southern front, top general says

One of Ukraine’s top generals said on Tuesday that his forces were advancing in the south, one of two theatres of their counteroffensive to evict Russian occupation forces, but offered few details of their gains.

“In the Tavria sector, there has been an advance by the defence forces,” General Oleksander Tarnavskyi said in a post on Telegram, using the military’s name for the southern front.

Tarnavskyi, head of the southern group of forces, said troops had conducted 1,198 assignments in the past 24 hours, with Russian forces sustaining losses of 261 men and a further 10 being taken prisoner.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces, in its evening report, said offensive operations were proceeding in the east and south, with little elaboration.

It reported Russian air strikes in southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, the focus of the drive south to the Sea of Azov. The report also said Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian attacks in areas of Donetsk region already recaptured by Kyiv and around the long-contested town of Maryinka further west.

Military analysts have spoken in the past week of Ukrainian forces consolidating positions around the village of Verbove on their southward drive.

5:59pm: PM Sunak reaffirms UK support to Ukraine

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told G7 and NATO leaders on Tuesday that Britain was prepared to support Ukraine with military, humanitarian and economic assistance “for as long as it takes,” his office said in a readout of a call.

“He (Prime Minister Rishi Sunak) outlined the UK’s ongoing military, humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine and stressed that this support will continue for as long as it takes,” a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statment.

US President Joe Biden convened the call amid concerns that support for Kyiv’s war effort against Russia was fading, especially in the United States, where Congress excluded aid to Ukraine from an emergency bill to prevent a partial government shutdown.

5:11pm: Biden assured partners of continued support for Ukraine, Poland’s Duda says

United States President Joe Biden assured leaders of G7 and European states of Washington’s continued support for Ukraine during a video conference, the Polish president said on Tuesday.

“He assured us that support for aid given to Ukraine continues, especially military aid. He said he would secure this support in Congress,” Andrzej Duda told a news conference.

4:50pm: Biden calls US allies on support for Ukraine, White House says

President Joe Biden called key allies on Tuesday to “coordinate” support for Ukraine, the White House said, amid concerns in Western capitals after Republican hardliners derailed US funding for Kyiv.

“President Biden convened a call this morning with allies and partners to coordinate our ongoing support for Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement, adding that it would give details of the call later.

3:06pm: Two more vessels head to Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa, local lawmaker says

Two vessels sailing under the flags of the Marshall Islands and Cameroon are heading towards the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa, a local Ukrainian lawmaker reported on Tuesday.

The lawmaker, Oleksiy Honcharenko, did not provide any details other than names – EQUATOR and MARANTA – but posted images of vessels on the Telegram messaging app.

A senior member of the government said on Sunday that five other ships were on their way to Ukrainian Black Sea ports using a new corridor opened for predominantly agricultural exports following Russia’s decision to quit a UN-brokered wartime deal on safe shipments.

2:01pm: Ukraine’s Zelensky visiting eastern front line

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday said that he was visiting frontline areas in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces have been pressuring Kyiv’s forces.

“Today we are visiting our brigades performing combat missions in one of the hottest areas (of the front) – Kupiansk-Lyman,” Zelensky said in a statement on social media.

12:05pm: Russia vows no new mobilisation

“There are no plans for an additional mobilisation” of Russian men to fight in Ukraine as more than 335,000 have signed up so far this year to fight in the armed forces or voluntary units, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told top generals in a meeting broadcast on state television Tuesday.

“The armed forces have the necessary number of military personnel to conduct the special military operation,” he said, adding that, since the start of the year, “more than 335,000 people have entered military service under contract and in volunteer formations”.

In September alone, more than 50,000 people signed up, he said.

Putin ordered a “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 reservists in September last year, prompting hundreds of thousands of young men to flee Russia to avoid being sent to fight.

Putin has repeatedly said there is no need to repeat the mobilisation, which some Russian officials say was a mistake as it prompted so many to leave.

11:57am: Ukraine moves toward flexible currency to improve economy

Ukraine’s central bank said it would allow controlled currency fluctuations starting Tuesday, easing wartime restrictions to boost the economy.

At the beginning of the war Kyiv suspended all currency trading, and set a fixed exchange rate to defend its currency – the hryvnia – and stabilise the markets.

“The National Bank of Ukraine is implementing managed exchange rate flexibility, which will strengthen the stability of the foreign exchange market and the economy,” the central bank said in a statement.

With inflation slowing down and international reserves “sufficiently high for a long time” it said the time was now right to act.

The hryvnia had been pegged at around 29 to the dollar at the beginning of the war, but it devalued in July 2022 to around 36.

11:33am: Russia’s Gazprom says European energy security system unstable

Russian energy giant Gazprom said on Tuesday that Europe, which used to be its main source of revenue, is short of natural gas and may face challenges, more than a year after the Nord Stream pipelines were damaged by mysterious blasts.

Gazprom’s gas exports almost halved last year to 100.9 billion cubic metres (bcm) due to political fallout with Europe over Ukraine and after the undersea Nord Stream pipelines, the largest single gas exporting route for Russia to European market, were blown up in September 2022.

“The fact that the systemic deficit has not gone away is manifested not only by the higher price level in 2023 compared to the pre-Covid years, but also by the persistence of a stable contango in the natural gas market,” Sergei Komlev and Alexander Shapin, Gazprom’s senior managers, said in an inhouse magazine.

Contango is a market structure in which longer-dated futures trade at a premium that encourages traders to keep the commodity in storage for more profitable resale in the future.

“This price behaviour means that, according to market participants, the energy security system in Europe, built in an emergency mode, is unstable and faces new challenges,” the Gazprom managers said.

11:31am: Ukraine aims to borrow $700 million from World Bank to support agriculture

Ukraine’s government started talks with the World Bank on Tuesday on a $700 million loan for emergency support to the agricultural sector this year and next, the farm ministry said.

The funds were required for small farmers and agricultural and food producers, the ministry said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

The agricultural sector is a key driver for Ukraine’s economy but has been hit hard by Russia’s invasion.

11:30am: Kyiv, Warsaw agree to speed up Ukrainian grain transit

Warsaw and Kyiv announced on Tuesday they had agreed to speed up the transit of Ukrainian cereal exports through Poland to third countries, a first step in resolving their “grain war”.

The three-nation agreement between Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania means that Ukrainian grain exports – destined for markets in Africa and the Middle East in particular – will be taken directly through Poland instead of first being checked at the Poland-Ukraine border.

“From tomorrow, grains that transit (to world markets) via Lithuania will undergo checks at a Lithuanian port and not at the Poland-Ukraine border,” Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus told journalists.

After Russia’s invasion prevented Ukraine using its traditional Black Sea routes to export grain to world markets, the crops were sent by land through the European Union. But because of logistical issues, grain began piling up in EU states neighbouring Ukraine and driving down local prices.

Brussels allowed several countries to impose a temporary embargo on Ukrainian grains.

But when it ended those restrictions, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia extended the ban, causing a diplomatic spat between Kyiv and its allies.

7:44am: Ukraine downs 29 Russia-launched drones, one cruise missile

Ukraine has destroyed 29 of 31 drones and one cruise missile launched by Russia overnight, most of them targeting the regions of Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk, its air force said.

The attacks came in several waves and lasted more than three hours.

6:50am: Ukraine shells Russian village with cluster munitions, Russian official says

Ukraine has fired cluster munitions at a Russian village near the Ukrainian border, damaging several houses, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region said.

According to preliminary information, there were no casualties in the shelling of the village of Klimovo, Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on the Telegram messaging app.

The governor’s statement, which was made without providing any visual evidence, could not immediately be independently verified.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.

Ukraine has received cluster munitions from the United States, but has pledged to use them only to dislodge concentrations of enemy soldiers.

Russian officials in Bryansk and other regions bordering Ukraine have repeatedly accused Kyiv of an indiscriminate shelling by Ukraine’s armed forces.

3:44am: US aid cuts would be ‘devastating’ for Ukraine soldiers, experts say

Ukraine’s troops would soon run short of essential ammunition and equipment if Republican hardliners succeed in stopping US military aid, undermining operations on the ground and reducing their ability to defend against Russian strikes, experts say.

Top American officials have repeatedly insisted the United States would back Kyiv for “as long as it takes”, and Washington has committed more than $43 billion in security aid since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 – over half the total from all Western donors.

But Republican opposition led Congress to remove new funding for Ukraine from a recent compromise bill to avoid a US government shutdown, highlighting that continued American support is not guaranteed.

“It would be devastating for the Ukrainians” if US aid is halted, said Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

1:50am: Ukraine to build first underground school in Kharkiv, says official

Ukraine’s eastern metropolis of Kharkiv will build the country’s first fully underground school to shield pupils from Russia’s frequent bomb and missile attacks, the city’s mayor said.

“Such a shelter will enable thousands of Kharkiv children to continue their safe face-to-face education even during missile threats,” Mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

While many schools in the frontline regions have been forced to teach online throughout the war, Kharkiv has organised some 60 separate classrooms throughout its metro stations before the school year that started September 1, creating space for more than 1,000 children to study there.

Key developments from Monday, October 2:

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday told a joint press briefing with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that he had proposed a new €5 billion bilateral envelope to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told a meeting of all 27 EU foreign ministers in Kyiv that victory “directly depends on our cooperation”.

Ukrainian grain exports have fallen to 6.68 million metric tons so far in the 2023/24 July-June season from 8.99 million tons in the same period of 2022/23, according to agriculture ministry data.

Read yesterday’s live blog to see how the day’s events unfolded.

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, and Reuters)

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Bodybuilding, fast cars and misogyny: Slovakia’s populist Robert Fico returns to power

A fan of Vladimir Putin and fast cars, Robert Fico should return as prime minister of Slovakia following parliamentary elections on Saturday. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the career of a politician who was ousted from power five years ago after a journalist was murdered for revealing government corruption, and who used populism and disinformation to rise again.

Following early parliamentary elections on Saturday September 30, the pro-Russian populist Robert Fico, 59, who has been laying low for five years, should return to his former post as prime minister of Slovakia if he can find enough allies to form a government.

With 99.98% of the ballots counted, Fico’s centre-left party, Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD), won 22.9% of the vote, beating the centrist Progressive Slovakia party (17.9%).

Twice elected as prime minister of this Eastern European country of 5.4 million inhabitants, Fico has come a long way after he was forced to resign in 2018 following the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée.

The double murder sparked huge anti-government protests demanding Fico’s resignation, after the murdered journalist revealed ties between the Italian mafia and the Smer-SD in an article published posthumously. Kuciak’s investigation, which focused on Maria Troskova, a former model who became Fico’s assistant, uncovered links between an Italian businessman, the Calabrian mafia and Troskova, threatening thus Fico’s inner circle.

The billionaire businessman Marian Kocner was charged in 2019 with ordering the murder, before being acquitted the following year. However, other suspects were convicted after they pleaded guilty, including the shooter, a former soldier who was given a 23-year prison sentence.

Journalists called ‘prostitutes’

At the time of the murder, Fico was already known for having a difficult relationship with the press: On more than one occasion, he publicly described Slovak journalists, who regularly accused the government of corruption, as “idiotic hyenas” and “dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes”.

Even though an anti-corruption coalition took power in 2020, Fico managed to keep his seat in parliament following his resignation.

Fico now prefers to avoid all interaction with the press. While campaigning, he addressed his electorate mainly through videos posted on Facebook, YouTube and Telegram – videos that are among the most popular in Slovakia – managing to successfully turn disinformation into a campaign tool.

Read moreSlovakia swamped by disinformation ahead of parliamentary elections

A survey carried out in 2022 by the Globsec think-tank showed that 54% of Slovaks are vulnerable to fake news such as the conspiracy theory that the world is governed by secret groups that want to establish a totalitarian ‘New World Order’.

Body-building and fast cars 

In the streets of the capital Bratislava, the posters of Fico’s party promise “stability, order and well-being”, of which he claims to be the guarantor. In the new world that Fico promises, migrants and LGBT+ people – the targets of his most virulent attacks – are no longer welcome.

“I will certainly never be a supporter of them [LGBT+ people] being able to marry, as we see in other countries,” he told a press conference recently, after saying adoption by same-sex couples, which is not possible in Slovakia, was a “perversion”.

He is married to a lawyer with whom he has a son. According to Slovak media, the couple are separated. The politician – who likes fast cars, football and body-building – is open about his admiration for Vladimir Putin‘s authoritarian rule, writes Slovak sociologist Michal Vasecka in his book “Fico: Obsessed with Power”.

Fico recently announced that he would not authorise the arrest of Putin, who is the subject of an international warrant for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, if he ever came to Slovakia. He also promised on the campaign trail to put an end to Slovakia’s military aid to Ukraine.

“His relationship to Russia is historically determined by the socialist motto ‘With the Soviet Union for Eternity'”, writes Vasecka. Fico, who has spent his life navigating the political chessboard, began his career with the Communist Party when he was a lawyer.

In 1999, he left the Party of the Democratic Left, the political heir to the Communist Party, to found his own, the Smer-SD. In 2006, this party won a landslide victory in parliament, catapulting Fico to the position of prime minister two years after Slovakia joined the EU.

Fico then formed a coalition with the far-right Slovak National Party, which shared his anti-refugee rhetoric and populist leanings, and boosted his popularity during the 2007-2009 global financial crisis by refusing to impose austerity measures.

During the 2015 migration crisis in Europe, he took a stand against migrants, refusing to “create a separate Muslim community in Slovakia” and criticising the European quota programme for distributing refugees.

‘American whore’

Fico first forged a reputation on the European stage as his country’s representative to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg from 1994 to 2000.

Having previously hailed Slovakia’s adoption of the euro as a “historic decision”, he is now openly attacking the EU, NATO and war-torn Ukraine in the hopes of appealing to far-left and far-right voters.

True to form, he does this in a provocative and misogynistic manner, having made Slovak President Zuzana Caputova his scapegoat for several years. The anti-corruption lawyer, nicknamed “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich”, became the country’s president in 2019.

The French daily newspaper Le Monde described in an article one of Fico’s encounters with Caputova in vivid detail. During Labour Day celebrations in May 2022, he called Caputova an “American whore”. And “the more of a whore a person is, the more famous they become”, he said.

(With AFP)

This article has been translated from the original in French

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