Prosenjit Chatterjee on his 50th pairing with Rituparna Sengupta in Ajogyo, “I think the audiences have a huge contribution to our screen chemistry” : Bollywood News – Bollywood Hungama





Ajogyo is superstar Prosenjit Chatterjee’s 50th film with Rituparna Sengupta. This is some kind of world record. Said Prosenjit, “I am not very sure about the world record, but yes, for Indian cinema it has been a huge, big thing, working together for 50th film, which is obviously Ayogyo. It is doing quite well. But I always think that this chemistry or this expectation from the audience is from the audience because I don’t believe that any actor or actresses can just do 50 films together as an actor if audience doesn’t like us. I think the audiences have a huge contribution to our screen chemistry.”

Prosenjit Chatterjee on his 50th pairing with Rituparna Sengupta in Ajogyo, “I think the audiences have a huge contribution to our screen chemistry”

He added, “When we used to do normal mainstream films where we used to do song, dance, this kind of a film, where I think the people used to go really gaga to see both of us. There were a few films featuring us which have been record hits and the songs are till today big hits on YouTube and all. But I think it is audience and the director who always thought these two actors can come together and make magic on screen. And I think that what made us do another so many films together.”

At one point Rituparna and Rituparna stopped working together. “Yeah, then we took a break for some time because as you know very well that I had shifted myself from regular mainstream cinema to a different cinema, especially from Srijit Mukherjee’s Autograph. Then I started a very new journey. It was the same with Ritu also. She had done some very important characters and important roles, which is more of a mature actress kind of a thing. So, I think both created a very different image to the audience individually. So, after a long time when we came together in Praktan, it was after a gap of around 13-14 years. Then also the audience came to watch both of us on screen and which carried forward from Praktan to Drishtikon, from Drishtikon to Ajogyo today.”

“So, when I visited some of the theatres in Kolkata recently after release of Ajogyo, people were shouting when our fifty-first film together will be releasing,” said the actor. “So, I think this is something we just can’t explain in a way like how really it happened. But I personally feel that we both are very, very professional. And in a way, I will say that because you will understand. When I used to do absolutely hardcore mainstream cinema, she did Dohon where she got the National Award with director Rituparno Sengupta. I also have taken those chances when I used to do mainstream cinema, side by side doing Choker Bali or Utsav kind of a film. So, and later on with Gautam Ghosh and Buddhadev Dasgupta also. I think as an actor, we somewhere had made people understand that we are just not into mainstream cinema.”

The two of them seem to have a parallel career. Prosenjit agreed saying, “Yeah, I got the National Award for Doshor. She got national award for Dohon. Both were directed by Rituparno Sengupta. So we shared an affinity to a different kind of cinema and different kind of image also. We had tried our best to give our best to do something very different. But when we came on screen as a mainstream actor, it is like in Bengali, the producer used to say, I’m talking about 20-25 years back, that this pair is our Lakshmi kind of a thing. So, whenever they come together, we are safe. So, as you know business is also which matters. So, that’s from the perspective of the producers or the director.”

He added, “So I think that is the magic we created for years. And I think today the audience have changed. The theatres have changed. The new audience have come back. I’m sure 30 years back, the people who used to watch our films, now they have become senior people and maybe their children are coming to see us. So there’s a huge big crowd coming nowadays. But they have not seen us regularly doing all those mainstream cinema in the past. So it’s a new crowd, a new audience for us who have also in a way accepted us, both of us on the screen. I think it is audience who have given us the courage always, the love. I think that is the biggest chemistry what I can say and the professionalism from our both. We both are very, very, very professional, thorough professionals.”

When I dub Prosenjit and Rituparna Sengupta as the Uttam Sengupta and Suchitra Sen of this millennium, Prosenjit protested saying, “To be honest, Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen are a class apart, and they are like, at least from our side, we see them as an era. Of course, they were one of the hit pair on screen and we can never be compared with them. Yeah, though people say we are the last vital Bengali screen pair kind of a thing. But I believe in future also there will be boys and girls who will do fantastic job. Yes, but we are very happy that we had able to, it’s a blessing of God and the audience. Rituparna and I have been able to carry forward the legacy of Uttam-Suchitra or my dad (yesteryears’ superstar Biswajit) and Sandhya Rao. They were also a very big hit pair, like Soumitra Chatterjee-Aparna Sen. So, like, it’s a kind of a, you know, carrying forward the legacy.”

He added, “We are blessed in that way. And honestly speaking, can I share something with you, sir? Rituparna was much junior to me. When she came on screen, I was like, I was established in my own way, and I was already a big star. So, when I first started working, it was just like working with any other new girl. And so, in all her interviews, mostly she says I have learned a lot from this man. So having an experienced co-star works sometime. And no, it is not like that. Yeah, we are good friends, but I will not say it’s friendship. It’s more like a guru-shishya kind of a relationship. Till now, she believes that I am a very technical person. I understand cinema. I go deep into it. So, that helps both of us. So, when we work together, I am an actor always, not only for Ritu, I’m talking about anybody.”

“I try to do a lot of homework for both of us,” he said. “I think we both share a lot as professionals. At the same time, we know that we have a responsibility because the audience have given us that responsibility. So, we have to be the best. So, we try to do our best. So in a way, yeah, we share a very, very good relationship. And it is not, I will say, exactly friendship. It is something which people have, like, they have a lot of people, as you understand very well, there are a lot of gossip, there are a lot of things have happened for years. I’m talking about maybe 20, 15, 18, 17 years back.”

Prosenjit added, “So, all of those, apart from that, but we are been, you know, working as a very, very professional people coming together and giving our best on the screen. And ultimately for us, the audience is our God. So trying to make them happy. They come with a lot of expectations. So that is our focus area. And individually also, I’ve seen Ritu, she also understands cinema. And I, as a person, as you know very well, I only belong to cinema and I live with it, I drink with it, I sleep with it. So, I think that is the most important thing.”

Prosenjit revealed why Rituparna took a while to do another film together after Praktan. “After Praktan, we decided that we will take a gap of at least two and a half, three years to do our next. And this Ajogyo took a little time because of the pandemic. So, we were back with the 50th film. And I think, as you know, Kaushik Ganguly is one of those finest directors we have. I will rather say not only in Bangla, but also in Indian cinema. So, he’s a very, very great director. He has his own audience. He understands the pulse of the Bengali emotions. And so, to work with Kaushik is, as it is, has always been a challenge. So I have worked in around five, six films with him. And all those films are really good. And he understands me.”

The actor added, “So I think for this particular film, we, Ritu and I decided Kaushik Ganguly should direct the film. With two actors have a collective heft, you also need to have a director who can take our pair to another level. So, I think for me, for both of us, Kaushik Ganguly’s film was very important because it was our 50th film. So, we were very conscious and we took nearly about one and a half years to finalise the script.”

“And Kaushik normally doesn’t take so much of time,” added Prosenjit. “He’s a great writer. He’s a great script writer, but he really took very… This film has been done with a lot of love from the production side. I think we have done, me and Ritu had done so many films with them when we used to do mainstream cinema, commercial cinema. But when we had come to the situation when we are doing our 50th, everybody took a lot of care in this film. Three big music directors, who are really big music directors, normally they don’t do, but they all came together to compose the music. So they all came together to celebrate our 50th film. So that was very important.”

He added, “And of course, finally it is the story and the script. And my character’s name is Prosen. And Ritu’s character’s name is Parna. And there is another character which is played by a great singer -actor Shilaji with the husband character. I think the story we understood will cater for all kind of an audience. The Bengali audience, especially the people, we get in the audience as more of a family audience. So, and it has, with the blessing of God, it has been done. People have come and watched it and they liked it. The love from the entire unit, I will say rather. They have taken so much of care to do this film.”

History of sorts was created at the Ajogyo premiere? “At the Ajogyo premiere, my son was there, the next generation. Rituparna’s daughter was there. She came from Singapore. So, there was a beautiful picture that the next generation. So it’s like a family. But yeah, we have a very, very, I mean, very nice, good, warm relationship we share till now. So it was like, initially it was like I was a senior person. Then of course, Ritu also achieved a lot. So we are more like a friend, but the friendship comes alive when we work or in front of camera. And for us, that’s the most important thing,” said Prosenjit.

Also Read: Bengali onscreen couple Prosenjit Chatterjee and Rituparna Sengupta reunited for 50th time in Ajogyo

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In Ukraine’s Donbas, ten years of war and Russification

On April 7, 2014, a coup by pro-Russian militants in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine was the spark that ignited the Donbas war. In the heart of this industrial region, populated at the time by six million mostly Russian-speaking inhabitants, the armed confrontation began between an expansionist Russia and a Ukraine aspiring to consolidate its independence. The Donbas has become a desolate landscape after ten years of war, and Russification has been brutally imposed.

Mentioned in international news bulletins during the past ten years of war in the Donbas, the names of dozens of towns like Bakhmut or Avdiivka  became known far beyond Ukraine’s borders. These places now lie in ruins, along with the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and Donetsk International Airport

With the benefit of historical perspective, the battlegrounds in Donbas appear to be the precursor of Russia’ s large-scale military invasion of Ukraine.

Donetsk and Luhansk, the two administrative regions, or oblasts, which make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, were officially annexed by Russia in September 2022. According to Moscow, they are now part of the Russian Federation. This annexation is deemed illegal by the Ukrainians, who still control part of the region, and by the vast majority of the international community.

Ten years after the fighting began, the Donbas remains the scene of bloody trench warfare, resembling a modern-day version of the Battle of Verdun. According to military analysts, the Ukrainians fire up to 60,000 artillery shells a month across the 1,000-kilometre-long front line, while their Russian adversaries can fire between 300,000 and 600,000 shells.

At the heart of Russian and Soviet mythologies

The region, named after the Donets river and its mining basin (Donets basin), has been part of Ukraine since it became an independent state in 1991. Larger than the Netherlands, the Donbas was formerly part of the Russian Empire, and then the USSR.

The region’s largest city, Donetsk, entered the industrial age thanks to a Welshman, John Hughes, who in 1869 founded a huge metallurgical complex of coal mines and foundries that revolutionised the local economy. By 1900, 68% of the Russian empire’s coal was extracted in the Donetsk basin.

According to an imperial census carried out in 1897, a third of the Donbas population were Russians attracted to the region by the development of mining and heavy industry. In the same census the Tsarist administration recorded that Ukrainians made up half the population while minority communities included Jews, Tatars, Germans and Greeks.

In the years 1924-1961, the town was named “Stalino”. It was the scene of the exploits of the coal miner Alekseï Stakhanov, whose prodigious output made him a champion of Soviet productivity and a hero of Stalinist propaganda. During the Soviet era, from Moscow’s perspective, the Donbas and its workforce were an industrial bastion – and an integral part of Russia.


“Donbas in the heart of Russia”. Soviet poster, 1921. Wikimedia Commons © Auteur inconnu. Wikimedia Commons

“In the Soviet imagination, Donbas was the furnace of the entire Soviet Union,” explains historian Galia Ackerman. “With the rise of industrialisation, many Russian skilled workers and engineers arrived in the region. The Donbas was very strongly Russified in the 1930s.” 

In 1991, however, 83% of the population of the Donbas region voted in favour of Ukrainian independence. In the years that followed, the predominantly Russian-speaking population struggled with the transition to a post-communist system, a period marked by de-industrialisation and a severe economic crisis.

In every Ukrainian presidential election over the following decades, voters in Donbas, like those in other regions of eastern Ukraine, cast their votes for political parties close to Russia.

In the 2010 elections, Viktor Yanukovych ‘s Party of Regions won 80-90% of the vote against the pro-European party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Just prior to the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, the Donbas was “a blighted region where the population was impoverished and greatly missed the Soviet Union”, says Ackerman. “There were local mafias and a number of oligarchs who had taken over most of the heavy industry. There were towns where all life depended on the boss – social services, medicine, everything.” Many journalists have observed that these local bosses also controlled the media and tolerated no opposition.

Secession, and self-proclaimed people’s republics

In the aftermath of the Maidan Revolution, parties favouring closer ties with the EU had prevailed. On February 22, 2014, the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Donetsk and then to Russia.  The parliamentary deputies in Kyiv then quickly repealed the law making Russian one of the country’s official languages.

The next day, anti-Maidan demonstrations broke out in Donbas and in Russian-speaking cities elsewhere in Ukraine, notably Odesa. Russian forces seized strategic sites in Crimea on February 27, then completed the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in just three weeks.

Anti-Maidan protests in Ukraine continued throughout March. In Western countries, these demonstrators began to be referred to as “pro-Russian separatists”. In Kyiv, they were described as terrorists.

The Russian state media began referring to a “Russian Spring” in Ukraine, and labelled supporters of the new pro-European Ukrainian leadership as fascists. 

For Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist in the war in Ukraine at Glasgow University, “Donbas is certainly Russian-speaking, but there was no organised separatism in Donbas before 2014. It’s not a region that had organised separatist aspirations before that.”

On April 7, 2014, a group of around 1,000 pro-Russian activists seized the buildings and weapons stores of the Ukrainian security service, the SBU,  in Donetsk and Luhansk. On April 12, another armed group, led by a former colonel of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) occupied several police and SBU buildings in Sloviansk, and a similar scenario unfolded in Kramatorsk. “The whole of the Donbas seemed destined for the same fate as Crimea,” write the military historians Michel Goya and Jean Lopez in their book “L’ours et le renard: Histoire immédiate de la guerre en Ukraine” (The Bear and the Fox: Immediate history of the war in Ukraine).

In yellow, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that make up Ukraine's Donbas region. The Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014.
In yellow, the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that make up Ukraine’s Donbas region. The Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014. © Studio graphique FMM

According to Goya and Lopez, the Russian regime then decided on a strategy “aimed at the partition of Ukraine”, its efforts to subjugate the entire country having twice been thwarted, in 2005 during the Orange Revolution, then in 2013-2014 during the Maidan Uprising.

The historians note that “the Kremlin has no shortage of ideologues to theorise about the creation of a buffer state and to revive the old Tsarist term ‘New Russia’ ” – a term designating Ukrainian provinces “where Russian speakers are in a relative majority or significant minority,”  including the provinces of Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Dniepropetrovsk, Zaporijjia, Mikolayev, Kherson and Odesa.

For the geographer and diplomat Michel Foucher, the methods Russia used to seize power and annex territory, applied so smoothly in Crimea, were once again put to use in April 2014. “The historical argument, the role of special forces, the use of violence, a false pretence of a referendum, all of this is replicated in the Donbas,” he says. On May 11, 2014, two referendums – not recognised by Ukraine or Western countries – were held in Donetsk and Luhansk. The “yes” vote for independence from Ukraine won massively in both cases, and marked the creation of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).

The first Donbas war: April 2014 – February 2015

The day after the pro-Russian separatists took power, Kyiv immediately launched an “anti-terrorist operation”. Its army was still poorly organised, and relied on volunteer battalions often drawn from the nationalist and radical movements like the Azov Brigade or Pravy Sektor.

Then came a sequence of troop movements and armed clashes. In July, pro-Ukrainian forces pushed back the separatists at Mariupol, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut. On July 17,  a Malaysia Airlines airliner carrying 298 passengers and crew was shot down by surface-to-air missiles in eastern Ukraine over territory controlled by pro-Russian forces.

In August, pro-Kyiv forces were on the verge of retaking the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Faced with the deteriorating military situation, Moscow sent reinforcements. “Russian armed forces entered the Donbas probably at the end of July and in August,” says Aliyev. “They were certainly already present in large numbers and several Russian brigades were deployed in Ukraine, although Russia obviously denied all this.”

A Ukrainian flag flies over the control tower of Donetsk  International Airport during an artillery battle between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine,Oct. 17, 2014
A Ukrainian flag flies over the traffic control tower of Donetsk International Airport during an artillery battle between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. © Dmitry Lovetsky, AP

“By the end of August, the number of Russian soldiers in Ukraine was between 3,500 and 6,500,” write Goya and Lopez, enabling the pro-Russian forces to launch a lightning offensive that was only halted by the signing of the first in the series of Minsk agreements, which established a ceasefire on September 4, 2014.

On January 14, 2015, a new Russian offensive was launched in support of the “separatist” forces. It resulted in the capture of Donetsk International Airport and the fall of the Debaltseve pocket after very intense fighting.

On February 12, 2015, the so-called Minsk II agreements formalised the de facto partition of Ukrainian territory, marking a victory for Russia.

In the years that followed, and until the full-scale Russian attack on February 24, 2022, “violations of the ceasefire and the multiple truces, small-scale attacks and artillery fire hardly ever ceased, without the line of contact between the forces really moving. The war in Donbas killed 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers and 3,000 to 5,000 civilians” on both sides, note Goya and Lopez.

Separatism or proxy war?

In Ukraine, many people blamed Europeans and Americans for their passivity in the face of the Russian aggression in 2014. From Kyiv’s point of, the “pro-Russian separatists” were being guided by Moscow – the separatists would never have taken up arms to protect their identity and language without Moscow’s endorsement and active support.

For the analyst Aliyev, the outbreak of war in the Donbas was the first step towards Russia’s large-scale military intervention in Ukraine. “Until 2022, Russia maintained a permanent military presence in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which varied in size depending on the situation. During periods of intense confrontation with Ukraine, regular military personnel were deployed in greater numbers. At other times, the security services of the Russian military sent units to help the local separatists”, he explains.

As the conflict progressed, local players with regional ambitions – such as Alexander Zakharchenko, the first leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – were eliminated.  Considered insufficiently compliant by his Russian allies, Zakharchenko was assassinated in a 2018 car bomb attack. His counterpart in the Luhansk People’s Republic was replaced on Moscow’s orders. Since then, the two breakaway republics have been led by political figures who have pledged allegiance to the Kremlin.

“Between 2016 and 2022, these two entities became almost entirely dependent on the Russian Federation in every way: financially, economically and militarily. Moscow paid salaries, pensions and so on. It is probably from this period onwards that we can speak of Russia’s governance by proxy,” says Aliyev.

The second Donbas war and the nibbling away of Ukraine’s territory

On February 21, 2022, three days before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia recognised the independence and sovereignty of the two self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. On February 24, Russian troops launched an all-out assault on Ukrainian territory, notably from Belarus, Crimea and Donbas.

In the first days of the war, Russian forces advanced across Ukraine, only to be halted by the Ukrainian army and territorial defence volunteers.

After the failure of the Russian advance toward Kyiv, followed by its withdrawal from the northeast of Ukraine at the end of March, Russia officially declared that the real aim of the “special operation”, as the Kremlin called it, was the “liberation of the Donbas”.

In a speech on February 24, Vladimir Putin claimed to want to disarm and “denazify” the whole of Ukraine.

The front line in Donbas: Russian armed forces control the territories to the east of the current front line (the red line). The front line between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces from 2015 to Febru
The front line in Donbas: Russian armed forces control the territories to the east of the current front line (the red line). The front line between Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces from 2015 to February 2022 is indicated by the yellow line. © Studio graphique FMM

In May and June 2022, Ukrainian forces were forced to evacuate Lyman, Severodonetsk and Lyssychansk in the Luhansk region. Further south, Russian troops succeeded in taking Mariupol after a bloody siege. This industrial port of 400,000 inhabitants on the Sea of Azov was mercilessly bombed.

Seventy percent of the city was destroyed, including the theatre that served as a refuge for civilians. According to the Ukrainian authorities, at least 20,000 inhabitants perished in the fighting. Azovstal, Europe’s largest steelworks, had been built “in the 1950s with underground shelters to house 30,000 people in the event of a nuclear war” and was completely destroyed “after being shelled with 3-ton bombs”, according to Goya and Lopez.

A Ukrainian fighter belonging to the Azov regiment in the basement of the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol on May 10, 2022.
A Ukrainian fighter belonging to the Azov regiment in the basement of the Azovstal steel complex in Mariupol on May 10, 2022. © Dmytro Kozatsky, AP

After a successful counter-offensive in September 2022 that enabled Ukraine to retake a number of localities in the two Donbas oblasts, the main clash took place in Bakhmut, which the mercenaries of Russia’s Wagner Group finally captured on May 25, 2023. The long bloody battle, referred to by combatants as a “meat grinder”, resulted in the total destruction of this town of 70,000 inhabitants.

After a new Ukrainian counter-offensive in the summer of 2023 – this time without territorial gains – Russian forces resumed their strategy of nibbling away at the front line and seized the small town of Avdiivka in February 2024, at the cost of heavy casualties and the town’s total destruction.

On the defensive, Ukrainian forces have since begun to reinforce the fortifications of the Donbas front line in order to hold out against an enemy that is trying to crush them via a deluge of artillery shells. “The battle of Donbas: ‘destroying a lot and advancing a little’ “, note Goya and Lopez, describing Russian tactics.

“The Russians are adapting objectives and goals according to the reality on the ground, they are literally trying to seize and occupy every piece of land in Ukraine. That seems to be their objective at the moment,” says Aliyev.

The ‘New Russia’?

In the part of the Donbas that has been outside Ukrainian sovereignty for ten years, a return to the pre-2014 situation now seems highly unlikely. The breakaway Ukrainian republics that seceded in 2014 have since 2022 become official Russian territories, where the ruble circulates and a large proportion of the inhabitants have acquired Russian citizenship.

In March 2024, for the first time, the inhabitants of Donbas took part in a Russian presidential election, as did the inhabitants of other Ukrainian areas partially occupied by the Russian army such as Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, under strong pressure from the new authorities.

“Russification began in 2014. They changed the textbooks. They simply killed or imprisoned or drove away all those who were pro-Ukrainian. We mustn’t forget that there are nearly a million Donbas inhabitants who fled to Ukraine during the occupation of Donbas by pro-Russian and Russian forces,” Ackerman says.

Given the restricted access to this densely populated industrial region, it is difficult to accurately assess the destruction, reconstruction and degree of Russification in the territories conquered by Russia.

In August 2022, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin presented Vladimir Putin with a plan to rebuild Mariupol within three years, including the redevelopment of the devastated Azovstal steelworks industrial zone, which was to be converted into a “technology hub”.

Since then, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has made a series of visits to the seaside city – not to mention the Russian president’s visit in March 2023 – with the aim of turning Mariupol into a showcase for the “New Russia” (“Novorossiya”).

Russian television frequently reports from Mariupol on the construction of brand new apartment blocks, schools and medical centres. “There’s a massive influx of Russians to Mariupol because it’s a city by the sea, and the sales pitch to Russians is ‘Come join us, real estate is cheap’. The town is being completely rebuilt, the incoming population replacing those that have left,” explains historian Ackerman.

People stand near the sculpture of the name of the city of Mariupol written in Russian and painted in the colours of the Russian national flag during celebration of Russia Day in the city on June 12,
People stand near the sculpture of the name of the city of Mariupol written in Russian and painted in the colours of the Russian flag during celebrations of Russia Day in the city on June 12, 2022. © AP photo

Faced with Russian expansionism, European diplomacy seems to have no influence at all on the Russia-Ukraine war that has been raging for ten years on the fringes of Europe.

The Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015, sponsored by France and Germany, were a resounding failure.

In February 2023, French geographer and diplomat Michel Foucher estimated that “the military situation on the ground could lead to a kind of freeze around stable, well-defended front lines on both sides, without any agreed settlement or even any ceasefire”.

After a decade of war in the Donbas, the question diplomats will have to consider in years to come is how to determine where the EU ends and where Russia begins.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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Palestinian athletes will ‘represent a country, a history, a cause’ at the Paris Olympics

Nearly six months into a deadly war that has ravaged Gaza, the Palestine Olympic Committee is battling against formidable odds to ensure its athletes take part in the Paris Games this summer. Its technical director Nader Jayousi tells FRANCE 24 his country’s delegation will bring a “message of peace” to the world and inspire Palestinian children “whose dreams have been shattered by bombs”.  

Palestinian athletes have taken part in every Summer Olympics since they were first admitted to the Atlanta Games in 1996. Each participation has carried a special significance for residents of the Palestinian Territories and the Palestinian diaspora, giving the stateless people a venue in which to compete with the rest of the world.  

Taking part in Paris will be all the more significant in the context of the war that has devastated most of the Gaza Strip and killed at least 33,000 people, according to health officials in the Hamas-held enclave, including some of the athletes who had set their sights on the Olympic Games this summer.   

“Between athletes, coaches and club staff, the Palestinian sports scene has lost at least 170 people,” said Jayousi, speaking from the headquarters of the Palestine Olympic Committee near Jerusalem. Victims included Olympic football team coach Hani Al-Masdar and volleyball star Ibrahim Qusaya, both of them killed by Israeli bombs in Gaza. 

“To these tragedies must be added the destruction of infrastructure: the Yarmouk stadium, the Olympic Committee’s offices in Gaza, and several other stadiums,” he added. “If the war ended today, at least 70% of the Gazan population would be homeless, let alone practising a sport.” 

Jayousi said the war had forced the Palestinian committee to scale back its ambitions, putting an abrupt end to a pioneering programme aimed at boosting the number of athletes who qualify for the Olympics. Despite the huge setback, Palestinian hopes got a major boost last month when Omar Ismail secured a first ticket for the Games in men’s taekwondo – a feat Jayousi hopes other athletes will match in the coming weeks.  

The Palestinian delegation fielded a record five athletes at the last Games in Tokyo. Jayousi said the aim was to “top that number”. He remains confident that wild cards will help his country present its largest delegation yet in the history of the Olympics. 


What were your aims for the Paris Olympics and how has the outbreak of war impacted your preparation? 

You have to understand that the sports scene in Palestine has been on complete stoppage since October 7. When these events started, we were with our delegation at the Asian Games in China, securing a historical achievement with Palestine’s first ever bronze medal for Hala Alqadi, in karate. Since then, we have spent our time trying to ensure the safety of our athletes, some of whom are from Gaza. 

We had been running a pilot programme, focusing for the first time on a group of elite athletes to try to secure their qualification for the Olympics. But the stoppage came at the worst possible time, in the final stretch of preparations, the most important time in the Olympic cycle. It’s devastating for the athletes. 

We tried to adapt by shortening the list of athletes, sending them to train in friendly countries. We pushed ahead and we succeeded in accomplishing our goal: we have qualified for the Paris Games, in taekwondo. It’s historic. 

Have you been able to train at all over the past six months? 

It took us 40 days to get our weightlifting champion, Muhammad Hamada, out of Gaza, with his brother, who is also his coach. He is a former junior world champion and was very close to securing qualification for the Olympics. Unfortunately, when this tragedy began he was in northern Gaza, one of the first areas to be invaded. 

Mentally, he is extremely strong. He actually kept up the training in the first months of the war. We have footage of him training in his house and you can hear the military planes and the drones. But then the famine started and he lost about 15-17 kilos, which is extremely damaging if you’re a weightlifter.  

Read moreIn northern Gaza, ‘people have nothing left to eat’

Right now he is in Thailand, for the Olympic qualifiers, trying his very best. If he doesn’t make it, hopefully we can get him a wild card for Paris. It’s just one example. We are here for all our athletes, at their service, to give them a chance to compete.  

How do the athletes keep their focus on the sport when there’s so much suffering at home? 

It’s the mental base we have built our athletes on. They have enough awareness and maturity to understand that this is not just an individual dream. They don’t represent only themselves; they represent a country, a history, a cause.  

This is the way our athletes stay focused and keep their heads. We have been going through this for 75 years. If we let it mess with our heads we will be beaten in two days. We have to be mentally very strong. We can get over it, we have got over it. We will be at the Olympics. 

What kind of support have you received from other countries or the IOC? 

We have good support from our brotherly Arab countries, who have hosted training camps for our teams. Our national football team secured a historic achievement by reaching the round of 16 at the Asian Cup in January. They trained in Saudi Arabia, in Doha (Qatar), in Kuwait. We have massive support from countries around the world who believe in the Palestinians’ aspirations to succeed in sports.  

Regarding the IOC, we are always in touch with them, and (IOC President) Thomas Bach himself said they will be trying their best to secure Palestine’s participation in the Paris Olympics. They consider it very important to give Palestine the chance, like any other country, to be at the Games. And we have just renewed our 100% commitment to the Olympic Charter and IOC regulations.  

So I think we’re doing good in terms of support from friendly countries, including Western countries, for sure.  


Palestinian Hala Alqadi (right) won a historic bronze medal at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. © William West, AFP

The IOC has ruled out sanctions for the Israeli delegation over the war in Gaza, rejecting comparisons with the sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Do you agree with this decision?

As members of an Olympic Committee, we avoid talking about political issues. Our field is sports. I don’t have any comment regarding Russia and Ukraine. And Israel’s presence at the Olympics is not a matter we discuss. If our leadership has something to say on this subject, you will hear it in the media.  

I can answer any technical question regarding our athletes, that’s the scope of our work. We don’t intervene in politics in any way, not even our own. 

The Games could see Palestinian and Israeli athletes go face to face. Is this something you discuss with your team? 

Do you think it rattles Palestinians when they encounter Israelis? We encounter Israelis every day, in our cities, our streets, our schools. And we usually encounter them with their guns. So the idea of encountering them at the Olympics, it’s not something we are concerned about.  

We will go to the Olympics to compete and represent our country in the best way possible. We are not worried about encountering anybody.  

What will it mean to see the Palestinian flag carried by your delegation during the opening ceremony on July 26? 

In the middle of all these atrocities and all these tragedies, people will see athletes who insist on making their dream come true, on representing a country and a cause. 

I think it represents a great message of peace, showing the world what Palestinians are aspiring to. It is also a message to future generations, to our children whose dreams have been shattered by bombs and rockets. These kids will see role models and will aim to be just like our athletes who competed at the Olympic Games in Paris.  

There is a big message we need to get across, which is that we are not surrendering, we are not quitting. We will preserve the Palestinian identity, through sports, and show we are a peaceful people full of pride and respect for other nations.  

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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Taipei replica in remote Chinese province fans Taiwan invasion fears

Satellite images verified by FRANCE 24 reveal that China has built a replica of Taipei’s presidential district in remote Inner Mongolia, fuelling speculation that Beijing intends to use the site as a training ground to prepare for a future invasion of Taiwan.

 

The satellite images show a detailed replica of the heart of Taipei – albeit surrounded by the arid landscape of Inner Mongolia instead of Taiwan’s lush vegetation.  

First posted on social media by a Taiwanese data analyst, on March 26, they were later picked up by the website Taiwan News, under the ominous headline: “China creates Taipei mockup to train for invasion”. 

FRANCE 24 was able to verify the existence of the mockup, located some 1,200 kilometres west of Beijing.

Sim Tack, an analyst at intelligence firm Force Analysis, which monitors conflict zones and has access to satellite imagery, said construction of the replica began in March 2021 and lasted approximately one year. 

He said the site features buildings and façades “that are inspired by what you can see in Taipei, without having exactly the same size or shape”.

An area of interest 

The satellite images reveal a layout of streets strongly resembling the Bo’ai Special Zone, a restricted area in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District that houses Taiwan’s most important state buildings, including the presidential palace, the supreme court, the ministry of justice and the central bank of Taiwan.  

The Bo’ai Special Zone is subject to specific regulations, including a strict ban on overflight. 

When quizzed about the images last week, Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Juo-cheng appeared to play down their significance.  

“It is inevitable that the Chinese army produces this type of imitation,” he told reporters, adding that Taiwan was also capable of replicating foreign sites for military training purposes. 

The minister’s response was surprisingly measured, “considering that in recent months we have seen China multiply its hostile acts towards Taiwan”, noted Marc Lanteigne, a China expert at Norway’s Arctic University. 

Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to assert control over the island. Under President Xi Jinping, it has stepped up its pressure on the self-governing island, mounting a series of incursions by fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace in autumn 2023. 


The existence of a training site to rehearse a potential attack on the presidential palace in Taipei is a stark reminder of the geopolitical tensions in the region, and of the threat weighing on Taiwan.  

Propaganda tool 

Experts note that Taiwan has faced this type of intimidation before, most notably in 2015, when the Chinese military produced an almost exact replica of the presidential palace in Taipei, at a separate site in Inner Mongolia. 

At the time, Beijing chose to showcase the mockup, said Lewis Eves, a Chinese security expert at the University of Sheffield. 

“We found this out because the video of a simulated assault on the building was broadcast on Chinese television and the army website published images of a training exercise in the grounds around the palace,” he explained.  

Eves said he was not suprised to see the Chinese army produce a similar replica almost a decade later, pointing to “similarities between the current geopolitical context in the region and the one that prevailed in 2015”.  

Back then, Taiwan was gearing up for a high-stakes presidential context in 2016, just like the recent vote that took place in January of this year. Tensions between China and regional rival Japan over disputed islands in the South China Sea were also at a high in 2015 – much as they are today.  

Now as then, “Beijing has deemed it necessary to stage a show of force aimed both at Taiwan and its own public opinion, in order to whip up nationalist sentiment”, said Eves.  

At a time of heightened international tensions, China is “seeking to rally public opinion behind the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] by playing the nationalist card”, said the security expert. And restating its claim over Taiwan in the interests of Chinese “national unity” is part of this effort, he added. 

‘Psychological warfare’ 

In addition to serving propaganda purposes, the construction of Taipei replicas allows Chinese authorities to wage a form of “psychological warfare”, said China expert Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung, a geopolitical analyst at The International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.  

“It’s clearly a way of telling Taiwan that if the island’s authorities refuse to bend to China’s demands, Beijing is preparing military options,” he explained.  

Read more‘People don’t want to talk about war’: Taiwan civil defence battles invasion risk denial

Analysts say China is unlikely to go to such lengths merely to send a signal to Taiwan and its own population. Unlike in 2015, they note, the latest release of satellite images from Inner Mongolia is not Beijing’s own doing. In fact, the Chinese military has been considerably more discreet this time.  

Back in 2015, the replica presidential palace was nestled in the heart of the Zhurihe training compound, described by Chinese officials as the “largest in Asia”. Satellite images of the facility even show a building that bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  

The new constructions, on the other hand, are located several hundred kilometres away, in a region that is “probably less closely monitored by Western satellites than the Zhurihe base”, noted Lanteigne.  

It is possible that “the Chinese authorities were waiting for the right time to go public about the new site, but were beaten to it,” he added.  

And while the replica of the Bo’ai Special Zone “may indeed serve propaganda purposes”, Hung argued, the most likely explanation is that “its primary purpose is military”. 

Invasion scenarios 

The new Taipei mockup is far more detailed than the one produced in 2015, meaning it could be used for two distinct military scenarios, the first of which involves an aerial bombardment of the Bo’ai area – or what the Taiwan News website described as a “decapitation strike on Taipei”.  

Such an operation would be extremely complex to mount given “the high quality of Taiwan’s air defences”, Hung cautioned, though adding that “an aerial attack remains the most rapid option to invade the island”. 

The other scenario involves a land invasion of the island, located roughly 100 miles (160 kilometres) off the coast of southeastern China. 

“If it were only contemplating a bombardment of the area, China would probably not have gone through the trouble of replicating an entire neighbourhood of Taipei,” argued Lanteigne. “Urban warfare is the hardest of all, so it’s only natural that Beijing should try to get ready for it.”  

In this respect, Taiwan may not be the only target on Beijing’s mind.  

“Xi Jinping is pushing to reform and modernise his army, and knowing how to fight in an urban environment is an essential aspect of training,” Lanteigne added. “It is possible the army has chosen to recreate Taipei’s presidential district because that is one likely setting where it may have to intervene.”  

This article is a translation of the original in French.



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Medical cannabis could soon get the green light in France after unprecedented trial

During a years-long experiment that ended on Tuesday, French health authorities gave patients suffering from serious illnesses the chance to use prescribed medical cannabis. As France prepares to put cannabis-based medicines on the market, patients look back at their experience of the trial.

Patience is a virtue. But when faced with indescribable pain on a daily basis, being virtuous is not the priority. At least it isn’t for Valérie Vedere, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992 and then throat cancer in 2012.

“To appease the burning sensation I get from radiotherapy, I use cannabis therapeutically,” the 58-year-old living in Bordeaux says. “But I also experience pain from antiretroviral treatments for HIV.”

“It’s as if my hands and feet are being squeezed in a vice, which can lead to extreme burning and tingling sensations. I also have muscle spasms that generally take place at the end of the day,” Vedere explains. Her chronic pain is something that can’t be treated with painkillers like tramadol or other opioids. “It’s not suitable for the long-term,” she says.

When France launched a nationwide experiment to test the use of medical cannabis for patients with serious illnesses three years ago, Vedere was determined to participate.

“I had already been using cannabis to ease my symptoms illegally. Now, I would be able to use it legally and have consistent follow-ups with my doctor,” she says. After persuading her doctor that she was a perfect candidate for the trial, she finally became a participant in May 2021 – two months after the experiment was launched.

A leap in the direction of legal medical cannabis

The first results of the trial came trickling in two years later, in 2023. Patients felt their symptoms had improved significantly, with no unexpected side effects. No cases of substance abuse or addiction had been reported.

“Our evaluations show that between 30 and 40 percent of symptoms like pain, spasms, quality of life or epileptic seizures for example, have improved significantly,” says Nicolas Authier, a doctor specialised in pharmacology, addiction and pain who is also the president of the scientific committee tasked with monitoring the medical cannabis trial.

Preparations to make prescribed cannabis-based medicines more readily available, including in pharmacies, are now under way for 2025.

Read moreFrance launches public consultation on legalising cannabis

“Cannabis-based medicines are currently dispensed in hospitals or in hospital pharmacies, but in the long-run, most of them will become available in regular pharmacies much like any other drug,” says Authier.

The French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) has until the end of the year to authorise approved cannabis-based products for medicinal use. Those products will then be granted temporary approval for five years – with scope for them be renewed indefinitely – pending a decision by European authorities to market the drugs.

Until then, the patients who were part of the trial will continue to have access to cannabis-based medicines. But as of Wednesday March 27, no new participants are able to join the trial.  

A total of 3,035 people took part in the unprecedented experiment and 1,842 are still receiving treatment today.

An unprecedented experiment

Before the trial was first launched across 275 health facilities in the country, a committee of interdisciplinary scientists – consisting mostly of healthcare professionals and patients – was set up. Together, they defined the conditions under which the experiment would be rolled out, what medicines would be used, the training pharmacists and doctors would receive, how patients would be monitored and the information they would receive.

Health authorities then allowed limited prescriptions for people suffering from five specific conditions: neuropathic pain, some drug-resistant forms of epilepsy, intense oncology symptoms related to cancer or cancer treatment, palliative situations and pathologies that affect the nervous system, like multiple sclerosis.

Patients were only prescribed cannabis-based medicines if available treatment was found to be insufficient, or if they presented an aversion to existing drugs.

Mylène, who is 26 and lives in Paris, has tried a cocktail of medications to combat her cephalgia – a condition that results in recurring and extremely painful headaches. “They are brutal. The pain is permanent, seven days a week. I haven’t had a break since they started in 2014,” she says. “And sometimes I get a particularly painful attack, and it’s as if two cinder blocks are being pressed against my head.”

“I tried all kinds of treatment. Paracetamol, ibuprofen, opioids like tramadol and even morphine. Either the medicine wouldn’t have an effect on me or the side effects were too intense,” the young radiologist explains. “I joined the trial in late December 2023 and started taking medical cannabis droplets morning and night. It’s almost been three months and I am already starting to feel relief. I feel a change that’s really starting to take effect.”

Depending on their condition, patients were given medical cannabis either in oil or dried flower form. Oil droplets were generally taken orally, while dried flowers were inhaled in vaporisers to prevent the potential health risks from burning the plant.

Cannabis-based medicines can have varying degrees of THC and CBD, the two main compounds unique to the cannabis plant, known as cannabinoids. While THC is its primary psychoactive compound, responsible for the typical weed high consumers can feel, it is most efficient in tackling pain. CBD, the second most prevalent compound in cannabis or cannabinoid, is still psychoactive but doesn’t have the same intoxicating effect as THC.

“The majority of patients were given cannabis-based medicines in oil form, which is the treatment that has the longest lasting effect,” Authier explains. “But oil droplets don’t prevent peaks of severe pain that can only be relieved by fast-acting medication … so sometimes we added dried cannabis flowers that patients could inhale using a vape. The effects don’t last very long but are very rapid.”  

However, in February 2024 the ANSM decided to stop prescribing medical cannabis in flower form.

“I wasn’t at the mediation meeting when the decision was taken so I can’t say for certain why,” says Authier. “It seems that the medical cannabis flower looks too similar to the illicit cannabis flower consumed for [recreational] purposes. So that could cause confusion and perhaps spark fears of a potential black market.”

“It’s all very debatable,” Authier adds, unconvinced.

For Vedere, both the oils and flowers are “indispensable”. Angered with the decision to stop prescribing medical cannabis in this form, she wrote an open letter to the French health ministry demanding an explanation.

“I don’t want to take opioids. And when I have sudden attacks of pain, the flowers are the only thing that relieve me,” says Vedere. “So I will just have to continue using the oil that I’m prescribed. As for the flowers, I’ll buy them illegally.”

Based on the five medical conditions that warrant this type of treatment, Authier estimates that between 150,000 and 300,000 people in France could be prescribed cannabis-based medicines, meaning that an entire industry has been holding its breath for the roll-out of the drugs.

While suppliers of the cannabis-based medicines used in the years-long trial were Israeli, Australian and German companies – those tasked with distribution were French.

Along with Germany, France could become the biggest market for medical cannabis in Europe, according to French daily Le Monde.

But despite the promise of a booming market, introducing these drugs to the French market and even getting the trial off the ground has been anything but a bed of roses.

The bad rep of cannabis in France

A few days ago, while attending a Senate hearing on the impact of drug trafficking in France, Finance Minister Bruno le Maire reiterated his position that the decriminalisation of cannabis was a no-go.

“Cannabis is cool and cocaine is chic. That is the social representation of drugs,” he said. “But in reality, the two are poisons. They are both destructive and contribute to the undermining of French society as a whole.”

Despite France being one of the biggest cannabis consumers in Europe, it also has some of the toughest laws against the drug. THC is still classified as a narcotic in France, with the maximum level permitted in any cannabis plant limited to 0.3 percent. CBD is legal as long as the cannabis plant does not exceed the permitted levels of THC.

There is still a lot of stigma around cannabis in France, even though public opinion on its medical use is hugely encouraging. According to a 2019 survey by the national Observatory for Drugs and Addictive Tendencies, 91 percent of French people say they are in favour of doctors prescribing cannabis-based medicines “for certain serious or chronic illnesses”.

Read moreCannabis in France: Weeding out the facts from the fiction

Still, attitudes around the plant are difficult to shift. “It’s impossible to completely shake off the stigma attached to the word cannabis, which is associated with narcotics. So we had to make a real effort to reassure [the medical community] throughout the experiment,” says Authier.

When it comes to medicinal cannabis, politicians and public health officials in France have expressed their concerns through two key arguments. First, that the roll-out of these medicines would be too expensive. And second, that the legalisation of medicinal cannabis will inevitably lead to the legalisation of its recreational use.

“Our objective has always been accessibility. Ensuring that patients have access to these medicines and that doctors prescribe them,” Authier counters. “It was never, as some like to believe, a Trojan horse move to then legalise recreational cannabis. That has absolutely nothing to do with our trial. Opium-based medicines exist without heroin being legalised.”

“We had to deal with some rather dogmatic opinions and deconstruct a lot of beliefs or language to be taken seriously,” he confesses.

The first place to ever legalise medical cannabis was California, in 1996. Colorado followed suit four years later in 2000, then Canada in 2001, the Netherlands in 2003, Israel in 2006, Italy in 2013 and Germany in 2017. To date, around 20 countries in Europe have joined the list, each with their own set of rules and restrictions.

In France, it wasn’t until 2018 that serious discussions around medical cannabis emerged in the public sphere. And it took another three years before the trial began, in 2021.

Now that it looks like medical cannabis is here to stay in France, at least for the next five years, Mylène feels relieved.

“When I was accepted as a participant a few months ago, I thought ‘finally’,” she sighs. “I can see a real step forward and I hope it continues. I hope that it can become more readily available so that as many people as possible can be treated.”



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‘Unprofessional, dirty and wild’: French parliament takes up hair discrimination bill

Those sporting Afro-styled hair, blonde or ginger hair, dreads, braids or even balding heads could gain new protections in France, where a lawmaker from the French Caribbean has introduced a bill that would make discrimination based on hair texture, length, colour or style illegal. While some argue the law is unnecessary, others say it will fill a gap in existing legislation tackling discrimination. 

After years of hearing all sorts of derogatory comments from schoolmates about her Afro-styled kinky hair, Kenza Bel Kenadil was met with the same contempt when she entered the job market. At the tender age of 17, she was told at work that her hair was “unprofessional, dirty and wild”.

When she eventually took a job as a hostess at a hotel in southern France, she was shouted at by management. “Either you go home and change hairstyles”, her boss roared, “or don’t come in to work”.

Discrimination based on hair texture, length, colour or style is at the heart of a bill tabled by Olivier Serva, an MP from the LIOT group (Liberties, Independents, Overseas and Territories) from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. His aim is to ensure that hair discrimination becomes punishable by law. First introduced in September 2023, the bill will be debated in the National Assembly this Thursday, March 28.

A ‘historic’ bill

While Serva leads the political battle to end hair discrimination, Bel Kenadil has been waging her own combat online for years. Now 26, she posts videos on social media – some of which have garnered millions of views – to shed light on the issue.

When her boss at the hotel threatened her years ago, she ended up going home “in tears” and tied her hair up in a bun. “I didn’t understand why my hair would have an impact on my professionalism or employability,” she says.

To prevent that such situations continue into the future, Serva is proposing to add the specific mention of hair to the list of discriminations based on physical appearance.

“It is historic,” Serva said on March 18, after the bill was approved for debate by the French Law Commission, whose role it is to prepare all legislative debates in the National Assembly. “[France] is the first country in the world to recognise hair discrimination at a national level.”

Read moreRacist attacks on pop star Aya Nakamura test France’s ability to shine at Paris Olympics

This is almost true. The US is the only other country to have introduced legislation on hair discrimination. A bill known as the Crown Act (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) was passed by the House of Representatives in March 2022. It states that any race-based hair discrimination at work, in public accommodations and against those participating in federally assisted programmes such as housing programmes, is strictly prohibited by law.

The bill, which especially strengthened school and workplace protections for Black women who are disproportionately affected by hair discrimination, was passed in 24 states including New York, California, Arizona and Texas. But to date, federal legislation has been unsuccessful, as Senate Republicans blocked the act from passing in December 2022. 

In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued a directive in October 2022 on preventing hair discrimination in schools. Aimed at helping “school leaders foster an inclusive environment,” the guidance refers to sections of the Equality Act to ensure institutions are not unlawfully discriminatory in their policies. Though applied to all forms of hair discrimination, there is a focus on race because “research and court cases indicate discrimination … disproportionally affects pupils with Afro-textured hair or hairstyles”.

A legal framework exists – but is it enough?

Back in France, the introductory text for Serva’s hair discrimination bill states that “people who suffer discrimination based on their hair texture, colour or style lack a specific legal framework”.

But not all MPs share his sentiment on the issue, arguing there is already ample legislative recourse to combat discrimination based on physical appearance in France.

“This is a typical example of a bad idea. There is no legal gap,” labour law specialist Eric Rocheblave told French news agency AFP. Under French labour law, “discrimination based on physical appearance is already prohibited” even if there is no “explicit [clause] on hair discrimination”, he said.

If there was a case of discrimination “based on hair, lack of hair, colour, length or appearance, I could link it to existing legislation,” Rocheblave insisted.

Article 225-1 of the national criminal code lists 25 instances that would constitute discrimination prohibited by law, such as sexual orientation or political beliefs. But for advocates of a French law on hair discrimination, the list does not go far enough.

“If it did, we wouldn’t be turned away from jobs because of our hair. We wouldn’t be subjected to [derogatory] comments from colleagues. And the Air France steward wouldn’t have had to take his case to France’s highest appeals court,” Bel Kenadil counters, referring to Aboubakar Traoré, who sued Air France in 2012 for discrimination after he was barred from flights for wearing braids tied back in a bun.

The company said his hairstyle did not conform to the rules in the flight manual for staff, which allowed women but not men to have braided hair in the cabin.

Ten years later, France’s highest appeals court ruled in favour of Traoré. But the decision issued by the court stated that the company policy amounted to gender discrimination, not hair discrimination.

Hair style, colour, length or texture

Even though Article 225-1 states that “distinctions made based on a person’s origins, sex, family status, pregnancy, physical appearance … constitute discrimination”, Serva is set on providing a “necessary legal clarification” by including “haircut, colour, length, or texture”. This precision would then have to be included in clauses of the French Labour Law and Civil Service Code that deal with discrimination.

Because France does not collect data based on race, ethnicity or religion, there are no national studies on the extent of hair discrimination against Black people in France.

But according to a 2023 US study carried out by Dove and LinkedIn, Black women’s hair is “2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional”. And a UK study from 2009 cited in the introductory text to Serva’s bill found that one blonde woman in three dyed their hair brown to increase their chances of being recruited and to be perceived as “more intelligent” in professional settings.

Serva also said hair discrimination affected balding men in an interview with French radio station France info in April last year, claiming researchers had proven that balding men were “30 percent less likely to be able to climb the ladder in their company”.

A public health issue

MPs from the conservative Les Républicains and far-right National Rally parties have criticised the bill, calling it an “importation of ‘victim logic’ into French law”.

Bel Kenadil says she understands how “one can question the existence of something when one hasn’t been a victim of it”. On the other hand, she adds, “for me, when even one single person is discriminated against, no matter how, that person must be protected”.

In a video posted on her Instagram account, the influencer sports a variety of hairstyles and assures everyone she is “professional”, while the caption reads: “My appearance doesn’t have anything to do with my skills.”

Countless testimonials of people who have been discriminated against because of their hair flood the comments section. “When I was a young student nurse, I had braids put in, and then I was asked if they were clean,” one follower writes. “I was told to straighten my hair for job interviews,” another laments. Other stories beyond the comments section of her Instagram profile have shocked Bel Kenadil. “A person with blonde hair was turned down for a job because her hair colour wasn’t ‘serious enough’,” she says. “A receptionist recorded an exchange in which her employer berated her, saying, ‘In your interview, you were told loose hair or hair tied up, but nicely styled. What is this? It looks like a lion’s mane.’”

The explanatory text accompanying Serva’s hair discrimination bill mentions the importance of self-esteem and personal confidence, but also touches on a significant health factor when it comes to Afro-textured frizzy or kinky hair.

“A person who is unable to wear their hair naturally in a professional or educational setting will either be forced to hide their hair or change it using chemical products,” the text reads. “This is far from harmless. Tight hairstyles can eventually lead to traction alopecia (hair loss from hairstyles that pull on roots), and products used to chemically straighten hair can cause scalp burns.”

2022 study by the US National Institute of Health (NIH) found that women who used chemical hair straightening products were at higher risk of developing uterine cancer than women who did not.

“This is proof that this topic needs to be taken seriously,” Bel Kenadil insists. “I don’t mind hearing that there are more serious issues. But if that is our starting point, we will never make progress on anything.”

This article is a translation of the original version in French. 



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Israel’s largest land seizure since Oslo Accords deals fresh blow to Palestinian statehood

Israel declared 800 hectares of land in the West Bank as property of the state on Friday, a move that will facilitate use of the ground for settlement construction. The area covers large swaths of the Jordan Valley, a vital region for a future Palestinian state, and is the largest piece of land to be seized by Israel since the early 1990s.

When far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced Israel would seize 800 hectares of land in the West Bank last Friday, it did not come as a surprise to Hamza Zbiedat. 

Though he is based in Ramallah, his family live in a small village close to the border between the West Bank and Jordan called Zubaydat, just north of the vast area now declared Israeli state land.

“Israel has fully controlled the Jordan Valley for the last 15 years at least,” says Zbiedat, who works as an advocacy officer for the Ma’an Development Center, a Palestinian civil society organisation. “The only thing left for Israel to do was to announce it.”

The Jordan Valley is a rich strip of land that runs along the West Bank, east of the central highlands. Sparsely populated, it has many open and undeveloped areas – making it a precious reserve for the future development of the West Bank.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, almost 90 percent of the Jordan Valley region has been designated Area C, meaning it remained under full Israeli control after the 1995 Oslo II Accord.

“While there are those in Israel and the world who seek to undermine our right over the Judea and Samaria area and the country in general,” Smotrich declared, referring to the West Bank region by its biblical name, “we promote settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country”.

The area covers 8,000 dunams (800 hectares) between three Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank – Masu’a, Ma’ale Efrayim and Yafit. 

A few weeks earlier, on February 29, Israel appropriated an additional 300 hectares near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. 

Together, these areas represent the largest zone to be designated Israeli state land since the first Oslo Accords in 1993, according to Peace Now, an Israeli organisation documenting settlement activities.

A losing battle

Now that Israel has declared swaths of the Jordan Valley as its own, Palestinians can longer use the land.

“We guess it will help to expand Israeli settlements,” says Yonatan Mizrachi, co-director of the settlement-monitoring branch at Peace Now.

Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law.

Read moreFrom 1947 to 2023: Retracing the complex, tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In 2016, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 and demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory”, underlining that it would not “recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines … other than those agreed by the two sides through negotiations”.

But the Israeli administration has repeatedly used orders like declarations of state land to take over Palestinian territories.

In recent years, the Israeli Housing Ministry even created subsidised home ownership programmes to combat the housing crisis and created a lottery system that lured Israelis to move into West Bank settlements.

The declaration of parcels as state land means the area can no longer be considered the private property of Palestinians by the Israeli state. The process facilitates settlers’ leasing or buying plots of designated land. 

Rights groups say it is near impossible for Palestinians to appeal these declarations. 

“There is a kind of bureaucracy that if you own the land, you can object in the next 45 days [following a declaration]. But it’s basically official,” says Mizrachi. “I would be surprised if Palestinians … go to court [to appeal].”

Up until 1967, the Jordan Valley was under Jordanian administration. After the war, Israel issued a military order that put an end to land registrations across the West Bank – meaning Palestinian families often lack the paperwork to prove they hold private ownership over their land. What’s more, Israeli authorities do not accept tax receipts, the only alternative recourse to prove property ownership.

Declarations of state land in occupied territories were halted in 1992 under former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. But two years after Netanyahu was first elected prime minister in 1996, he resumed the practice. Since then, around 40,000 dunams (about 4,000 hectares) have been designated state land by Israel, according to Peace Now.

“It might take years before [the land] is used,” says Mizrachi. “Then suddenly we might see a new outpost, a new settlement, new developments.”

The total area under direct control of Israeli settlements constitutes more than 40 percent of the entire West Bank, according to B’Tselem, which is also known as the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

In 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that a total of 700,000 Israeli settlers were living illegally in the occupied West Bank.

Limiting chances for a two-state solution

Israel’s annexation of this vast piece of land could make it even more difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank to move from the north to the south of the territory.

The parcels claimed in the end of February near Ma’ale Adumim create a continuous strip of state land between Ma’ale and another settlement called Kedar, marking a divide between the southern West Bank and the Jordan Valley in the north.

Current restrictions on movement such as Israeli military checkpoints already make it difficult for Palestinians to travel within the West Bank.

“I live in Ramallah. If I want to go see my parents in the Jordan Valley for Ramadan, just to eat Iftar (the fast-breaking evening meal during Islam’s holy month) with them, it would take me three or four hours to get there,” says Zbiedat, who works as an advocacy officer for the Ma’an Development Center, a Palestinian civil society organisation. “I don’t have time to go there after work and drive another four hours back at night.”

Part of the area seized by Israel is located close to East Jerusalem, and is what Palestinians hope will become the centre of a future independent state. Since the Oslo Accords were signed in the early 90s, little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood. Experts, as well as the UN Security Council, say the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is a major obstacle to a two-state solution.

Cases of settlements being built on land declared as state property by Israel have also grown exponentially in recent months. 

UN human rights chief Volker Turk published a report last month that found 24,300 housing units had been built within existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank between November 2022 and October 2023, the highest on record since the UN began monitoring the situation in 2017.

A natural greenhouse

“The Jordan Valley is very important for Palestinians in the West Bank. It is supposed to be one of the biggest areas to be part of the state of Palestine, with huge fertile land and a lot of resources,” says Zbiedat. “Two of the biggest aquifer basins of drinkable water in the West Bank are located in the Jordan Valley.”

Zbiedat says experts consider the Jordan Valley a “natural greenhouse”.

“For the last centuries, most of this land was an open herding area for Palestinian Bedouins or villagers with sheep, camels, cows, goats and so on. It was also cultivated by other Palestinians to grow lemons, oranges and other kinds of fruit,” says Zbiedat.

A few years ago, he travelled to the area now designated Israeli state land to take photos and saw that Israelis had begun paving roads and planting date trees.

“Dates have become the most famous crop in the Jordan Valley,” Zbiedat explains. “Agricultural expansion is important in this area … Now that the date trees are six or seven years old, settlers are making hundreds of thousands of shekels from this land.”

“And the workers are mostly Palestinians. But the owners are the settlers,” he says.

Though much of the region is uninhabited, more land confiscations would mean “less Bedouins, less animals, less Palestinian farms and a shrinking independent Palestinian economy,” Zbiedat sighs. “It means less Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.”

The same report published by UNHCHR chief Turk last month underlined the dramatic increase in settler and state violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, notably since the war in Gaza began on October 7. Since the conflict began, “a total of 1,222 Palestinians from 19 herding communities have been displaced as a direct result of settler violence”, it reported.

The West Bank has also seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis since the war broke out.

‘All for the benefit of settlers’

“[Settlers] believe they need to expand and protect what they are calling ‘a state land’ or ‘our patriarch’s land’ from Palestinians. They believe that any new settlement brings more security to the region. That is the main philosophy,” says Mizrachi. “As long as Smotrich controls the civil administration, he will continue this policy.”

Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, is a settler himself as well as the head of the Israeli Civil Administration.

Last year, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered Smotrich a sweeping monopoly on construction planning and approvals in the West Bank by granting him the power to handle land-use issues. Netanyahu decided it was no longer necessary for himself and Israel’s defence minister to provide their formal sign-off on West Bank settlement constructions at every phase.

As a result, Smotrich was designated a strong authority figure of the occupied West Bank – a move the UN warned could facilitate the annexation of the territory.

For Zbiedat, the most recent land seizure is “a message to the US to say, ‘OK, you don’t want us to invade Rafah [in the southern Gaza Strip]? Then don’t say anything about what we do in the West Bank’.”

Smotrich made the announcement on the day US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Tel Aviv for talks with Netanyahu about the war in Gaza.

The US State Department in March had also ordered financial sanctions against four Israeli settlers in the West Bank, marking a rare rebuke of Israel.

Blinken had also expressed his disappointment with Israel’s decision to approve 3,400 new homes in West Bank settlements on March 6. 

“It is a way to put pressure on the US government not to intervene when it comes to settlers,” Zbiedat says.

“But it is also an internal message to Israeli voters to say, ‘Look, we are expanding our settlements in the Jordan Valley’ … which they say will remain forever a part of Israel. They do not want to give Palestinians any kind of control to any kind of border [with Jordan],” he explains.

Palestinian authorities have condemned Smotrich’s announcement. The Palestinian ministry of foreign affairs called the latest move “a continuation of the extermination and displacement of our people from their homeland”.

Read more‘Freedom is paid for in blood’: In the occupied West Bank, families long to bury their dead

“In any case, it is important for people to know we are also living a siege here,” says Zbiedat, referring to the ongoing war in Gaza. “And it’s all for the benefit of settlers.”

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‘Haiti is a country that’s drowning’: Migrants recount trauma of fleeing home

Thousands of people have fled Haiti’s capital in recent weeks as gangs continue to run riot in a country plunged into political chaos. More than 2,000 thousand kilometres from Port-au-Prince, a community centre in New York’s Rockland County is welcoming Haitians who have fled the violence. But while they have finally reached the safety of the US, they also bear traumatic memories. 

The Konbit Neg Lakay community centre is one of the first stops that many Haitian migrants make after arriving in New York. The centre’s name means “Together for a Stronger Community” in Creole and it’s a welcoming place for people who have just fled the unrest and gang violence wracking Haiti.

The mural on the centre’s exterior wall brings a splash of colour to the Spring Valley neighbourhood in New York’s Rockland County.


Mural on the wall of Konbit Neg Lakay Haitian Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland County, New York on 20 March 2024. © Jessica Le Masurier

It depicts an idyllic scene of rural life in Haiti but the centre’s director Renold Julien experienced some tough times in the country of his birth.

He was an activist in Haiti during what has come to be called the Papa/Baby Doc dictatorship years. From the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier was succeeded by son, Jean-Claude, “Baby Doc”, the Haitian regime became synonymous with torture and killings.

Julian left his homeland almost four decades ago for a new life in the US. He opened his community centre, to help other Haitians navigate their arrival in New York, 37 years ago.

The centre receives grants from foundations and NGOs but it struggles to raise enough funds to meet ever increasing demands. For Julien, Konbit Neg Lakay is a work of devotion. 

Konbit Neg Lakay provides newly arrived Haitians with immigration and job services, professional training and language classes. “Everything that an immigrant needs, we have it here,” Julien explains. It struggles to raise enough funds to meet ever increasing demands but for Julien: “It’s a privilege for me to help my brothers and sisters.”

‘We ran to escape from them’

Several Haitians migrants come through a US humanitarian programme but they need a sponsor, Julien explains. Others travel through Mexico and then claim asylum in the US.

A dozen new arrivals from Haiti walk through the centre’s doors every week – many have lost family members to the gang violence back home.

“It has been extremely busy here due to the situation in Haiti because thousands of Haitians have been forced to leave,” says Julien as he  introduces three women who need advice on how to get a job and other essential information.

One of them is a soft-spoken medical student who arrived in the US in November 2023. Kartika Sari Rene, 22, did not want to leave Haiti. She was in her third year of medical school, when her studies were cut short. 

“I was walking with some friends and then some kidnappers were passing by,” she says. “We ran to escape from them. We hid from them. It was really awful.”

Rene’s father was terrified for her safety and forced her to leave the country. She came to the US with her mother, sponsored by family members living in New York. She has started learning English and has obtained a certificate to work as a personal care aide. 

For now, her dream of becoming a pediatrician is on hold. “I love to help people. I can’t stand to see people suffer,” she explains. 

Her friends at medical school in Haiti have also had to pause their studies. It is too dangerous for them to leave their homes.

‘Long, difficult and uncomfortable journey’

Haitian beautician Josette Bienaise also had to flee the country after a traumatic experience. She was shopping in the market when armed gang members started shooting at vendors. “Pap, pap pap,” she says, recounting her experience that day. “I lay down on the ground terrified and prayed. I can still feel the fear in my body.”

In the Konbit Neg Lakay hallway, Jean Marc Mathurin leans against a wall as he recounts the arduous journey that he made to walk through these doors to safety.

“They killed my father,” he confides in a low voice. “He was leaving work at the airport, and they wanted to take his money. He said no, and they murdered him. Then they came and burnt our home. My mother suffered so much she became ill, her sickness killed her.” 

Haitian migrant Jean Marc Mathurin at Konbit Neg Lakay Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland Country, New York 20 March 2024.
Haitian migrant Jean Marc Mathurin at Konbit Neg Lakay Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland Country, New York 20 March 2024. © Jessica Le Masurier

Mathurin finds a photo of his mother in a hospital bed on his phone and videos of his two young children and the three sisters he left behind in Haiti. He arrived in New York with nothing. He is claiming asylum in the US, but it will be many months before he can legally work here and start sending money back home to his loved ones.

Each time he eats, he thinks of his family going hungry. “People in Haiti sell their homes to make the journey here thinking they will arrive in the US with something but they spend every penny along the way, or thieves steal their money and they get here with nothing, if they even make it here. Some of them get sent back home,” he explains.

There were many times along his escape from Haiti when Mathurin thought he would not make it. He took a flight from Port-au-Prince to Nicaragua, where he travelled mainly on foot to Honduras, Guatemala and into Mexico. “It was a long, difficult and uncomfortable journey.”

When he got to the Rio Grande, in Mexico, he thought it might be impossible to cross. He describes the buoys, erected by the local authorities to thwart migrants, anchored to the riverbed. The buoys have blades that cut you if you try to climb over them, he said.

Mathurin is unable to forget the horrors he witnessed. “There are those who know how to swim, and those who don’t,” he says. “In front of me were two men, a Venezuelan and a Haitian, and they drowned right in front of me.” 

It’s a trauma he likened to his ancestral land. “Haiti is a country that’s drowning. It’s a child without a mother or father. When you have a mum and dad, they tell you not to go out late, not to fall in with the wrong crowd. Haiti is an orphan.”

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For 2024 Paris Olympics, Colombes’ historic stadium regains its former lustre

One of France’s most historic sporting venues, the Colombes stadium northwest of the French capital was the principal venue when Paris hosted the Olympic Games in 1924. After undergoing thorough renovations, the site will recover some of its former glory by again playing host to Olympic sport this summer.

The refurbished Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes was inaugurated this week in great style, in the presence of Paris Olympics organising head Tony Estanguet, French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and other dignitaries.

“It’s a wonderful nod to history, to France‘s sporting heritage,” said three-time Olympic medallist Estanguet at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday. The Colombes stadium will be the only Paris 2024 venue to host Olympic events for a second time: at this year’s Games, the stadium will be the site of the field hockey matches.


A part of the renovated Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes, near Paris, on March 19, 2024. © Miguel Medina, AFP

In the run-up to the Games, the century-old stadium underwent 22 months of renovation. Two synthetic field hockey pitches were built, one with seating for 1,000 spectators. The 6,000-spectator stands on the main pitch, a vestige of the original stadium, were refitted and will be supplemented by temporary stands installed for the Games.

The nerve centre of the 1924 Olympic Games

A century ago, the Colombes stadium was the epicentre of the Paris Games, and it was even the site of the opening ceremony on July 5, 1924.  Today, it’s hard to imagine “the 20,000 spectators squeezed into the standing room” for the opening, says historian Michaël Delépine.

“It was the nerve centre of the Games. Just behind it was the first Olympic village. It was a bit spartan, with little wooden huts,” says Delépine, author of the book Le Bel Endormi: Histoire du stade de Colombes (“Sleeping beauty: History of the Colombes stadium”).

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the Colombes stadium, July 5, 1924.
The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the Colombes stadium, July 5, 1924. © Gallica, BNF

The eighth Olympiad of the modern era, in 1924, featured 3,089 athletes, 135 of whom were women, representing 44 nations and competing in 17 sports. The Colombes stadium hosted football, equestrian events, rugby, gymnastics and, above all, track and field.

At the time, it was the “Flying Finns” who dominated the middle- and long-distance races. Paavo Nurmi and his compatriot Ville Ritola performed heroically, winning nine gold medals between them.

Members of the Finnish athletics team at the 1924 Olympic Games, including Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi.
Members of the Finnish athletics team at the 1924 Olympic Games, including Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi. © Carte postale ancienne

An homage to ‘Flying Scotsman’ Eric Liddell

Perhaps the best-known rivalry from the 1924 Games was between British sprinters Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, whose story features in the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire”.

A plaque in honour of Liddell was unveiled at the Colombes stadium this week. The French consul general in Scotland, Stéphane Pailler, who organised the ceremony, noted that “Eric Liddell left his mark on the Olympic Games because he gave up running on Sundays for religious reasons. Knowing that he would not be able to compete in the 100-meter event, for which he was one of the favourites, he decided to compete in another event, the 400 meters. Not only did he win the gold medal in this event, he also broke the world record for the discipline.”

Scottish athlete Eric Liddell after his victory in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympic Games.
Scottish athlete Eric Liddell after his victory in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympic Games. © Wikimedia

Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, Liddell himself became a minister and returned to China, where he died in a Japanese prison camp in 1945. Stephen Shin’s 2016 film “On Wings of Eagles” recounts his tragic end. “His sporting and human legacy remains a symbol of friendship between France, Scotland and the UK. A legend. A legacy. A source of inspiration,” the new memorial at Colombes reads.

Following the success of the 1924 Games, the Colombes site – officially named the Yves-du-Manoir Olympic Stadium from 1928 in honour of a Racing Club de France rugby player who died in a plane crash – became a key venue for French sport. “Colombes attracted the greatest sportsmen and sportswomen and the most celebrated spectators,” says Delépine.

The stadium was the scene of 17 world records between 1924 and 1980, 42 French Cup finals between 1924 and 1971, and 79 matches of the French national football team. It also hosted Italy’s victory over Hungary in the 1938 football World Cup final;  the French national rugby  team’s first victory over New Zealand’s All Blacks in 1954; Pelé‘s only match on French soil with Brazil’s Seleçao in 1963; the European Cup quarter-final between Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and Benfica on March 5, 1969, with a record 63,638 spectators; and, not least, the world middle-weight boxing title match between Frenchman Jean-Claude Bouttier and Argentina’s Carlos Monzon in 1972, with 40,000 spectators in attendance.

Brazilian footballer Pelé, centre, is surrounded by three French players on April 28, 1963 at Colombes.  Pele scored all 3 goals for his team as Brazil beat France 3-2.
Brazilian footballer Pelé, centre, is surrounded by three French players on April 28, 1963 at Colombes. Pelé scored all 3 goals for his team as Brazil beat France 3-2. © AFP

A stadium reborn

Colombes fell from favour with the opening of the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris in 1972, but was given a second lease on life at the turn of the 2000s when Racing Club de France sold it to the local authorities, who promoted it as a venue for amateur sports.

The Colombes stadium will regain its Olympic lustre by hosting field hockey matches from July 27 to August 9. “It’s obviously moving to see this venue host another Olympiad. This stadium, which is sometimes labelled as a stadium of the past and hasn’t hosted a major event for several decades, is proving that we can write a new page, one of the finest in its history, 100 years on,” Delépine says.

After the Games, the 18-hectare site, which also includes football and rugby pitches and a running track, will also welcome the headquarters of the French field hockey federation. The new stadium is intended to benefit “local residents, with sports activities open to associations, schools and perhaps even universities”, Oudéa-Castéra said at the inauguration.

For Delépine, the story of Colombes’ Stade Yves-du-Manoir is just beginning: “We can imagine that in decades to come, there will still be sport in Colombes, and hopefully both at the elite and the amateur level.”

This is a translation of the original in French.


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Senegal’s presidential election: A look at the four main candidates

After a political crisis with many twists and turns, Senegalese voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose their new president. Seventeen contenders are hoping to succeed President Macky Sall. FRANCE 24 examines the political backgrounds and main proposals of  four candidates: Amadou Ba, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Idrissa Seck and Khalifa Sall.

Issued on:

5 min

A fast-paced electoral campaign is coming to an end for 17 Senegalese presidential candidates. Over just two weeks, they have been striving to convince voters to support them at the polls on Sunday.

This extraordinary campaign was cut short by the political crisis that began on February 3, when Sall cancelled the election that had been scheduled for February 25. Senegalese lawmakers voted to postpone the vote to December 15, but the Constitutional Council voided the cancellation and the postponement and forced Sall to set a new date. 

Read moreHow Senegal’s presidential election was postponed, reinstated and moved up

Sall is nearing the end of two terms (2012-2024) at the head of one of West Africa’s most stable countries. The constitution doesn’t allow him to run for a third mandate.

On March 9, two days after the council confirmed the March 24 vote, Senegal’s presidential candidates launched their campaigns. The 17 hopefuls have increased their trips and public meetings over the last few days to boost visibility and present their ideas on issues including sovereignty, civil liberties, emigration, schools, unemployment and a fishing industry crisis.

Here’s a look at the four main candidates’ key proposals:

  • Amadou Ba, the continuity candidate

Senegalese Prime Minister Amadou Ba speaks in Dakar on December 21, 2023. © Seyllou, AFP

Prime Minister Amadou Ba, 62, is a ruling party candidate and Sall’s preferred successor. The former minister of economy and finance and then foreign affairs, Ba presents himself as a candidate for stability and the continuity of the incumbent’s economic record, while also promising a return to calm after months of political crisis.

Ba focused his campaign programme on youth employment in a country where three-quarters of the population is under 35. His key promise: to create 1 million jobs by 2028 through public/private partnerships and investment in agriculture, industry, infrastructure and renewable energies.

He also calls for updating “conventions and contracts signed by the state of Senegal in the field of natural resources”, providing a minimum financial allowance to the elderly and accelerating the construction of a national school of cultural arts and crafts.

  • Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the anti-system candidate
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024.
Senegalese presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye gestures during a press conference in Dakar on March 15, 2024. © John Wessels, AFP

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, 44, a replacement for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko who was excluded from the presidential race in January, has had even less time than other candidates to campaign in person. The cofounder of the opposition Pastef party, who was released from prison along with Sonko on March 14, is campaigning against the country’s political class and promises to reclaim Senegal’s “sovereignty”, a term used 18 times in his electoral platform.

To this end, Faye proposes getting rid of the CFA franc inherited from the colonial era to introduce a new currency, and to make the teaching of  English widespread in a country where the official language is French. He also says he wants to renegotiate mining and hydrocarbon contracts as well as defence agreements.

The Pastef platform also aims for institutional reform with the creation of the role of vice president and safeguards to check the power of the president, including potential removal from office.

  • Idrissa Seck, the veteran candidate
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election.
Idrissa Seck, founder of the Rewmi party, is seen during an opposition press conference in Dakar on January 15, 2019. Seck was also a candidate in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election. © Seyllou, AFP

Former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who served under ex-president Abdoulaye Wade between 2002 and 2004, is running in a fourth consecutive presidential race. The 64-year-old former Sall opponent, who long maintained the suspense surrounding his eventual candidacy, has put his political experience and knowledge of the inner workings of government to use in his bid to win over voters.

Among his signature proposals are compulsory military service, the creation of a common currency for West African countries and a fund financed by oil and gas companies to compensate for damage to the fishing industry. 

The founder of Senegal’s Rewmi party also proposes to devote 60 percent of public investment to areas outside the Dakar region.

  • Khalifa Sall, the comeback candidate
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024.
Presidential candidate Khalifa Sall greets supporters during a tour of several areas in Senegal’s capital Dakar on March 9, 2024. © Seyllou, AFP

Khalifa Sall (no relation to the outgoing president) is another Senegalese political heavyweight trying his luck in the race. Sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA francs for fraud and embezzlement of public funds in 2018, the leader of the Taxawu Senegal coalition was barred from entering the 2019 presidential contest. Macky Sall’s rival has since returned to politics thanks to a presidential pardon and a law authorising the restoration of civil rights for convicted people who were amnestied following a national dialogue initiated by the government in May 2023.

In this election, the 68-year-old Sall is presenting himself as the candidate to heal a “damaged” country. The man who sees himself as the heir to Senegal’s socialist party promises to institute a citizen-initiated referendum. He also pledges to devote at least 1,000 billion CFA francs (1.5 billion euros) of the annual national budget to agriculture.

Sall’s foreign policy programme aims to “diversify and rebalance” diplomatic and economic partnerships by “strengthening (global) south-south cooperation and cooperation with emerging countries”.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

 

The 17 candidates in Senegal’s presidential election

Anta Babacar Ngom

Amadou Ba

Boubacar Camara

Déthié Fall

Daouda Ndiaye

Khalifa Sall

Idrissa Seck

Mame Boye Diao

Mouhamed Boun Abdallah Dionne

Aliou Mamadou Dia

Malick Gackou

Aly Ngouille Ndiaye

Mamadou Lamine Diallo

Serigne Mboup

Pape Djibril Fall

Bassirou Diomaye Faye

Thierno Allassane Sall

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