Zemmour, French Far-right Pundit, Launches Presidential Run

A far-right former TV pundit with multiple hate-speech convictions officially entered the race for France’s presidency on Tuesday and warned his supporters that they will likely be called racists for backing his anti-immigration and anti-Islam views that have already shaken up the election campaign.  

The launch of Eric Zemmour’s run for the presidency made official a candidacy that had been gathering steam for months before it then stumbled of late — notably after the 63-year-old raised a middle finger at a woman who did likewise to him over the weekend.  

That flash of temper — which Zemmour later acknowledged on Twitter was “very inelegant” — cast fresh doubt on the temperament and electability of the author and former journalist who has polled in low double digits since September despite having no hands-on political experience. Zemmour has drawn comparisons in France to former U.S. President Donald Trump because of his rabble-rousing populism and ambitions of making the jump from the small screen to national leadership.

Name-dropping Joan of Arc, Napoléon Bonaparte, Gen. Charles de Gaulle and others who shaped France’s history, Zemmour announced his candidacy in a pre-recorded video, reading from notes and speaking into a large microphone. The pose evoked imagery of radio addresses that De Gaulle famously delivered during World War II as he urged France to rally to his call against Nazi Germany.

But the message Zemmour delivered was far from that of the wartime leader who later served as president from 1959-1969. Along with images of people on filthy streets and in ramshackle shantytowns, he drove home his view of France as a country mortally threatened by immigration and “in the process of disappearing.”  

“You feel that you are no longer in the country that you knew,” Zemmour said. “Your feel like foreigners in your own country. You are exiles, from the inside.”

The people that Zemmour was shown meeting in the video and the campaign supporters and crowds filmed at his rallies were nearly all white. And the vast majority of people shown doing jobs in the video — a mathematics teacher, a nuclear worker, cooks, suited business leaders, a butcher, a cattle farmer and others — were nearly all white men.

People of color, in contrast, were shown lining up for food handouts, pushing into a crowded train, milling around in a litter-strewn tent city and on a street corner and, in a scene at the start, seemingly taking part in a street deal. Other images showed Paris streets filled with Muslims kneeling down in prayer. Images of women protesting, some with breasts bared, were cut with violent scenes of people attacking police.

“It is no longer time to reform France but to save it,” Zemmour said. “That is why I have decided to stand in the presidential election.”  

He warned supporters to brace for a bruising campaign.

“They will tell you that you are racist,” he said. “They will say the worst things about me.”  

Zemmour joins a crowded spectrum of candidates, from far left to far right. President Emmanuel Macron is expected to seek a second term but hasn’t yet declared his candidacy.

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Rights Group: Taliban Committing ‘Revenge Killings’ Against Former Afghan National Security Forces

ccording to the group Human Rights Watch, the Taliban have carried out hundreds of summary executions and forced disappearances in a series of revenge attacks since seizing power in Afghanistan in August following the withdrawal of Western forces. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Taliban Committing ‘Revenge Killings’ Against Former Afghan Security Forces

Taliban forces have carried out more than 100 summary executions and forced disappearances in just four Afghan provinces, in a series of revenge attacks since the militant group seized power in August following the withdrawal of Western forces, according to Human Rights Watch. 

The attacks were documented in Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, and Kunduz provinces between August and the end of October, but it’s believed such incidents have occurred across Afghanistan.

“They were targeting the people they had fought with. And many of the cases we investigated were people really on the front lines, people who were known to the Taliban in particular localities,” said report author Patricia Gossman, in an interview with VOA.



She said the attacks have taken place despite Taliban promises that they would not seek revenge.

“They offered an amnesty; they have claimed this from their senior officials in Kabul. But what we see on the ground is in fact it doesn’t apply, at least for some people. They are deliberately going after people either based on personal relationships and enmities or because of the role they played,” Gossman said.

Researchers gathered evidence from 67 in-person and telephone interviews with witnesses, relatives, former government officials and Taliban officials.

Employment records 

The report says the Taliban used employment records left behind by the former government to identify people for arrest and execution.

“What started out maybe as a kind of rush maybe of initial revenge killings in the first weeks, now seems to be much more deliberate. It’s spread to other provinces and it seems part of maybe a strategy to ensure that there isn’t any opposition remobilizing against them,” Gossman told VOA. 

Human Rights Watch notes that the Taliban leadership directed members of surrendering Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) units to register with them in order to receive a letter guaranteeing their safety. “However, the Taliban have used these screenings to detain and summarily execute or forcibly disappear individuals within days of their registration, leaving their bodies for their relatives or communities to find,” the report says.

It cites the death of Baz Muhammad, who had been employed in Kandahar province by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the former Afghan state intelligence agency. 

“Around September 30, Taliban forces came to his house in Kandahar city and arrested him; relatives later found his body. The murder, about 45 days after the Taliban had taken over the country, suggests that senior officials ordered or were at least aware of the killing,” the report says.


Night raids

Human Rights Watch accused previous Afghan governments of using enforced disappearances against their opponents, including Taliban fighters and supporters. They accuse the Taliban of engaging in similar tactics. “[They] have also engaged in abusive search operations, including night raids, to apprehend and, at times, forcibly disappear suspected former civilian and security force officials,” according to the report.

It also accuses the Taliban of targeting people they accuse of supporting the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State terror group. 

Taliban response

The Taliban told Human Rights Watch that they have dismissed those responsible for abuses but did not provide any further details or evidence. 

In a speech aired on state media Saturday, the Taliban’s Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund – who claims to be Afghanistan’s prime minister – accused former government officials of stirring up trouble. 

“Nation, be vigilant. Those left over from the previous government in hiding are making remarks and are causing anxiety, misleading the people to distrust their government. Nation, be vigilant, that the enemy does not overrun us again, defiant of our holy government, our security,” Akhund said.

Human Rights Watch is calling for continued United Nations scrutiny and investigation of abuses committed by the Taliban. 

Humanitarian disaster 

The United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund froze Afghan central bank assets worth $9.5 billion and blocked cash shipments to the country after the Taliban forcibly seized power on August 15 from the internationally recognized government of President Ashraf Ghani. 

Aid agencies warn of an impending humanitarian disaster with millions unpaid or out of work, basic services on the brink of collapse, and many Afghans forced to flee their homes. 

“We fear and predict that up to 23 million Afghans will be in crisis or [need] emergency levels of food insecurity. This will likely worsen indeed over the winter,” Deborah Lyons, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, warned earlier in November.

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Malawi Policeman Builds Sports Complex to Reduce Crime

One could mistake Kanduwa Sande for a contractor hired to clear up the once-dilapidated public football pitch in Machinga.

But Sande is an officer at the Machinga Police Station — and has a passion for sports.

The 42-year-old sub-inspector, also an athletics coach, has volunteered to turn a once-forsaken pitch into a sports complex with facilities like a track, netball court and climbing walls for children.

He says the aim is to help develop sports and reduce crime such as rape and sexual assault now rampant in his community.

“One of our responsibilities as police officers is also to reduce crime — to prevent people from doing crime,” Sande said. “So, when one is idle, surely that person will indulge him- or herself in other bad behaviors like committing crimes.”

Sande has been doing voluntary work since 2011 using savings from his monthly salary and working during his free time.

“I don’t spend my lunch hour (break), one hour and 30 minutes, eating only,” Sande said. “No. I also work for maybe 50 minutes. Every day of my lunch hour is sacrificed for voluntary work.”

Over the years, Sande ignored insults from people who didn’t understand the motive behind his work, with some calling him crazy. He asked his wife to also ignore them.

Sande said, “Because I knew people would say so many things to my wife: ‘Are you allowing this one to do this job? Are you married to this person, this mad person?’ So, I said, ‘Don’t tell me anything you hear from other people that will derail me from doing this.’” 

In 2017, his dedication to volunteer work earned him an innovation award for sports, which involved a month-long visit to China, where he learned how best to proceed with his initiative.


Soon after, he purchased and began using machinery to fast-track his initiative.

Government sports officials and community leaders sometimes visit the facility to express appreciation for the work he is doing.

Charles Mandela is the village chief of the area Sande picked to build the sports complex. 

Mandela  said, “Ours is just an appeal to other well-wishers to help Sande in areas he can’t do on his own, like constructing a fence around the ground so that all the sporting activities should be done inside the fence.”

The Ministry of Sports and the Machinga district council will run the facility because it remains government property.

Sande said the sports complex is now nearly complete and expected to officially open to the public at the end of December.

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Blinken in Latvia for NATO Security Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Latvia Tuesday for talks with the country’s leaders and a NATO ministerial meeting as the alliance expresses concern about Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine.

Blinken’s schedule in Riga includes sessions with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. He is also due to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the ministerial talks later in the day.

Levits told reporters after his own talks with Stoltenberg on Monday that Russia’s military presence represents direct pressure on Ukraine, and that NATO “will remain in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

A main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

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US Envoy on Afghanistan to Return to Doha to Meet Taliban

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan will visit Doha next week for two days of meetings with leaders of the Taliban, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday.

“They’ll discuss … our vital national interests when it comes to Afghanistan,” said Price. “That includes counterterrorism, that includes safe passage for U.S. citizens and for Afghans to whom we have a special commitment and that includes humanitarian assistance and the economic situation of the country.”

The U.S. envoy, Tom West, earlier this month attended a meeting of the so-called extended Troika, comprising Pakistan, China, Russia and the United States to discuss Afghanistan. The group had also met with senior Taliban representatives.

West was also part of the U.S. delegation in meetings with Taliban officials in Doha in October, the first such talks between Washington and the Taliban after United States’ chaotic end to its two decade-long war in Afghanistan on Aug. 31.

An abrupt withdrawal of most foreign development support after the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15 from Afghanistan’s Western-backed government has sent the economy into freefall. There is a shortage of hard cash and Taliban leaders are under Western sanctions.

With winter approaching, deeply impoverished Afghanistan has emerged from all-out war into a humanitarian crisis. Millions face growing hunger amid soaring food prices and a drought.

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Protesters Call for Burkina Faso’s President to Resign

Security is worsening in Burkina Faso with the deadliest attacks by Islamist militants in the West African country in years on civilians and security forces. People are protesting the failure of Burkinabe and international forces to stop the violence, with some calling for change at the top. Henry Wilkins reports from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Camera: Henry Wilkins

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Turkey’s Economic Turmoil Threatens to Stoke Refugee Tensions

Last week’s 10% drop in the value of the Turkish currency plunged it to historic lows, threatening an economic crisis. The Turkish lira has dropped 45 percent this year, prompting concerns that economic turmoil could further raise tensions over the presence of millions of refugees. For VOA, Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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Belarus Migrant Crisis Divides Polish Society

Thousands of migrants continue to wait in Belarus to enter the European Union through Poland, a crisis in the central European country that has sharply divided its society between those who want to assist migrants and those who refuse to open their borders. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from Ricardo Marquina in Warsaw.

Camera: Ricardo Marquina

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Israeli Court: 6-Year-Old Cable Car Crash Survivor to Return to Italy

Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld lower court rulings in the bitter custody battle surrounding a 6-year-old boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy, saying he should be returned to his relatives there within two weeks. 

Eitan Biran has been the focus of a legal battle between his paternal relatives in Italy and his maternal family in Israel since surviving the May 23 cable car crash, which killed 14 people, including his parents and younger brother.

Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident. After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, in northern Italy. 

His maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, then spirited him away without the knowledge of the relatives in Italy, taking him across the border into Switzerland by car and then flying him to Israel on a private jet. Peleg has said he acted in the child’s best interest. 

The Peleg family said it would continue to fight “in every legal way” to return the child to Israel. It was not immediately clear what legal options were available following the Supreme Court ruling. 

Earlier this month, an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant for Gabriel Abutbul Alon, who is accused of having driven the car on September 11 that spirited Eitan from his home near Pavia to Switzerland. Alon was arrested in Cyprus last week. 

Peleg was also named in the arrest warrant. 

The boy’s family in Italy said they were happy with the Supreme Court decision, calling it “just and awaited.”

“We can only be happy with the end of this case, which represents a victory for the law and justice,” they said in a statement. Eitan is expected to arrive December 12 in Italy, “where he is awaited with joy.” 


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South Africa’s ‘Little People’ Urge Better Accessibility

From navigating shopping centers to government offices, South Africa’s ‘little people’ say public spaces aren’t designed to be accessible for them. One advocacy group in Johannesburg is calling for better support to help people live independently. Linda Givetash has the report. Camera – Zaheer Cassim.

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Botswana’s Government Loses Bid to Overturn Homosexuality Ruling

Botswana’s government has lost a bid to overturn a 2019 court ruling that decriminalized same-sex relations. Human rights groups have welcomed the decision, saying it opens the door to challenge what they say are other discriminatory laws in Botswana.

The five judges on Botswana’s Court of Appeal were unanimous in upholding the June 2019 landmark decision which recognized homosexuality.

Court of Appeal president Ian Kirby said criminalizing same-sex activities violates the constitutional right of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender persons.

He said the offending sections of the penal code have outlived their usefulness and only serve to encourage law enforcement agents to become keyhole peepers and intrude into the private space of citizens.

The government wanted the 2019 court ruling overturned, arguing that the majority of people in the country did not agree with it.

Representing the LGBTQ community, lawyer Tshiamo Rantao said the matter has been finally laid to rest.

“It is indeed a great victory for the nation, for the lovers of human rights, for my clients. It is a decision of the highest court that will reverberate around the world. It did not have its impact [only] in Botswana but all over the world because the issues before the court were not just local but universal issues. It is a victory that will live with us as a nation for many, many years to come,” said the lawyer.

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (or LEGABIBO) chief executive Thato Moruti said the development will add impetus to advocacy on human rights issues.

“What is quite interesting and evident is that Botswana needs to realize even more the importance of adhering or understanding human rights first. Specifically to today’s judgment, I am quite excited because I believe this judgement has not only challenged us as a people in Botswana, but has also challenged leadership from an engagement perspective, and even from a policy standpoint,” said Moruti.

Moruti said the judgement will spur them to challenge what they say are other discriminatory sections of Botswana’s laws.

“We are continuing with the war. From an organization standpoint, there are legislations or litigations opportunities that we have identified and we are working around the clock to ensure that after this we look at what is next,” said Moruti.

The Southern African Litigation Center executive director, Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, said the court victory is not just for the LGBTQ community, but all vulnerable groups.

“What it [the judgement] does as well is, [it has] given the activists the tool to talk to the public to change public opinion, to talk to traditional and religious leaders. There are a lot of human rights clauses that also talk to persons with disabilities, to use the case, because it is not just for LGBTQ, it’s for a whole vulnerable community,” she said.

Under the previous law, those caught engaging in same-sex activities faced up to seven years in imprisonment.

Homosexuality remains forbidden in most African countries. 

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Russia Says Latest Zircon Hypersonic Missile Test Successful

Russia said Monday it had carried out another successful test of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, as world powers race to develop the advanced weaponry.

Russia, the United States, France and China have all been experimenting with so-called hypersonic glide vehicles — defined as reaching speeds of at least Mach 5.

As part of “the completion of tests” of Russia’s hypersonic missile weapons, the Admiral Gorshkov warship launched a Zircon missile at a target in the Barents Sea at a range of 400 kilometers, the defense ministry said.

“The target was hit,” the ministry said, describing the test as successful.

The missile has undergone several recent tests, with Russia planning to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.

Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9.

Russia’s latest Zircon test came after Western reports that a Chinese hypersonic glider test flight in July culminated in the mid-flight firing of a missile at more than five times the speed of sound over the South China Sea.

Up until the test, none of the top powers had displayed comparable mastery of a mid-flight missile launch.

China denied the report, saying it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.

Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles.

Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.

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Pakistan Mob Burns Police Station in Abortive Bid to Grab Blasphemy Suspect

Authorities in northwestern Pakistan said Monday they had arrested around 30 people in connection with an overnight mob assault on a police station aimed at grabbing and lynching a mentally unstable detainee accused of insulting Islam.

Witnesses and police said thousands of protesters stormed the police station in Charsadda, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Sunday evening and burned the facility along with several nearby security outposts after police refused to hand over the blasphemy suspect.

The mob attack forced police officers to abandon the installation and flee to safety along with the detainee, district police chief Asif Bahadur Khan told reporters Monday.

A video circulating on social media showed the police station burning.

The alleged blasphemer was taken into police custody earlier in the day on charges he desecrated Islam’s holy book, the Quran. Khan said an investigation was underway into the charges against the detainee, but he declined to share further details.

Residents said tension was still high in the Pakistani district amid heavy police deployment to deter further unrest. Khan said they had also engaged local Islamic clerics to help defuse the tension and urge demonstrators to let the law decide the fate of the alleged blasphemer.

Insulting Islam or its Prophet Mohammad carries the death penalty in Pakistan, where mere blasphemy allegations often provoke mob violence and lynching of suspects.

In 2017, a mob of students at a university in Mardan district, next to Charsadda, attacked and killed a fellow student, Mohammad Mashal, after accusing him of sharing blasphemous content on Facebook.

Critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws say accusations of insulting Islam are often used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores in the pre-dominantly Muslim country.

Earlier this month the United States designated Pakistan, along with nine other countries, as violators of religious freedom, saying they have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The U.S. secretary of state compiles a list of such countries each year. Other countries listed this year are Russia, China, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Eritrea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. 

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Talks on Iran Nuclear Deal Resuming in Vienna

Talks about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resume Monday in Vienna after a five-month break and for the first time since a new president took office in Iran.

Like six previous rounds of negotiations, which began in April, the United States is participating indirectly, similar to the 2015 deal, which was known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran will talk directly with the remaining signatories of the 2015 deal — Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — with European diplomats shuttling back and forth to consult with the U.S. side. 

At stake is the resumption of the agreement that brought limits to Iran’s nuclear program lasting between 10 and 15 years in exchange for sanctions relief.

The United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018 during the administration of President Donald Trump, after which Iran began stepping away from its commitments.

To date, Iran has exceeded its agreed limits on the amount of uranium it stockpiles, enriched uranium to higher levels and utilized more advanced centrifuges in its nuclear facilities.

The original agreement came in response to fears that Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran has denied, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes such as research and generating power.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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In French Pantheon, Josephine Baker Makes History Yet Again

France is inducting Josephine Baker — Missouri-born cabaret dancer, French World War II spy and civil rights activist — into its Pantheon, the first Black woman honored in the final resting place of France’s most revered luminaries.

On Tuesday, a coffin carrying soils from the U.S., France and Monaco — places where Baker made her mark — will be deposited inside the domed Pantheon monument overlooking the Left Bank of Paris. Her body will stay in Monaco, at the request of her family.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided on her entry into the Pantheon, responding to a petition. In addition to honoring an exceptional figure in French history, the move is meant to send a message against racism and celebrate U.S.-French connections.

“She embodies, before anything, women’s freedom,” Laurent Kupferman, the author of the petition for the move, told The Associated Press.

Baker was born in 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. At 19, having already divorced twice, had relationships with men and women, and started a performing career, she moved to France following a job opportunity.

“She arrives in France in 1925, she’s an emancipated woman, taking her life in her hands, in a country of which she doesn’t even speak the language,” Kupferman said. 

She met immediate success on the Theatre des Champs-Elysees stage, where she appeared topless and wearing a famed banana belt. Her show, embodying the colonial time’s racist stereotypes about African women, caused both condemnation and celebration.

“She was that kind of fantasy: not the Black body of an American woman but of an African woman,” Theatre des Champs-Elysees spokesperson Ophélie Lachaux told the AP. “And that’s why they asked Josephine to dance something ‘tribal,’ ‘savage,’ ‘African’-like.” 

Baker’s career took a more serious turn after that, as she learned to speak five languages and toured internationally. She became a French citizen after her marriage in 1937 to industrialist Jean Lion, a Jewish man who later suffered from anti-Semitic laws of the collaborationist Vichy regime.

In September 1939, as France and Britain declared war against Nazi Germany, Baker got in touch with the head of the French counterintelligence services. She started working as an informant, traveling, getting close to officials and sharing information hidden on her music sheets, according to French military archives.

Researcher and historian Géraud Létang said Baker lived “a double life between, on the one side, the music hall artist, and on the other side, another secret life, later becoming completely illegal, of intelligence agent.” 

After France’s defeat in June 1940, she refused to play for the Nazis who occupied Paris and moved to southwestern France. She continued to work for the French Resistance, using her artistic performances as a cover for her spying activities.

That year, she notably brought into her troupe several spies working for the Allies, allowing them to travel to Spain and Portugal. “She risks the death penalty or, at least, the harsh repression of the Vichy regime or of the Nazi occupant,” Letang said.

The next year, seriously ill, Baker left France for North Africa, where she gathered intelligence for Gen. Charles De Gaulle, including spying on the British and the Americans — who didn’t fully trust him and didn’t share all information.

She also raised funds, including from her personal money. It is estimated she brought the equivalent of 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to support the French Resistance. 

In 1944, Baker joined a female group in the Air Force of the French Liberation Army as a second lieutenant. The group’s logbook notably mentions a 1944 incident off the coast of Corsica, when Senegalese soldiers from colonial troops fighting in the French Liberation Army helped Baker out of the sea. After her plane had to make an emergency landing, they brought “the shipwrecked to the shores, on their large shoulders, Josephine Baker in the front,” the logbook writes. 

Baker also organized concerts for soldiers and civilians near combat zones. After the defeat of the Nazis, she went to Germany to sing for former prisoners and deportees freed from the camps. 

“Baker’s involvement in politics was individual and atypical,” said Benetta Jules-Rosette, a leading scholar on Baker’s life and a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego. 

After the war, Baker got involved in anti-racist politics. She fought against American segregation during a 1951 performance tour of the U.S., causing her to be targeted by the FBI, labeled a communist and banned from her homeland for a decade. The ban was lifted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and she returned to be the only woman to speak at the March on Washington, before Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

Back in France, she adopted 12 children from all over the world, creating a “rainbow tribe” to embody her ideal of “universal fraternity.” She purchased a castle and land in the southwestern French town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, where she tried to build a city embodying her values.

“My mother saw the success of the rainbow tribe, because when we caused trouble as kids, she would never know who had done it because we never ratted on each other, risking collective punishment,” one of Baker’s sons, Brian Bouillon Baker, told the AP. “I heard her say to some friends ‘I’m mad to never know who causes trouble, but I’m happy and proud that my kids stand united.’”

Toward the end of her life, she ran into financial trouble, was evicted and lost her properties. She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered Baker a place for her and her children to live.

She rebuilt her career but in 1975, four days after the triumphant opening of a comeback tour, she fell into a coma and passed away from a brain hemorrhage. She was buried in Monaco.

While Baker is widely appreciated in France, some critics of Macron question why he chose an American-born figure as the first Black woman in the Pantheon, instead of someone who rose up against racism and colonialism in France itself. 

The Pantheon, built at the end of the 18th century, honors 72 men and five women, including Baker. She joins two other Black figures in the mausoleum: Gaullist resister Felix Eboué and famed writer Alexandre Dumas.

“These are people who have committed themselves, especially to others,” Pantheon administrator David Medec told the AP. “It is not only excellence in a field of competence, it is really the question of commitment, commitment to others.”

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