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Anorexia: Lara Rebecca's recovery watched online by millions


Lara Rebecca has started uploading videos online discussing what she has been through

Anorexia almost claimed the life of 18-year-old Lara Rebecca but her story of recovery two years later has attracted a massive audience.

She uploaded one video to social media about her battle overcoming the eating disorder and it has had almost seven million views in three weeks.

Lara, from Cardiff, said she had been a happy child but started restricting her diet as a teenager as a way to cope with her feelings and it became her "downfall".

"It was a coping mechanism," she said.

"I felt extremely isolated, but it was a sense of control, a way to somehow gain control over my chaotic life at the time.

"The only way I could almost understand these feelings and deal with these feelings and regain the need of a sense of structure was through my eating and, unfortunately, that lead to my downfall to anorexia."

Lara said she was admitted to hospital at the age of 16 and her family and doctors feared for her life.

She was flown home from a family holiday in order to get treatment.

"It was supposed to be a two week holiday to France, and two days in it went from worse to even worse," she said.

"I ended up locking myself in the toilets, actually for hours on end, just to cry and as an excuse not to eat.

"I basically starved myself for a very prolonged period of time and it took me to the point where I had to be flown home.

"I was put on the first flight home to the UK and I went into treatment."

When she was most ill, she had a body mass index (BMI) of 13, well below what is considered healthy for a girl of her age.

She documented her weight loss with photographs.

Lara recorded her condition in photographs

"I remember the mindset I had when I took those photos, and what I saw, and now seeing what is true, it's extremely terrifying," she said.

"To think I was so motivated to lose further weight and now I can't even see where I could have lost any further weight.

"It was very scary, very terrifying and now I just want to jump back in time and give myself a hug."

Recovery was slow and incremental over two years but Lara has turned her life around.

Over time, her relationship with food has improved and she has started exercising. Now she feels confident and happy.

"I developed a personality back, I was the Lara I always had been rather than this anorexic girl that was really depressed and really anxious.

"So it was socialising and seeing friends and seeing an opportunity to get out of it [that] gave me the motivation."

Lara has always written a blog but, recently, she began uploading videos discussing her recovery and documenting her journey.

One film has attracted more than 18,000 comments and she now has more than 50,000 followers.

"I'm lost for words to say the least," she said.

"I know where I was and I know how severe depression can get.

"I know how it feels like to be in the darkest pit and you feel like you can never get out of it.

"Sometimes I reflect on it and it's something I can't really comprehend myself.

"But it is certainly a pat on the back moment. I'm very happy."

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:13

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Tributes as Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn dies aged 84

Tributes have been pouring in for veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn who has died, aged 84, after a long illness.

Mr Flynn represented Newport West since 1987 when he was first elected.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described him as an independent thinker who was a credit to the party and Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford called him a "giant of the Welsh Labour movement".

Newport West Labour Party confirmed in a tweet that Mr Flynn died on Sunday, saying he was "a hero to many of us".

Mr Flynn announced in October he would step down from Parliament "as soon as possible" after becoming confined to bed because of rheumatoid arthritis.

I’m very sad at the passing of my good friend Paul Flynn. He had such love for Newport, knowledge of radical South Wales history and a dry wit. He was an independent thinker who was a credit to the Labour Party. He will be greatly missed.

Welsh Labour leader Mr Drakeford said: "He was one of the most effective communicators of his generation - inside the House of Commons and outside.

"But it was Paul's willingness to speak up for causes beyond the political mainstream which marked him out as a politician of real courage and integrity."

Mr Drakeford said it had been "a privilege to have worked with him, in the run-up to the devolution era and beyond".

Announcing his intention to quit politics, Mr Flynn said he was very frustrated not to be taking an active role after three decades.

He campaigned on a wide-range of issues, including benefits, animal welfare and devolution.

He also campaigned for cannabis to be legalised for medicinal use, and in 2017 called for users to come to Parliament to break the law.

Paul Flynn joked that his temporary promotion to the shadow cabinet was part of a 'diversity project'

A career backbencher, upheaval in the Labour party saw the MP briefly serve on the opposition front-bench in 2016.

Mr Corbyn said: "I'm very sad at the passing of my good friend Paul Flynn. He had such love for Newport, knowledge of radical South Wales history and a dry wit.

"He was an independent thinker who was a credit to the Labour Party. He will be greatly missed."

Mr Corbyn's deputy, Tom Watson, said Mr Flynn was "one of the great characters in politics" adding he was "loved and revered by many",

Jayne Bryant, the Welsh assembly member for Mr Flynn's constituency, first met the MP when she was nine years old.

"He brought politics alive to me then and has done so ever since," she said.

"Respected across the political divide with his wonderful turn of phrase, witty comments and incisive mind - undoubtedly, Paul spoke truth to power."

She told BBC Radio Wales: "He absolutely loved Newport. He was so proud to represent his constituency.

"He really, really cared for people and I think that sometimes gets lost in politics."

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said Mr Flynn was an "exceptional constituency MP".

Conservative Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said Mr Flynn was an "exceptional constituency MP", and said it was a "privilege to work with him".

Mr Flynn's party colleagues paid tribute to Mr Flynn on Twitter when the news broke late on Sunday night.

Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan said Mr Flynn was a "passionate pursuer of justice for the least well off".

He added: "He was a wonderful man who made a huge contribution to Welsh politics."


"We've lost someone who put his values and his beliefs at the heart of everything he said and did," wrote Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies.

Jo Stevens, the Cardiff Central MP, said Mr Flynn was a "kind, principled, fascinating man who was devoted to his constituents".

Former MP and current Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan, said it was a "very, very said day".

She added: "It's a terrible loss and a terrible personal loss as I looked on Paul as a very close friend.

"Paul was an absolutely unique character. You could never put him into a box - you could never anticipate what he would say."

Monmouth MP David Davies said he used to grill Mr Flynn as a youngster when he visited his school in Newport.

"One day he said if I felt that way I should go off and become a Tory MP," Mr Davies said. "He used to joke saying it was his fault that he inflicted a Conservative on Monmouth years later."


ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:05

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Meet Sydney - the teenage taxidermist


Sydney Langton said she would never condone killing animals for taxidermy

In her spare time, 16-year-old Sydney Langton has a singular passion: stuffing birds and foxes and any other roadkill that comes her way. Here she explains why she loves being a teenage taxidermist.

Look into a freezer belonging to any of my friends and you will most likely find chips, fish-fingers and ice cream.

That's not the case with me.

My own personal freezer, stored out in the family shed, is filled with roadkill.

In it are badgers and foxes, a seagull and duck, some pheasants and partridges.

They are not to eat, of course, but to stuff, for my rather unusual hobby - especially for a teenage girl - taxidermy.

Admittedly, it's a niche world. Growing up, while my friends were interested in sport or reading, I was fascinated by dead animals.

If I came across a dead hedgehog or bird, I would poke at it with a stick, or bring it home to examine, marvelling at its anatomy.

My interest was piqued further when, age eight, I was visiting a friend's house and saw a fox's head on the wall.

With my parent's help, I bought one off eBay, but swiftly realised this wasn't a sustainable path.

Instead, I began contacting established taxidermists for advice, and for my 13th birthday, my parents paid for me to attend a course where I was taught how to stuff a jay.

It was quite an involved procedure, learning how to remove the meat off the bones, then separate out the feathers and stuff it with shredded wool.

I had to make precise incisions and use accurate sewing.

From there, I gradually expanded my repertoire.

I have done foxes and badgers, stoats and weasels and even an eagle owl, which had been raised in captivity and died aged 10.

A stuffed eagle owl, worth around £800

I am a member of the Guild of Taxidermists and attend conferences, and although this isn't really a woman's world, or one for teenagers, the experts I've met have been very encouraging and helpful.

My work was also given a boost when my teachers [at school in Llandudno, Conwy], said I could submit it for my GCSE artwork.

Of course, I know some people find taxidermy squeamish or controversial.

But I never condone killing animals for taxidermy, and would only ever work with creatures that have died of natural causes or been hit by cars.

When I'm working with protected species, like red squirrels, I have to have official documents that prove they have not been killed for the purpose of taxidermy.

Personally, I think the process is beautiful; I see the creature that was once there.

I also feel it's a way of preserving the animals for education and of keeping a record of that species for years to come.

The only taxidermy I don't like is pet taxidermy, as I don't feel it can ever truly capture the personality of the animal.

At work: Sydney says each piece takes days to prepare

My hobby has led me to become known locally as the 'taxidermy girl'.

Neighbours bang on the door with foxes and magpies, or tell me where roadkill is, which I collect with my dad, Doug, when we're sure it is safe.

I invest a lot of time in my work; a single crow can take 10 hours to stuff, and it can be a hard, frustrating process that can end in tears.

It is not simply about stuffing an animal.

The main aim, in fact, is to make the creature look as lifelike as possible by its stance or position, and it takes a lot of skill, which I'm still learning.

My interest has now grown to the extent I want to be a professional taxidermist when I leave school.

Already I have some sold some pieces.

Sydney's Cabinet of Curiosities for her GCSE artwork

A smaller bird or animal goes for roughly £80, a full badger for £400, and my Eagle Owl is worth £800, but it's not for sale.

Personally, I love doing birds and one of my ambitions is to taxidermy a peacock.

I do realise this is a niche pastime, but for me, it is one creating art of pure beauty.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:00

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Mountain lion in California tree 'rescued' by firefighters

A very large cat has been rescued from a tree near a property in California after the homeowner saw it while working in the garden, officials say.

US firefighters arrived at the property in San Bernardino after the mountain lion - or cougar - was spotted perched on a branch about 50ft (15m) high.

The area was then secured and the animal was tranquilised and lowered to the ground using a harness.

It was released back into the wild following an assessment by biologists.

"It is common for young mountain lions to wander outside what some would consider normal habitat in an attempt to establish their territory," said Kevin Brennan, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Firefighters arrived within minutes to extract the animal

The department's warden, Rick Fischer, said that extracting the animal would have been difficult had the firefighters not turned up within several minutes on Saturday afternoon with a ladder.

"Leaving the lion in the tree would not have been safe for the community," Mr Fischer added in a statement posted on the San Bernardino County Fire Facebook account.

The mountain lion was released back into the wild after it regained consciousness

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, panthers or pumas, are members of the wild cat family. They live across the Americas, from British Columbia to Argentina.

Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare. In North America, for example, fewer than a dozen fatalities have been recorded in more than 100 years, according to figures provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

Earlier this month, a man running on a popular park trail in the mountains of northern Colorado killed a mountain lion after it pounced on him from behind.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 11:56

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Viewpoint: Why Trump may win his legal fight over border wall


Other presidents got money for a border barrier - why not Trump?

The latest chapter of Washington dysfunction has culminated in drastic action by the president in order to deliver his key campaign promise. But as his opponents shake their heads and counter-punch through the courts, the historical lessons do not bode well for them, writes Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University.

President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency to build his long-promised border wall was met with a torrent of condemnations and threats from Democratic critics, including preparation for another heated court fight.

American politics have not been so bitter and divided since Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were forced to share the same bed in 1776.

There is a fundamental incompatibility - if not mutual revulsion - that divides our politics and its focus has fittingly become a debate over a wall.

Does the reality at the border matter?

After securing only part of the funding that he sought, President Trump declared a national emergency along the southern border to allow him to start construction with over $8bn (£6.2bn) of shifted funds to complete his signature campaign promise. For their part, the Democrats are promising immediate court challenges.

There is little evidence of a true national security emergency on the US border with Mexico. Most illegal immigrants overstay their visas or pass through ports of entry. Moreover, the number of apprehensions are down from 1.6 million in 2000 to roughly 400,000 in each year of Trump's term.

That does not mean that border protection and enhanced enforcement is not warranted. Crossings do remain a serious problem, but few would call this a national emergency.

Yet, President Trump is calling this a national emergency and that may be enough. The reason is not the data but the definition behind a declared emergency.

What is a national emergency?

There is no real definition. Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, Congress simply allowed a president to declare an emergency and to assume extraordinary powers to combat it.

That is the reason why emergencies are so easy to declare and so difficult to end.

While Congress reserved the right to rescind a declaration, it has never done so.

Even if the Democrats secure enough votes in both houses to negate the declaration by a majority vote, it can be vetoed by the president. It would then require a super-majority of two-thirds of both houses to override the veto.

The challenge for the Democrats is getting a federal court to supply the result that they could not secure in their own branch of government. If they are unable to secure a majority of the 535 members which make up both houses of Congress, they are unlikely to change the result with the single vote of an unelected federal judge.

'Haze of Democratic hypocrisy'

There is also a problem for the Democrats in getting a judge to listen to arguments through a thick haze of hypocrisy.

President Trump's assertions of executive authority remain well short of the extremes reached by Barack Obama who openly and repeatedly circumvented Congress.

In one State of the Union address, Mr Obama chastised both houses for refusing to give him changes in immigration laws and other changes. He then declared his intention to get the same results by unilateral executive action.

President Obama with the Libyan ambassador in 2011

That shocking pledge was met with a roar of approval from the Democrats - including Speaker Nancy Pelosi - who celebrated the notion of their own institutional irrelevancy.

In 2011, I represented Democratic and Republican members who challenged the right of President Obama (and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) to launch the Libyan war without a declaration from Congress.

Mr Obama then proceeded (like Mr Trump) to use loose funds in the executive branch to fund the entire war without an appropriation.

Ms Pelosi and the Democratic leadership enthusiastically supported Obama's circumvention of Congress on both the lack of a declaration and the lack of an appropriation.

Will court ignore precedent?

The greatest hypocrisy is the authority that the Democrats intend to use in this challenge.

In 2016, I represented the House of Representatives in challenging one of Mr Obama's unilateral actions, after he demanded funds to pay insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Every year, presidents must ask for appropriations of money to run the government - a critical check on executive authority held by the legislative branch.

Congress refused so Mr Obama simply ordered the Treasury would pay the companies as a permanent appropriation - even though Congress never approved an annual, let alone a permanent, appropriation.

Mr Obama did not declare an emergency, he just took the money. Nevertheless, Ms Pelosi and the Democratic leadership opposed the lawsuit and declared it a meritless attack on presidential authority. We won the lawsuit.

In addition to ruling that Mr Obama violated the Constitution, the federal district court in Washington, DC, ruled that a house of Congress does have standing to bring such a lawsuit - a precedent that Congress had sought to establish.

Now Democrats are going to use the precedent that they opposed under Mr Obama. However, they could end up not only losing the challenge but frittering away this historic precedent.

Where will the $8bn come from?

  • $1.4bn from the agreed budget
  • $600m from cash and assets seized from drug traffickers
  • $2.5bn from a defence department anti-drug trafficking fund
  • $3.5bn reallocated from military construction projects

Courts often turn to standing to avoid tough decisions. Since the Democrats are likely to try to litigate this question in the Ninth Circuit which covers California and some other western states, the judge will not be bound by the DC ruling and could rule against the right of Congress to bring such actions.

Moreover, the litigation to the Supreme Court could easily take two years. Once there, the challengers will face a newly minted conservative majority with two Trump appointees.

That would mean that the Democrats could hand Trump a major victory on his signature campaign issue just before voters go to the polls in 2020.

A different age

That brings us back to the night Franklin and Adams had to share a bed. The two founding fathers were going to meet Admiral Richard Howe of the British Royal Navy in Staten Island to discuss the possibility of ending the Revolutionary War.

They found themselves in New Brunswick, New Jersey, at the Indian Queen Tavern. However, it was full and only one room with one small bed was available.

Two of the most irascible framers of the US Constitution crawled into the small bed and immediately began to quarrel.

Franklin had opened up a window but Adams held the common view of the time that you could get ill from night vapours. Franklin insisted that cool fresh air was, in fact, a health benefit and added: "I believe you are not acquainted with my theory of colds."

Strange bedfellows... John Adams and Benjamin Franklin

They argued all night until Adams fell asleep. Adams simply wrote later: "I soon fell asleep, and left him and his philosophy together."

It is perhaps a lesson for our times.

While the debate over open windows as opposed to open borders differs by a certain magnitude, there was a time when entirely incompatible politicians could reach an agreement.

Sure, it was by exhaustion rather than persuasion, but the dialogue continued to a conclusion without enlisting a federal court.

If the Democrats lose this case shortly before the 2020 election, they may wish they had tried the one-who-can-stay-up-the-latest approach to conflict resolution.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 11:50

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Greeks squeezed by foreign investors in Athens property boom

Geraldine Hynes is panicking about the future.

The 63-year-old has been been trying to buy an apartment ever since she was evicted from the home she rented for 32 years – when it was bought by Chinese investors two years ago.

"I want some security in case the same thing happens again," says Ms Hynes, originally from Ireland. She earns a modest salary as an English teacher, while her Greek husband's monthly pension was cut from €1,500 (£1,315; $1,690) to €500 during the country's economic crisis, which began in 2010.

"When we were evicted there were still apartments selling nearby for €100,000. Now I can't find anything under €250,000. These are Chinese and Russian prices. Not Greek."

Greece's financial crisis a decade ago shrank the country's economy by more than 25% in the following years, but there are finally signs of improvement.

The property market, once completely dead, is on the rise - house prices in Athens rose 3.7% last year.

But this news is causing unease.

Street notices express some Athens residents' anger over high rents

The boom appears to be driven by a controversial "golden visa" scheme, in which non-EU citizens receive residency and free movement in the EU's Schengen zone, in exchange for investing in property.

The worry is that foreign investors are benefiting while ordinary Greeks miss out.

Many EU countries including the UK, Portugal and Spain, have golden visa schemes, but Greece has the lowest threshold. Investors receive five-year residency after purchasing €250,000 of property, making the country a new hotspot for foreign buyers.

According to Enterprise Greece - a business promotion body - 9,756 residence permits for investors and their families were issued in 2018 up to the end of November - up from 6,205 in 2017 and 3,695 in 2016.

The biggest market was Chinese buyers, followed by Russians and Turks, with hundreds arriving at Athens airport every week to be driven around by real estate agents.

The renovation of run-down buildings has benefited some savvy local investors

"There are a lot of companies buying properties from Greeks and reselling to the Chinese," says Lefteris Potamianos, president of the Athens Real Estate Association, who estimates at least one-third of property sales in the city now go to golden visa investors.

"It affects local people trying to rent properties, who see the prices going up. A lot of properties are going from Greek hands to foreign hands. We can't control this."

Graffiti in Athens reads: "Too many Airbnbs equals high rents"

Because prices in central Athens fell so much during the crisis - down to €1,000 per square metre or less - Mr Potamianos explains that investors will typically purchase three or four apartments in popular tourist spots and rent them out on Airbnb.

This has caused rents to rise - by 17% last year, according to Greek rental site Spitogatos.

Residents who have benefited from tourist cash, despite Greece's general economic malaise, are now starting to feel the negative effects.

Salaries have not kept pace with rocketing rents, Spyros Bellas complains

"Every year I've had an increase in visitors, which is good," says Spyros Bellas, who owns a cafe in Koukaki, a neighbourhood named by Airbnb as one of its top growth areas globally in 2016.

"But now I think it's gone too far. Rents have doubled to €600, sometimes they're as much as €1,000. I do not think this reflects the Greek reality. Half of my staff have had to move away."

His friend George Lafe says his landlord recently increased the rent on his studio apartment from €220 to €400 a month. "If you work in a bar or restaurant here, your salary is only €600-700," he explains.

Some Athens residents, such as Iro Christodoulaki, have worked the situation to their advantage. The 31-year-old and her boyfriend have bought and renovated three apartments for Airbnb. One recently sold to a Chinese investor for €58,000 - eight times what they paid for it two years ago.

The couple targeted foreign buyers "because they pay more than Greeks" and sold through a Chinese management company to a buyer who has never viewed the apartment.

"During the crisis there were so many abandoned flats that people did not have the money to renovate," Ms Christodoulaki says. "All our apartments were unliveable when we bought them."

"We have not taken them off the rental market - we created something new."

It's not just Greeks who are concerned about the volume of golden visas being issued. The EU Commission has warned that the scheme may facilitate organised crime and money-laundering.

The Greek government has introduced tighter controls, yet still plans to expand the scheme to include bonds and shares.

On the streets of Athens, many are calling for far tighter regulation.

"There's too much freedom right now," says Mr Bellas. "We need someone to bring rules in, otherwise everything is going to change."

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 10:06

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Has Meghan's accent changed since marrying Prince Harry?

A lot has been written about the Duchess of Sussex in recent months, from speculation on her relationships with other members of the Royal Family to endless discussion of how much she cradles her baby bump.

Now even her accent has become a topic of debate.

When clips of Californian-born Meghan speaking are shared online, the same suggestion often pops up: Has she adopted a British accent?

Some speech experts say they can hear a change, but others are not convinced.

"There does seem to be something in the idea that Meghan Markle's speech has changed a bit, at least in some settings," said phonetics and pronunciation specialist Dr Geoff Lindsey.

"There are occasional vowels which sound a bit more British," he said, while conceding it was tricky to make absolute statements.

One example is her more British pronunciation of the word "all" when she met crowds in Cheshire in June 2018, compared to her pronunciation of the same word in her and Prince Harry's engagement interview in 2017, he said. But "the differences are subtle," said Dr Lindsey.

And Dr Lindsey, an honorary linguistics lecturer at University College London, added that her intonation is more British than American when asking the yes/no question: "Did you make that for us?" in a clip from Birkenhead in January 2019.

Marisa Brook, assistant professor in linguistics at the University of Toronto, said the duchess has "developed a style that sounds very English-aristocratic for interacting with the public".

Among the examples she highlighted was the duchess saying "I do appreciate that" in the same clip from Birkenhead (above) in January 2019.

"The vowel in 'that' is further back in the mouth than you would expect for American English," said Ms Brook, suggesting it could be a consequence of living in southern England.

Ms Brook, who has studied accent changes in high-profile figures, said: "I think a lot of it is deliberate on her part.

"She's developed a style to be used when directly talking with the British public.

"These are the situations where people might be judging her in public instantly, where it really benefits her to sound British and aristocratic."

"I wouldn't be surprised if the duchess had had some coaching," Ms Brook added

"If it's conscious, I don't think it makes her manipulative, or a poser or anything," said Ms Brook, who attributes any change to the duchess's "unique position".

"She's someone who's very off-beat from those who usually join the Royal Family - it makes a lot of sense. It's not that she is changing who she is.

"It's like she's changing how she dresses - it's like an extremely fancy outfit.

"I would call it a reasonable resource for her to draw on, given how unlikely her change in circumstances - and how dramatic."

Phonetics professor Jane Setter, from the University of Reading, agrees there is some difference in the duchess's vowel pronunciation in public since her move to the UK, but "it's not huge".

Professor Setter said the crowds "will make a difference" because of something called accommodation, which is when people adapt their speech - consciously or unconsciously - to the people they are talking to.

Accommodation "is a social thing, showing a willingness to move closer to a speaker," says Professor Setter

"We all do this to some extent - speak differently with different people," said Professor Setter.

"In a social role like the one Meghan is now in, where she has to meet lots of people and basically make a good impression on them in a short space of time, the ability to do this is very useful.

"But it would be weird to take this too far. I don't think British people would accept her if she suddenly started sounding like she was in the cast of EastEnders - or spoke like the Queen.

"She is who she is and it's important that she is genuine. Speech is part of that."

Accents can reflect various things about people, said sociolinguist Dr Ella Jeffries, from the University of Essex - not only our background, but also our affiliations and aspirations.

And for someone like the duchess, whose success may depend on trying to fit in, accent changes can happen naturally and fast.

"Lots of different factors play a role in who accommodates, how they accommodate and why," said Dr Jeffries.

"Someone who has a strong affiliation with the region they grew up in and is very proud of their heritage for example, might not change the way they speak much - even if they move to another part of the country, or even abroad.

"However, someone with lots at stake in trying to 'fit in' or sound like they belong to a new in-group - British royalty, in the case of Meghan - might find accommodation happens quite naturally and quite quickly."

Some features of language - like saying "lift" instead of "elevator" - tend to alter faster than pronunciation, said Dr Jeffries

Could her background in acting play a role in how easily her accent might change?

"Certainly any potential accent coaching she has had will have made her more aware of the differences - and potentially better at mimicking them," said Dr Jeffries.

"But on the other hand, maybe she therefore has better control of her accent than others and if she decides she wants to, might stay staunchly American sounding."

But overall, Dr Jeffries said she did not hear much evidence of the duchess sounding more British.

And Professor Paul Kerswill, a sociolinguist from the University of York, is even less convinced, saying "there really isn't much to go on".

"Meghan is pretty consistent in her accent... whether acting a 'FedEx girl' in 2011, or a lawyer in Suits the same year," he said.

"In the interview with Harry, the same thing applies: the only point where I felt there was some Received Pronunciation creeping in was in the word 'roasting', where the vowel is central and not back."

Interestingly, he added that the duchess's clothing could be a reason for any perceived accent change.

"It's been proved that appearance, ethnicity and age all influence what we think we hear, even when there's no difference in what is being played back in the audio," said Professor Kerswill.

In American English, "all" is pronounced more like "ol" whereas Britons pronounce the word "orl". The duchess uses the more British "orl" when saying "Yes, we all had a good day I think," says Dr Jeffries.


In words ending with "t", American speakers typically sound the final "t" more weakly. Speakers of standard British English explode the "t" - which means pronouncing it strongly, like at the beginning of a word. The duchess seems to do this, says Dr Lindsey, when she says "sweet" here and here.

In questions which require a yes/no answer, such as "are you okay?", Americans typically just use a rise in intonation, whereas in British English the pitch falls and then rises. Dr Lindsey says the duchess adopts the British style when she says: "Did you make that for us?"

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:58

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Li Rui: The old guard Communist who was able to criticise Xi Jinping

"We are not allowed to talk about past mistakes."

Li Rui said this in 2013, while reflecting on the similarities between China's then-new leader Xi Jinping and the founding father of Communist China, Mao Zedong.

Mr Xi, he warned, was echoing Mao's suppression of individual thought, and was trying to build a similar cult of personality - both things he had experienced at first hand.

Li Rui joined the Communist Party in 1937, at the start of the brutal Sino-Japanese war, and 12 years before the party won the civil war that established the People's Republic. He was hand-picked by Mao to become his personal secretary in 1958.

But he was also imprisoned soon afterwards for criticising Mao's Great Leap Forward, the failed modernisation programme now thought to have killed between 30 and 60 million people through torture and starvation.

Despite this turbulent history with the party, the fact that Mr Li was one of the original revolutionaries meant that he occupied a special place in contemporary China - one that allowed him a degree of freedom to talk about the ruling party's many issues, and how he felt things should be done differently.

People may not be allowed to talk about past mistakes, but Mr Li did it anyway - and his work has helped historians understand the truth and scale of Mao's atrocities.

Li Rui died in Beiijng on Saturday, aged 101.

An underground revolutionary

As a university student, Mr Li joined a group of idealistic Communist activists protesting against Japanese occupation. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 20, he officially joined the party. He was tortured for his communist activism.

But things changed when the party came into power in 1949, and by 1958 Mr Li had become the youngest vice minister in China.

Li Rui spoke to the BBC's Carrie Gracie in 2017

It was also that year that he had a meeting with Mao that would change the course of his life. Mao, having seen Mr Li argue passionately against building the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, chose him to be his personal secretary.

Their relationship didn't last long.

'Mao put no value on human life'

In 1959, Mr Li openly criticised Mao's Great Leap Forward - a policy that was supposed to boost China's economic output, but instead unleashed widespread famine across the country.

For this transgression Mr Li was expelled from the Communist Party, and he was imprisoned for eight years in Qincheng, maximum security prison built for the detention of disgraced senior party officials.

"Mao's way of thinking and governing was terrifying," he would tell the Guardian newspaper many years later. "He put no value on human life. The deaths of others meant nothing to him."

Li Rui said Mao Zedong, pictured, "put no value on human life"

Following Mao's death, the more pragmatic Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978 and Mr Li was rehabilitated and allowed back into the party. He then became a strong advocate for political reform, and in his later years, threw himself into calling for China to move further towards a European socialist-style system.

He wrote five books on Mao, all of which were published overseas and banned in mainland China. His last book, published in 2013, called for the current "one-party, one-leader and one-ideology regime" to be overhauled. His daughter, Li Nanyang, has spoken of having her copies of his memoir confiscated at Beijing's airport.

Aside from writing books, he worked right into his 90s as a patron of the reformist magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu - roughly translated as "China through the ages

The magazine was taken over in 2016. Its editor Wu Si was forced out, and its former staff released a statement warning that "anybody who publishes any periodicals with the title of Yanhuang Chunqiu will be nothing to do with [them]".

Professor Steve Tsang, director of SOAS's China Institute, tells BBC News that this affected Li Rui deeply.

"The single most important thing that Li Rui had, was the patronage that he gave to the magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu," Professor Tsang says. "It does still exist, but it's been completely changed it terms of management and focus. It's practically a different magazine."

The last idealist

But even though his writing was censored, Mr Li was not a dissident - he remained a party member until his death. And the fact that he was left to compose his memoirs from a prestigious apartment block in Beijing shows how, despite his outspoken criticism of the current leadership, he continued to be revered for his role as one of the country's original revolutionaries.

But with Mr Li dies the idealism of the activist who joined his party eight decades ago, and spent the years since vigorously rebelling against leaders who abused their power.

"He was among the last of that generation of idealists who joined the Communist Party at the beginning, and who tried to hold the Communist Party to the rhetoric [they heard] when they were being recruited," Prof Tsang says.

"There is probably nobody else who will hold the party now to what the party had originally said it was meant to do."

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:48

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Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport

A Niger national who was expelled from Israel has been stuck at the international airport in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, since November after his home country refused to take him back.

"I have been staying here at the airport under very bad conditions because there's nothing, nothing at all," 24-year-old Eissa Muhamad told the BBC.

Mr Muhamad's series of misfortunes began last April when he was arrested for being in Israel illegally.

He had been living in the Middle Eastern state since 2011, having left Niger's north-western Tilaberi region as a 16-year-old in search of a better life.

He said he paid traffickers to take him across Libya and Egypt before he entered Israel by foot.

Once in Tel Aviv, Mr Muhamad survived by doing odd jobs in hostels and in a sweet factory until April 2018 when he was arrested for being in Israel without proper documents.

After several months in detention, Israel issued him an emergency travel document and put him on an Ethiopian Airlines plane, via Addis Ababa, to Niger in November. But on arrival in Niamey, Niger's capital, he was refused entry by Niger's authorities who alleged his travel document was false.

"They didn't want me in Niger. They didn't accept me," Mr Muhamad said.

Eissa Muhamad (C) spent seven years living in Israel

After more than a week of being detained in Niger he was deported back to Israel. But Israel refused to accept him and detained him again for several weeks.

"They tied my hands and legs and forced me into a plane back to Niger which refused to accept me again," the 24-year-old said.

Then the travel document issued by Israel expired when he was stuck in transit at Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport after Niger refused to accept him for a second time.

Food handouts

That was at the end of November, and he been stranded there ever since.

The BBC has repeatedly tried to contact Niger's foreign ministry and its embassy in Ethiopia without success to ask why their authorities believed the document was false.

Mr Muhamad now spends his day wondering the corridors of the departures area, depending on food handouts from people in the airport lounges.

"Sometimes the airline people give me food. It's the same every day but I am grateful to them," he said.

When I met him, he was having breakfast at an Ethiopian Airlines lounge. Its employees have been giving him food since he became marooned here.

Many migrants who enter Israel illegally end up in detention centres

He took me to the Muslim prayer room and showed me a small corner where his bags and a small shawl were spread out.

"This is where I sleep most nights. If it's too full, I find one of the seats outside, say a prayer and try to sleep," he said, adding that he has had not access to a shower now for several months.

"I cannot stay here. I want to send out a message to [anyone] to help me because I want to move from here.

"I cannot stay at the airport because the airport is not my home," Mr Muhamad said.

His case echoes that of a Syrian man who spent seven months living in an airport in Malaysia. Hassan al-Kontar posted regular videos from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which brought him to world attention and last November he was allowed to travel to Canada, where he had been granted asylum.

"I miss my home. Everyone loves his or her home. Your home is your home. But this condition here is very hard. You understand? It's very hard," Mr Muhamad said.

Israel's immigration department defended itself, saying in a statement issued to the BBC that Mr Muhamad had been deported because he had been in the country illegally.

"He is a citizen of Niger. It has nothing to do with us because he was expelled from here and when he arrived in Niger, he refused to co-operate with the authorities. How is Israel connected? He is not an Israeli," the statement said.

It rubbished allegations that the emergency travel document was a fake.

"The Laissez Passer is a transit document for foreigners. It was legally designed precisely for such cases," the statement said.

'Asylum his only option'

Mr Muhamad insists that he has co-operated with all authorities - in Niger, Israel and Ethiopia - throughout his ordeal.

His case has put Ethiopia in an awkward position. It has always welcomed refugees and currently hosts nearly a million of them.

The Eritrean runner fearing deportation from Israel

This month it enacted a new policy that gives refugees access to education and work opportunities.

But an immigration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they can only intervene in Mr Muhamad's case if he makes an asylum request, which he has refused to do.

"It's all up to him. We care about his dignity so we will approach him to find out if he will change his mind so he can get refugee status here. It's the only thing we can do," the official added.

But Mr Muhamad does not want to stay in Ethiopia, and says he would prefer to go home to Niger or back to his life in Israel.

An Israeli non-governmental organisation working with migrants and refugees said Mr Muhamad's case was similar to that of other migrants expelled from Israel.

"Other migrants deported from Israel with the Israeli travel document have been refused entry to their countries of origin, or other countries en route, because the authorities claim the Israeli travel documents are false, " the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said in a statement.

"In 2016 we published a report, Forgotten in Prison, which details the cases of migrants who are faced with the same problem," it added

It also wants Israeli officials to investigate Mr Muhamad's allegation that he was brutally assaulted while in detention.

"What is required now is that Eissa Muhamad be returned to Israel so that his accusations of brutality at the hands of Israeli immigration authorities can be investigated, and a solution found so that he may return to Niger," said Shira Abo, the organisation's spokesman.

But until a resolution is found, Mr Muhamad will keep wondering Bole Airport like a ghost.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:41

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Pulwama attack: Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir gun battle

Four soldiers have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir in a gun battle with militants, police say.

The clash occurred in Pulwama district, where more than 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a suicide attack on Thursday.

A civilian was also killed in the shootout as Indian troops launched a search operation in the area.

Meanwhile Pakistan has recalled its ambassador from Delhi for consultations amid escalating tensions.

India recalled its top diplomat from Pakistan in the wake of Thursday's attack - in which it said the Pakistani state was complicit.

Pakistan denies any role in the bombing, which was claimed by a group based on its soil - Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Police say two militants who were trapped in the village in Pulwama have been killed in Monday's operation.

Heavy gunfire has been heard, and Indian security officials are appealing to villagers to stay indoors.

Police told BBC Urdu that when they fired "warning shots" at the house in Pinglena village where the militants were hiding, they fired back. One officer who was critically injured has been taken to hospital.

The owner of the house was killed during the exchange of fire, police added.

Deadliest attack

Last week's attack in Pulwama was the deadliest in Kashmir in decades.

The bomber used a vehicle packed with explosives to ram a convoy of 78 buses carrying Indian security forces on the heavily guarded Srinagar-Jammu highway about 20km (12 miles) from the capital, Srinagar.

The alleged bomber was identified as a local Kashmiri aged between 19 and 21. The following day, police began searching villages in Pulwama.

Thursday's attack happened on the heavily guarded Srinagar-Jammu highway

Thursday's attack sparked anti-Pakistan protests in some Indian cities and angry mobs targeted Kashmiri students and businessmen.

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir but control only parts of it.

Kashmiri Muslims are being warned to stay vigilant, amid reports of threats and intimidation after last week's deadly attack on Indian forces.

Isolated incidents of students from Kashmir being beaten up or evicted from their accommodation in northern Indian states were reported in local media.

India's Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) offered help to students in need, but also warned of false reports.

The heavy death toll of the attack shocked many across the country and led the Indian government to say it would begin its retaliation by "completely isolating" Pakistan diplomatically.

India has already imposed a swathe of economic measures on Pakistan after the attack, including revoking Most Favoured Nation trading status and raising customs duty to 200%.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:38

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British IS schoolgirl 'wants to return home'

One of three schoolgirls who left east London in 2015 to join the Islamic State group says she has no regrets, but wants to return to the UK.

In an interview with the Times, Shamima Begum, now 19, talked about seeing "beheaded heads" in bins - but said that it "did not faze her".

Speaking from a refugee camp in Syria, she said she was nine months pregnant and wanted to come home for her baby.

She said she'd had two other children who had both died.

She also described how one of her two school friends that had left the UK with her had died in a bombing. The fate of the third girl is unclear.

'It was like a normal life'

Bethnal Green Academy pupils Ms Begum and Amira Abase were both 15, while Kadiza Sultana was 16, when they left the UK in February 2015.

They flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day. They later crossed the border into Syria.

"I'm not the same silly little schoolgirl who ran away four years ago," Ms Begum said

After arriving in Raqqa, she stayed at a house with other newly arrived brides-to-be, she told the Times.

"I applied to marry an English-speaking fighter between 20 and 25 years old," she said.

Ten days later she married a 27-year-old Dutch man who had converted to Islam.

She has been with him since then, and the couple escaped from Baghuz - the group's last territory in eastern Syria - two weeks ago.

Her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters as they left, and she is now one of 39,000 people in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Asked by Times journalist Anthony Loyd whether her experiences of living in the one-time IS stronghold of Raqqa had lived up to her aspirations, Ms Begum said: "Yes, it did. It was like a normal life. The life that they show on the propaganda videos - it's a normal life.

"Every now and then there are bombs and stuff. But other than that..."

She said that seeing her first "severed head" in a bin "didn't faze me at all".

"It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam.

"I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance," she said.

"I'm not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago," she told Mr Loyd.

"I don't regret coming here."

Shamima Begum was legally a child when she pinned her colours to the Islamic State mast. And if she were still under 18 years old, the government would have a duty to take her and her unborn child's "best interests" into account in deciding what to do next.

But she's now an apparently unrepentant adult - and that means she would have to account for her decisions, even if her journey is a story of grooming and abuse.

Another British jihadi bride, Tareena Shakil, who got out of the war zone with her child, lied to the security services on her return and was jailed for membership of a terrorist group.

If Ms Begum got out of the country, that is the kind of charge she could face - along with encouraging or supporting terrorism.

But that's a long way off. Assuming she made it to an airport, the UK could temporarily ban her from returning until she agreed to be investigated, monitored and deradicalised.

Social services would also certainly step in to consider whether her child should be removed to protect him or her from radicalisation.

But Ms Begum said the "oppression" had come as a "shock" and said she felt the IS "caliphate" was at an end.

"I don't have high hopes. They are just getting smaller and smaller," she said. "And there is so much oppression and corruption going on that I don't really think they deserve victory."

She referred to her husband having been held in a prison where men were tortured.

Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) in photos issued by police

A lawyer for the family of Kadiza Sultana said in 2016 that she was believed to have been killed in a Russian air strike.

Ms Begum told the Times her friend had died in a bombing on a house where there was "some secret stuff going on" underground.

She added: "I never thought it would happen. At first I was in denial. Because I always thought if we got killed, we'd get killed together."

'Scared this baby is going to get sick'

Ms Begum said losing two children "came as a shock. It just came out of nowhere, it was so hard".

Her first child, a girl, died at the age of one year and nine months, and was buried in Baghuz a month ago.

Her second child - the first to die - died three months ago at the age of eight months, of an illness that was compounded by malnutrition, the Times reports.

She told the paper she took him to a hospital. "There were no drugs available, and not enough medical staff," she said.

As a result she said she was "really overprotective" of her unborn child.

She said this concern also contributed to her decision to leave Baghuz.

"I was weak," she said. "I could not endure the suffering and hardship that staying on the battlefield involved.

"But I was also frightened that the child I am about to give birth to would die like my other children if I stayed on."

She said she remained scared her unborn baby would become ill in the refugee camp.

"That's why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of - health-wise, at least," she said.

She said she should be giving birth "any day now".

"I'll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child."

Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer who was instructed by the Bethnal Green girls' families after they ran away, said the families had told him they now wanted "time and space to process what's happened"

Shamima's sister Renu addressed her in an appeal in 2015: ''We love you more than anybody could love you''

Security minister Ben Wallace said he could not comment on Ms Begum's case for legal reasons but said any Britons who had gone to Syria to engage or support terrorist activities should be prepared to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted if they came back to the UK.

He said there was no consular assistance in Syria so any Briton wanting help would need to find consular services elsewhere in the region.

Asked whether the government would be rushing to bring home people such as Ms Begum, he said: "I'm not putting at risk British people's lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state."

He added that while the UK had a duty of care to children of Britons in Syria, he also had a duty towards all UK citizens and would do what was "proportionate and necessary" to keep people safe.

Sir Peter Fahy, a retired senior police chief who led the Prevent terrorism prevention programme at the time the girls ran away, said if Ms Begum did return to the UK, the authorities would first detain her and investigate whether there was enough evidence to mount a prosecution.

He said he could understand why the government was "not particularly interested" in facilitating her return.

"If the woman was showing complete remorse, it would be completely different," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said it would cost a "vast amount of money" and the biggest challenge would be for local police to keep her safe.

They would have to ensure she did not become a lightning rod for both right-wing extremists and Islamic extremists and did not try to justify her position and actions, he added.

IS has lost control of most of the territory it overran, including its strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

However, fighting continues in north-eastern Syria, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they captured dozens of foreign fighters in recent weeks.Families flee last IS village in Syria
After the caliphate: Has IS been defeated?
London schoolgirl 'feared dead in Syria'

ruby Posted on February 14, 2019 10:48

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Ex-US Air Force officer Monica Witt charged with spying for Iran

US prosecutors have accused a former US Air Force officer of spying for Iran in an elaborate operation that targeted her fellow intelligence officers.

Monica Witt, who allegedly defected to Iran in 2013, had previously worked as a US counterintelligence officer.

Four Iranian citizens have also been charged with attempting to install spy software on computers belonging to Ms Witt's colleagues.

According to the FBI, Ms Witt was last seen in southwest Asia in July 2013.

A previously issued FBI missing persons poster said she was working as an English teacher in either Afghanistan or Tajikistan, and had lived overseas for more than a year before vanishing.

Monica Witt was last heard from while travelling in southwest Asia.

Prosecutors say Ms Witt had been granted the highest level of US security clearance and worked in the US Air Force from 1997 to 2008.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the US Justice Department's national security division, told AP News: "It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country."

The US Department of Treasury has also sanctioned two Iranian companies - New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company - for their role in the plot.

Investigators allege Ms Witt was recruited after attending two conferences hosted by New Horizon Organization, which was working on behalf of the Iranian National Guard's Quds Force to collect intelligence on attendees.

Several conferences sponsored by the New Horizon Organization have taken place in Iran and Iraq in recent years, US officials say, adding the conferences often include an "anti-Western" sentiment and "propagate anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories including Holocaust denial".

The Department of Treasury accuses Net Peygard Samavat Company of being "involved in a malicious cyber campaign to gain access to and implant malware on the computer systems of current and former counterintelligence agents".

Monica Elfriede Witt, a former Texas resident, left the US military in 2008 after more than a decade of service.

In a charging document, investigators say the 39-year-old was deployed by the US to locations in the Middle East to conduct classified counterintelligence operations.

She is accused of sharing US government secrets, including the name of agents and specifics of operations, with Iran beginning as early as January 2012.

Prosecutors allege that shortly after defecting to Iran, she handed over information on her colleagues in order to cause "serious damage" to the United States.

According to officials, she sent a message to her Iranian contact in 2012 saying: "I loved the work, and I am endeavouring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil. Thanks for giving me the opportunity."

While in Iran, she also allegedly converted to Islam during a television segment after identifying herself as a US veteran, and delivered several broadcasts in which she criticised the US.

In the weeks after defecting, she also conducted several Facebook searches of her former colleagues, and is alleged to have exposed one agent's true identity, "thereby risking the life of this individual".

A warrant has been issued for Ms Witt, who remains at large.

Last November, US President Donald Trump re-imposed all sanctions on Iran that had been suspended due to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement.

Mr Trump has withdrawn the US from the agreement, leading to a foreign policy rift between the US and the European nations who are party to the deal.

The US and Iran do not maintain diplomatic relations, and communications between the two nations are exchanged through Swiss diplomats.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 18:01

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Brexit: Theresa May plays down 'deal or delay' report

Theresa May has played down reports that she could force MPs to choose between backing her deal or accepting a delay to EU withdrawal.

ITV News said chief UK negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process.

The PM suggested MPs should not rely on "what someone said to someone else as overheard by someone else, in a bar".

"It is very clear the government's position is the same," she said.

"We triggered Article 50 (the process by which the UK leaves the EU)... that had a two-year time limit, that ends on the 29 March.

"We want to leave with a deal, and that's what we are working for."

The prime minister has said she will lift the requirement for a 21-day period before any vote to approve an international treaty, which means she could delay the final Brexit vote until days before the UK is due to leave the EU.

No 10 insists Mrs May still plans to hold a vote on a deal as soon as possible but Labour has accused her of "running down the clock" in an effort to "blackmail" MPs into backing her deal.

At Prime Minister's Questions, the SNP's Westminster Leader Ian Blackford urged her to rule out holding a "meaningful vote" on the deal with less than two weeks to go until Brexit.

"The prime minister must stop playing fast and loose - businesses are begging for certainty," he said.

Mrs May said the way to give businesses certainty was to back the deal she had negotiated with the EU.

But Mr Blackford told her she had been "rumbled by your own loose-lipped senior Brexit adviser". It was a reference to the ITV report that Mr Robbins was overheard saying he expected MPs to be presented with a choice of backing either a reworked withdrawal deal, or a potentially significant delay to Brexit.

MPs rejected the deal negotiated with the EU by a historic margin in January and the prime minister says she is seeking legally-binding changes to the controversial "backstop" - the "insurance policy" aimed at avoiding a return to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Sir Keir Starmer says MPs would force the PM to delay Brexit, rather than accept a no-deal scenario

The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 29 March, whether or not a deal has been approved by the Commons.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed to the decision to scrap a no-deal Brexit contract with a ferry company that had no ships as a "spectacular failure" which was "a symptom of the utter shambles of this government and its no-deal preparations". He described the prime minister's Brexit strategy as "costly, shambolic and deliberately evasive".

Mrs May accused Mr Corbyn of preferring "ambiguity and playing politics to acting in the national interest" saying MPs did not know if he backed another referendum, a deal or Brexit.

"People used to say he was a conviction politician - not any more," she said.

The PM has promised to return to the Commons on 26 February with a further statement - triggering another debate and votes the following day - if a deal has not been secured by that date.

If a deal is agreed, MPs will have a second "meaningful vote", more than a month after Mrs May's deal was rejected in the first one.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer is meeting Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington on Wednesday to discuss Labour's Brexit proposals.

No 10 has indicated it is willing to make concessions on protection for workers but Labour's push for a closer future customs relationship than Mrs May proposes, remains a sticking point.

Mrs May told MPs on Tuesday she was discussing a number of options with the EU to secure legally-binding changes to the backstop, including replacing it with "alternative arrangements", putting a time limit on how long it can stay in place, or a unilateral exit clause so the UK can leave it at a time of its choosing.

MPs are due to vote again on the Brexit process on Thursday in what was expected to be a routine procedure acknowledging the government's efforts.

However, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted that Mrs May could be faced with another defeat, with influential Brexiteers from the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers indicating that they will refuse to back the government.

They are angry at being asked to support the PM's motion, which combines the view backed by a majority of MPs last month that the government should seek an alternative to the backstop with a separate move to stop Brexit happening without a formal deal.

The group's deputy chairman, Mark Francois, told the BBC members had "pleaded" with Downing Street to change the wording, which he said goes back on what she has previously told MPs.

"We cannot vote for this as it is currently configured because it rules out no deal and removes our negotiating leverage in Brussels."

Most MPs want to avoid a no-deal scenario, fearing chaos at ports and disruption to business. However, some Brexiteers have played down that prospect arguing it is an example of "Project Fear".

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned on Tuesday that time was running short for the ratification of a deal under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.

The Act requires 21 sitting days before the ratification of any international treaty, to allow MPs to study the agreement.

But Mrs May responded: "In this instance MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote."

If there was not time for normal procedures, the government would amend the law around Brexit to allow it to be ratified more quickly.

Labour has tabled an amendment for Thursday that would force the government to come back to Parliament by the end of the month to hold a substantive vote in the Commons on its plan for Brexit.

As we talked about late on Monday, there has been a sense building in Westminster that the prime minister is, maybe by accident, maybe increasingly by design, looking to almost the last possible minute for the definitive Brexit vote.

While ministers speak publicly of "talks" that must be given time to be completed with the EU, and officials continue to chew over the possibility of the "Malthouse compromise" (remember that? It already seems like months ago that it emerged, blinking, into the Brexit saga) more and more MPs believe it is displacement activity - ministers keeping outwardly busy while they run down the clock.

Early on Tuesday morning, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom did not exactly quash that notion in an interview with the Today programme.

She appeared to open up the possibility that MPs might in the end be asked to vote at a moment of peak jeopardy, and that ministers might be willing to let the matter run that long.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister herself hinted that the government was prepared to do that.

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 15:22

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Spain budget failure puts snap election on the cards

Spain's Socialist government is widely expected to call a snap general election after failing to get its budget through parliament.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's bill failed after parties from the Catalonia region refused to support it.

Their requests for discussions about the region's right to self-determination had been refused.

Before the vote, government sources had warned that a defeat would result in an early election.

In the end, 191 out of the parliament's 350 members voted to reject the government's budget.

Mr Sánchez left the room without making any announcement or comment. some of his political opponents, however, called for fresh elections in media interviews.

Catalan parties rejected the proposals in the same week that Catalan separatist leaders went on trial for rebellion and sedition over their unrecognised independence referendum in 2017.

Mr Sánchez leads a minority government, with less than a quarter of the seats in parliament.

He became prime minister after his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, was pushed out in a no-confidence vote over a corruption scandal. But Mr Sánchez's nomination was supported by a range of smaller parties with competing interests.

If he calls a general election, it will be the third in five years.

Catalan pro-independence parties had supported the government's previous legislation while insisting on a dialogue over independence for their region as the price for supporting the budget.

The parties which Mr Sánchez needed to support him said they were open to negotiations so long as the Spanish government considered Catalonia's right to self-determination.

But the government's stance remains that, according to the country's constitution, the nation is "indissoluble", and no part of it can secede from the whole.

That argument came to the fore when the 12 Catalan pro-independence leaders and activists went on trial on Tuesday.

Outside the court, rival groups offered support - or scorn - for the accused

Catalonia's current regional government supports the collection of former ministers and public figures. Its president, Quim Torra, turned up to the trial wearing the yellow ribbon - a symbol of solidarity.

He told Reuters news agency: "We are not demanding anything that isn't democratic, that wouldn't be done via ballot boxes."

Long hours of negotiation and parliamentary debate failed to break the deadlock.

Protesters angered by the government's outreach to Catalan separatists call for new elections in Spain

Long hours of negotiation and parliamentary debate failed to break the deadlock.

Ahead of the vote, Spain's finance minister María Jesús Montero attempted to appeal to economic sensibilities, labelling the budget's provisions for Catalonia as generous.

But she also called the insistence on independence talks a form of "blackmail".

If an election is called, the outcome is not certain to return Mr Sanchez's minority government to power.

The largest party in the current parliament, with 134 seats, is actually the conservative People's Party.

Mr Sanchez's Socialist party holds just 84 out of the 350 seats, propped up by a confidence-and-supply agreement and the support of a handful of smaller parties.

But it has the advantage in the opinion polls, which show the party ahead of its rivals.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 15:08

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Maria Ressa: Head of Philippines news site Rappler arrested

The CEO of Rappler, a news website critical of the government in the Philippines, has been arrested at its headquarters in Manila.

Maria Ressa said the accusation of "cyber-libel" is an attempt by Rodrigo Duterte's government to silence the publication.

It is the latest in a string of different allegations against her.

The president, who calls the site "fake news", has previously denied charges against her are politically motivated.

Rappler journalists live-streamed the arrest on Facebook and Twitter.

Footage streamed on Facebook showed plain-clothes party officials speaking with Maria Ressa, while several of the site's journalists live-tweeted what was happening.

Officers from the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) reportedly ordered them to stop filming and taking photos.

Miriam Grace Go, Rappler's news editor, later tweeted that NBI agents had led Ms Ressa out of Rappler's offices.

Chay Hofileña, Rappler's head of investigative journalism, told BBC News that their main concern was making sure Ms Ressa did not have to spend the night in jail.

"Maria is currently at the National Bureau of Investigations, and we're hoping that she'll be able to file bail tonight, so that she won't have to spend the night there," she said.

"We will have to find a judge at a night court who will be willing to grant bail. Our lawyers are currently in the process of finding one."

Ms Hofileña added that "if she's able to post bail, then she's free" and they could focus on their case and the legal process.

Journalists must "hold the line" against government attacks, that's what Maria Ressa told me when I interviewed her recently about press freedom in the Philippines.

She says politically-motivated legal cases and online troll attacks are being used to try to "bludgeon the media into silence".

Journalists, including myself, have been at the sharp end of numerous threats by supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte.

One post under a Facebook link to a documentary about the president read: "Howard, watch your back". Next to it was a skull and cross bones emoji.

The president's supporters accuse Rappler and other news organisations of being biased against him.

They say too much attention is paid to his bloody drug war and not enough to his other achievements while in office.

With multiple cases against Maria Ressa and Rappler, long-drawn-out local court hearings are expected.

But with Time magazine awarding Maria Ressa Person of the Year 2018 for her journalism, the world's eyes will be on the Philippine justice system to see which way it rules.

The latest charge against Ms Ressa stems from a seven-year-old report on a businessman's alleged ties to a former judge in the Philippines' top court.

The case comes under a controversial "cyber-libel" law, which came into force in September 2012, four months after the article in question was published.

Officials first filed the case against her in 2017, but it was initially dismissed by the NBI because the one-year limit for bringing libel cases had lapsed. However, in March 2018, the NBI reopened the case.

This arrest comes just two months after Ms Ressa posted bail on tax fraud charges, which she says are also "manufactured".

If she is convicted of just one count of tax fraud, she could serve up to a decade in prison. The cyber-libel charge carries a maximum sentence of 12 years.

Speaking to reporters after her arrest, the veteran journalist said she was "shocked that the rule of law has been broken to a point that I can't see it".

Rappler was founded in 2012 by Ms Ressa and three other journalists.

Since then it has become known in the Philippines for its hard-hitting investigations.

It is also one of the few media organisations in the country that is openly critical of President Duterte, regularly interrogating the accuracy of his public statements and criticising his sometimes deadly policies.

In particular, Rappler has published a number of reports critical of Mr Duterte's war on drugs, in which police say around 5,000 people have been killed in the last three years. In December, it also reported on his public admission that he sexually assaulted a maid.

The president insists that the site's reporting is "fake news", and has banned its reporters from covering his official activities. Last year, the state revoked the site's licence - but Mr Duterte denied that the claims against Rappler and Ms Ressa are politically motivated.

Ms Ressa says the arrest is an attempt to silence Rappler's journalism.

Ms Ressa is a veteran Philippine journalist who, before founding Rappler, spent most of her career with CNN - first as the bureau chief in Manila, and then in Jakarta. She was also the US broadcaster's lead investigative reporter on terrorism in Southeast Asia.

She has won many international awards for her reporting, and was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for her work holding power to account in an increasingly hostile environment.

Press freedom advocates see this as an attempt to bully a critical news organisation into silence.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, for example, has been swift in its condemnation.

"The arrest of... Ressa on the clearly manipulated charge of cyber-libel is a shameless act of persecution by a bully government," the union told Reuters. "The government... now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence critical media."

Meanwhile, Rappler's reporters have been tweeting about the arrest with the hashtag #DefendPressFreedom.

Observers say that press freedom in the Philippines - once one of the strongest in Asia - has been weakened under Mr Duterte's presidency.

Since 1986, 176 journalists have been killed in the country, making it one of the most dangerous in the world for reporters.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:34

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Thailand's Princess Ubolratana 'sad' about election fallout

The sister of Thailand's king has said she is "saddened" by the reaction to her attempted bid to become the country's next prime minister.

Princess Ubolratana was disqualified by the country's Election Commission - who are now also seeking to dissolve the party that nominated her.

Her unprecedented nomination broke with the tradition of the Thai royal family publicly staying out of politics.

King Vajiralongkorn had called her bid "extremely inappropriate".

Posting on her private Instagram account, the princess wrote: "I am sad that the sincere intention to work for the country and us Thais has created a problem that shouldn't happen in this day and age."

The photo she posted - of a scenic garden - also included the hashtag #HowComeItsTheWayItIs.

The US-educated Thai princess relinquished her royal title when she married an American man in 1972.

She returned to Thailand in 2001 after they divorced and has maintained a quasi-celebrity status since - appearing on the entertainment circuit and in music videos.

She was nominated as a candidate for the upcoming general election by Thai Raksa Chart last week - a party allied to divisive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The March vote will be the first since the current Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, took power in a 2014 military coup - overthrowing the democratically-elected government.

The royal family and electoral officials condemned her candidacy almost immediately after it was announced.

The country's election panel said it had excluded Princess Ubolratana because "every member of the royal family comes within the application of the same rule requiring the monarch to be above politics and to be politically neutral".

Thai Raksa Chart's leader Preechaphol Pongpanit defended their nomination

The stance echoed a palace statement, which said the "involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics... is considered extremely inappropriate".

The row over the princess has reignited old rivalries.

Royalists have come out to accuse Mr Thaksin of once again trying to exploit the monarchy for his own ambitions.

Frustrated supporters of the pro-Thaksin camp, who have been waiting for five years to demonstrate their voting power, fear their side will be tarnished once again as a threat to the monarchy, in order to keep a military-dominated government in power.

This is now bound to be a more heated election campaign.

Thai Raksa Chart's leader, Preechaphol Pongpanit, has said his partydid everything "sincerely, with good intentions", but added: "Above us is His Majesty and the monarchy. We are ready to be investigated."

The electoral commission confirmed on Wednesday that it was seeking to punish Thai Raksa Chart for violating electoral law.

It described the party's nomination of the king's sister as "antagonistic toward the constitutional monarchy" and said it will ask the country's Constitutional Court to consider dissolving them.

Princess Ubolratana's latest post on Instagram will appear to some as a quiet rebuke of the events of the past week.

It's difficult to know just how much direct communication she has had with her brother about this since the fallout - but it's likely she will now have to retreat from political life, no matter how she feels about it.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:29

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Plastic pollution: One town smothered by 17,000 tonnes of rubbish

Meet the people who fought back against foreign plastic waste

Malaysia has become one of the world's biggest plastic importers, taking in rubbish the rest of the world doesn't want. But one small town is paying the price for this - and it is now smothered in 17,000 tonnes of waste.

It began last summer. Every night, after the clock struck midnight, Daniel Tay knew exactly what was coming.

He would shut his doors, seal his windows and wait for the inevitable. Soon his room would be filled with an acrid smell, like rubber being burned. Coughing, his lungs would tighten.

Over the next few months, the strange smell would return every night, like clockwork.

It was only later that he found the source of the smell - illegal recycling factories that were secretly burning plastic

At that point he had no idea that in 2017 China had decided to ban the import of foreign plastic waste. In that year alone it had taken in seven million tonnes of plastic scrap and many environmental campaigners considered it a victory when China clamped down.

But with nowhere to go, the bulk of the plastic waste - most of it from the UK, the US and Japan - just went somewhere else and that was to Malaysia.

It could have been any town but Jenjarom's proximity to Port Klang - Malaysia's largest port and the entry point for most of the country's plastic imports - made it the ideal location.

From January to July 2018 alone, some 754,000 tonnes of plastic waste was imported into Malaysia.

What the council describes as illegal plastic recycling factories began cropping up, hoping to make a quick profit from the burgeoning plastic recycling industry, worth over RM3bn ($734m, £561m).

According to the State Council, there were soon 33 illegal factories in Kuala Langat - the district Jenjarom is located in. Some sprang up near dense palm oil plantations, others were closer to town.

But it would be months before residents learned of their existence - and then only after the symptoms started appearing.

"The smells started a while ago but got really bad around August this year," said Mr Tay.

"I started to feel unwell and I would keep coughing. I was really angry when I found out it was because of the factories."

Daniel Tay says he is angry at the damage the factories caused

Plastic waste is typically recycled into pellets, which can then be used to manufacture other types of plastic.

Not all plastic can be recycled, so legal recycling plants should send unrecyclable plastics to waste centres - something which costs money.

But many illegal recyling plants instead choose to dispose of it in free but unsanitary ways, either burying it or more commonly - burning.

Ngoo Kwi Hong says the fumes from the burning sparked a cough so violent she even coughed up a blood clot.

"I couldn't sleep at night because it was so smelly. I became like a zombie, I was so tired," said Ms Ngoo.

"It was only later I found out there were factories surrounding my house - north, south, east, west."

  • Those who lived nearest to the factories were affected the most.

Belle Tan, who found out there was an illegal factory just 1km from her house, spoke of the impact on her 11-year-old son.

"He got a really bad rash around his stomach, neck, legs and arms. His skin would keep peeling, even when we touched him it hurt. I was angry and scared for his health but what could I do? The smell was everywhere in the air."

Belle Tan says her son's stomach has been plagued with rashes

It's unclear if these ailments can be directly linked to air pollution, but one expert said inhaling burnt plastic fumes was likely to have had an impact on their respiratory health.

"The main thing about [these plastic fumes] is that they are carcinogenic. Carcinogens [are involved] in causing cancer," Tong Yen Wah, a professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS)'s Department of Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering, told the BBC.

"It also depends a lot on the types of plastics being burnt and the exposure to it. If you have short term exposure at a high level you might have difficulty breathing... [or it might] trigger some effects in your lungs. But if it's long term exposure... that's where the carcinogenic effects come in."

But many in the town remain completely unaware or indifferent to the potential effects of the burning.

"Many people here are just trying to make a simple living," said Mr Tay. "They'll just say its smelly and get on with their lives, they don't understand that it is something that could be slowly poisoning them."

The BBC spoke to several residents, many of whom said they had smelt the fumes, but hadn't given it much thought.

"You keep smelling it and your body gets used to it," joked one resident. "Maybe it could even be good for you."

The Malaysian government has now shut down 33 factories it says were illegal in Jenjarom, and for the most part, the fumes are gone.

But the 17,000 tonnes of rubbish left by these factories is still there - and not insignificant for a town of 30,000. Most of this waste has been repossessed by the authorities, but a staggering 4,000 tonnes of waste plastic still sits on a single site - open to anyone who might walk by.

A mountain of rubbish greets you the minute you arrive at what was once an unused piece of land, but is now a makeshift landfill.

A quick walk around the site reveals that a staggering amount of plastic waste comes from foreign countries, with a huge portion of it from Japan and the UK - brands like Asda, Co-op and Fairy can be seen strewn around.

Most of the plastic found at the dump site are from the large developed nations

"We are trying to identify who is the owner of the land, we are still investigating this," Minister of Housing and Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin told the BBC.

The state that Jenjarom sits in - Selangor - has tried to auction it off but to no avail.

4,000 tonnes of waste sits in a single site

"No one wants it because it is so contaminated," Yeo Bee Yin, Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Environment and Climate Change, acknowledged.

Ms Yeo reveals that there are several options available - the most viable of which would be sending the rubbish to a cement plant, which would burn the plastic to generate heat for their boiler. But this solution would come at a high cost to the government.

It's just metres away from a palm tree plantation

"[We estimate that it] will cost around RM2.5m just to transport that pile [to the plant]," Ms Yeo revealed. "[But we recognise that] we have to get rid of that pile first.".

But Jenjarom is just one town in Malaysia - the problem of illegal plastic recycling doesn't end there.

"Many of these [illegal factory operators] rent the land from local Malaysian landowners and set up very [basic] factories," Ng Sze Han, a local councillor in Selangor, told the BBC.

"When we [catch the illegal factory operators], they just hit and run - we shut them down there, they move to another part of Malaysia."

And it's no surprise that they are able to find landowners to rent from so easily.

An abandoned recycling factory in Kuala Langat

One landowner the BBC spoke to reveals he rented his land out for RM50,000 (about $12,260, £9,500) a month to a Chinese national. He says he wasn't aware of what they were doing, but was essentially only concerned with collecting rent. It's not an inconsiderable sum when you learn that the average monthly income for a Malaysian family in 2016 was RM5228.

Mr Ng reveals he's already had calls from officials in Johor and Negeri Sembilan - other states in Malaysia - saying illegal factories had begun popping up in their patches.

He says the problem of illegal plastic recycling is unlikely to be solved effectively without a total ban on plastic.

But this is unlikely to happen.

Ms Kamaruddin says the government had initially considered banning plastic, but "after we studied, we realised it [had a lot of] business potential for Malaysia".

Instead, she says, stricter rules are being placed on plastic importers - they'll now have to adhere to newly imposed criteria before being able to gain an Approval Permit (AP) to import plastic waste.

Only companies with a recognised AP will be allowed to import plastic waste into Malaysia.

"If you nip it at the source and customs control it well, I think it will be effective in reducing a lot," Ms Yeo adds.

Decomposing waste sits in moss covered water at one illegal plastic recycling factory.

There's a bigger problem here - and what Jenjarom reveals is that there is a huge flaw in the plastic recycling system.

Plastic waste and scrap has its own international trade code - HS3915.

But what this code fails to take into account is whether the waste being imported is of good quality or contaminated - there's no way to know unless someone manually goes through it.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2017 recognised that it was common for mixed plastic waste to be concealed "as clean plastic scrap".

What is needed, says Ms Yeo, is a proper labelling system that will be able to take this distinction into account.

"At the end of the day, [what we need is a] systemic standardisation for waste," she said.

Otherwise, it seems only a matter of time before other towns in Malaysia - or even the rest of the world - become the next Jenjarom.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:18

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Valentine's Day: Japan falling out of love with 'obligation chocolates'

Around the world, people use chocolate treats to express sweet nothings on Valentine's Day.

But in Japan, it's a little more complicated. On Valentine's Day, only women give chocolate, and not just to their partners, but to their male colleagues too.

Critics say the practice sucks all the fun out of Valentine's Day and instead turns it into a dreary duty where women risk offending co-workers if they leave someone out.

Others say "giri choco", which translates to "obligation chocolate" is a little misunderstood, and besides, it's slowly fading as women opt to give chocolate to their friends instead.

'Obligation chocolate'

Of course, giving chocolate on Valentine's Day can also be a romantic gesture. Women will often give "honmei choco" or "true feelings chocolate" to their partners.

But giri choco is more about expressing appreciation to male colleagues.

A 2017 survey by multinational firm 3M found that nearly 40% of female respondents planned to give giri choco to a co-worker.

For most, it was a simple thank you "for general help and support". Others felt it helped promote a smoother workplace, while a small minority felt it would be awkward not to take part.

Not so sweet

Chocolate journalist Ayumi Ichikawa says many women have no problem with giri choco. After all, Japan has a gift-giving culture, so it doesn't seem out of place.

"It's part of our tradition to give presents to people who 'help us'... and we have a habit of giving friends and acquaintances gifts every now and then to show our gratitude for 'looking after us'... without any sense of romantic love."

But others are troubled by the custom.

"Some consider the ritual burdensome, feeling you must do this, so the chocolate becomes a duty," Ms Ichikawa says.

Still, University of Shizuoka professor Sejiro Takeshita says the tradition isn't as "unfair as it looks".

On 14 March Japan celebrates White Day, when men give chocolates to women and, Prof Takeshita says, "ladies can get their vengeance".

Power dynamics

In a 1996 study of "office women" sociologist Ogasawa Yuko argued giri choco is a way for women to exercise power over men by ranking them.

The ones they admire would get chocolate, while the incompetent ones could buy their own treats.

"In other words, it could be seen as one of the few opportunities for women to exercise power over men, resisting prevailing gendered norms," says Sachiko Horiguchi, an anthropologist at Temple University Japan.

More than two decades later, this might seem a little less appealing to Japanese working women.

"I am not sure if these professional women feel obliged to 'exercise their power' through giri choco gift giving," says Ms Horiguchi.

Chocolate battle

Last year the practice attracted an unexpected critic in the form of Belgian chocolatier Godiva. The company took out a full page ad calling for an end to giri choco.

"Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day when you tell someone your pure feelings. It's not a day on which you're supposed to do something extra for the sake of smooth relations at work," the ad said.

They followed up this year with a tweet to Yuraku Confectionery, the makers of Black Thunder, a low-cost chocolate and self-styled "king of giri choco".

The tweet encouraged employees of Yuraku to buy Godiva to give to someone they loved, prompting Yuraku to add "officially recognized by Godiva as obligation chocolate" to its Twitter description.

Chocolate makers have an obvious stake in the discussion and it was commercial interests - initially department stores - that brought Valentine's Day to Japan in the first place.

Critics have also suggested that Godiva stands to lose little from this position, because it's a luxury brand which few people give as giri choco.

Japan's sweet tooth

Valentine's Day is hugely important for Japan's confectionery industry, with some shops doing 70% of their annual business in the lead-up to the holiday, says chocolate journalist Ms Ichikawa.

But over the coming years, maybe less of it will be giri choco.

Ms Horiguchi says Valentine's Day is becoming less gendered, and the pressure to give giri choco is declining as women opt to give chocolates to their friends instead.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 12:07

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Rich The Kid robbed at LA studio where Usher was recording

US rapper Rich The Kid has been caught up in an armed robbery at a recording studio in California.

The attack was targeted at Rich, who was outside the studio at the time. Other members of his entourage were attacked and one, thought to be a bodyguard, was beaten with a firearm.

R&B star Usher was inside the studio, but was not involved.

A man who was seen running away from the studio fired several shots before escaping in a car, said one eyewitness.

"He took out a gun, he fired six shots into the street," Ray Leon told ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

"I just heard pop, pop, pop. There was about six pops. I got down really quick. He was firing and that car sped away."

'Posing with cash'

The incident took place at California's Westlake Recording Studio, which has played host to artists like Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Madonna, Frank Ocean, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber in the past.

Hours before the attack, Rich posted a picture of himself posing next to a purple Lamborghini, holding what appeared to be a bundle of bank notes, with the caption "Always in bank mo deposit."

The West Hollywood sheriff station confirmed the robbery in a statement.

"When deputies arrived at the location they found three male black assault victims," it said. The victims reported that "three male black suspects confronted them in the alley behind a business and demanded their money and jewellery. The victims were then physically assaulted by the suspects."

Authorities say three victims were treated at the scene and released. Their injuries were apparently not serious enough to require hospital treatment.

Rich, whose real name is Dimitri Roger, was also filmed speaking to paramedics by local news crew. He was wearing the same outfit seen in his Instagram post; and did not appear to be injured.

A spokesperson for Rich the Kid said "Rich is ok" , but declined to add further details.

The 26-year-old gained notoriety via a series of collaborative mixtapes with rap trio Migos. He's since worked with Kendrick Lamar, Khalid and Wiz Khalifa; and reached the UK top 20 last year with a guest verse on Jax Jones and Mabel's dance track Ring Ring.

Wednesday's incident wasn't the first time Rich the Kid had been the victim of armed robbery. Last summer, he was injured during a home invasion at his girlfriend's house in Los Angeles.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:53

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A look back at the 'debacle' of 1989's hostless Oscars

The 2019 Oscars are set to go ahead without a host for the first time since 1989. But there is perhaps a reason it has taken so long for it to happen again - as 1989's ceremony has gone down as one of the most embarrassing moments in Oscars history.

It took a long time for the footage of that night to re-emerge. When it eventually popped up on YouTube, it attracted a million views in a day.

Here's how it unfolded in real time:

0'01" Army Archerd, a greying columnist for Variety magazine, stands at the entrance to the Oscars and introduces Snow White (played by 22-year-old Eileen Bowman) - dressed exactly like the 1937 Disney depiction of the fairytale princess. Archerd tells her to "follow the Hollywood stars"- people in tights wearing massive sparkly polystyrene stars about their torso.

0'28" With a squeal like sped-up whalesong, Snow White enters from the back; she has to go down a long slope to the front, past actors, directors and producers who already look appalled. Snow White goes to greet some of them; they actively distance themselves as much as possible. None more than Michelle Pfeiffer - when Snow White goes to grab her hand, Pfeiffer pulls it away. This one movement signals to the watching world what the mood is in that theatre, just one minute in.

01'25" The song continues and Snow White tries to engage Tom Hanks, Sigourney Weaver, Dustin Hoffman and Glenn Close. All give her the same frozen smile and 1,000-mile stare of a combat veteran.

02'10" Snow White goes centre stage and the curtain lifts, revealing a set done to look like the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at its peak. Salsa music plays. California native Merv Griffin starts singing I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts in a faux Cockney accent. Sitting at the tables of the "Grove" are a selection of veteran stars (Roy Rogers, Vincent Price, Cyd Charisse). One by one, they are taken away by dancing waiters in sequinned trousers.

04'57" Griffin introduces Snow White to her "blind date", Rob Lowe. Lowe looks like he already knows the next few minutes are going to cause grievous bodily harm to his career.

05'21"Lowe and Snow launch into a rewritten version of Proud Mary. Lowe hits a bum note on his first line and never recovers. "Rollin', rollin', keep the camera rollin'", they sing. Everyone else hopes that they will just shut the cameras off. Forever.

06'58" Three women wearing enormous coconuts on their heads enter. One, who has genuine singing talent, takes over from Snow White - which does wonders for the audio but throws Lowe's abilities into somewhat sharper relief. In the background, the tables stand and dance, lamps on their head.

07'37" The routine finishes. The camera cuts to the audience. It is perhaps just unfortunate that it finds Robert Downey Jr, whose face is an unmatched study in contempt. He gives all of three sarcastic handclaps.

08'11" A row of scarlet-clad ushers begin high-kicking to a backing song about the wonderful magic of cinema: "When you're down in the dumps / Try putting on Judy's red pumps."

09'45" Snow White's skirt swells into a 10-metre wide gold peacock-feather contraption, and she is wearing an outsized box office stand on - yes - her head. Hooray For Hollywood, the backing song trills.

10'12" Steps that hide Snow White are moved centre-stage. Her ordeal is over. Lily Tomlin steps out of the box office stand and starts to descend the steps. She loses her shoe on the way down. "I told them I'd be thrilled to do the Oscars if they could only come up with an entrance," she says. There is mild laughter. In the background, Lowe crawls down the steps to throw the missing shoe back to Tomlin. He throws it wide and it falls in the orchestra pit. Lowe flees the stage. "A billion and a half people just watched that," Tomlin adds. The longest 11 minutes in film history are over.

Last year Rob Lowe was asked about the "debacle" of 1989's Oscars by the New York Times.

He said: "It's basically a show that nobody wants to do. It's really sad."

Admitting he made a "huge mistake" by taking part, he added that there had been benefits to taking part.

"In an era when staying in the conversation is as important as anything else, I for sure have gotten more money and acclaim out of being in that Oscar opening number than if I had won an Oscar."

The "breakout stars" included Patrick Dempsey, Ricki Lake, Chad Lowe, Keith Coogan, Corey Feldman, Christian Slater and Joely Fisher

Later in the show there would be another big routine that flopped - Bob Hope and Lucille Ball introducing a 10-minute-long "stars of tomorrow" song-and-dance bit involving young actors mimicking Michael Jackson, sword-fighting and tap-dancing in MC Hammer-style trousers hoisted up to their throats.

"The 61st Academy Awards ceremony began by creating the impression that there would never be a 62nd," wrote the New York Times's Janet Maslin.

Carr (centre) believed he had masterminded a hit show - until he visited the press room

Hollywood producer Allan Carr - renowned for his lavish parties - had been selected as the ideal antidote to what had become a boring, staid show. He promised "the antithesis of tacky" and "the most beautiful Academy Awards of all time".

The opening 12 minutes were based on a musical revue called Beach Blanket Babylon, which Carr had seen at a nightclub in San Francisco; Carr hired its creator Steve Silver to direct it.

Sitting in the audience, Silver realised immediately how badly it had gone down. But Carr was oblivious until he found the usually supportive newspaper columnist Jeannie Williams in the press room.

She told him it was "over the top" and questioned what Snow White was doing in the Cocoanut Grove.

Carr knew he was in trouble. The morning after the Oscars - when normally a producer's phone would be ringing off the hook with congratulatory messages - there was silence at Carr's home.

But two critical - in both senses - pieces of correspondence did follow.

The first was from the Walt Disney Company. It was a legal case against the Academy for using their Snow White character without permission.

The Academy went on to apologise for the "unauthorised use of Disney's copyrighted Snow White character" and for "unintentionally creating the impression that Disney had participated in or sanctioned the opening production number on the Academy Awards telecast".

The other letter was from some 17 Hollywood figures - including Julie Andrews, Paul Newman, Billy Wilder, Sidney Lumet and former Academy president Gregory Peck - which denounced what happened at the Shrine as "demeaning" and "an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry."

Some of the signatories were people who had been regulars at Carr's parties.

Martha Plimpton and River Phoenix arrive at the 1989 Oscars: Carr first saw the potential of screening the red carpet

Carr, whose career highlights had included writing and producing credits for Grease, had his reputation in Hollywood dented. It never fully recovered and he died of liver cancer in 1999 at the age of 62.

But amidst the criticism of the show, which was later described by Hollywood Reporter as "Oscar's biggest goof", Carr had reversed the decline in viewing figures; 42.7m watched across the US. (For context, that is 10m more than watched the 2018 ceremony).

He had also made a number of changes that define the ceremony to this day.

The phrase "and the winner is…" was replaced by "and the Oscar goes to…", which sounded less exclusionary.

The arrival of the stars on the red carpet - which now has its own show - was given much greater prominence. And Bruce Vilanch, hired by Carr, remained the chief writer of the show over the next two decades.

Billy Crystal - here arriving with his wife Janice - got the hosting gig off his star turn in 1989

And indeed Vilanch's gags found their perfect voice in a certain Billy Crystal. Carr had selected him to deliver a monologue at the 1989 Oscars and it went so well that he was asked to be the full-time host for 1990.

His first line? "Is that [applause] for me, or are you just glad I'm not Snow White?"

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:49

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Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly to run for John McCain's Senate seat

Former US astronaut Mark Kelly has launched a 2020 Democratic campaign for the late Senator John McCain's Arizona seat in Congress.

Mr Kelly, 54, is married to former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who retired after being shot during a 2011 mass shooting.

The couple became well-known gun control advocates following the attack.

But in his Tuesday launch video, the Navy veteran focused his platform on healthcare, jobs and climate change.

"It becomes pretty obvious pretty early when you get into space that we're all kind of in this together," Mr Kelly says in the video.

Mr Kelly is a combat pilot who served during the first Gulf War and later flew four space missions for Nasa from 2001 to 2011.

Though vocal in his politics, he has never held elected office before.

Mr Kelly is running for the Democratic nomination ahead of next year's special election to fill the last two years of Mr McCain's Senate seat.

Currently, that seat is held by Republican Martha McSally, who was appointed by the Republican Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, after Mr McCain's death.

Ms McSally was selected after narrowly losing her Senate bid in November to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema - who became Arizona's first Democratic senator since 1994.

President Donald Trump won Arizona in the 2016 election, but US media say the state will be a key battleground in the 2020 elections.

While a couple Democrats in the state have hinted at Senate ambitions, including Representative Ruben Gallego, US media report, Mr Kelly is the first to formally announce a campaign.

In his campaign video, Mr Kelly said his mother, who became one of the first female police officers in her division in the 1970s, taught him about hard work, and his wife taught him "how you use policy to improve people's lives".

"I always knew I was going to serve this country in some way," he said.

The path to Democratic control of the US Senate in 2020 runs squarely through Arizona - and it appears that state may get a marquee matchup between Martha McSally, the first female combat, fighter pilot and Mark Kelly, a decorated astronaut.

Of course Mark Kelly has to win the Democratic nomination first, but he has the political connections, the biography and the public profile to make him a front-runner.

Democrats need to pick up three seats (and the presidency) to take back the Senate from Republicans for the first time since 2014.

The map is tight, however, and the opportunities are few and far between.

They have two other obvious targets in left-leaning Colorado and Maine, and will have a difficult time holding usually ruby-red Alabama.

They will probably need to land a seeming long-shot, like Texas, Georgia or Kansas to succeed.

Without Arizona, those long odds become nearly insurmountable. And whoever controls the chamber in 2021 will have the final say on presidential appointments - to diplomatic posts, cabinet positions and, most significantly, the US Supreme Court.

It's just one race for just one seat for just two years, but the stakes in the desert are high.

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly speak at the US capitol after the Las Vegas shooting

Mr Kelly's wife, former Democratic Representative Ms Giffords, was shot in the head during a political event in Tucson in January 2011, leading to her resignation from Congress. Six others were killed during the shooting and 13 were injured.

After the 2013 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Mr Kelly and Ms Giffords founded the Giffords organisation, which seeks to unite law enforcement, veterans, and religious leaders "to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer".

The couple have been outspoken gun safety advocates since the attack, and appeared at the March for Our Lives rally organised by Parkland students last year in Washington DC.

While Mr Kelly avoided discussing gun control in his launch video, his main issues are in line with what many of his Democratic peers ran on during the mid-term elections: Healthcare, wages, job growth, and the environment.

He has also stated he will not be taking any corporate political action committee (PAC) money, much like other freshman Democrats and 2020 presidential hopefuls this past year.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:44

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El Chapo trial: Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán found guilty

El Chapo trial: Five facts about Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán

Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has been found guilty on all 10 counts at his drug-trafficking trial at a federal court in New York.

Guzmán, 61, was convicted on numerous counts including the distribution of cocaine and heroin, illegal firearms possession and money laundering.

He has yet to be sentenced, but the verdict could mean life in jail.

Guzmán was arrested in January 2016 after escaping from a Mexican prison through a tunnel five months earlier.

He was extradited to the US in 2017.

The Mexican was accused of being behind the all-powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, which prosecutors say was the biggest supplier of drugs to the US.

What happened in court?

Tuesday's unanimous verdict by a jury in Brooklyn, which was read out in a packed courtroom, followed an 11-week trial.

Guzmán, wearing a dark suit jacket and tie, showed no visible sign of emotion as the verdict was announced, CBS News reported.

The US attorney for the Eastern District of New York and El Chapo's lawyer gave their reactions outside court

As he was escorted from the courtroom, Guzmán shook the hands of his lawyers before exchanging glances with his wife, Emma Coronel, a 29-year-old former beauty queen, and giving her the thumbs up.

Judge Brian Cogan, who presided over the trial, thanked the jurors for their dedication at what he described as a complex trial, saying it was "remarkable and it made me very proud to be an American".

Guzmán's lawyers said they planned to launch an appeal.

Who is El Chapo?

"El Chapo" (or "Shorty") ran the Sinaloa cartel in northern Mexico.

Mexico's drug war: Has it turned the tide?

Over time, it became one of the biggest traffickers of drugs to the US. In 2009, Guzmán entered Forbes' list of the world's richest men at number 701, with an estimated worth of $1bn (£775m).

He was accused of having helped export hundreds of tonnes of cocaine into the US and of conspiring to manufacture and distribute heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

He was also said to have used hitmen to carry out "hundreds" of murders, assaults, kidnappings and acts of torture on rivals.

Key associates, including one former lieutenant, testified against Guzmán.

What was heard during the trial?

It provided shocking revelations about the Mexican drug lord's life.

Court papers accused him of having girls as young as 13 drugged before raping them.

Guzmán "called the youngest of the girls his 'vitamins' because he believed that sexual activity with young girls gave him 'life'", a former associate, Colombian drug trafficker Alex Cifuentes, was quoted as saying.

During the trial Cifuentes also alleged that Guzmán gave a $100m (£77m) bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is said to have contacted him after taking office in 2012 and asked for $250m in return for ending a manhunt for him. Mr Peña Nieto has not publicly commented.

Former associate Cifuentes (L) alleged that Guzmán (R) bribed Mexico's then president

Another witness described seeing Guzmán murder at least three men.

Former bodyguard Isaias Valdez Rios said Guzmán beat two people who had joined a rival cartel until they were "completely like rag dolls". He then shot them in the head and ordered their bodies be thrown on a fire.

In another incident, he had a member of the rival Arellano Felix cartel burned and imprisoned before taking him to a graveyard, shooting him and having him buried alive.

Guzmán is also alleged to have had his own cousin killed for lying about being out of town, and ordered a hit on the brother of another cartel leader because he did not shake his hand.

When asked by a former cartel lieutenant why he killed people, he is alleged to have said: "Either your mom's going to cry or their mom's going to cry."

The court heard details of his 2015 escape from Mexico's maximum-security Altiplano prison. His sons bought a property near the prison and a GPS watch smuggled into the prison gave diggers his exact location.

At one point Guzmán complained that he could hear the digging from his cell. He escaped by riding a specially adapted small motorcycle through the tunnel.

He also used software on his phone to spy on his wife and mistresses, which allowed the FBI to present his text messages in court.

In one set of texts, he recounted to his wife how he had fled a villa during a raid by US and Mexican officials, before asking her to bring him new clothes, shoes and black moustache dye.

Why was this trial significant?

Guzmán is the highest profile Mexican drug cartel boss so far to stand trial in the US.

The drug war in Mexico - pitting the Mexican and US authorities against cartels smuggling drugs into the US and the cartels against each other - has killed about 100,000 people over more than a decade.

 A former DEA agent describes capturing Guzmán in 2014 - he later escaped

Guzmán achieved notoriety for twice escaping custody in Mexico as well as avoiding arrest on numerous other occasions.

Among some in his home state, he had the status of a folk hero, a popular subject of "narcocorridos" - musical tributes to drugs barons.

In 2016, he gave an interview to Hollywood actor Sean Penn in a Mexican jungle following his escape the previous year and boasted that he was the world's leading supplier of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

He was later recaptured in the north-western town of Los Mochis. During the raid he fled through a drain but was later caught by troops in a shootout.

New York's Brooklyn Bridge was closed each time the motorcade containing Guzmán drove across it

The US indictment against him was a consolidation of charges from six federal jurisdictions across the country, including New York, Chicago and Miami.

Prosecutors pooled together evidence acquired over more than a decade, including from international partners such as Mexico and Colombia, to build their sweeping case.

The trial jurors were anonymous and were escorted to and from the courthouse in Brooklyn by armed marshals after prosecutors argued that Guzmán had a history of intimidating witnesses and even ordering their murders.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:40

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Murder in Accra: The life and death of Ahmed Hussein-Suale

On 16 January, Ahmed Hussein-Suale, a Ghanaian investigative journalist who had collaborated with the BBC, was shot dead near his family home in Accra. Ghanaian police believe he was assassinated because of his work.At first the gunshots sounded like firecrackers, and Unus Alhassan wondered why someone was setting off firecrackers so long after Christmas.

It was nearly midnight in Madina, a suburb of the Ghanaian capital Accra. Alhassan's family was sitting together talking outside the family home, as they often did late into the night. His brother, Ahmed Hussein-Suale, had just left to check on a nephew who was sick. When the sounds of the firecrackers stopped, and the ordinary noise of the neighbourhood settled, Alhassan turned his attention back to his family and he didn't think about the sounds again until a man came running towards him crying out that his brother was dead.

A hundred metres down the road, Hussein-Suale, who was 31, lay slumped in the driver's seat of his dusty blue BMW with bullet holes in his chest and neck. Eyewitnesses said he was killed by two men who fired at the car from close range as it slowed for a junction. The first bullet hit Hussein-Suale in the neck and the car accelerated, crashing into a storefront. One of the gunmen calmly approached the driver's side and fired two shots through the broken window directly into Hussein-Suale's chest. Then he turned to those watching, smiled, and raised a finger to his lips.

Three witnesses to the crime who live nearby told the BBC they saw the men hanging around the junction on several occasions in the week before the killing - two unfamiliar faces in a familiar neighbourhood. The men, one tall and well-built, the other short and wiry, leant on their motorbike or chatted with neighbours to pass the time. They bought alcohol from a shop and helped a man carry pails of water. One neighbour said they seemed suspicious. Another said she thought they were robbers.

But nothing was stolen from Hussein-Suale and no-one close to him believes he was a random target. He was an investigative journalist whose undercover reporting had exposed traffickers, murderers, corrupt officials and high-court judges. He worked with Tiger Eye, a highly secretive team led by one of the most famous undercover journalists in Africa, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. In Ghana and beyond, the team's daring, anonymous reporting made them modern-day folk heroes. And it made them enemies.

When Tiger Eye aired its latest investigation, which exposed widespread corruption in African football, Ghanaian MP Kennedy Agyapong began a campaign of hostility against the team, saying he was offended by its undercover methods. He called publicly for Anas to be hanged. Weeks after the film was screened, in June last year, he used his own TV station to attack Hussein-Suale and expose the journalist's most closely guarded secret - his face.

"That's him," said Agyapong, as images of Hussein-Suale appeared on screen. "His other picture is there as well, make it big."

Agyapong revealed Hussein-Suale's name and the neighbourhood he lived in. "If you meet him somewhere, slap him… beat him," he said. "Whatever happens, I'll pay."

Anas Aremeyaw Anas, in disguise, prays alongside colleagues and friends at Hussein-Suale's funeral

No-one expected the first recorded murder of a journalist in 2019 to happen in Ghana.

Across much of Africa, authoritarian regimes have effectively suffocated the free press. But in a handful of less-repressive countries, tenacious young journalists are holding the powerful to account and advancing a culture of investigative reporting. Ghana is top of this list. Last year the country was ranked first in Africa on the annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Globally it ranked 23rd out of 180 countries - well ahead of the UK (40th) and the US (45th).

Anas and his team are the nation's most high-profile reporters. Anas has been praised by the country's president, Nana Akufo-Addo and by President Barack Obama, who said he saw the spirit of democracy "in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth". In his 20 years of undercover journalism, Anas has posed as a female investor in high heels and lipstick; worked as a janitor in a brothel; got himself sent to prison; and hidden inside a fake rock at the side of the road. In public appearances, he wears a striking disguise - a hat with a multicoloured veil of beads that hangs in front of his face. In Ghana it has become a symbol of resistance to corruption that is graffitied on walls around the capital.

But behind the mask there is not just Anas's face. There is a team of highly skilled investigative journalists that put their lives at risk to report stories, and Hussein-Suale was chief among them - Anas's chosen team leader.

We see that spirit in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth

President Obama

Hussein-Suale grew up among eight siblings in Wulensi, a small town in northern Ghana, where he stood out for his fierce interest in politics. At 18 he moved to Accra to study political science at the University of Ghana, where he first met Anas.

Anas had already made a name for himself as an undercover reporter and Tiger Eye was a fledgling team. Hussein-Suale sought him out the same way several early Tiger Eye employees had, by asking around until someone could tell him: that is the man known as Anas. Anas responded the way he did to all potential recruits - he set him a test: travel to Tema, north of Accra, and report a story there about cocaine. Hussein-Suale went to Tema and promptly failed. He blew his cover and got himself arrested. "He did not perform to my expectation," said Anas, in an interview with the BBC last week. "And that was that."

But Hussein-Suale wrote Anas a long letter explaining why he should be given another chance. "So I gave him another chance," said Anas. "And from that day he excelled from one investigation to the next."

Anas is watching, do the right thing" - graffiti in the capital, Accra

Hussein-Suale's first big story came in 2013 when he travelled with Anas to northern Ghana to expose witchdoctors behind the poisoning of children - often children with disabilities - believed to be possessed by evil spirits. In an elaborate sting typical of Tiger Eye's style, the team arranged for the witchdoctor's "concoction men" to visit a family home with a supposedly possessed child. While the concoction men were outside cooking their poison, the team swapped the infant for a prosthetic baby. When the men returned and took hold of the fake baby, police swooped.

The film - Spirit Child - aired internationally on Al Jazeera. Hussein-Suale, then 24, impressed Anas with his pragmatism, not hesitating when it came to entering the witchdoctor's shrine. "The average African is spiritually afraid of traditions and gods," Anas said. "But Ahmed was always bold."

His natural demeanour was the opposite. He was quiet and unassuming, to a fault. "You would be likely to disregard him at first," said Sammy Darko, Tiger Eye's lawyer, "but that made him a good fit for investigative journalism." He was also scrupulously attentive and diligent. He became known as the "encyclopaedia of the team" for his detailed knowledge of each project, and later as "spiritual leader" for his habit of leading a prayer before undercover operations.

His cubicle at Tiger Eye's offices had notes and documents from various investigations piled on the desk and pasted on the walls. "He would go out quietly and do a lot of background work," said a fellow investigator, "so that when we came on to the story we knew exactly what we were doing." But he also had a playful streak. "I got annoyed with him once," recalled Seamus Mirodan, the director of Spirit Child. "One of the villagers gave him a just-slaughtered guinea fowl as a gift. He put it in my tripod bag and it just shat itself all over the inside of the bag."

In 2015, Hussein-Suale took the lead on a story that would rock Ghana and propel Tiger Eye into the national spotlight. "Ghana in the Eyes of God" - a three-hour undercover epic based on hundreds of hours of secret filming - exposed widespread corruption in Ghana's judiciary, showing judges and court workers accepting bribes to influence cases. More than 30 judges and 170 judicial officers were implicated. Seven of the nation's 12 high-court judges were suspended. The film played to 6,500 people in four showings at the Accra International Conference Centre and brought gridlock to the streets of the capital.

For all Tiger Eye's fans, not everybody appreciated the team's methods. They faced accusations of entrapment. "It is wrong to induce somebody by an enticement of something lucrative, big money or whatever, then turn around and say the person is corrupt," said Charles Bentum, a lawyer for several judges implicated in the expose. "You cannot exonerate the enticer and condemn the victim."

Tiger Eye's undercover investigations have been screened in theatres across Ghana

The judiciary story made Anas famous in Ghana. Behind the scenes, Hussein-Suale's combination of diligence and mettle was impressing his boss; he was becoming Anas's right-hand man. In early 2018, Anas asked Hussein-Suale to accompany him to Malawi for a grim story about "muti" - the practice of harvesting human body parts for good luck rituals - that a young Malawian journalist, Henry Mhango, had brought to them. They would collaborate on the story with the BBC. "I chose Ahmed because I knew he had the capacity to withstand the shocks," said Anas.

But in Malawi they ran into trouble beyond anything Hussein-Suale had experienced. Mhango had set up a rural meeting with two men who said they would kill children for their body parts. In the dark, Hussein-Suale, Anas, Mhango and producer Darius Bazargan drove with the men to the outskirts of a village to negotiate. But the villagers had noticed the unfamiliar men meeting among the trees and suspected them of being child killers. They attacked the team, first with their feet and fists then with stones. Anas's suit was slashed up the back with a knife. The hidden cameras kept recording as the attacks intensified. "I'm here, I'm here, let me hold you," Anas said quietly to Hussein-Suale. Then: "They are going to kill us."

They were saved by a courageous group of villagers who put themselves between the team and the attackers and helped them reach the house of the village chief. The mob was trying to force the door and Mhango, on his first undercover job, was shaking. Hussein-Suale sat next to him. "He told me to forget my surroundings and be strong," Mhango recalled. "He said, 'Henry, these are the incidents that encourage us to do even more, because our work is to fight evil.'"

Eventually, with the help of the small group of villagers, they made it out and Anas and Hussein-Suale flew back to Ghana. But Hussein-Suale stayed in touch with Mhango, mentoring him in long phone conversations over the following year.

"He told me stories about Ghana and he gave me stories in Malawi. He had a huge effect on my career," said Mhango. "His death is not only a loss to Ghana, it is a loss to all of Africa. He was a journalist for Africa."

BBC crew mistaken for ritual killers in Malawi

Shortly after the team returned from Malawi, Tiger Eye would produce a story that would make headlines across the continent and beyond. "Number 12" was an investigation into corruption in football refereeing, and Hussein-Suale again took the lead. Referee after referee in Ghana accepted cash gifts from undercover Tiger Eye journalists, and the team set its sights beyond the nation's borders. By the time the investigation was finished, nearly 100 football officials across Africa had accepted cash, including a Kenyan referee slated to officiate at the coming World Cup.

The investigation led to a cascade of bans and resignations. At the top of the list was Kwesi Nyantakyi, the head of the Ghanaian FA and a member of Fifa's elite council. Nyantakyi had flown to Dubai for what he believed was a meeting with a sheikh keen to invest in Ghanaian football. When he sat down in a hotel room opposite "HH Sheikh Hammad Al Thani" and stuffed $65,000 in cash into a black plastic bag, he could have no way of knowing the quiet man who had arranged the meeting was Ahmed Hussein-Suale.

Nyantakyi was banned from football for life, and the investigation delighted Ghanaian football fans sick of the corruption crippling the sport. It also infuriated some of Ghana's most powerful people. Kennedy Agyapong, an MP from Ghana's ruling party, railed against the group, saying he was offended by the way they conducted investigations. He obtained Hussein-Suale's name and location and made them public. Tiger Eye was forced to activate safety protocols: members left Accra; the main offices were abandoned and remain largely unused; and Hussein-Suale travelled to the north, returning periodically to the capital.

His death it not only a loss to Ghana, it is a loss to all of Africa. He was a journalist for Africa

Henry Mhango

When his family saw the footage of Agyapong's rant, they urged Hussein-Suale to leave Ghana entirely, but he resisted. "He was of the view that he did not do anything wrong, that he did what he did to save the nation, so why should he leave," said Alhassan.

Anas also instructed Hussein-Suale to take a back seat amid the publicity. Begrudgingly he did, and in time he agreed to stay away from the family home for a period. But it jarred with his character. He pushed Anas to bring him back to investigative work and he began to return to Madina. He preferred to pray at his usual mosque. He felt safe in his home neighbourhood. "You could compare it to a gangster film," said Tiger Eye's lawyer Sammy Darko. "The gangster always feels safe in his neighbourhood because his friends and his family are around him."

But Ahmed was not a gangster. He was a journalist, a son, a husband, and a father to three young children. His murder has shocked Ghana and reverberated beyond its borders, drawing condemnation from President Akufo-Addo and from the UN. Press freedom activists say they fear a chilling effect for journalism on the continent. "It is the ultimate form of censorship," said Angela Quintal, Africa co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "You censor the person that is killed; you censor the team they work with; and you send a message to others: if you cross the line we will get you."

Ghanaians watching a screening of Number 12 at the Trade Fair Centre in Accra

A spokesman for Ghana's police force told the BBC that all the evidence they had pointed towards a targeted assassination, and they were pursuing lines of inquiry related to Hussein-Suale's work. Kennedy Agyapong has been informally questioned by police. He denies any responsibility for the killing, and claims Anas and his team are blackmailers who use dubious methods. Asked by the BBC if he now regretted publishing Hussein-Suale's personal information, he said: "I don't regret anything at all because they are evil."

Whoever is behind Hussein-Suale's murder, they may find that their actions have the opposite of the desired effect. In the days after his death, applications flooded in to Tiger Eye from young Ghanaian journalists keen to follow in his footsteps, Anas said. In time, Anas will vet them. Some may be set a test. "We will continue to fight," he said. "Ahmed always said posterity would not forgive us if we did not fight." Others vowed the same. "What happened to Ahmed will not hold me back," said Manasseh Azure Awuni, an investigative journalist with Ghana's Multimedia Group. "As I speak to you I am working on an investigation, and it will be broadcast in Ghana in the coming weeks."

Hussein-Suale was laid to rest last weekend in Accra. His funeral was attended by family, friends, politicians from various parties and strangers from across the city. His murder has left a family bereft. As well as his own three children, Hussein-Suale had taken in a nephew - the son of a brother who died in the line of duty as a policeman - and he supported numerous extended family members. He covered university fees, contributed to wedding funds and paid for the upkeep on houses. He was naturally generous, said his brother Kamil. "That is how we were raised," he said. "If you have something small, you share."

In Madina, Hussein-Suale's family still gathers each night outside the family home. Last night they were there. For 20 years they have come together after work and prayers to sit and talk, about nothing in particular, always out front, where friends and neighbours who pass by might stop and talk for a while too. Sometimes there are more than 20 people together until the early hours, sometimes there are less. The night Hussein-Suale died there were six or seven - close family and friends. He spent his last few hours with the people who raised him and shared his real life. He was quiet, as usual, and distracted by his phone, but he was in a good mood. Not everyone there knew exactly what he did. They loved him for the man he was that night in Madina. Across Ghana, people were more free because of his work.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:55

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Why the attack on our cameraman was no surprise

I would really love to be able to say when I heard about the attack on our cameraman Ron Skeans that I was surprised. Or shocked even. I wasn't.

Once I found out that he was OK, and that the rest of the team were OK, I thought this was a pretty unsurprising event. What is shocking is that my reaction should be like that - because surely it can never be right that a person going about doing their job, in a country which cherishes the First Amendment and the rights of a free press, is pushed to the ground. But it is an incident that's been coming for a long time.

Before we get to that, let me say a word about Ron Skeans. Ron is the only one of our camera-people to have a "hard pass" that gives you direct access to the White House estate. I have a hard pass too. That means more or less whenever I am broadcasting live outside the White House, I am working with Ron.

He is the kindest, politest, most decent, patriotic man you could wish to meet. Frankly, there are a few cameramen that I've worked with over the years that are argumentative, provocative and generally belligerent. None of those adjectives could be applied to Ron.

A Trump supporter shoves a BBC cameraman at the El Paso rally

He and I did a report together on Rolling Thunder, the day in Washington when thousands of bikers converge on the city to commemorate those missing in action in Vietnam or who'd been taken as POWs.

I rode my motorbike, he rode pillion on another to film the event. We were both slightly overwhelmed by the patriotism and emotion of the day. He is a proud son of Ohio - where like in most American families there were those of his relatives who supported Trump in 2016, and those who didn't.

The idea that someone would attack Ron is frankly preposterous. He's the wrong guy. But of course it wasn't Ron that was being attacked.

To the drunken lout in the red Make America Great Again hat at the Trump rally, who bravely attacked him from behind while he was looking through the 12lbs (5kg) of camera on his tripod and couldn't see him, that didn't matter.

Ron wasn't Ron. Ron was the media. And the media are fair game, aren't they?

I covered endless Trump rallies in the run-up to the election and since - and there is a pattern. The attacks on the media are hugely popular with his supporters. They are every bit as much a part of his "set" as Honky Tonk Woman and Satisfaction are part of a Rolling Stones concert. You just can't imagine it not happening.

If you've never been to a Trump rally let me describe what it's like.

At some rallies at the end of the election campaign there were police officers posted on the access points to each press riser (the platforms where our cameras are mounted towards the back of the venue); even if there were no police they were confined areas.

There was no security last night, and the attack on Ron was stopped by a Trump-supporting blogger. Law enforcement were slow to get involved.

At some point in the president's remarks he will point a finger to where we are filming and you know then the fun is about to begin. "Have you seen a group of more dishonest people? They are fake news; they are the enemies of the people."

And like at a Christmas pantomime the crowd would jeer and boo. Honestly, for the overwhelming majority it is good fun; a part of the ritual. Like being at a football match and saying disobliging things about the referee.

But for a few - and I should add, a growing few, it is more than that. The uncomfortable truth is that with each month that passes the attacks have become more vociferous, the violent atmosphere on these occasions more palpable.

All of my colleagues have stories of occasions when they've been jostled; some have been spat at. Last night Ron heard the words 'CNN sucks' and '[expletive] the media' before he was taken down.

President Trump interrupted his speech and checked that Ron was OK. But there was no condemnation. No statement that this was unacceptable. The Trump campaign issued a two-line statement on the incident, but equally did not condemn what happened. What conclusion should we draw from that? What message does it send to people who feel hostile towards the media?

What has surprised me in this whole incident (though not massively) has been the reaction on Twitter of some people.

There are those who have argued, well you're fake news, and Ron got what he deserved. So much for a free press. When I am accused of fake news, I always ask people to point me to something that I have said which is factually incorrect.

I know we get things wrong, and should always be humble enough to put our hands up when we do. But our job is to hold power to account: prime ministers, presidents, kings and queens, despots and autocrats. But just because you don't like the coverage doesn't mean it's fake.

Another reaction has been to suggest we are somehow exaggerating what happened and parsing aspects of this or that. Surely it is just plain and simple wrong to attack someone in the course of doing nothing more provocative than filming the president speaking; an accredited journalist at a Trump event, filming his speech to disseminate to our audience. Why the need to equivocate? It is just wrong. Plain and simple.

And there are those who say it was a Democrat stooge - and can we prove that it was a Trump supporter. We went round this course after the pipe bomb attacks last autumn, when it was suggested the person who'd been sending devices to prominent Democrats was a stooge who was doing this to make the Republicans look bad.

A lot of people who should have known better bought into this - it turned out to be total nonsense. The man charged was a fanatical Trump supporter.

Words have consequences. An interesting meeting took place at the White House two weeks ago when the president invited in the publisher of the New York Times and two of his reporters. The reporters conducted a conventional news interview with President Trump on the issues of the day. But after they had completed that, AG Sulzberger tackled Mr Trump on his fiery anti-press rhetoric. It is worth reading the whole exchange.

But the publisher warns the president that his words are divisive and dangerous, and he expresses the opinion that unless it stops there will be an increase in violence against journalists around the world.

Well last night that violence unfolded in El Paso. Ron was unhurt. It wasn't life-threatening, but it was aggressive and violent. But what about the next time? Or the time after that?

None of us goes into journalism expecting a grateful public to be throwing rose petals in our path as we walk along, or carrying us aloft as conquering heroes.

But in a healthy democracy surely we ought to be able to report a president's speech without - literally - having to look over our shoulder.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:39

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Tanzania male MPs face circumcision call to stop HIV spread

A female MP in Tanzania has called for checks to determine whether or not her male colleagues have undergone circumcision - a procedure known to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Jackline Ngonyani said any MPs found not to have been circumcised should be required to undergo the procedure.

Her suggestion divided opinion among her colleagues.

HIV is seen as a major threat to public health in Tanzania. Around 70% of the male population is circumcised.

Around 5% of Tanzania's adult population is believed to have been infected by HIV - giving it the 13th highest rate of infection in the world, according to figures from 2016.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexual men contracting HIV by around 60%.

Several African countries that are fighting HIV epidemics have launched campaigns to encourage men to undergo the procedure, which involves surgically removing the foreskin from the penis.


Ms Ngonyani made the comments during a debate in parliament about how to curb the spread of HIV in the country.

Her suggestion was backed by MP Joseph Selasini.

In neighbouring Kenya, some top politicians voluntarily submitted to the procedure in 2008 as a way of encouraging men from their communities to do the same.

However, MP Joseph Kasheku opposed Ms Ngonyani's proposal, describing it as uncouth and invasive.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:34

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Newspaper headlines: Donald Tusk's Brexit 'hell' comments on front pages

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned Donald Tusk he'd get "terrible trouble in the British press" for saying there was "a special place in hell" for some Brexiteers.

And the papers have delivered.

"To hell with EU" is the Sun's message to the European Council president.

"We knew one of the EU's leaders is a staggering drunk - turns out the other is a staggering fool," says the paper in its editorial, which concludes that "these sneering, sniggering goons are exactly why we voted as we did on June the 23rd, 2016".

"Eurocrat from Hell" is how the Daily Mail describes Mr Tusk. "What a time to be indulging in gratuitous mud-slinging," says the paper, adding that "such incendiary language, at this crucial moment, risks sabotaging an 11th-hour deal over the Northern Ireland backstop".

Bob cartoon makes clear the Daily Telegraph's distain for Mr Tusk. It shows him being escorted down a staircase by the devil, who tells him: "Our deepest, foulest pit is reserved for smug little hypocrites."

The Times offers a more sympathetic interpretation of his remarks. This "spasm of frustration at the British political class" came from the heart, writes the paper's Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield.

Mr Tusk, he adds: "Speaks as the representative of 27 EU leaders...who knows the extent of deepening despair at the incoherence of British politics."

The Guardian takes a different approach, asking: "If he's right, who is most likely to end up roasting in the eternal fires?"

It goes on to rank the most likely candidates. Ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson gets the highest rating, for promising voters what the paper describes as "sunlit, unicorn-rich uplands" after Brexit.

Another whose chances are fancied is the former Brexit secretary David Davis, who it says "promised no downside" to leaving the EU.

The Daily Mirror dedicates seven pages to what it calls the "national scandal" of Britain's homeless.

Its reporters from across the UK have written moving accounts from people living on the streets. Among them is a woman from Northampton who says her unborn baby died because of the freezing conditions, and a builder from Cardiff who lost his job as a roofer when he broke his back.

In its editorial, the paper pins the blame for high levels of homelessness on "a government which has stopped caring". Communities Secretary James Brokenshire tells the paper that "ending homelessness in its entirety is his priority".

The "i" reports on a "smear test revolution" it says is set to save thousands of lives.

The paper says research suggests a new more accurate screening regime, being rolled out by the NHS, could cut the number of women being diagnosed with cervical cancer by a fifth.

The Daily Express explains that the new method - which involves testing for the human papilloma virus - was found to be 50% more effective at detecting abnormal cell growth then current methods.

Several papers report on the success of new, smaller portions of fish and chips - which have even been touted as a food of choice for dieters.

"Fish and chips can be enjoyed without your waistline taking a battering," reports the Daily Mail.

Researchers at Newcastle University found the new "Lite-Bite" boxes, which contained only around 600 calories, went down well with customers during trials in the north of England.

But the Sun isn't impressed. "Cod help us!" cries its headline... "now do-gooders are cutting our fish 'n chips".

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:30

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Libby Squire: New CCTV emerges of missing student

Libby Squire can be seen on CCTV walking towards the queue for the Welly Club music venue

New footage of missing student Libby Squire on the night of her disappearance has emerged.

The CCTV images show a woman, confirmed by police as the 21-year-old student, near the Welly Club music venue on 31 January at about 23:20 GMT.

Police are continuing to search an area close to the last known sighting of Libby, from High Wycombe.

A 24-year-old man arrested on suspicion of abduction remains a person of interest, police said.

The video, filmed by a camera on a lettings agency next door to the club, shows Libby in a black jacket and a black skirt.

The 21-year-old is believed to have taken a taxi from the nightclub after she was refused entry.

Police said she was dropped off near her home at about 23:30 and was then seen near a bench on Beverley Road about 10 minutes later.

One area of interest in the police search has been the Oak Road Playing Fields in the city, with officers retuning on Tuesday and using power tools to cut back undergrowth.

Humberside Police said hundreds of uniformed officers and around 50 detectives have been searching "around the clock" for Libby, with specialist search advisors, underwater officers, the fire service, police dogs, local businesses and the public also involved.

Police are continuing to search an area close to Oak Road Playing Fields in Hull

Humberside Police said: "Our priority remains to find Libby and support her family at this incredibly distressing time."

The force has posted letters to people living near to Raglan Street to ask if anyone heard "anything unusual" on the night of her disappearance.

Officers have been using rakes and power tools to search undergrowth

Police have carried out house-to-house inquiries in Hull, and a dog unit, police divers and helicopter have all been used as part of the search effort.

The force said it had "received hundreds of calls" and was pursuing a number of lines of inquiry.

On the night of her disappearance, detectives think she arrived at her student house at about 23:30 GMT, where her mobile phone was found.

They do not believe the University of Hull student entered the house and have said her phone "has not provided any further insight as to her movements that night".

She was spotted on CCTV 10 minutes later near a bench on Beverley Road, where it is thought a motorist stopped to offer her help.

She is believed to have been in the area for about 30 minutes.

Ms Squire, who is 5ft 7in tall with long dark brown hair, was wearing a black leather jacket, black long-sleeved top and a black denim skirt with lace when she was last seen.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:21

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Cameron Kasky: How being a student gun control activist took its toll

After surviving the Parkland school massacre in Florida in February 2018 Cameron Kasky helped lead a youth campaign for gun control. But the strain of his experiences - in the school, and in the media spotlight - left him anxious and depressed. A year later, writes the BBC's Tom Gillett, his focus is on dialogue with his former opponents.

On 14 February 2018 a former pupil entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. After six minutes and 20 seconds of carnage, three teachers and 14 of Cameron Kasky's fellow students lay dead.

The geography teacher Scott Biegel, whom Kasky had known well, died protecting his students from gunfire.

When the shooting broke out, Kasky had been rushing to pick up his younger brother from a special needs class. Hustled into the nearest classroom, the brothers spent the remainder of the attack hiding in the dark, not knowing if the door would be opened by the shooter or a rescuer.

There he stayed in touch with events outside via his mobile phone.

"I saw videos, when we were in the room, of people being killed. They were going round Snapchat," he says.

"It was very familiar to me. I grew up with these. I was born in 2000 - that was not long at all after Columbine," he says, referring to the Columbine school massacre the previous year, where 12 schoolchildren and a teacher were murdered by two teenage gunmen, who then killed themselves.

As Kasky was to tweet after the attack: "I am part of the Mass Shooting Generation, and it's an ugly club to be in."

It was the reaction of the teenage Parkland pupils immediately after the events of that day that made the response to this attack unique.

An outraged determination set in among Kasky and a small group of his friends.

"That day I said, 'We need to flip this narrative.' After all these shootings, you see such similar things. You see crying mothers talking about their children. You see people talking about how the shooter was just a nice boy - misunderstood. With only a few exceptions, so much of these shootings had the same exact response. A couple of lawmakers would get kids from the shooting to stand next to them, they'd sign some bill that did nothing and we'd be done. I said, 'We can't have Parkland be that city.'

"I wanted it to be that 20 years after the shooting when people thought of Parkland they didn't think of people crying, they thought of people in the worst possible situation standing up and standing for something that was bigger than them."

Starting the night of the attack, Kasky and a handful of his classmates took to social media, demanding stricter gun control laws and the right to be able to go to school without the fear of being killed. As they typed and posted, the hashtag #NeverAgain went viral.

"I found myself frantically Facebook posting. It was what I knew how to do," he says. "The next morning I was getting all these calls from reporters."

The same thing happened to his friends.

When people think of Parkland I want them to think about people standing up for something"

Cameron Kasky talks to Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk on BBC World Service radio on Wednesday 13 February and on BBC World News television on Thursday 14 February (click for transmission times)

As well as doing broadcast interviews, Kasky wrote online comment pieces and - a week after the attack - he took part in a televised town-hall event.

Standing in front of a large crowd of his peers and neighbours, he confronted Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio over the money he had received from the National Rifle Association. "Senator Rubio can you tell me right now that you would not accept a single NRA donation in the future?" he demanded.

The room exploded into chants and cheers. Kasky looked stunned and overwhelmed. He had just put one of the nation's most prominent politicians on the spot, live on national television.

As momentum gathered behind the young campaigners, Kasky co-founded the group March For Our Lives and set about organising a demonstration in the nation's capital.

Six weeks after the attack, on 24 March 2018, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington DC for the March For Our Lives protest. The Parkland students demanded a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and stricter background checks for those wishing to buy gu

The organisers estimated that 800,000 people attended the rally that day. Kasky's Twitter following rose to more than 400,000.

But while the students succeeded in attracting popular support and media attention, the concrete legislative steps that they demanded have not materialised.

In the month after the attack, Florida governor Rick Scott signed a bill that placed stricter age restrictions on gun purchases and provided funding for mental health services in the state.

On a federal level, the so called "bump stock" which enables a rifle to be fired more rapidly has been banned. But their other demands have been resisted.

As the first anniversary of the Parkland massacre approaches, Cameron is, despite this, sanguine about the movement's achievements.

"Whilst we haven't got all the legislative victories we want with gun control… at the end of the day, there is a victory in the sense that Parkland is not the city that you think of and you instantly think of people mourning and people running away from a problem," he says.

"I think when people hear of Parkland they think of something larger and stronger than the shooter."

But he is also critical of himself, and the decisions he made in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Activists Alex Wind, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg were pictured on the cover of Time magazine after the attack on their school

Sitting in the living room of his suburban home near Miami, Cameron says he now feels that he was too confrontational.

"I think it showed that sometimes how we feel about things can get in the way of our objective thinking," he says.

There is one statement he particularly regrets, a remark to Marco Rubio in the town hall debate:

"Senator Rubio, it's hard to look at you and not look down the barrel on an AR-15 and not look at…" and here he named the shooter - something that the young campaigners quickly decided they would not do, to deny him the fame, or infamy, he may have sought.

"I regretted saying the name of the shooter to Senator Rubio and telling him I can't look at him without seeing the shooter. That's not true," he says.

"In many ways my confrontation with Senator Rubio was very positive, in a sense that it reminded a lot of people my age that politicians are just like anybody else - they are not these deities that you need to look up to as if they are our supreme leaders.

"But going about it… I did it in such a vitriolic way that I don't find it to have been very meaningful and productive."

The activism that he and others threw themselves into in the days after the shooting was a way of dealing with the pain, he says, and the sense of helplessness. But the intense media spotlight also exacted a psychological toll.

"After the shooting, I found myself on television almost 24/7 for a month or two and I found myself sky-rocketed to this position where so many people were looking at what I had to say and were listening to me," he says.

"I think the concept that I could make gun control happen was seductive. And I started to see myself as the person that could make gun control happen. As if it was me. Not as if it was a large push for legislative change in this country. I had this messiah-like concept that I could do this. And I got so high off of that."

When all this was happening, Kasky was only 17, and he found it hard to deal with.

"I spent so long in front of cameras that I forgot how to be a person," he says.

"I spent so long feeling like I was an avatar. Feeling like my body was saying things and doing things - my mind was just cut off."

And eventually, he says, everything caught up with him - and it was compounded, he says, by the mistakes he felt he made along the way. He struggles with depression and anxiety, he says.

In the summer of 2018, Kasky embarked on a road trip to Texas where, in a change of direction, he actively sought the opinions of those who disagreed with him on gun control.

"There is so much more we can do if we all look at each other and say, 'Where can we agree?'"

"I think the more you think about how right you are and how wrong everybody else is, the less you'll learn. A lot of people in this country get stuck in bubbles - especially because of social media.

"I'm very pro gun control… and when I'm with other people who are pro gun control I start to think, 'If you don't think this you must be a really bad person.' And then I met these people and I said, 'These people are not bad people.'

"If I vilify half the people in this country where is that going to bring me? I think there is so much that we can do if we all look at each other and say, 'Where can we agree?' Because that's normally where the most progress is made."

Subsequently, last September, Kasky announced he was leaving the March For Our Lives group to focus on bipartisan dialogue.

He is currently applying for college and plans to revive a podcast series, Cameron Kasky Knows Nothing - "my journey towards understanding folks who disagree with me" as he put it in the trailer.

But what does he hope the legacy of the movement he co-founded will be?

"I think the thing that March For Our Lives did for this country was, we told a whole generation of kids, 'We need to start working together, we need to start thinking. And just because we are little, does not mean we are inadequate when it comes to being part of the conversation.'"

A photo of a student partying in blackface caused days of tension on the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. Protests erupted, the university authorities walked a tightrope defending free speech, and racist graffiti sprang up. Student journalist Megan Schellong was in the thick of it and tells the story.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:11

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Shoreham air crash trial: Pilot Andrew Hill 'negligent'

The standard of flying by the pilot of a jet which crashed during the Shoreham Air Show was "about as negligent as you can get", a court has heard.

Andrew Hill, 54, faces 11 counts of manslaughter after failing to pull out of a loop manoeuvre in August 2015.

Jurors previously heard the move was executed at too low an altitude.

Jonathon Whaley, an experienced air display pilot and evaluator, told the Old Bailey that was a "fundamental thing" and you "do not do it".

Prosecutor Tom Kark QC asked how far Mr Hill's flying fell below acceptable standards, assuming he was not suffering a physical impairment.

Mr Whaley replied: "He had all the training, all the knowledge to know that he hadn't achieved his gate height, and none of the parameters were correct to complete safely this manoeuvre.

"To me that is about as negligent as you can get in terms of flying."

Andrew Hill survived the crash but his barrister says his client does not remember what happened

Giving evidence, Mr Whaley said he did not permit looping manoeuvres in the Hawker Hunter he flies.

Defending Mr Hill, Karim Khalil QC asked: "It can be thought of as inherently dangerous?"

Mr Whaley agreed it could, but acknowledged the manoeuvre was authorised to be carried out in displays.

"The profession of aerobatic display does carry inherent dangers?" Mr Khalil asked.

"It does carry inherent dangers which is why the pilot has to be aware of them," Mr Whaley replied.

Mr Whaley was asked why he and other experts had said Mr Hill's display at the 2015 Shoreham Airshow contained "no difficult manoeuvres".

He answered: "I said it needed arguably more concentration, but I accept that if it's well flown then it's not a problem."

Mr Khalil asked him if Mr Hill may have become "fixated" on the road mid-stunt when he realised "things were not looking good".

"If you've got something like that in front of you I could imagine that becomes a focus of your concentration, not looking left or right," Mr Whaley replied.

"This is when it's becoming apparent that things aren't going well."

Emergency services on the A27 in the aftermath of the crash

After turning upside down, the Cold War-era jet fighter descended vertically towards the ground, the court heard.

Mr Hill tried to keep the plane in the air, but it came down on top of the busy A27 near Shoreham Airport.

Earlier the judge reminded the jury Mr Whaley was simply giving an opinion on the matter.

Mr Justice Edis said: "It will be up to you to decide to accept what the expert said, whether you prefer another expert, or you don't accept any of them.

"It's only an answer, not the answer."

Mr Hill, of Sandon in Hertfordshire, denies all charges.

Mr Khalil previously told the court that due to injuries sustained in the crash, Mr Hill cannot remember what happened.

He claims Mr Hill was affected by something like G-force, which reduces blood supply to the brain.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:50

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F-35 fighter jets to arrive at RAF Marham within weeks

The RAF's new F-35 Lightning II fighter jets will touch down at their new home in Norfolk next month, the defence secretary has announced.

Gavin Williamson said the aircraft - which cost almost £100m each - will arrive at RAF Marham after being tested and used for training in the US.

Four will cross the Atlantic in early June, with a total of nine based in the UK by the end of July, he said.

RAF Air Cmdr David Bradshaw called their arrival "hugely significant".

Gavin Williamson announced the arrival during a visit to RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire

The F-35 Lightning II fighters are considered the most advanced - and most costly - combat jets in the world.

They will replace the Tornado GR4s at RAF Marham, which will be taken out of service in 2019 after almost 40 years.

The Tornados are currently deployed on reconnaissance operations over northern Iraq and Syria.Mr Williamson revealed the news at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, on the 75th anniversary of the daring Dambusters raid carried out by the 617 Squadron.

The squadron has been reformed and will be the first to fly the state-of-the-art aircraft.

Four jets will arrive at RAF Marham in Norfolk after being tested and used for training in the US

Mr Williamson said they were "giving the modern 617 squadron the very best of technology, the very best and the most advanced aircraft in the whole world".

"If you think about what the Dambusters were doing 75 years ago they were using the very cutting-edge technology in order to be able do the job that they had been asked to do," he added.

Mr Williamson confirmed the new aircraft would not be deployed over Syria yet because "quite considerable resources" were already there.

Air Cmdr Bradshaw, Lightning Force commander, said RAF Marham was "ready enough" to accept the jets after a revamp, calling their arrival "hugely significant".

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:45

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RAF Tornado fighter jets to make final flypast

RAF Tornado jets will be marking their retirement with a final flypast, it has been confirmed.

People across Britain will get a chance to say farewell to the fighter jets when they make a series of flights on 19, 20 and 21 February.

The fleet, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, will be retired from service by the end of March.

Station Commander Group Capt Ian Townsend said it will be a "superb celebration" of the plane.

He also announced there would be a nine-plane formation flypast, taking off from RAF Marham on 28 February, which would fly over RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

The planes will fly over much of the country on three different routes for the farewell tour.

They will be spotted above about 35 military stations and landmarks including RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, RAF Valley on Anglesey in Wales and the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Timings have yet to be published, the RAF said in a social media post, which also lists all the locations.

Members of the final Tornado crew return home to RAF Marham for the final time from Cyprus

Eight Tornados, stationed at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and used in missions against the Islamic State group, returned to RAF Marham last week.

The fleet has been used by the RAF for 40 years and has taken part in combat since the first Gulf War.

It is being replaced by the RAF's F-35 Lightning II fighters and an upgraded Typhoon fleet.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:43

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Essex baby's spine 'repaired' in the womb

An unborn baby has had surgery on her spine while she was still in her mother's womb.

Bethan Simpson, 26, from Maldon, Essex, was told her unborn daughter Eloise had spina bifida at her 20-week scan.

Mrs Simpson has become one of the first mothers in the UK to undergo the pioneering "foetal repair" surgery.

During a four-hour operation her womb was opened and her baby's bottom exposed, allowing surgeons to "sew up" a tiny hole in her lower spine.

Mrs Simpson said she "couldn't justify terminating a child I could feel kicking".

The procedure has been deemed successful and the baby is now due in April.Mrs Simpson said she and husband Keiron were advised to terminate her pregnancy after the condition was diagnosed, but the decision to opt for foetal repair was a "no brainer".

"I'm being told she's paralysed, but she very much wasn't," Mrs Simpson said.

Mrs Simpson underwent surgery at 24 weeks to treat her unborn daughter's spina bifida

She was approved for surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital in December after a series of tests and scans, and described the ensuing weeks as a "rollercoaster".

The operation at 24 weeks involved opening her womb and lifting her baby into position to repair the hole, as well as repositioning the baby's spinal cord.

"I came out of surgery at one o'clock and could feel her moving that evening," Mrs Simpson said.

"It was reassuring to feel that first kick after the anaesthetic wore off. She's bigger now, of course, and her kicks are stronger."

Mrs Simpson said she remembered the surgeon telling her on the ward later: "I've held your baby."

Bethan and Keiron Simpson's daughter Eloise is due in April

Mrs Simpson is thought to be the fourth patient to undergo the surgery in the UK, with the procedure mostly carried out in Belgium and the United States.

From April, the procedure will be available on the NHS in England. Two-hundred babies are born with spina bifida in the UK every year.

Great Ormond Street Hospital's lead neurosurgeon, Dominic Thompson, described the operation on Mrs Simpson's baby as "an incredible journey".

"Until now, when people got this devastating news there were two options - continue with the pregnancy or termination. This now offers a third option," he said.

"It is not a cure. But there is quite clear evidence through critical trials that the outlook can be a lot better with surgery early on."

Mrs Simpson is the fourth patient to undergo the pioneering surgery

Gill Yaz, of the spina bifida charity Shine, said foetal medicine consultants recognised there were options available "rather than just termination".

"People need to be aware that this is not a cure, it may in some cases make no difference at all," she said.

"They need to go into this with their eyes wide open."

Mrs Simpson urged parents in her position to consider surgery and "give every option a go".

"There are unknowns - it's major surgery, and the biggest decision you'll make in your life," she said.

"But remember most children born with spina bifida today are walking and reaching normal milestones."

Spina bifida occurs in about four in 10,000 pregnancies

Spina bifida and foetal repair surgery

Spina bifida literally means 'split spine', and occurs when the spinal column and cord are not properly formed in pregnancy (before the sixth week) - leaving nerves exposed.

It occurs in around four in 10,000 pregnancies.

The cause is unknown, however mothers are encouraged to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of developing spina bifida in early pregnancy.

Babies born with the condition can become paralysed, suffer bladder and bowel problems - and it can affect brain development.

It is estimated that about 80% of mothers choose termination when spina bifida is diagnosed, although the condition varies in severity.

The delicate surgical procedure involves opening the uterus and closing the gap in the baby's back while they are still in the womb.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:40

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Man who used trolley to dump victim guilty of wounding

A man fractured his victim's skull before wheeling his "near-lifeless" body in a shopping trolley and dumping it in a park.

Ryan Smith, 24, punched Twaha Yahaya and sent him flying down a set of stairs in a "motiveless attack" on 8 August last year, police said.

The 27-year-old was in a coma for weeks after the assault in Northampton.

Smith, of no fixed abode, was found guilty of wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm.

Police said Smith took Mr Yahaya to Nursery Lane, next to Kingsthorpe Recreation Ground, and left him there.

Mr Yahaya has only recently been released from round-the-clock treatment at a brain rehabilitation unit, Northamptonshire Police said.

He has also been left with little movement in his left arm.

His mother said: "I wouldn't wish this to happen to anyone's son, daughter or relative."

Police said Mr Yahaya's near lifeless body was left near Kingsthorpe Recreation Ground

Det Insp James Larkin said: "Twaha was left with life-changing injuries as a result of a motiveless attack carried out with extreme violence before being cynically dumped into a trolley and left in a nearby park.

"I hope Twaha and his family will take some comfort from today's verdict and that he is able to continue the very long road to recovery which he has begun in the months since the attack."

Smith was remanded in custody to be sentenced on 18 February at Northampton Crown Court.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:36

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Venezuela crisis: Guaido vows to open aid routes with volunteers

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó

has vowed to open humanitarian aid routes into the country in defiance of the government.

Mr Guaidó, who has declared himself interim president, called on volunteers to help with distribution and said his plans would be ready next week.

Footage shows soldiers blocking a key bridge at the border with Colombia.

A government official called aid "a Trojan horse" and said the country had a duty to defend its borders."According to our constitution, we have the right and the duty to defend our borders peacefully," said Freddy Bernal.

He accused US president Donald Trump, who has endorsed the opposition leader, of just wanting to exploit Venezuelan oil.

Meanwhile an active Venezuelan army colonel said he had switched his allegiance to Mr Guaidó, and urged fellow soldiers to allow aid into the country.

In a video circulated on social media, Col Ruben Paz Jimenez said he was now backing Mr Guaidó and that 90% of the armed forces were unhappy with Mr Maduro's government.

The defection comes a week after Air Force Gen Francisco Yanez pledged his support for Mr Guaidó.

However, so far most of the armed forces appear to be still loyal to Mr Maduro.

Why is aid needed?

Millions of people have fled Venezuela as hyperinflation and other economic troubles render food and medicines scarce.

Since the outbreak of the current political crisis, Washington has announced sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry.

Venezuelan troops are guarding the border bridge in Tienditas

President Nicolás Maduro, who has the support of the army, has rejected letting foreign aid into the country.

Last week a tanker and cargo containers blocked the Tienditas International Bridge, which links Venezuela to its more stable neighbour to the west.

The blockages were still there on Friday, and many soldiers were seen standing guard.

Mr Guaidó does not control any territory in Venezuela so, instead, he is planning to set up collection centres in neighbouring countries to which Venezuelans have fled.

He said he wanted to set up an international coalition to gather aid at three points, and press Venezuela's army to let it into the country.

Food and medicine organised by the US federal government's USAID agency arrived on Thursday and have been stored at a warehouse on the Colombian side of the border.The agency has been bound up in international politics before - Russia expelled it in 2012, citing "attempts to influence political processes through grants); and Bolivia expelled it the year after, accusing it of seeking to "conspire against" the Bolivian people and government.

Both Russia and Bolivia are allies of President Maduro in the current crisis.

How far will Guaidó go?

Mr Guaidó has warned many Venezuelans are in danger of dying without international aid.

Speaking to AFP news agency, he said the groups he was putting together would "make a first entry attempt" at the blocked bridge when they had gathered enough supplies. He said he expected this to happen next week.It would be "almost wretched at this point of huge necessity" for the military to block any convoy entering, he said.

A number of Venezuelan leaders have also appealed to the military to allow aid lorries to cross into the country.

Asked whether he would authorise the intervention of foreign military forces, Mr Guaidó said: "We will do everything possible.

"This is obviously a very, very controversial subject, but making use of our sovereignty and, within our jurisdictions, we will do what is necessary."

What's the background to the crisis?

In January, Mr Maduro was sworn in for a second term following disputed elections which many opposition leaders did not contest because they were in jail or boycotting them.

Why Venezuela matters to the US... and vice versa

Mr Guaidó, who is head of Venezuela's National Assembly, declared himself president on 23 January.

He says the constitution allows him to assume power temporarily when the president is deemed illegitimate. On Saturday he said protests would continue until his supporters had achieved "freedom".

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:31

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Ricardo Boechat: Brazil news anchor dies in helicopter crash

Ricardo Boechat, one of Brazil's best-known journalists, has been killed in a helicopter crash in São Paulo.

The aircraft carrying the 66-year-old news anchor hit a lorry on a ring road on Monday morning. The pilot is also thought to have died.

Tributes have been paid to Boechat, who was an award-winning radio and TV broadcaster with Bandeirantes, or Band.

Breaking the news live on TV, a colleague said it was "a very sad moment for Brazilian journalism".

Boechat had finished recording the popular morning radio show Café com Jornal just hours before the incident.

He was travelling from Campinas, near São Paulo, when the helicopter came down on the motorway at 12:14 local time (14:14 GMT).

The driver of the lorry was rescued by paramedics.

Writing on social media, fellow journalists described Boechat as "a journalist's journalist", praising his down-to-earth approach and "impactful" reporting.

nd "impactful" reporting.

Others said his death was not just a loss for Band, but for Brazilian journalism.

Band's radio network also tweeted the news, saying that staff felt "profound sadness".

A cherished colleague

Ricardo Boechat gained prominence by making extremely critical and ironic remarks about politicians, while using colloquial language and good humour - a rare stance in an environment still marked by formalities and a deference to the authorities.

After working for some of Brazil's main newspapers and winning several awards, he found his calling as a TV and radio presenter, where he won a large audience. He was cherished by his colleagues, having twice been voted Brazil's most admired journalist in surveys among the country's reporters.

In 2015, he engaged in a fierce debate with the powerful evangelical pastor, Silas Malafaia, one of the most influential religious leaders in the country and an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Boechat was also known for his tough stance on the Workers' Party (PT), after corruption scandals erupted in the governments of presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

Boechat started working as a journalist in the 1970s, beginning his career as a reporter in Rio de Janeiro for the newspaper Diario de Noticias.

Throughout his accomplished career he wrote for a number of well-known Brazilian newspapers, before joining Band as an anchor.



ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:26

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Liberia: Pres. Weah’s Motorcade Accident, Who Are Those Involved?

MONROVIA – What started as a trip to the 180th Convention of the Methodist Annual Conference in Gbarnga, Bong County resulted in a tragedy Sunday, killing two – Gabriel Wilson, who has been trumpeting the President’s horn since the reign of President William R. Tolbert and Victoria Wlue, a passenger in the vehicle carrying former Solicitor General, Micah Wilkins Wright. 

Victim Gabriel Wilson (Executive Horn)

Gabriel Wilson was popularly known as ‘Executive Horn’. Believed to be in his mid 60s, ‘Executive Horn’ brought uniqueness to the Liberian presidency. The traditional horn announced the arrival of the President in public gatherings. Depending on how it is blown, the horn signaled the President’s mood and it was also used to applaud the President when he speaks.

In an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica in 2017, Executive Horn said, “This horn has message, there is a way when I blow it, people from Maryland will know the mood of the occasion. If the president is speaking during a joyous occasion, my kinsmen will understand and when someone dies and I blow it, they will also understand it is a sorrowful period,” he told FrontPageAfrica.

He said none of his three sons were interested in taking after him, calling his craft ‘old fashioned’.

“They said it’s old fashioned yet, it is the old-fashioned job sending them to school and feeding them. Since my children do not want to learn the art, I am presently training a boy from my home to take after me,” he added.

Victim Victoria Wlue

Rev. Victoria G. Wlue was a passenger in the vehicle carrying former Solicitor General Wilkins Wright. She was an employee of the Ministry of Education serving as principal of Dusata public school in Paynesville. She was also a former teacher of the Firestone School System.

Tributes have been pouring in on her Facebook page since her demise.

C Wellington Morgan, a relative of the deceased posted to Facebook:

“Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord”…

Rest in perfect peace my dear sister, the late Rev. Victoria G. Wlue , (Mamie). We share one brother, your father’s son, and my mother’s son, Marcus Wlue. Because of him, you became my sister.

You met your untimely death on Sunday, January 10, when one of President Weah’s convoy cars collided with the vehicle in wish you were riding.

Death has physically separated You from us, but I know that you are alive with the Lord in glory. Sleep in peace my dear sister, until we meet again on that great getting up morning.

I know that you are in a better place and it is well with your soul.

Lovelymood Flowers also wrote on her Facebook wall: 

O Thou in whose presence our souls take delight
On whom in afflictions we call
Our comfort by day and our song in the night 
Our hope, our salvation, our all

We fought to denounce the terrible fact but it finally hit us hard

RIP Rev. Victoria G. Wlue 
The AME Churches most especially Eliza Turner will miss you

The Survivors 

A family source told FrontPage that Cllr. Micah Wilkins Wright that former Solicitor General was on his way to Ganta when the tragic accident occurred. Though the family source declined to comment on the severity of his injuries, sources at the Phebe Hospital told FrontPageAfrica that the former ECOWAS Court Judge sustained a laceration on his face, but he is in a stable condition.

Gabriel Mills, a long-time videographer of the Executive Mansion, suffered severe injuries and reportedly broke both legs in the accident. FrontPageAfrica has not been able to confirm whether both legs can be restored but he is undergoing treatment at the John. F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia.

However, President Weah has promptly responded to the critical condition of long-serving Executive Mansion Videographe by ordering that the badly injured staff of the Ministry of State for President Affairs be flown to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, for further treatment.

Jerry Gaye, a reporter with Prime FM also broke a leg in the accident. 

Others who sustained injuries from the fatal accident are Samuel Zohn – driver, Executive Mansion; Rueben Gongloe, Executive Mansion staff; Mohammed Kanneh, Executive Mansion staff, Joseph Sayon, ELBC, Isaac Freeman, videographer, LNTV and Godfrey Nana Badu of KMTV. 

Phebe Couldn’t Hold Survivors

Meanwhile, an acute shortage of essential drugs at Phebe hospital, Bong County’s only referral hospital, Sunday brought misery to victims of an accident involving the presidential motorcade.

Doctors advised patients to seek alternative treatment away from the hospital. 

“Their condition is very critical and we don’t have no drugs to address the situation,” a nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Marcus Wright, who sustained an injury during Sunday’s accident, said he was advised by a nurse who was attending to him to go to a clinic or pharmacy to buy a piece of nylon string for use in the treatment of the wound in his arm. 

“You can’t have a centrally-located hospital like Phebe and there are no drugs,” he said.

Phebe Hospital Medical Director, Dr. Jefferson Sayblay, said the victims’ conditions were critical for the hospital to handle, especially in the absence of drugs to respond to emergency cases of such. 

“This is a classic example of the problem Phebe faces as a hospital,” Dr. Sayblay said. “There is not a pain killer here. We hope the government will see the need to improve the hospital.”

sarah Posted on February 12, 2019 12:37

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Liberia: Henry Costa’s Roots FM 102.7 Attacked Again; Transmitters Taken Away

Monrovia – Henry Costa’s Roots FM 102.7 is off the air again, dealing a major blow to the highly-rated early morning talk show. The station’s office was burglarized for the second time in days, this time, attackers took away the transmitters along with other equipment.

Mr. Fidel Saydee, Mr. Costa’s sidekick broke the news on the station’s Facebook Page Monday.

“Sad Times: They finally succeeded in bursting the gate open and walking away with our transmitters (500 and 1000 watts respectively). Why all these attacks on Roots FM?”

Student political activist Martin Kollie has described the incident as an attack on THE MEDIA. Why is this happening. I thought free speech and press freedom are fundamental rights. Liberians will have to rise up to this NIGHTMARE. Roots FM is being heavily attacked for the second time in less than a month. The CDC-led government is overly intolerant and anti-democratic. The democratic gains of Liberia are fast eroding or reversing. We will have to stand up to this newborn dictator through mass civil action. We STAND with Henry P. Costa, Fidel Saydee, and Roots FM family. SAD Liberia under this new ruling clique of kleptocrats.”

This is the second time in many days that the station has fallen prey to an attack. 

On Thursday January 31st, unknown armed men stormed the station and cut transmitter cables. 

Mr. Costa told FrontPageAfrica that technicians usually visited the facility from to time to time to carry out maintenance work on the transmitter. “They opened the gate and let them in; they came in and immediately pulled out their guns – the three of them, they pulled out their guns on the two watchmen who were unarmed and they began asking them ‘Where is Costa’s broadcast equipment?’.

The vocal Costa has been a thorn in the side of the George Weah-led government with his uncompromising stance on corruption and revelation of damaging documents on a number of shady contracts. Most recently, the talk show host published and discussed leaked Articles of Incorporation showing that the government had given the ground handling operations of the new terminal at the Roberts International Airport to Jordanians and granted Bulgarians contract for the port of Buchanan. Jordanians is a regarded as one of the global havens for terrorists.

Mr. Kla Williams, of the opposition Liberty Party said the attack on the station is deeply disturbing. 

“This is the second time in less than a week that the station has reportedly come under attack by unknown persons.  What is even more noteworthy and sad but not surprising is the fact that the Slipway Police Depot and all-night Checkpoint, and the Central Bank where there’s a heavy deployment well-armed ERU Troops are just a stone throw from the station. “

Added Williams: “The pictures show a sign of the use of maximum force to breakthrough the facilities. Ordinarily, it’s not possible for anyone to be at the Slipway Police Depot and Checkpoint or the Central Bank and not hear the sound from such burglary. The fact that Costa officially reported the previous burglary to the police was sufficient notice to put the security agencies on the alert and leave them with no excuse. These people will become deadlier against their critics. There’s no more hidden signal left.”

sarah Posted on February 12, 2019 12:33

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Nigeria: Ogoni widow testifies against Shell in The Hague

The widow of a Nigerian activist suing oil giant Shell over the execution of her husband says his death left her "traumatised" and "poverty-stricken".

Esther Kiobel is testifying in court in The Hague, demanding compensation and an apology from the Dutch-based firm.

She is among four women who accuse Shell of being complicit in the hanging of their husbands by Nigeria's military in 1995. Shell denies the allegation.

The activists led mass protests against oil pollution in Nigeria's Ogoniland.

The protests were seen as a major threat to then-military ruler Gen Sani Abacha, and Shell. They were led by author Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was among nine activists hanged by the military regime.

Their executions caused global outrage, and led to Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth for more than three years.

Two of the widows were in court, but two others were denied visas to attend.

What was the atmosphere in court?

More than two decades later, memories of the executions still move the widows to tears, reports the BBC's Anna Holligan from court.

Mrs Kiobel wiped her eyes, and in a quivering voice described her husband, Barinem Kiobel, as "kind-hearted", our reporter adds.

Representatives of Shell looked on. At one point, the phone of one them rang as the widows wiped their eyes, prompting judges to remind everyone to keep their devices on silent, our reporter says.

What else has Mrs Kiobel said?

In a written statement, she said she had lost a "wonderful husband" and a "best friend".

She added: "Shell came into my life to take the best crown l ever wore off my head. Shell came into my life to make me a poverty-stricken widow with all my businesses shut down. Shell came into my life to make me a refugee living in harsh conditions before l came to the United States through [a] refugee programme and now [I am a] citizen.

"The abuses my family and l went through are such an awful experience that has left us traumatised to date without help. We all have lived with so much pain and agony, but rather than giving up, the thought of how ruthlessly my husband was killed... has spurred me to remain resilient in my fight for justice.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was the best known of the nine activists executed

"Nigeria and Shell killed my late husband: Dr Barinem Kiobel and his compatriots Kenule Tua Saro Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Paul Levula, Nordu Eawo and the rest [of the] innocent souls.

"My husband and the rest were killed... The memory of the physical torture my family and l went through has remained fresh in my mind, and whenever l look at the scar of the injury l sustained during the incident, my heart races for justice the more."

What is Shell's response?

In a statement, the firm said the executions were "tragic events which shocked us deeply".

The statement added: "The Shell Group, alongside other organisations and individuals, appealed for clemency to the military government in power in Nigeria at that time. To our deep regret, those appeals went unheard.

"We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made in this tragic case. SPDC [the Shell Petroleum Development Company] did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest, it in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria, and it had no role in the arrest, trial and execution of these men.

"We believe that the evidence clearly shows that Shell was not responsible for these distressing events."

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 12:17

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Venezuela crisis: Maduro condemns 'extremist' Trump

Venezuela's embattled President Nicolás Maduro has called Donald Trump's government a "gang of extremists" and blamed the US for his country's crisis.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Maduro said he would not allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela as it was a way for the US to justify an intervention.

"They are warmongering in order to take over Venezuela," he said.

The US and most Western governments have recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.Mr Maduro is under growing internal and international pressure to call early presidential elections amid a worsening economic crisis and accusations of widespread corruption and human rights violations.

Meanwhile, Mr Guaidó has called for new anti-government protests later on Tuesday.

Maduro on Trump

Relations between the US and Venezuela were already fraught before President Trump backed Mr Guaidó as leader. Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations in response while Mr Trump said the use of military force remained "an option".

The Trump administration was one of the first to support Mr Guaidó as interim president and declared Mr Maduro's re-election last year "illegitimate".

In a rare interview, Mr Maduro said he hoped "this extremist group in the White House is defeated by powerful world-wide public opinion".

Speaking in the capital Caracas, he told the BBC's Orla Guerin: "It's a political war, of the United States empire, of the interests of the extreme right that today is governing, of the Ku Klux Klan, that rules the White House, to take over Venezuela."

Why Venezuela matters to the US... and vice versa

The US has also imposed a raft of economic measures on Venezuela, including against the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, aiming to hit the country's main source of revenue.

It has criticised Mr Maduro's increased use of the courts and security forces to suppress political opposition.When asked, in response to his Ku Klux Klan comment, if he believed Mr Trump was a "white supremacist", Mr Maduro said: "He is, publicly and openly... They hate us, they belittle us, because they only believe in their own interests, and in the interests of the United States."

Maduro on humanitarian aid

The president has rejected allowing humanitarian aid into the country, a move that is being organised by the opposition. He said Venezuela had "the capacity to satisfy all the needs of its people" and did not have to "beg from anyone".

But for years Venezuelans have faced severe shortages of basic items such as medicine and food. Last year, the inflation rate saw prices doubling every 19 days on average.

Desperate Venezuelan women are selling their hair at the border

Three million people have left the country since the economy started to worsen in 2014, according to the UN. And Mr Guaidó says more than 300,000 Venezuelans are at "risk of dying".

Mr Maduro, who has blamed US sanctions for Venezuela's economic woes, said the US intended to "create a humanitarian crisis in order to justify a military intervention".

"This is part of that charade. That's why, with all dignity, we tell them we don't want their crumbs, their toxic food, their left-overs."

Maduro on calling elections

Mr Maduro, who took office in 2013, was re-elected to a second term last year but the elections were controversial with many opposition candidates barred from running or jailed, and claims of vote-rigging.

Head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Mr Guaidó declared himself president on 23 January, saying the constitution allowed him to assume power temporarily when the president was deemed illegitimate.

Mr Maduro - who still has the support of Russia and China and, crucially, of the Venezuelan army - said he did not see the need for early presidential elections.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 12:12

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How India's single time zone is hurting its people

India's single time zone is a legacy of British rule, and is thought of as a symbol of unity. But not everyone thinks the Indian Standard Time (IST) is a good idea.

Here's why.

India stretches 3,000km (1,864 miles) from east to west, spanning roughly 30 degrees longitude. This corresponds with a two-hour difference in mean solar times - the passage of time based on the position of the sun in the sky.

The US equivalent would be New York and Utah sharing one time zone. Except that in this case, it also affects more than a billion people - hundreds of millions of whom live in poverty.

The sun rises nearly two hours earlier in the east of India than in the far west. Critics of the single time zone have argued that India should move to two different standard times to make the best use of daylight in eastern India, where the sun rises and sets much earlier than the west. People in the east need to start using their lights earlier in the day and hence use more electricity.

The rising and setting of the sun impacts our body clocks or circadian rhythm. As it gets darker in the evening, the body starts to produce the sleep hormone melatonin - which helps people nod off.

In a new paper, Maulik Jagnani, an economist at Cornell University, argues that a single time zone leads to a decline in quality of sleep, especially of poor children. This, he says, ends up reducing the quality of their education.

This is how it happens. The school day starts at more or less the same time everywhere in India but children go to bed later and have reduced sleep in areas where the sun sets later. An hour's delay in sunset time reduces children's sleep by 30 minutes.

Scientists suggest Manipur, a hilly north-eastern state, should have a different time zone

Using data from the India Time Survey and the national Demographic and Health Survey, Mr Jagnani found that school-going children exposed to later sunsets get fewer years of education, and are less likely to complete primary and middle school.

He found evidence that suggested that sunset-induced sleep deprivation is more pronounced among the poor, especially in periods when households face severe financial constraints.

"This might be because sleep environments among poor households are associated with noise, heat, mosquitoes, overcrowding, and overall uncomfortable physical conditions. The poor may lack the financial resources to invest in sleep-inducing goods like window shades, separate rooms, indoor beds and adjust their sleep schedules," he told me.

  • "In addition, poverty may have psychological consequences like stress, negative affective states, and an increase in cognitive load that can affect decision-making."

Mr Jagnani also found that children's education outcomes vary with the annual average sunset time across eastern and western locations even within a single district. An hour's delay in annual average sunset time reduces education by 0.8 years, and children living in locations with later sunsets are less likely to complete primary and middle school, the research showed.

Mr Jagnani says that back of the envelope estimates suggested that India would accrue annual human capital gains of over $4.2bn (0.2% of GDP) if the country switched from the existing single time zone to the proposed two time zone policy: UTC+5 hours for western India and UTC+6 hours for eastern India. (UTC is essentially the same as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT but is measured by an atomic clock and is thus more accurate.)

The sun can rise nearly two hours earlier in the east of India than in the far west

India has long debated whether it should move to two time zones. (In fact tea gardens in the north-eastern state of Assam have long set their clocks one hour ahead of IST in what functions as an informal time zone of their own.)

During the late 1980s, a team of researchers at a leading energy institute suggested a system of time zones to save electricity. In 2002, a government panel shot down a similar proposal, citing complexities. There was the risk, some experts felt, of railway accidents as there would be a need to reset times at every crossing from one time zone to another.

Last year, however, India's official timekeepers themselves suggested two time zones, one for most of India and the other for eight states, including seven in the more remote north-eastern part the country. Both the time zones would be separated by an hour.

Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory said the single time zone was "badly affecting lives" as the sun rises and sets much earlier than official working hours allow for.

Early sunrise, they said, was leading to the loss of many daylight hours as offices, schools and colleges opened too "late" to take full advantage of the sunlight. In winters, the problem was said to be worse as the sun set so early that more electricity was consumed "to keep life active".

Moral of the story: Sleep is linked to productivity, and a messy time zone can play havoc with the lives of people, especially poor children.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:32

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Government sued over no-deal ferry contracts

The government is being sued for its decision to charter firms to run extra ferries, including one with no ships, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel, said the contracts, revealed after Christmas, were decided in a "secretive and flawed procurement process".

The move comes days after Seaborne, one of the firms chosen, had its contract axed after its funding fell through.

The government said it had carried out a "competitive procurement process".

"The Department for Transport acted transparently and competitively throughout the process of securing extra freight.

"This was done by approaching ferry operators and encouraging bids that could be fairly assessed against each other," a spokeswoman said.

At a High Court hearing in London, Eurotunnel claimed the government contracts, announced on 29 December, were awarded without any public notice.

Eurotunnel's barrister Daniel Beard QC said Eurotunnel only found out "when contract notices were published three days after Christmas".

He said it was "quite remarkable" his client had not been informed given its recent history in running cross-Channel services.

Ewan West, representing Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in court, said the government's procurement process was only for "maritime freight" services and that Eurotunnel "could never have provided that capacity" and "could not have complied" with the terms of the contracts.

Judge Peter Fraser ruled a four-day trial will begin on 1 March given the "obvious" urgency of the case and the "very important public interest matters" involved.

The government announced on Saturday it had decided to terminate its agreement with Seaborne

When the Department for Transport announced the contracts in December, in documents outlining the agreements it stated that an "unforeseeable" situation of "extreme urgency" meant there was no time for the contracts to be put out to tender - the standard practice for public procurements.

However, the BBC understands that a number of firms were considered and there was a private negotiation process.

Three suppliers were awarded a total of £102.9m in late December, aimed at easing "severe congestion" at Dover, in the case of a no-deal Brexit:

  • £46.6m to the French company Brittany Ferries
  • £42.5m (€47.3m) to Danish shipping firm DFDS
  • £13.8m to British firm Seaborne Freight

The decision to award a contract to Seaborne, a firm with no ships which the BBC found had never run a ferry service before, has been heavily criticised.

After Seaborne's contract collapsed Mr Grayling faced calls for his resignation, with Labour accusing him of "rewriting the textbook on incompetence.".

But Prime Minister Theresa May has said she continues to have full confidence in him.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:28

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Why so many people believe conspiracy theories

Did Hillary Clinton mastermind a global child-trafficking ring from a Washington pizzeria? No.

Did George W Bush orchestrate a plot to bring down the Twin Towers and kill thousands of people in 2001? Also no.

So, why do some people believe they did? And what do conspiracy theories tell us about the way we see the world?

Conspiracy theories are far from a new phenomenon. They have been a constant hum in the background for at least the past 100 years, says Prof Joe Uscinski, author of American Conspiracy Theories.

They are also more widespread than you might think.

"Everybody believes in at least one and probably a few," he says. "And the reason is simple: there is an infinite number of conspiracy theories out there. If we were to poll on all of them, everybody is going to check a few boxes."

Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria became the subject of an online conspiracy theory about child trafficking

This finding isn't peculiar to the US. In 2015, University of Cambridge research found most Britons ticked a box when presented with a list of just five theories. These ranged from the existence of a secret group controlling world events, to contact with aliens.

This suggests that, contrary to popular belief, the typical conspiracy theorist is not a middle-aged man living in his mother's basement sporting a tinfoil hat.

"When you actually look at the demographic data, belief in conspiracies cuts across social class, it cuts across gender and it cuts across age," Prof Chris French, a psychologist at Goldsmith's, University of London, says.

Equally, whether you're on the left or the right, you're just as likely to see plots against you.

"The two sides are equal in terms of conspiracy thinking," Prof Uscinski says, of research in the US.

"People who believe that Bush blew up the Twin Towers were mostly Democrats, people who thought that Obama faked his own birth certificate were mostly Republicans - but it was about even numbers within each party."

To understand why we are so drawn to the notion of shadowy forces controlling political events, we need to think about the psychology behind conspiracy theories.

"We are very good at recognising patterns and regularities. But sometimes we overplay that - we think we see meaning and significance when it isn't really there," Prof French says.

"We also assume that when something happens, it happens because someone or something made it happen for a reason."

Essentially, we see some coincidences around big events and we then make up a story out of them.

That story becomes a conspiracy theory because it contains "goodies" and "baddies" - the latter being responsible for all the things we don't like.

In many ways, this is just like everyday politics.

We often blame politicians for bad events, even when those events are beyond their control, says Prof Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University.

"People will blindly reward or punish the government for good or bad times without really having any clear understanding of whether or how the government's policies have contributed to those outcomes," he says.

Barack Obama released his birth certificate in 2011 in response to persistent rumours he had been born outside the US

This is even true when things that seem very unrelated to government go wrong.

"One instance that we looked at in some detail was a series of shark attacks off the coast of New Jersey in 1916," Prof Bartels says.

"This was the basis, much later, for the movie Jaws. We found that there was a pretty significant downturn in support for President [Woodrow] Wilson in the areas that had been most heavily affected by the shark attacks."

The "us" and "them" role of conspiracy theories can be found in more mainstream political groups as well.

In the UK, the EU referendum has created a group of Remainers and a similarly sized group of Leavers.

"People feel they belong to their group but it also means that people feel a certain sense of antagonism towards people in the other group," Prof Sara Hobolt, of the London School of Economics, says.

Remainers and Leavers sometimes interpret the world differently. For example, confronted with identical economic facts, Remainers are more likely to say the economy is performing poorly and Leavers to say it is performing well.

Conspiracy theories are just another part of this.

"Leavers, who, in the run-up to the referendum, thought they were going to be on the losing side, were more likely to think that the referendum might be rigged," Prof Hobolt says.

"And then that really shifted after the referendum results came out, because at that point the Remainers were on the losing side."

It may not be terribly cheering to learn that conspiracy theories are so embedded in political thinking. But it should not be surprising.

"It's often the case that we're constructing our beliefs in ways that support what we want to be true," Prof Bartels says.

And having more information is little help.

"The people who are most subject to these biases are the people who are paying the most attention," he says.

For many, there is little reason to get political facts right, since your individual vote won't affect government policy.

"There is no cost for me to be wrong about my political views," Prof Bartels says.

"If it makes me feel good to think that Woodrow Wilson should have been able to prevent the shark attacks, then the psychological pay-off from holding those views is likely to be much greater than any penalty that I might suffer if the views are wrong."

In the end, we want to feel comfortable, not be right.

It is why particular conspiracy theories come and go, but also why conspiracy will always be part of the stories we tell about political events.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:19

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Disney fans mock Will Smith's Genie in Aladdin

Disney granted everyone's wish on Sunday when they finally gave a first look at Will Smith's blue Genie in the new live action version of Aladdin.

Unfortunately many fans were not impressed with what they saw and were quick to say so on social media.

"It turns out that Will Smith's Aladdin Genie will haunt my nightmares," tweeted one user.

Another added: "I'll never sleep again and it's all Will Smith's fault."

The trailer for director Guy Ritchie's latest offering was revealed midway through the Grammy Awards, and sees Aladdin approaching the Cave of Wonders in search of the lamp.

When Disney first released images of the upcoming film, Smith admitted it was "always terrifying" whenever "you're doing things that are iconic".

The actor told Entertainment Weekly he tapped into his roles from Bad Boys and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to shape his Genie.

When teasing what the blue immortal would look like, Ritchie said he wanted a "muscular 1970s dad".

He added: "He was big enough to feel like a force - not so muscular that he looked like he was counting his calories, but formidable enough to look like you knew when he was in the room."

However, other film fans said they would wait to make their minds up when the movie is released in May.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:05

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Catherine Wreford: The dancer with an 'invisible disease'

You could easily go and see Catherine Wreford perform in a show and not know anything was wrong.

A professional dancer with a huge number of stage credits to her name, it's perhaps only when you look at the show programme that you'd find out she has brain cancer.

"I always put it in my bio because I want people to know I'm on stage and still performing, but I have an invisible disease," she tells BBC News.

"And I want people to know the invisible disease I have will kill me at some point, but not now. I can still dance, and because I can still dance, that's what I'm doing."

When the 39-year-old was first diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma (a malignant brain tumour), she was told she had between two and six years left to live.

That was six years ago.

But despite 2019 being the year that her determined time should be up, she is preparing to appear in a new production of Romeo and Juliet in her Canadian home city.

Catherine Wreford and Craig Ramsay, pictured in 2005

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) has invited her back, along with her close friend Craig Ramsay, two decades after the pair trained at the company's ballet school.

Together, she and Craig will portray Lord and Lady Capulet when the production opens on 13 February.

"Rehearsals have been going really well, everyone is so kind and accepting of us," Wreford says of the last few weeks.

Tara Birtwhistle, associate artistic director of the RWB, says she's "thrilled" to have Wreford and Ramsay back.

"We are proud of all that they have accomplished and to have them here, performing with the company, rehearsing in the studios where they learned their craft, is incredibly emotional, even more so in context of Catherine's story," she tells BBC News.

Despite training as a dancer and going on to star in Broadway shows, Wreford had actually given up her career in the entertainment industry more than a decade ago.

Wreford said the whole company had been "kind and accepting" of her during rehearsals

"I'd gone from training to performing on Broadway, and I'd never taken a break," she explains. "I was doing one show while rehearsing for another show, and my body was breaking down, I had a bunch of injuries.

"So I thought I'd take a little time off, and that turned into many years off, and I ended up running a mortgage company and then becoming a nurse."

Such a career change might sound like a total departure from her performing background - but Wreford surprisingly found plenty of overlap between dancing and being a mortgage advisor.

"It's basically the same thing, I'm acting right?!" she laughs. "I choreograph people into getting a new mortgage!... so I got to use that part of my brain a lot."

Symptoms of a malignant brain tumour

  • Headaches (often worse in the morning and when coughing or straining)
  • Fits (seizures)
  • Regularly feeling sick or vomiting
  • Memory problems or changes in personality
  • Weakness, vision problems or speech problems that get worse

The outlook for a malignant brain tumour depends on things like where it is in the brain, its size, and what grade it is.

It can sometimes be cured if caught early, but a brain tumour often comes back and it sometimes isn't possible to remove it.

After several successful years running the mortgage company, Wreford decided to train as a nurse.

But just as she was focused on graduating and giving birth to her second child, tragedy struck.

"I graduated from nursing school on 10 May [2013], had my daughter Quinn on 18 May, and was diagnosed with brain cancer on 24 June."

But after her diagnosis, Wreford says she decided she wanted to spend her final years going "back to what I really love, which is being on stage and performing".

A determination to continue performing is common among entertainers with such conditions.

John Newman and Russell Watson were both diagnosed with benign (non-cancerous) brain tumours

Chart-topping singer John Newman, who is 28, had to take a break when he was first diagnosed with a benign brain tumour in 2012, which returned in 2016.

But he kept ambitions high, continuing to write music and commenting that he was aiming to play Wembley Stadium this year.

"I've got this thing in my head. It's part of my body and I have other things I need to concentrate on," he told The Sun.

Similarly, opera singer Russell Watson said he used it as inspiration, and is set to embark on a 22-night tour later this year.

"As soon as I was told it was physiologically improbable that I would go back to performing the way I was before... I thought, 'I'll show you!'" he told Jeremy Vine in December.

"All I need is someone to tell me I can't do something. It was painful but I feel very lucky every time I walk on stage."

For Wreford, the part of her brain most heavily affected relates to her short term memory and speech.

Which presumably means that, when it comes to performing, learning a dance is easier than dialogue.

"Absolutely," she says. "Dancing is way easier for me than learning lines and songs.

"I'm proud of myself if I can get through an audition without messing up the lines. But choreography still sticks in my head, that's a different part of my brain."

Wreford tells directors and producers of her condition in advance, who make allowances for her needs.

"When I play a bigger role, the people who hire me know the situation and send me everything way ahead of time so I can sing it and learn the lines three times a day, so it moves more from my short term memory to my long term memory," she explains.

"I don't have much of a short term memory, so Craig will be like, remember this thing we learned yesterday, and I'll be like nope, no memory of it at all!"

Wreford feels strongly that she and her two children, eight-year-old Elliot and five-year-old Quinn, talk openly about her condition - which can sometimes result in finding humour in the situation.

"I treat them like adults," she says, "while still being parental".

"Elliot once came with me to the oncologist, and he was seven at the time. And I said, 'Hey buddy do you wanna ask any questions?'

"And," she laughs, "he asked the oncologist, 'How much money do you make?' And I was like, 'Not those kinds of questions!'"

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:57

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GoFundMe: Hope, but no solution, for the needy

Kelsey Colker is less than a year old but she's already spent more time in hospital than most of us will in our lifetime.

She has a rare condition known as "vanishing gut syndrome", causing her to lose most of her intestines.

Treatment is painful, long and - of course - expensive.

"I was not prepared for this situation and the astronomical medical bills I've faced," Kelsey's mother, Patricia, told me.

Like millions before her, Patricia has turned to GoFundMe, a site that provides a crowd-funding platform and tools to help worthy causes receive attention across social media.

"The heartfelt donations Kelsey receives through her GoFundMe page are a godsend in helping to pay medical bills, and giving her a fighting chance," Patricia said.

The last hope

In today's world, for a sick child, going viral can mean the difference between life or death. Or, it means an injured firefighter, has the chance of a full recovery. It means hundreds of lawyers for women who were victims of sexual harassment, or food for federal workers staring down financial ruin after weeks of not being paid.

Indeed, California-based GoFundMe has become the last hope for many Americans, in a country where social safety nets can be tragically hard to come by. The site has a growing number of international users too.

Since 2010, more than 50 million people have donated more than $5bn (£3.9bn). At first, the site took a 5% cut of donations but now it takes no fees in most markets, asking instead for givers to essentially tip the website instead.

For some, the success of GoFundMe stands as proof of humanity's innate desire to help each other. For others, the site's continued existence is a monument to inequality.

"The risk is that we are lulled into thinking that generosity is a substitute for justice," said Anand Giridharadas, author of Winner Takes All, a book that examines the forces behind income inequality.

A broken system

"It's biblical in nature," Rob Solomon, GoFundMe's chief executive, told me.

"I mean, in the old days, when someone needed to build a barn, it wasn't the family that was building the barn that built it, the whole community came together. This is something that is deeply seated in human nature, this notion of coming together to help people."

Fundraisers such as Kelsey's are common on the GoFundMe platform, where medical issues make up the bulk of campaigns

Our interview took place, not in a barn, but in a conference room named Saving Eliza, after a little girl whose father raised enough money to fund a clinical trial to help fight Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.

Other rooms in the building include Help Norma, named after an 89-year-old who was able to afford stay-at-home care after her 31-year-old neighbour raised over $50,000.

Medical needs are the most frequent type of fundraisers on the platform, not just covering medical bills, but other areas where money can fall short when a family member is taken ill.

Many of the fundraisers existed because of a "broken" healthcare system in the US, Mr Solomon said.

"I wish GoFundMe didn't need to be around to solve problems that shouldn't exist.

"Everyone should have access to health care. I would love for there never to be another medical campaign on GoFundMe. But that's not the reality we live in."

Funding the wall

Increasingly, the question of what constitutes a "good cause" is becoming highly politicised. We The People Will Build The Wall is a GoFundMe campaign launched in December with the goal of raising money for the President Donald Trump's proposed border wall between the US and Mexico.

"The feasibility was something that we didn't have great certainty on," Mr Solomon said, in response to my question of whether it was obvious the campaign would never succeed in funding a border wall.

"There is precedent where private funds have gone to the government to fund certain causes. [But] in working on this, we realised that that wasn't going to be the case and we let the campaign organiser know that he would have to find a different use case."

A campaign to raise money to hand over the Trump administration for a border wall was deemed not feasible by GoFundMe

That use case ended up being a separate company that, organisers said, would be capable of building the wall itself. Those who had donated up until that point were given their money back, unless they opted-in to funding the new company instead.

GoFundMe said it would not intervene in campaigns on political grounds unless a fundraiser went against its policies.

"The money isn't released to a fundraiser or a beneficiary until we can confirm where the money is going," Mr Solomon said.

Increasingly, though, machinations in the political world are having a direct impact in the work that GoFundMe is doing.

During the recent government shutdown, when about 800,000 workers missed a pay cheque, GoFundMe raised just under half a million dollars to help those affected, in addition to the individual campaigns started by friends and family of furloughed workers.

"It's a sign of dysfunction," Mr Solomon said. "The government not doing what it's supposed to do."

Fighting scams

The rapid growth of GoFundMe has presented another major challenge for its 300 employees: verifying the authenticity of those asking for money. Sometimes fake campaigns slip through the net, such as a recent fund for a shooting victim that never existed.

One of the most high-profile fundraisers on GoFundMe featured three people who prosecutors allege concocted a wild storyline about a homeless man giving a woman his "last $20".

The story quickly went viral, gained widespread media coverage, and soon more than $400,000 had been raised - donations that GoFundMe has since refunded.

GoFundMe set up a special programme to fund organisations helping workers affected by the US government shutdown

"Less than one 10th of 1% of all campaigns result in any kind of misuse or fraud," Mr Solomon said.

"We take it very seriously. We have a host of technologies, we have many different processes and lots of people that we deploy, to keep misuse off the platform."

No substitute

While it's the big viral campaigns that get the most attention, Mr Solomon is keen to point out that the average GoFundMe campaign raises in the region of $1,500.

Many of these smaller campaigns can be found in the education section of the site, where school teachers are asking for help buying things such as computers, books and even tables - essential items in a classroom that most people might reasonably expect to be covered by taxes, not donations.

"Income inequality is a big driver of why we exist," Mr Solomon said.

Mr Giridharadas said "GoFundMe culture" was papering over what should be "properly public priorities".

"People are moved by stories of teachers whose classrooms are bare and patients shut out of proper medical care," he said.

"[But] many GoFundMe campaigns are testimony to a cruel, winners-take-all economy, the only remedy for which is vigorous reform of law and policy - and the winners taking less."

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:50

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Australia government loses bill blocking sick asylum seekers

Australian MPs have passed a landmark bill with an opposition amendment making it easier for sick refugees held offshore to be treated in the country.

This is the first time in decades a government has lost a vote on its own legislation in the lower house.

The move is a blow for PM Scott Morrison's minority government's highly controversial immigration policy.

Since 2013, Australia has sent asylum seekers arriving by boat to detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Critics say it has harmed the welfare of detainees, including children.

Doctors have long warned of inadequate medical facilities on the islands, while the UN has previously described the camp conditions as "inhumane".However, Mr Morrison said: "There is no form of this bill that does not weaken our border protection."

Australia has long defended its offshore detention policy by arguing that it stops deaths at sea and disrupts the trade of people smuggling.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives by one vote after the Labour opposition and crossbench MPs agreed on last-minute amendments.

It is expected to sail through the upper Senate later this week where it will become law.

Why does this matter?

It's hugely significant that a government has lost a key parliamentary vote in its lower house - this hasn't happened in almost 80 years according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and comes ahead of a federal election later this year.

In 1941, then Prime Minister Arthur Fadden immediately resigned after he lost a budget vote in the lower house.

Tuesday's defeat comes as a blow to Mr Morrison, Australia's sixth prime minister in six years, and raises questions about whether he can remain in office. The government lost its majority late last year after losing a by-election.

But Mr Morrison has ruled out a snap election, saying last week that he wouldn't "be going off to the polls" even if he lost the "stupid" bill.

"Votes will come and go, they do not trouble me," he said on Tuesday after the government's defeat. "The Australian people can always trust us to... ensure the integrity of our border protection framework."

Mr Morrison's coalition government has to call an election by May.

So what does the bill allow?

Doctors will now have the power to recommended transfers for refugees on Nauru and Manus to Australia for treatment.

However, the immigration minister could ask an independent panel to review the medical assessment, and would have some authority to overrule it.

Previously, doctors had reported that their medical transfer recommendation were ignored by authorities.

Refugee lawyers thus had to apply for court orders to bring ill people to Australia. There were 44 medical transfers achieved through court battles.

Why was there a push for this law?

Last year, Australians were horrified by reports of a mental health crisis among children in detention. Doctors reported affected children too depressed to eat or sleep, and attempts of suicide among those as young as 11.

The wave of public backlash pushed the government to evacuate more than 100 children and their families from Nauru to Australia.

Advocates warned that a similar mental health crisis, and a plague of other medical issues, was also constant among the 1,000 adult detainees stuck on Nauru and Manus Island.

In one of several high-profile cases, an inquest in July found that the death of Iranian refugee Hamid Khazei on Manus Island from a foot infection could have been prevented if he had been transferred to Australia earlier for medical treatment.

Hamid Khazei died after Australian authorities delayed his medical treatment

How many sick asylum seekers are there?

The government had warned that the bill provided a "loophole" that would allow all of the remaining asylum seekers to reach Australia.

However, it declined to answer whether that meant all offshore detainees were seriously ill.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which provided mental health treatment to Nauru detainees last year, has noted that depression and suicide ideation was widespread and directly caused by a policy of indefinite detention.

"Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their mental health and wellbeing," said MSF Australia's director, Paul McPhun.

In a public letter to MPs this week, Doctors4Refugees, an advocacy group of physicians, also identified dozens of sick refugee cases who had received inadequate treatment.

These included "life-threatening" heart conditions, kidney stones, tuberculosis and diseases common in the sub-tropical environment, such as malaria, dengue fever and chronic fungal infections.

Refugees on the islands had told the BBC they were pinning their hopes on the vote.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:44

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Hakeem al-Araibi returns home to Australia after Thai detention


Hakeem al-Araibi thanked Australians for their support on arrival in Melbourne

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has returned home to Australia after two months of detention in Thailand.

The Bahraini citizen was detained in Bangkok in November while on honeymoon, at the request of Bahrain authorities.

Following international outcry and diplomatic pressure, the Arab kingdom ended its extradition attempt on Monday.

Hundreds of supporters cheered the arrival of the 25-year-old footballer at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday.

Wearing his team's football jersey, al-Araibi told the crowd: "I would like to say thanks to Australia. It's amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people who supported me."

The professional footballer and vocal critic of Bahrain authorities had fled to Australia in 2014 where he was granted political asylum.

Bahrain had sentenced him in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station, charges which he has denied.

The Arab kingdom had sought his extradition, but human rights groups warned that he risked torture if he was sent back.

Hours before his return, his wife told the BBC she was deeply thankful for the lobbying efforts of the Australian government and public, and the international football community.

"I have had a smile all the time on my face and I can't stop crying - I am just so happy," said the 24-year-old, who does not wish to be named.

"I prayed and prayed that he would come back to me, and finally our nightmare is ending."

Hakeem al-Araibi attended court in shackles when Bahrain requested extradition

Denied contact with her husband during his 10-week detention, she said she planned to "buy flowers and cake" to celebrate their reunion.

  • She also thanked Craig Foster, a TV host and former Australian national football captain who rallied the international football community, and sports bodies including Fifa and the International Olympic Committee to help secure a release.

Mr Foster, who escorted al-Araibi on his arrival, said the human rights victory marked "the beginning of a broader fight for the values of sport".

"We fought for one soul because Hakeem represented everyone who suffers under tyranny," he said in a statement.

The footballer plays for Melbourne team Pascoe Vale FC. Many of the team's members were at the airport on Tuesday.

l-Araibi's case had garnered significant public support in Australia

'You'll Never Walk Alone'

As he walked out of the airport arrival gates, Hakeem al-Araibi seemed astounded by the welcoming party that had gathered to greet him.

Some supporters had banners and posters baring his picture, others wore T-shirts with the campaign slogan #SaveHakeem.

They cheered as if greeting a cup-winning captain and sang one of football's most poignant anthems, You'll Never Walk Alone.

His case has shown the solidarity that exists across the game, as players and fans lobbied for his return.

But the apparent delay by Fifa in becoming involved has left the game's governing body open to accusations of neglect and failing to stand by its own policy on human rights.

On Monday, Thai officials told the BBC they had released al-Araibi because Bahrain was no longer seeking his extradition.

Bahrain's foreign ministry said that despite the end of court extradition proceedings, the footballer's conviction still stood.

"The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi," it added.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:40

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Uighur crackdown: 'I spent seven days of hell in Chinese camps'

The Chinese government calls them free "vocational training centres"; Aibota Serik, a Chinese Kazakh whose father was sent to one, calls them prisons.

Her father Kudaybergen Serik was a local imam in Tarbagatay (Tacheng) prefecture of China's western Xinjiang region. In February 2018 the police detained him and Aibota hasn't heard from her father since then.

"I don't know why my father was imprisoned. He didn't violate any laws of China, he was not tried in a court," she says, clutching a small photo of him, before breaking down in tears.

I met Aibota together with a group of other Chinese Kazakhs in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city. They gathered in a small office to petition the Kazakh government to help secure the release of their relatives who had disappeared in "political re-education camps".

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has heard there are credible reports that around one million people have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang. Almost all of them are from Muslim minorities such as the Uighurs, Kazakhs and others.

There are more than a million Kazakhs living in China. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands moved to oil-rich Kazakhstan, encouraged by its policy to attract ethnic Kazakhs. Today, these people feel cut off from their relatives who stayed in China.

Nurbulat Tursunjan says the Chinese authorities have confiscated his parents' passports

Nurbulat Tursunjan uulu, who moved to the Almaty region in 2016, says his elderly parents are unable to leave China and come to Kazakhstan because the authorities took away their passports.

Another petitioner, Bekmurat Nusupkan uulu, says that relatives in China are afraid to talk on the phone or on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat. And they are right to be afraid, he says.

"My father-in-law visited me in February 2018. From my place, he called his son in China, he asked how he was and so on. Shortly after that his son Baurzhan was detained. He was told that he had received phone calls from Kazakhstan two or three times and was sent to a political camp."

Human Rights Watch says detainees are held "without any due process rights - neither charged nor put on trial - and have no access to lawyers and family".

China insists its detention centres, such as this one in the city of Kashgar, are for "vocational training"

Orynbek Koksybek is an ethnic Kazakh who spent several months in camps.

"I spent seven days of hell there," he says. "My hands were handcuffed, my legs were tied. They threw me in a pit. I raised both my hands and looked above. At that moment, they poured water. I screamed.

"I don't remember what happened next. I don't know how long I was in the pit but it was winter and very cold. They said I was a traitor, that I had dual citizenship, that I had a debt and owned land."

  • None of that was true, he says.

A week later Mr Koksybek was taken to a different place where he learnt Chinese songs and language. He was told he would leave if he learnt 3,000 words.

Orynbek Koksybek says he was thrown into a pit

"In Chinese they call it re-education camps to teach people but if they wanted to educate, why do they handcuff people?

"They detain Kazakhs because they're Muslims. Why imprison them? China's aim is to turn Kazakhs into Chinese. They want to erase the whole ethnicity," he says.

It is not possible to independently verify Orynbek Koksybek's story, but his account is similar to many documented by Human Rights Watch and other activists.

The Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan has not replied to the BBC's request for comment, but the Chinese authorities have been quoted in state media as saying the camps are "vocational training centres", which aim to "get rid of an environment that breeds terrorism and religious extremism".

The Kazakh government says that any restrictions on Chinese citizens in China are their internal matter, and it does not interfere. However, Kazakhstan says it will try to assist any Kazakh citizens who are detained in China.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:34

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Catalan 'rebellion' trial puts Spain's courts to the test

Writing from his prison cell, the former vice-president of Catalonia knows he is facing a potential 25 years in prison for rebellion.

Oriol Junqueras is one of a dozen former political leaders facing trial over his region's independence bid in October 2017. Some stand accused of a violent uprising – one they say never happened.

There are no apologies – Mr Junqueras insists on his innocence, telling the BBC that the "trial is an action against an ideology and against political dissent".

"It's a judgement on democracy," he said, and one "which creates a dangerous precedent for all of Europe".

Another defendant fears they will face a court stacked against them, with a "pre-determined outcome".

But the Spanish government has defended the process, insisting the accused will get a fair trial - while the rest of the world watches.

Controversy in Catalonia

The 12 accused face charges including rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds for their part in the 2017 push for independence from Spain.

A disputed referendum - in which a majority of those who took part backed independence - was held in the territory on 1 October 2017.

A little more than three weeks later, the parliament in Barcelona voted to declare Catalonia an independent republic.

Yet the referendum saw a low turnout, and had been declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court. Madrid stepped in to impose its rule on the region, and several Catalan leaders fled or were arrested.

A year and a half later, the vote is still controversial.

What happened to Catalonia? One year on

On Sunday, thousands took to the streets of Madrid to demonstrate their support for a united country ahead of the trial.

And Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has come under pressure for his attempts at dialogue with the leadership in Catalonia.

Prosecutors allege the accused - who include ex-ministers, the former speaker of the regional parliament and the leaders of pro-independence organisations - acted against Spain's constitution, which guarantees "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation".

All deny the charges against them.

Mr Junqueras - the most senior member of the then Catalan government not to flee the country - said the trial was politically motivated.

The former vice-president refutes the charge of rebellion, which Spanish law defines as a "violent, public uprising" to achieve goals such as "the independence of a part of the national territory".

Police clash with voters at polling stations in October 2017

"Ours has been an extremely peaceful process and so these crimes are totally non-existent in our case. The only violence has been that applied by the National Police and Civil Guard on 1 October against voters who were trying to put a paper in a ballot box," he said.

The Catalan government said more than 900 people were injured as police tried to seize ballot boxes and close polling stations.

'A pre-determined outcome'

In November, more than 100 legal experts from across Spain signed an open letter (in Spanish) condemning the use of the charge of rebellion in the Catalan case.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Sánchez, the former president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), said: "Even those who accuse us of rebellion don't believe it. Where was the uprising? It's a total farce."

Mr Sánchez also accuses politicians in Madrid of trying to influence the trial.

The vote led to brief celebrations - but an independent Catalonia has yet to emerge

"The judges were chosen by the political parties to control it and impose a pre-determined outcome," he said. "Despite everything, they haven't accepted our objections. There is nothing more to say. It will be a trial with political objectives."

The prime minister disagrees. Speaking on a visit to Strasbourg ahead of the start of the trial, he said that in Spain "individual rights, public freedoms and the rights of minorities are guaranteed and protected".

The trial is expected to last around three months.

A long witness list includes the Spanish prime minister at the time of the referendum, Mariano Rajoy.

Who are the imprisoned independence leaders?

Those awaiting trial in Lledoners jail include (L-R) Jordi Sánchez, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Josep Rull and Raul Romeva. All maintain their innocence

There are 12 defendants, nine of whom have already spent more than 10 months in prison awaiting the start of the trial.

Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president and the highest-ranking pro-independence leader after his superior, Carles Puigdemont, fled the country

  • Carme Forcadell was the speaker of Catalan Parliament when it voted to declare a republic, reading out the decision - she remained free until March last year
  • Jordi Sánchez, the former president of the Catalan National Assembly, was nominated to succeed Mr Puigdemont, but abandoned the idea when he was not allowed to leave prison for the vote
  • Jordi Cuixart, president of Omnium Cultural - a Catalan language and culture organisation - and a grassroots independence activist

In December, Ms Forcadell appealed against her imprisonment to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

Amnesty International has called for the release of Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, who have been in jail since 16 October 2017.

Also facing trial are Joaquim Forn, former interior minister; Jordi Turull, former Catalan government spokesman; Raül Romeva, former external relations minister; Dolors Bassa, former labour minister; Josep Rull, former territorial minister; Carles Mundó, former justice minister; Meritxell Borràs, former governance minister; and Santi Vila, former business minister.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:26

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Blackface governor Ralph Northam calls slaves 'indentured servants'

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam calls slaves "indentured servants"

Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has defended calling slaves "indentured servants" in his first TV interview since a racism scandal broke.

Mr Northam, who has admitted to wearing blackface, told CBS a historian told him "indentured" was a more accurate term for America's first slaves.

Plans have meanwhile stalled to impeach Virginia's Lt Gov Justin Fairfax, who is accused of sexual assault.

The state capitol has been plunged into turmoil by the twin scandals.

During the CBS interview aired in full on Monday, Mr Northam was grilled over his college yearbook photo, which shows two people - one wearing blackface makeup and the other in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Mr Northam was asked why he initially apologised for the photo before backtracking and denying he was either in the picture.

"When you're in a state of shock like I was, we don't always think as clearly as we should," Mr Northam said, adding that he had "overreacted" by issuing an immediate apology.

"I will tell you that later that night I had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, 'This is not me in the picture'," he said.

Mr Northam has already admitted that he once "darkened his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume" on a separate occasion in 1984.

Asked whether he would resign, Mr Northam said: "I'm not going anywhere."

'Indentured servants from Africa'

The governor's damage-limitation efforts risked making matters worse when he told the interviewer that 400 years has passed since the "first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores".

CBS presenter Gayle King, who is African American, said: "Also known as slavery."

According to Encyclopedia Virginia, which is produced in partnership with the Library of Virginia, the first Africans to arrive in Virginia were sold in exchange for food in August 1619 from the English ship White Lion.

Unlike indentured servants, who were typically released after paying off the debt of their voyage to America, black slaves were rarely freed.

After the interview aired on Monday, Mr Northam released a statement defending his word choice.

He said that during a recent speech he "referred to them in my remarks as enslaved".

"A historian advised me that the use of indentured was more historically accurate. The fact is, I'm still learning and committed to getting it right."

Uncomfortable history

The scandals have rocked the state's capitol, Richmond, which was also the capitol of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the US Civil War.

Mr Northam's deputy, Lt Governor Justin Fairfax, has been accused of sexual assault by two separate women.

On Monday a Democratic-led impeachment effort against Mr Fairfax, who is black, appeared to stall after lawmakers announced that they would hold off for until further consultations are completed.

Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope, who wrote draft impeachment articles, said on Monday that he had spoken to his colleagues who helped him determine that "additional conversations need to take place before anything is filed".

Democratic Delegate Marcus Simon, who has called on Mr Fairfax to resign, told the Wall Street Journal that he believes there is no precedent in Virginia history to impeach a governor, and that more research must be done on the legal process.

"Frankly, a lot of us feel sort of helpless to do anything about the chaos around here. I just don't know this is the right thing to be doing," Mr Simon said.

Over the weekend Mr Fairfax, who denies the allegations, called for an FBI investigation into the accusations.

The number three in Virginia's government, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, is also in hot water after admitting to wearing blackface to a university party in 1980.



ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:14

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