President Emmanuel Macron accused Russia and Turkey of seeking to promote anti-French sentiment in Africa by funding people who stoke resentment against France in the media, in an interview published Friday.
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“We must not be naive on this subject: many of those who speak, who make videos, who are present in the French-speaking media are funded by Russia or Turkey,” he told Jeune Afrique magazine, accusing Moscow and Ankara of trying to “play on postcolonial resentment.”
Macron also said Turkey was contributing to misunderstandings over its defense of the cartoon right following the beheading last month outside Paris of a teacher who showed his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. .
“When I decided to attack radical Islam … my words were distorted. By the Muslim Brotherhood – quite widely – but also by Turkey, which has the ability to influence a large part of public opinion, including in sub-Saharan Africa, “he said.
Reiterating a position which has caused immense controversy in France and beyond in recent months, he added: “I am not attacking Islam, I am attacking Islamist terrorism”.
Tensions between France and Turkey have reached new levels due to a series of disputes in recent months, including Syria, Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean and now France’s crackdown on radical Islam.
France has called for a complete overhaul of the European Union’s relations with Turkey, which, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has considerably strengthened its presence and influence in Africa in recent years.
Russia has also played an increasingly active role in Africa, with analysts pointing to the presence in several countries of the pro-Kremlin mercenary group Wagner.
‘We don’t talk to terrorists’
In a high-profile interview, Macron also ruled out negotiating with jihadist groups in Africa’s Sahel region, where France has deployed a force of thousands.
“We are not talking with terrorists. We are fighting,” Macron said, as debates intensify in France and Africa over the long-term strategy of his Barkhane force.
He said France could talk to different political and other groups, but not to terrorist entities “who continue to kill civilians and soldiers, including our soldiers”.
And Macron accused Guinean President Alpha Condé of organizing a referendum on constitutional changes “only to be able to keep power”, adding that the situation in the country was “serious” following the post-election turmoil.
“It is for this reason that I still have not sent him a congratulatory letter,” Macron said.
Macron added that he hoped to visit Rwanda in 2021 despite continuing tensions with the country and its president Paul Kagame over the 1994 genocide.