The Middle East power battle behind Tunisia-UAE airline spat

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Grounded: Tunis-Carthage International Airport, December 25th. © Reuters Grounded: Tunis-Carthage International Airport, December 25th. © Reuters

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) last Friday announced a ban on all women and girls travelling with Tunisian passports to the Gulf state on its national airline Emirates and sister carrier Etihad, citing fears of a terrorist attack. While the ban was lifted after just hours, following outrage in Tunisia and from passengers stranded worldwide, the Tunisian government responded at the weekend with a ban of all UAE flights to and from Tunis. But the events are far from an anecdotal spat, for behind the row is the far deeper conflict of a power battle in the Middle East. Lilia Blaise reports.

French digital affairs body implodes amid racism allegations

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Hicham Kochman. Hicham Kochman.

The recently appointed president and nearly all of the members of France’s independent advisory commission on digital affairs, the CNNum, resigned this week in protest at the government’s move to exclude from the body outspoken feminist and anti-racist activist Rokhaya Diallo. She and another newly chosen CNNum advisor, start-up entrepreneur and rapper Hicham Kochman, also known as Axiom, were the target of a political campaign that has reignited the debate over the extent of institutional racism in France, and the stigmatisation of racial minorities in the country. In an interview with Mediapart, Kochman speaks of his despair that “if you are Black or Arab, if you come from certain neighbourhoods, however competent you might be you have no chance of succeeding”.

The case of the French justice minister, an MP friend and a muzzled prosecution service

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Jean-Jacques Urvoas inside France's National Assembly when he was justice minister. © Reuters Jean-Jacques Urvoas inside France's National Assembly when he was justice minister. © Reuters

Earlier this month it was revealed that a French justice minister, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, passed on to a Member of Parliament confidential information about a police investigation targeting the MP for suspected tax fraud, money laundering and influence peddling. Mediapart investigative journalist Fabrice Arfi sets out here why the case is just the latest demonstration of the intolerable lack of independence of France’s prosecution services.

The Riyadh riddle and the woes of the Hariri business empire

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A friend in need: Saad Hariri with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elsée Palace on November 18th. © Reuters A friend in need: Saad Hariri with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elsée Palace on November 18th. © Reuters

A degree of mystery continues to surround what appears to have been a forced sojourn of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia last month, to the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East centred on the Saudi kingdom’s rivalry with Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron played what Hariri has called a “historic” role that secured his departure from Riyadh, but the financial difficulties of the Lebanese politician’s extensive business interests may also be part of the complex plot leading up to the November events. Karl Laske reports.

French study exposes extent of sexual aggression against women in public

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A report published this month by France’s national institute of demographic studies, INED, suggests that one woman in five in the country falls victim every year to incidents of sexual and sexist abuse in public spaces, ranging from assault to harassment, and the most vulnerable are women aged between 20 and 24 who live in the Paris region. Louise Fessard reports.

Lafarge 'Islamic State payments' probe centres on 15m-dollar fund

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A Lafarge industrial plant in Paris. © Reuters A Lafarge industrial plant in Paris. © Reuters

A French investigation into alleged payments to jihadist groups, including Islamic State, by French cement-making giant Lafarge in order to ensure the functioning of one of its plants in Syria is focussing on a fund of more than 15 million dollars set aside by the company for its operations in the war-torn country, according to documents obtained by Mediapart. Fabrice Arfi reports.

French court orders closure of grocery shop which does not sell pork or alcohol

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The court ordered a convenience store's lease agreement in a town near Paris to be torn up on the grounds that the outlet failed to operate as a general “grocery” shop as agreed. The landlord, a local authority housing agency, says the shopkeeper does not sell pork products or alcohol, though it denies any religious motive behind its court action. The shopkeeper, meanwhile, is set to appeal. Louise Fessard reports on a case that appears to be the first of its kind in France.

Macron targets reform of France's 'disgraceful' public broadcasting

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President Emmanuel Macron seems set to reform French public broadcasting. © Eric Feferberg / Reuters President Emmanuel Macron seems set to reform French public broadcasting. © Eric Feferberg / Reuters

A row has broken out after President Emmanuel Macron reportedly described French public broadcasting as a “disgrace to the Republic”. His office has denied the exact phrasing but there is little doubt that the president is not happy with the quality of programmes or the way that the country's public broadcasting sector is run. It is equally clear, reports Loup Espargilière, that President Macron is planning major reforms in this area.

Battle against sexual violence at one of France's elite educational institutes

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Students from the École  Polytechnique during a Bastille Day parade. © Reuters Students from the École Polytechnique during a Bastille Day parade. © Reuters

The École Polytechnique, one of France's most prestigious higher education institutions, faced calls to tackle issues of sexual violence and sexism among students and staff well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke. Some women students have complained of sexist comments and others of sexual assaults. There has been one allegation of rape. Faïza Zerouala reports on attempts to fight sexist behaviour at the elite engineering school where military training is compulsory and which has a “macho” atmosphere.

Eyes turn to the young in New Caledonia self-rule vote

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Pro-independence militant Darewa Dianou: “They killed my father and, afterwards, they come and tell us that they will de-colonise us?" © ES Pro-independence militant Darewa Dianou: “They killed my father and, afterwards, they come and tell us that they will de-colonise us?" © ES

The French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, which became a French colony in 1853, will hold a referendum next year on the proposition of self-rule. The referendum is the result of 30 years of a political process to ease tensions between pro-independence militants from the indigenous Kanak population, which make up about 45% of the archipelago’s 270,000 inhabitants, and ethnic Europeans. A key issue of the referendum will be the extent of involvement of the young generation, and in particular young Kanaks who are the worst affected by high unemployment and educational failure. Ellen Salvi reports from New Caledonia.

Riddle of 'missing' money from Africa Village at London Olympics

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General Lassana Palenfo at the inauguration of Africa Village at the London Olympics in 2012. © DR General Lassana Palenfo at the inauguration of Africa Village at the London Olympics in 2012. © DR

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London a major initiative called 'Africa Village' was set up in the British capital to promote the continent. But it was forced to close early after local suppliers went on strike, saying their bills had not been paid. Five years on it is still not clear what has happened to hundreds of thousands of pounds which appear to have gone missing in relation to the project. A French events company involved denies it is responsible for the problem and is suing a senior African Olympic official for defamation. Antton Rouget reports.

French cement firm execs face probe over 'financing Islamic State'

By , and Julien Antoine
A Lafarge lorry photographed in the Paris region in April 2014. © Reuters A Lafarge lorry photographed in the Paris region in April 2014. © Reuters

Two former executives at giant French cement manufacturers Lafarge and the head of its security – a former election candidate for Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National – have been formally placed under investigation for alleged “financing of terrorism”. It follows an investigation by French prosecutors into links between the French group – now merged with a Swiss firm – and jihadist groups such as Islamic State. In 2013 and 2014 the cement group maintained its activities in zones in Syria which were at the time controlled by IS and other armed factions. Fabrice Arfi, Michel Deléan and Julien Antoine report.

Old habits die hard: Macron seeks end to traditional French approach to Africa

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Emmanuel Macron speaking at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on Tuesday November 28th, 2017. © Reuters Emmanuel Macron speaking at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on Tuesday November 28th, 2017. © Reuters

On his first tour of Africa last week President Emmanuel Macron vowed to do away with France's old and discredited approach to the continent. Addressing 800 students in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou, the French head of state certainly struck a fresh tone, talked of new projects and themes and signalled the passing of an old generation. But as Mediapart's editor François Bonnet reports, the old and serious problems confronting France in its relations with Africa have not gone away.

How close friend of Macron ally won public works contracts

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Richard Ferrand, centre, head of the Parliamentary group of Emmanuel Macron's LREM party. © Reuters Richard Ferrand, centre, head of the Parliamentary group of Emmanuel Macron's LREM party. © Reuters

According to information seen by Mediapart an architect friend of senior politician Richard Ferrand won several public contracts from a local authority at the start of the 2000s just after the latter was elected to that council. Earlier this year Ferrand, a close ally of Emmanuel Macron and currently head of the president's La République en Marche party at the National Assembly, faced questions over a property deal by his partner involving a mutual health firm of which he was then managing director. The prosecution authorities later dropped their investigation. Mathilde Mathieu reports on the latest revelations.

The toxic progression of agrochemicals in France

By Benjamin Peyrel (Mediacités)

The European Union on Monday gave the go-ahead to extend the licence for sales of the herbicide glyphosate, recognised by the World Health Organisation as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, for a further five years. The French government, which voted against move, has decided to unilaterally limit the licence to market glyphosate to three years. But France remains Europe’s biggest user, by volume, of agrochemicals, including many considered by scientific studies to present a health risk. Mediapart, in partnership with online journal Mediacités, details here, region by region and with interactive charts, their sales in France by volume, which in turn provides an indication of where they are most employed.