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Carlos Ghosn: Former Nissan boss hit with fresh charge

Former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has been indicted by prosecutors in Japan on a fresh charge of aggravated breach of trust.

It is the fourth charge brought against Mr Ghosn and relates to the alleged misuse of company funds.

The 65-year-old is in detention in Tokyo and his lawyers have applied for bail.

Mr Ghosn, who denies any wrongdoing, has said the allegations are a result of a plot against him.

He was first arrested in November and spent 108 days in custody. While out on bail pending a trial, the former auto boss was re-arrested in Tokyo on 4 April.

Prosecutors allege that Mr Ghosn made a multi-million-dollar payment to a Nissan distributor in Oman, and that as much as $5m (£3.8m) was funnelled to an account controlled by Mr Ghosn.

The company he once ran, Nissan, has filed its own criminal complaint against Mr Ghosn, accusing him of directing money from the company for his own personal enrichment.

Mr Ghosn was first charged with under-reporting his pay package for the five years to 2015.

In January, a new charge claimed he understated his compensation for another three years. He was also indicted on a fresh, more serious charge of breach of trust.

The fall from grace for the industry titan has attracted global attention. The case has also put a spotlight on fighting within the carmaker alliance and on Japan's legal system.

Mr Ghosn was the architect of the alliance formed between Japan's Nissan and French carmaker Renault, and brought Mitsubishi on board in 2016.

He is credited with turning around the fortunes of Nissan and Renault over several years.

Earlier this month Mr Ghosn said the allegations were a plot and conspiracy against him, accusing Nissan executives of "backstabbing".


ruby Posted on April 22, 2019 16:13

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Why the US-China rivalry will not end with a trade deal

A US-China trade deal - if it happens - is unlikely to end the rivalry between the two economic giants.

Both sides have fought a trade war over the past year with damaging consequences for the global economy.

But many say their dispute goes well beyond trade - it represents a power-struggle between two very different world views.

Deal or no deal, that rivalry is only expected to broaden and become more difficult to resolve.

"We have entered into a new normal in which US-China geopolitical competition has intensified and become more explicit," says Michael Hirson, Asia director at consultancy firm Eurasia Group.

"The trade deal will moderate one phase of the US-China power struggle, but only temporarily and with limited effect."

The US-China rivalry is likely to play out next in the crucial technology sector, analysts say, as both sides try to establish themselves as the world's technology leader.

Issues around technology transfer have been key during trade talks between the world's two largest economies in recent months.

"Every country now correctly recognises that their prosperity, their wealth, their economic security, their military security is going to be linked to keeping a technological edge," says Stephen Olson, research fellow at global trade advisory body Hinrich Foundation.

The technology battle

Many say the US-China technology battle is already under way - and China's tech giant Huawei is at its very centre.

Huawei has been the focus of intense international scrutiny lately, with the US and other countries raising security concerns about its products.

The US has restricted federal agencies from using Huawei products and has encouraged allies to shun them.

Australia and New Zealand have both blocked the use of Huawei gear in next-generation 5G mobile networks.

But Huawei has said it is independent from the Chinese government. Its founder Ren Zhengfei told the BBC in February that his company would never undertake any spying activities.

The dispute reached fever pitch with the arrest of the founder's daughter in December, and more recently Huawei's lawsuit against the US government.

Huawei has also gone on a public relations offensive, placing a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal telling Americans not to "believe everything you hear".

"The term 'cold war' is overused in the context of overall US-China tensions, but is increasingly accurate in describing their technology competition," says Mr Hirson.

The dispute over Huawei is "symptomatic of this intensified geopolitical competition," he adds.

"This rivalry is far more difficult to resolve than pure trade issues."

How did we get here?

US concerns about China have grown in recent years, along with China's influence around the world.

Its massive Belt and Road Initiative, the Made in China 2025 plans, and the growing importance of companies like Huawei and Alibaba have all contributed to those fears.

US Vice President Mike Pence summed up the mood in a speech in October, saying China had chosen "economic aggression", rather than "greater partnership" as it opened its economy.

Hopes China would embrace a more Western model has given way to a recognition that China's economy has boomed alongside a state-run system, not in spite of it.

"China has become much more explicit in its ambitions in the last few years," says Andrew Gilholm, director of analysis for China, at consultancy Control Risks.

"Therefore nobody is imagining that China is going to follow a Western liberal democratic model, or converge towards a market economy in the way that people hoped a few years ago."

Some analysts think a stand-off between the two sides was inevitable.

Their different systems have always made them awkward bedfellows in the global economy, while clashes between existing and rising powers are common in history.

"What we are dealing with here is friction between traditional free market economics, free trade economics, Washington consensus principles versus - for the first time - a huge, technologically sophisticated, centrally-managed economy that is playing the game by a different set of rules," says Mr Olson.

What happens now?

As the technology race gathers pace, analysts expect the US to continue to use non-tariff measures to push back against China.

Restrictions on Chinese investment into the US, limits on the ability of US firms to export technology to China, and further pressure on Chinese companies are all tools that could be used, they say.

"Non-tariff measures don't get the attention from markets that tariffs do, partly because their impact is harder to quantify, but they can have far-reaching impact," says Mr Hirson.

A new US law passed last year could facilitate this push-back.

It strengthened the government's power to review - and potentially block - business deals involving foreign firms by expanding the type of deals that can be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS).

The committee vets foreign investments to see if they pose a risk to national security.

Last year, even before the new law passed, a high-profile deal involving the sale of US-based money transfer firm MoneyGram to Alibaba's digital payments arm Ant Financial collapsed when the companies did not get the required approval from CFIUS.

New US-China norm?

How US-China relations develop from here will partly depend on the kind of trade deal they strike.

Burdened by tit-for-tat tariffs, both sides have shown a willingness to talk since agreeing on a truce in December.

But analysts say the relationship between the two giants could look different going forward irrespective of any trade deal.

They could have "an entirely cooperative, flourishing, mutually beneficial relationship" in certain areas but put up barriers in others in what Mr Olson described as a "selective decoupling".

An increasing number of areas could be fenced off, particularly those related to technology, he says.

"Is Huawei ever going to, in a significant way, be able to participate in the construction of the 5G network in the United States? It seems unlikely."

ruby Posted on April 22, 2019 16:09

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The breast cancer surgeon who got breast cancer

"Like many women, I did not check my breasts. I thought, 'it's not going to happen to me - I'm a breast cancer surgeon'."

Liz O'Riordan ended up having to give up the job she had trained 20 years for, after she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 2015, at the age of 40, she had a mastectomy and last May suffered a recurrence of the disease.

Dr O'Riordan thought she would practise as a breast cancer surgeon for at least 20 years, but as it turned out she only worked as one for two years.

Radiotherapy for the second bout of cancer left her with reduced movement in her shoulder, causing her to make the "emotionally very hard" decision to give up operating.

Before she was diagnosed, Dr O'Riordan had found lumps that turned out only to be cysts, while a mammogram six months earlier had showed a healthy breast.

But another lump developed and her mother urged her to get it scanned. The surgeon, who lives near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, knew what her prognosis was immediately.

"Most patients are drip-fed information. I saw that scan and I knew I'd need a mastectomy, knew I'd probably need chemo because I was young, and I had a good guess of what my chance of being alive in 10 years was, all in that split-second."

Dr O'Riordan, 43, said not many doctors develop the illnesses in which they specialise; certainly, no-one in her department at Ipswich Hospital had.

At first she was "terrified", and several questions ran through her mind.

"How much can I share with my husband and my parents? How much can I stop being a cancer surgeon and just be a patient?"

Although she knew what was happening physically, she had no idea what it would be like to experience actually having the disease.

"I know what it's like to tell someone they have breast cancer.

"I didn't know what it was like to have to have a stiff upper lip, dry your tears, leave the clinic, go through the waiting room, through the hospital corridor to get to the car park and to start howling."

After treatment for her first bout of cancer, Dr O'Riordan returned to work as a surgeon at Ipswich Hospital. But she said she didn't realise how "emotionally challenging" it would be.

She said having had cancer herself, she thought she could help people in a different way.

"But it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

"When you're breaking bad news and telling a woman they've got cancer, it's really tough at the best of times, but I was reliving it, and I could see myself and my husband and what we would have looked like when we crumpled and heard the news.

"You're so desperate to connect with someone who has a shared experience, but I couldn't - they were my patients."

She added: "I was left with pain after my mastectomy and was suddenly operating - I was very much aware that I might give them the pain that I have, and I didn't want to do that, and it was really, really hard."

She said she also struggled to sit in weekly meetings discussing patients' prognoses.

"In my first meeting back, my first patient basically had my cancer. She was the same age, she had my cancer give or take a millimetre - she was me on paper.

"I heard all my colleagues say 'that's really bad'."

In 2018, Dr O'Riordan's cancer returned to the same armpit. It was found while she was having a scan before the removal of her reconstructed breast, which had been causing her a lot of pain.

It led to a second dose of radiotherapy to the same area, "something rarely done".

She was warned that she might not be able to move her arm properly afterwards but, if she did not undergo surgery, the outlook was bleak.

The result was more scarring, fibrosis and tethering of the soft tissues, which indeed did reduce movement in her shoulder and meant she had less strength in her arm.

She said her employers did their best to help her to resume her career for a second time.

"I had intensive physiotherapy, I saw an orthopaedic surgeon - because it's a huge thing to say, 'the thing I've spent 20 years of my life, and degrees, and PhDs, exams and courses to become an expert in the thing I love, I can't do again'.

"I can go about my daily life, but to be able to operate safely, that's never going to happen," she said.

By now Dr O'Riordan also felt the psychological need to have "cancer-free time", especially given that returning to work before the recurrence had been traumatic.

In addition, the risk of the cancer returning yet again was now higher than before, and there was a danger it could come back elsewhere.

After about four months she made the decision her career as a surgeon was over.

"It was bittersweet, and really, really hard saying goodbye."

Ironically, she now advises people on their rights to return to the workplace after cancer.

Dr O'Riordan, whose husband is a consultant surgeon, said she was "lucky" to be able to afford not to have to do paid work.

She recently began volunteering as an ambassador for the social enterprise, Working with Cancer, which had advised her on her employment rights after she decided to return to work in 2017, following treatment for her first bout of cancer.

A temporary director at the hospital had told her at this point that she was expected back on a phased return over four weeks.

"I was still suffering from fatigue and trying to get my brain to work again," Dr O'Riordan said.

"I didn't realise that if you've had cancer, you are classified as legally disabled under the Equality Act and your employers have to make reasonable adjustments to allow you get back to work.

"So many people are just desperate to get their lives back when they have cancer, but it can be incredibly hard to find your way and a lot of employers don't know how to help cancer patients - or whether they should."

Dr O'Riordan said most of the coaches at Working with Cancer have had the illness themselves and "they get it".

As well information about their rights, they prepare staff and employers for the emotional pitfalls.

As a result of her chemotherapy, Dr O'Riordan had short, curly hair.

Her coach asked her: "What will you do when people don't recognise you?"

She had dismissed the notion, until one day she realised a colleague she was talking to did not realise who she was.

The preparation she did with Working with Cancer mostly helped her to avoid any awkwardness.

Just before returning she emailed her line manager and explained she was happy to talk about her illness with colleagues, but not during work hours.

"You have a right to ask for things to be made easier for you. They can't sack you because that would be discrimination."

The former surgeon said her work as an ambassador had helped her reconnect with her sense of purpose.

"As a consultant surgeon I was helping 70, maybe 100 women a year with breast cancer.

"But through my book, the blogging, the talking and being an ambassador for Working with Cancer, I can help hundreds, thousands of women."



ruby Posted on April 22, 2019 16:00

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Breaking News: Ghana Police on manhunt for Nigerians who kidnapped Estonian Consular General

Police are on a manhunt for three Nigerian men who kidnapped a Consular General and Head of Mission of Estonia in Accra on Thursday.

According to the Public Relations Officer of the Accra Police command, DSP Efia Tenge, 61-year-old Nabil Makram Bashbous was on his usual morning walk in his neighbourhood when he was abducted.

Narrating what happened Nabil Makram Basbous said on Thursday morning that about 10 minutes into the walk, a white Hyundai Elantra private car pulled up in front of him.

One of the occupants came out, pulled a pistol on him and ordered him to enter the car or risk being shot if he resists.

Mr Makram Basbous obliged, entered and was driven away with the kidnappers pointing a pistol and an axe at him.

According to Makram Basbous, he could not make out the location he was driven to but was detained in a room and held hostage for payment of ransom.

Meanwhile, the SWAT Unit of the Accra Regional Police Command picked up intelligence that some Nigerians residing at NTHC Estates, Vivian Farms in Lashibi in Accra, were engaging in suspicious activities.

They stayed home all day and only go out only at night, police intelligence revealed.


paxex Posted on April 22, 2019 08:14

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Notre-Dame fire: How will the cathedral be restored?

The dramatic sight of Notre-Dame being ravaged by flames on Monday captivated people around the world.

The French cathedral, which dates back more than 850 years, has been partially destroyed despite the best efforts of firefighters who worked throughout the night.

Now, as investigators work to establish the cause of the blaze, attention has turned to how the building can be repaired.

A number of companies and business tycoons have pledged hundreds of millions of euros between them towards the restoration effort.

So can the famous landmark be returned to its former glory?

John David is better positioned than most to judge whether the famous cathedral can be saved.

The master stonemason was part of a team of craftsmen who worked to rebuild England's York Minster cathedral when it was badly damaged by fire in 1984. It was set alight after it was hit by lightning, causing £2.25m ($3m) in damage.

"We went in and there were piles of charred timbers on the floor," he recalls. "There was black ash and soot and the whole building smelt of smoke. There was a sort of gloom in the place."

But he says the team was confident it could be repaired and he feels equally optimistic about Notre-Dame. "There was no fear about putting it back and I imagine that's the same in this case" he says.

"It's quite achievable to see it [restored] and it's an opportunity to show that this work can still be done," he says.

Mr David says the restoration team must first remove the Notre-Dame's burnt scaffolding. There were extensive renovation works taking place at the time of the fire and a huge scaffold was covering much of its exterior.

"The scaffolding will be in the way and will have to be delicately taken down because it's suffered with the heat," he says.

He explains that a protective cover will then need to be placed over the cathedral to shield it from the wind and rain.

Any fallen timber and other debris inside the cathedral will need to be cleared out, Mr David says. But this debris won't just be removed and forgotten about.

"Early phases of the work will include the archaeological recording of surviving fragments of timber, stone and artworks," says Dr Kate Giles, from the University of York's department of archaeology.

"This will enable the Notre-Dame team to salvage what can be reused and provide crucial evidence for the design of new fabrics in the building," she says.

Surveying the damage

Once the cathedral is cleared, experts say a thorough survey will need to be carried out to establish the extent of the damage and to ensure it is safe to re-enter.

"Safety will be the prime concern," says Dr Amira Elnokaly, a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Lincoln. "There should be critical inspections to avoid any risks of further collapses or falling debris."

The survey will then turn to the stonework at the top of the cathedral near the roof.

"The upper stone work, the vaulting and the top windows, will have been baked and the temperature will have spoiled and weakened the stone," says Paul Binski, a history of medieval art professor at the University of Cambridge.

"The first thing they're going to do is a massive survey of the stone," he says. "They're going to have to scaffold the whole building and look very closely at its condition."

This is because the stone ceiling will have taken the brunt of the impact when the timber roof above collapsed, experts suggest.

"The 19th Century spire, the 19th Century roofing, what will have happened is that these will have crashed down on to the stone vault underneath, the rib vault, which rises to 108ft (33m)," Prof Binski says.

"The vaulting system will have shielded what's in the church from the inferno above," he adds. "Of course, it will likely have come down in parts, but it will have done a major protective job."

Indeed, images appear to show that the pulpit, pews and altar have escaped the fire largely unscathed.

If some of the stonework does need to be replaced then, Prof Binski says, the team will probably use traditional methods to do so.

"It's important to look at the original construction methods and try to emulate them." he explains. "This involves building an awful lot of wood scaffolding inside the church because [stone vaulting] is built around a kind of wooden structure - like a mould.

"They're not built with cement but with something that's rather like putty."

Prof Binski says that if a large amount of the stone vaulting needs to be replaced it could be "the biggest vaulting operation of this type undertaken since the Middle Ages".

"The question is how long this is going to take and my guess is 5-10 years minimum to get the whole thing re-vaulted," he says.

This estimate highlights the challenges facing the restoration team if they are to meet President Emmanuel Macron's suggested timescale. The French leader wants Notre-Dame rebuilt by the time Paris hosts the Summer Olympics in 2024.

But Mr David says this is a feasible goal. "I don't think it will take 10 years," he says. "It might take two years to decide what to do, but [five years] is quite achievable."

Photos from inside the cathedral appear to show that at least one of its famed rose windows has survived, although there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows.

So how will the experts protect and restore these?

"They will do an initial survey when they establish what the highest priorities are in terms of historical and artistic significance," says Sarah Brown, an expert in stained glass windows.

"I suspect all of the windows will require some attention because a fire of that size will generate so much smoke and soot," she says. "Even if the windows are in relatively good order they're certainly going to require cleaning.

"The biggest problem will be the heating up and then the rapid cooling down of the glass as it's been struck by water from the cannons," Ms Brown explains. "This will bring about thermal shock that will cause micro-fractures in the glass which will be really difficult to stabilise."

She continues: "They will need to re-lead these windows because the lead that keeps it all together will no longer hold good, but you cannot even attempt that until you've stabilised the heat-induced micro-fractures in the glass.

There are modern adhesives that can do that, however."

And what if one of the cathedral's windows has been completely destroyed? "The big question then is how they go about re-glazing the building," Ms Brown says.

"You can't leave it with nothing in the window," she says. "Some might call for a new stained glass window but it's too early to say what should be done. Windows can be remarkably resilient, so let's hope that's been the case here."

ruby Posted on April 17, 2019 11:30

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Notre-Dame fire: Macron says new cathedral will be 'more beautiful'

French President Emmanuel Macron says Notre-Dame cathedral will be rebuilt "even more beautifully" - and that he wants the work done within five years.

A massive fire on Monday ravaged the 850-year-old Gothic building, destroying much of its roof and causing its steeple to collapse.

The cathedral was minutes away from total destruction, officials say.

But despite Mr Macron's pledge experts say its reconstruction could take decades.

Fifty people will investigate the cause of the fire. Paris public prosecutor Rémy Heitz said there was no obvious indication of arson and that the blaze was being treated as an accident.

A combined €800m ($902m; £692m) has already been pledged by a number of companies and business tycoons to help rebuild the Unesco World Heritage site.

What has Macron said?

In a televised address on Tuesday evening, President Macron suggested he wants it rebuilt by the time Paris hosts the Summer Olympics in 2024.

"We'll rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years, we can do it," said Mr Macron, who had already pledged to launch an international fundraising scheme for the reconstruction.

"It's up to us to convert this disaster into an opportunity to come together... It's up to us to find the thread of our national project."

But Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral, told AFP the Notre-Dame may take "decades" to rebuild.

Frédéric Létoffé, the head of the group of companies for the Restoration of Historic Monuments, put the timescale at between 10 and 15 years, warning substantial work would be needed to secure the site before restoration can begin.

What is the damage?

The blaze - which was discovered at 18:43 (16:43 GMT) on Monday and was fully extinguished almost 15 hours later - destroyed most of the cathedral's roof and led to the collapse of its iconic spire.

Experts have not yet been allowed on site to assess the damage and firefighters have sent a drone to survey the scale of the destruction.

Photos appear to show that at least one of the famed rose windows has survived but there are concerns for some of the other stained-glass windows. The 18th Century organ has not been burned but it is not clear whether it is damaged.

It was still too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the Fondation du Patrimoine, an independent non-profit heritage group.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez said the structure was in good condition "overall" but that "some vulnerabilities" had been identified in the stone vaults and the remainder of the ceiling.

The main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved in a time window of 15 to 30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters, he said.

In his speech Mr Macron heaped praise on the fire services, saying they took "extreme risks" to tackle the blaze.

Praying for the cathedral

They sit or stand in a crowd, many of them young people, spilling over the end of the Boulevard Saint Michel, this first evening after the fire, singing hymns. On a table beneath the towering sculpture of Saint Michael stands a statue of Our Lady - Notre Dame.

"As a French Catholic," says Éloi, 22, "I felt really bad after the fire so I see this vigil as a way to say that even if the flames destroyed the cathedral, we can rebuild it because the Church is made not of stones but is a living body." He believes the cathedral should be remade just the way it was, as a "prayer to God".

"We are Catholics," he adds, "but all French people - Catholics, Muslims, atheists - are united around this disaster and in the hope it will be rebuilt."

And they are united in pride in the fire brigade. During the concert, an engine hurtles past on the road, and the singing stops as the crowd claps and cheers.

What happens next?

Investigators trying to establish the cause of the fire have begun questioning workers from five companies involved in the extensive renovations that were under way at the cathedral. Officials believe the works could be linked to the disaster.

"Nothing indicates this was a deliberate act," said public prosecutor Rémy Heitz, adding that he expected to be a "long and complex" case.

Offers of help to rebuild the cathedral have come from several world leaders, groups and individuals, including:

Culture Minister Franck Riester said some of the artwork and religious items rescued would be sent to the Louvre museum where they would be kept and eventually restored.

They include what is said to be the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic King Louis IX is said to have worn when he brought the crown to Paris.

The cathedral's paintings would be removed from Friday, Mr Riester said.


ruby Posted on April 17, 2019 10:25

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Russia jails Norwegian Frode Berg for spying on submarines

A Moscow court has sentenced a 63-year-old Norwegian, Frode Berg, to 14 years in a strict-regime labour camp for spying on Russian navy submarines.

Berg, arrested in Moscow in 2017, denied the accusation.

He formerly worked as a guard on the Norwegian-Russian border.

Berg admitted acting as a courier for Norwegian intelligence, but said he had little knowledge of the mission. A Russian ex-policeman accused of passing him navy files has been jailed.

Berg's lawyer, Ilya Novikov, said his client would not appeal against the verdict but would seek a pardon from President Vladimir Putin.

Norway - a Nato member - shares an Arctic border with Russia and for decades their relations were amicable, even during the Cold War. But ties have worsened since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

Mr Novikov, quoted by AFP news agency, said Berg "expects his government to undertake diplomatic efforts" and "we see no practical use in appealing".

"He's been used without his knowledge," Mr Novikov said. "We cannot talk about gathering any secret information."

He warned that, at the age of 63, Berg was facing "basically a life sentence".


ruby Posted on April 16, 2019 13:23

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Experimental drug may ease opioid withdrawal symptoms

A drug that scientists originally developed to treat depression may have promise for the treatment of opioid withdrawal, researchers say.

A new experimental drug may help reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid withdrawal is a challenging experience, and although there are medications already on the market that can help curb the symptoms of withdrawal, these drugs cause negative side effects.

Current withdrawal medications also often require people to take them for a prolonged period, which is not ideal and could lead to a relapse.

There may be encouraging news on the horizon, however. New research highlights the possible benefits of an experimental drug called rapastinel, which scientists initially created to help those with major depressive disorder.

This new research showed that rats responded positively to rapastinel in opioid withdrawal studies. The researchers noted that rapastinel had a significant effect on withdrawal in just a few days, which could make it a candidate for future testing in human participants in a clinical setting.

The first few days after halting opioid use can be very difficult because the withdrawal symptoms can be exceptionally severe. This stage is when rapastinel could potentially be useful, as it may help ease those symptoms without the additional burden of side effects. It could also reduce the need for prescription drugs that require long-term use for a person to avoid relapse.

"We have found that rapastinel has potential as a new treatment for opioid dependence, as it is effective in reducing withdrawal signs and has not been shown to produce any negative side effects," notes Julia Ferrante, an undergraduate at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

Ferrante conducted the research with Cynthia M. Kuhn, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University in Durham, NC. The findings featured at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting, which took place recently during the Experimental Biology 2019 meeting in Orlando, FL.


Opioid addiction and withdrawal

Opioid use disorder is a chronic condition that can significantly affect a person's health, job, and financial situation. While doctors prescribe opioids in cases of severe, postsurgical, or chronic pain, they are also often accessible on the black market.

Legal opioids include oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and buprenorphine. Heroin, an illegal drug, is another example of an opioid.

In some cases, opioid use can lead to addiction. These drugs can also cause severe health problems and sometimes even result in overdose and loss of life. According to estimates, the misuse of prescription opioid medications and heroin affects more than 2 million people in the United States every year.

Physical and psychological dependence present a new set of problems when the person ceases taking the drug. During withdrawal, symptoms include nausea, vomiting, anxietyinsomnia, hot or cold flashes, sweating, cramps, and gastrointestinal upset.

People commonly take methadone or buprenorphine to alleviate some of these symptoms, but these drugs are also opioids and can be addictive. They also have side effects of their own and can often only prevent a relapse if people use them for an extended period.


Rapastinel as a withdrawal treatment

Recent clinical trials found that rapastinel is not effective for depression, but they did reveal that people can tolerate the medication well and that it does not cause significant side effects.

The new research involving rats going through withdrawal showed that the rodents that received rapastinel had far fewer withdrawal signs than those that the researchers gave either ketamine or a saline solution.

While these results are promising, it will take some time before rapastinel reaches clinical trials in humans. Until then, researchers will conduct more studies to determine how rapastinel works on a molecular level and how it might work to prevent relapse.

"By reducing withdrawal symptoms, the patient feels less discomfort during treatment, and we hypothesize this would lead to a decreased risk of relapse," says Ferrante.


"Rapastinel research for opioid dependency is currently only being done in rodents, but if the drug continues to have successful trials, it may enter clinical trials for use in humans."


sarah Posted on April 15, 2019 08:55

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Radiohead stage death inquest brings 'some closure'

A Canadian coroner's inquest has brought "some closure" to the family of a Radiohead drum technician killed in a stage collapse.

Scott Johnson died in 2012 at Toronto's Downsview Park when the stage roofing buckled and fell.

Seven years later, an Ontario inquest has wrapped up hearings into Johnson's death and the causes of the tragedy.

The inquest has now released series of recommendations aimed at preventing similar such incidents.

Over more than two weeks, the public inquest heard from engineers, provincial officials, the owner of the defunct company that built the stage, and workers who were on the ground during the stage construction.

The public inquest also heard early on from both Ken Johnson - the father of the drum technician - and Radiohead drummer Philip Selway.

A number of concerns were raised during testimony related to how the temporary stage deviated from its design as well oversights in the stage construction.

On Wednesday, the five-person inquest jury proposed 28 non-binding recommendations, including the creation of the permanent working group to develop and maintain standards and procedures for the live performance industry.

Ken Johnson, who attended the full hearing and who himself works as a scaffolding safety inspector in the UK, was asked to be part of that group.

What happened in Toronto?

Radiohead was set to perform a sold-out show in Toronto on 16 June 2012 when the stage's metal scaffold roofing - tens of thousands of pounds of steel and equipment - collapsed onto crew members on stage at the time.

The incident happened an hour before the gates opened to the public coming to see the UK band perform.

Johnson, a native of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, was killed and three other people were injured, one seriously.

Mr Selway told the inquest that the incident still haunts the band.

He described the "anger and frustration" felt by the UK band, its crew members and Johnson's parents in the wake of the incident.

"The system has failed Scott, his family and other industry workers," he said.

Radiohead band members and Johnson's family have been outspoken in demanding answers over his death.

In September 2017, a Canadian court stayed charges against the concert's organisers because of trial delays.

Police had filed charges under Ontario's health and safety laws against entertainment company Live Nation, engineer Domenic Cugliari and contractor Optex Staging and Service following the incident.

All three defendants had pleaded not guilty; but the trial was "stayed" - meaning no charges would be brought forward - because of a landmark 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that said cases in provincial court should go to trial within 18 months.

An inquest into Johnson's death was called in March by the Ontario coroner's office.

What else came out of the inquest?

Many of the recommendations put forward by the jury were aimed at bolstering oversight related to safety requirements for the construction of temporary performance stages in the Canadian province.

They included improving the permitting process for stage construction and ensuring better training, certification and licensing for people building those stages.

It also called on the provincial engineering body as well as live entertainment venue owners and show promoters to bring in a series of guidelines to help ensure better oversight and safety measures.

The jury urged national and international performance industry associations to share the inquest report widely.

'Some closure'

At the end of the inquest, Ken Johnson told journalists in Toronto that his focus on the incident over the last few weeks - and years - has helped him cope with his son's death.

"There's hardly a month gone by in the last seven years where I'm not involved in some dialogue about Scott and what's happened," he said.

He and his wife have not taken a holiday since their son was killed.

"To sit on a beach would be torture. We can't sit quietly," he said.

Being busy "takes away the emotions a little bit".

Ken Johnson is optimistic that, despite the fact the inquest recommendations are non-binding, there is momentum behind their implementation.

He is expected to continue to consult with organisations in Canada in implementing and improving the safety of live performance venues.


ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:58

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Trump urges inquiry into 'attempted coup' against him

President Donald Trump says he has spoken to the US attorney general about tracing the origins of the inquiry that cleared him of colluding with Russia.

Mr Trump described the investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller as "an attempted coup".

Attorney General William Barr meanwhile said he believes US authorities did spy on the Trump campaign.

US intelligence officials have previously said they were spying on the Russians, not the Trump campaign.

What did Trump say?

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday morning, the Republican president railed against the Department of Justice inquiry into whether the Trump campaign had conspired with the Kremlin to sway the 2016 election.

The investigation cleared him and his aides of collusion, making no determination on whether they had tried to obstruct justice.

Mr Trump said: "This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted take-down of a president. And we beat them. We beat them.

"So the Mueller report, when they talk about obstruction we fight back. And do you know why we fight back?

"Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam.

"What I'm most interested in is getting started, hopefully the attorney general, he mentioned it yesterday.

"He's doing a great job, getting started on going back to the origins of exactly where this all started.

"Because this was an illegal witch hunt, and everybody knew it. And they knew it too. And they got caught. And what they did was treason."

Donald Trump has long been calling for an investigation of the investigators who launched the probe of his presidential campaign. Now, with the help of his recently appointed attorney general, he will get his wish.

William Barr subsequently backed away from his assertion during Senate testimony that intelligence agencies had been "spying" on the Trump campaign, but that may end up beside the point. An inquiry has been started, and the ball is rolling.

Whether this is simply a move to placate an impetuous president or a substantive investigation remains to be seen.

There is no solid evidence, at least at this point, of misconduct in the opening of the Russia investigation or in the warrant targeting Carter Page, the low-level adviser with Russian ties who had left the Trump campaign before he became the subject of government surveillance.

The president, however, will surely cite his attorney general's decision as part of his attempt to undermine any unpleasant information that could be revealed when the redacted Mueller report is finally released in the coming days.

Even an investigation that reaches no actionable conclusions can have a damaging effect - as the president knows all too well.

What did the attorney general say?

While Mr Trump was flying off to Texas, America's top law official was appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

William Barr was asked whether spying occurred on the Trump campaign during the 2016 White House race.

"I think spying did occur," said the attorney general. "The question is whether it was adequately predicated."

He later clarified: "I'm not saying improper surveillance occurred, I am looking into it."

But Mr Barr said he did not understand why intelligence officials chose not to warn the Trump campaign that it could be vulnerable to infiltration.

He added: "I also want to make clear this is not launching an investigation of the FBI.

"Frankly, to the extent that there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that's endemic to the FBI."

Mr Barr also told lawmakers he will release the nearly 400-page Mueller report next week after he has finished redacting sensitive material.

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told the Associated Press: "I don't trust Barr, I trust Mueller."

Mrs Pelosi said that appearing to support Mr Trump's views on the alleged spying had undermined Mr Barr's role as attorney general.

Was the Trump campaign spied on?

President Trump and his conservative allies have repeatedly suggested the Obama administration planted a mole in his presidential campaign to undercut his candidacy.

The former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked on ABC in May last year if the FBI had indeed snooped on the Trump team.

He replied: "No, they were not. They were spying on - a term I don't particularly like - but on what the Russians were doing.

"Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence which is what they do."

The same day in an interview with CNN, Mr Clapper said: "The objective here was actually to protect the campaign by determining whether the Russians were infiltrating it and attempting to exert influence."

US media reported last year that the FBI sent an informant, an unnamed US academic who teaches in the UK, to speak to two low-level Trump aides, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, after the agency became suspicious of the pair's Russian contacts.

In March 2017, President Trump made the explosive claim on Twitter that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had ordered phones at his Trump Tower office to be wiretapped during the 2016 White House race.

But the US Department of Justice later said there was no evidence to support the president's claim.

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:53

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Kim Kardashian hopes to become lawyer in 2022 after four-year apprenticeship

Kim Kardashian has revealed she has begun a four-year apprenticeship with a law firm in the US, with hopes of becoming a lawyer in 2022.

The reality TV star says she made the decision to pursue a legal career in 2018.

Last year, she met with President Donald Trump and successfully campaigned to have 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson released from jail.

She says her experiences at The White House inspired her decision.

"The White House called me to advise to help change the system of clemency," she tells Vogue magazine in a new interview.

Clemency is when someone is pardoned from a crime they are accused of having committed and it is declared that they are not guilty.

In America, the President can grant clemency to anyone convicted under federal law.

"I'm sitting in the Roosevelt Room with, like, a judge who had sentenced criminals and a lot of really powerful people and I just sat there, like, Oh - I need to know more," Kim says.

"I would say what I had to say, about the human side and why this is so unfair. But I had attorneys with me who could back that up with all the facts of the case."

Kim says choosing to pick up a new career was something she had to think "long and hard" about but that she knew she always wanted to "do more".

"It's never one person who gets things done; it's always a collective of people, and I've always known my role, but I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society," she says.

"I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more."

As part of her apprenticeship, Kim will need to do 18 hours of supervised study each week and will shadow two mentor lawyers - Jessica Jackson and Erin Haney.

Kim's work with grandmother Alice Marie Johnson secured her release from a 1996 life sentence for cocaine trafficking, when Donald Trump intervened.

He commuted her crime, this means her conviction still stands, but Alice had her sentence swapped for a lighter one.

She was immediately released because of time she'd already served.

In 2017, Kim was among a number of celebrities who spoke in support of Cyntoia Brown.

She was jailed for life in 2006 at the age of 16 for shooting dead a man she said solicited her for sex. Prosecutors said it was robbery.

Other stars including Rihanna, comedian Amy Schumer and NBA star LeBron James also supported her case.

Cyntoia was released earlier this year.

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:30

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Medicare for All: Can Bernie Sanders overhaul US healthcare?

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is unveiling his vision for a national health care plan that is expected to be adopted by several other leading White House candidates. So what is it?

It's widely known that the US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, and health outcomes vary according to your means.

President Barack Obama tried to overhaul it. But even after his landmark Affordable Care Act, some 27 million Americans remain uninsured.

His successor in the White House has tried to dismantle that legislation, making healthcare a central issue in next year's presidential election.

Senator Sanders' plan - called Medicare for All - will play a big part in the debate.

So what's in it?

Firstly, what's Medicare?

Medicare is a federally run programme that offers health insurance coverage for Americans aged 65 and older, as well as individuals with certain disabilities or medical conditions. It covers both hospital and medical costs.

The programme is broken up into different plans (called Medicare A, B, C and D) that individuals can select depending on their needs. There are additional private plans available to supplement the basic coverage.

Most still require patients to pay annual premiums as well as deductibles (what patients pay for treatment before insurers step in) and co-payments (fixed cost of a service or prescription) that are set based on rates negotiated by the government with providers. These rates can change year to year.

Many people find they need supplemental insurance coverage even with Medicare, as the programme will only pay for 80% of approved medical costs or for 60 days of hospital care.

As it stands, Medicare is not a single-payer system since private insurers can participate.

What is Sanders proposing?

Medicare for All is a proposal to expand Medicare into a single-payer health system.

That means the federal government would be the sole, nationwide insurance provider for all essential and preventative healthcare.

It is not a universal health care system where the government would own and operate hospitals - instead, the government would pay private providers an agreed upon rate for their services.

Under Senator Bernie Sanders' proposal, first introduced in 2017 and re-introduced in April, Medicare for All would expand Medicare's coverage to include vision, dental, prescription drugs, nursing home care and reproductive health services.

The 2019 update to the plan also includes a long-term care coverage for patients with disabilities - amending one of the criticisms of his earlier plan.

The change also brings Mr Sanders' plan more in line with the version of Medicare for All proposed in the House of Representatives by congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.

In four years, Mr Sanders' plan would have the country phase out of private insurance plans so everyone would receive insurance from the federal government.

The Affordable Care Act would also end, as users would be enveloped into the national plan.

Private insurance companies and employers would be banned from selling any manner of duplicate plans for services covered under the government's programme, though plans for non-essential medical services like cosmetic surgery could remain.

Mr Sanders' proposal would see an end to the "cost sharing" that makes up the current system: No deductibles, no premiums, no co-payments for care.

The only out-of-pocket expense under Mr Sanders' plan would be for some non-generic prescription drugs, but any cost to the patient would be capped at $200 annually.

For comparison, US patients in 2016 paid over $535bn for prescription drugs, according to government estimates.

Mr Sanders' Medicare for All would see a new 6.2% tax paid by employers on all wages; estate tax reforms; more taxes on the wealthy; and a 2.2% income tax on personal income with no credits allowed.

Ms Jayapal's plan mostly tracks with Mr Sanders', but also includes provisions to roll out the programme in two years instead of four, offer no out-of-pocket costs at all for prescriptions, and grant the government the ability to issue generic prescription licences to bring down costs if negotiating with companies fails.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders put universal healthcare on the map as a Democratic policy objective, even as Hillary Clinton scoffed that it was an unpractical and unachievable goal.

Now Mr Sanders is no longer a lone voice in the party.

Within the burgeoning field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, however, there are variations on the scope and speed of reform. Some would prefer to add a government-run option within the existing system. Others want to put private insurers out of business.

On Wednesday, Mr Sanders made clear once again he's in the latter camp. The plan the Vermont senator proposes would be more generous than government-run systems in other countries. That may appeal to voters - at least until the price tag is discussed.

Then expect some Democrats to again say enacting such a programme is unrealistic in the extreme. When it comes to healthcare, many Americans are fearful of disruptive change. The current system may be flawed, but its flaws are known.

Mr Sanders, who preaches "political revolution", doesn't do small and incremental, however. He's again cutting a path to the party's left. Can he again convince others to follow?

What are the arguments for Medicare for All?

Everyone is covered

With millions still uninsured - and forgoing care because they cannot afford treatments - Medicare for All would ensure healthcare is a right for all Americans.


The government's bargaining power would drive down healthcare costs, supporters say, pointing out that government health programmes like veterans' health already receive 50% in discounts on prescriptions.

And unlike the current system, where deductibles can be as high as $10,000 for patients before their insurance plans even kick in, Medicare for All would guarantee everyone could afford any care visits and prescriptions.

System consolidation

Medicare for All would remove health insurance responsibilities from employers and states as private insurance and Medicaid would be rolled into the federal plan.

Providers would not need to navigate a labyrinthine system to file reimbursement claims and it would be easier for patients to understand and use the system.

Reducing healthcare spending

Bringing down rates for services and prescriptions would help lower the overall cost of the health system.

Administrative health costs could also be reduced by $400bn under Medicare for All, according to The Physicians for a National Health Program group.

Other analyses have also found that a single-payer plan would ultimately reduce total national healthcare spending. University of Amherst economist Prof Gerald Friedman estimated savings could be between $5.5tn and $12.5tn in the next decade.

One report by the Citizens for Tax Justice advocacy group found that for all but the highest-earning Americans, Mr Sanders' plan would result in an increase in post-tax income.

A study by the conservative-leaning Mercatus Center also found that Mr Sanders' plan would see a $482bn decrease in health spending and $1.5tn in administrative cost reductions, amounting to a $2tn decrease in health spending in a decade compared to current projections.

And what are the arguments against?


A fear of higher taxes is perhaps the biggest reason for pushback against a national health programme.

Under Medicare for All, nearly all residents would see new annual taxes.

Income tax reform would make wealthier Americans pay more: An income between $250,000 to $500,000 would see a 40% tax; an income of over $10m would see a 52% tax.

But some experts worry Mr Sanders' current tax plan would not adequately finance a Medicare for All programme, and that actual taxes could end up being even higher.


Mr Sanders in 2016 estimated his plan would cost $1.38tn per year, while opponents say costs could be double that.

Medicare for All would increase government spending in a decade by anywhere from $25tn to $35tn according to US economists and think tanks.

Both Mercatus and the Urban Institute - institutions that lean conservative and liberal respectively - put 10-year costs at around $32tn.

Pay cuts all around

Private insurance companies would essentially be eliminated. In addition, with the government setting prices, both providers and pharmaceutical companies would also face profit losses.

The Mercatus study noted that for the Medicare for All plan's savings to work, providers must acquiesce to a 40% reduction in reimbursements compared to current private insurance payments.

Decrease in care quality

Tied to profit reductions, opponents say the quality of healthcare could be negatively affected if providers face deficits and disruptions, warning that hospitals could quickly go out of business.

The issue of wait times is also one many Americans are wary of given horror stories of year-long waits for surgeries from the NHS and Canada - opponents say the increased number of patients in the system may overwhelm providers already dealing with budget cuts.

No innovation

Some of those against federal intervention in the health system have cautioned that cutting payments to the health industry would stifle US innovation.

The abortion debate

Under Medicare for All, abortions would be covered by the federal insurance plan - an aspect that will certainly draw criticism from conservative groups who are already outspoken against any federal funding for the controversial procedure.

What's the public opinion?

Support for a national healthcare system has somewhat increased overall, national polls say, but the divide along political lines has deepened.

A Harvard-Politico poll in January found 68% of Americans said working on a plan like Medicare for All should be a top priority for Congress.

The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) similarly reported six in 10 Americans are in favour of a national health system. But support f

Americans are in favour of a system that covers everyone and ends premiums and out-of-pocket payments, but the idea of higher taxes or wait times for care sees support sharply decrease.

Along party lines, 61% of Republicans polled said they strongly opposed Medicare for All, while 54% of Democrats said they strongly favoured it.

An optional Medicare for All plan that would allow people to retain their current insurance garnered more bipartisan support in the KFF poll, with 74% support overall and 47% support from Republicans.

How does the US compare to other systems?

Firstly, it's a lot more expensive in terms of cash spent.

Most government-funded health plans around the world do require individuals to pitch in, making these Medicare for All proposals more generous than anything currently in place.

An important distinction to make when comparing Medicare for All to systems like the NHS is that this is still not socialised care. In the US, the Veterans Health Administration, for example, operates on a socialised medical system like the NHS, with federally run hospitals.

Medicare for All would move the entire US system into a single-payer, social insurance model - very similar to Canada.

Canada's government funds universal healthcare coverage by reimbursing private providers. Provinces and territories are able to operate their own programmes with varying levels of coverage, so it is not entirely controlled by the federal government.

Under the Canadian system, patients still largely need to pay for their own dental and vision care as well as some prescriptions.

In the UK, in addition to covering the costs of care, the government owns hospitals and employs physicians. Prescriptions in hospital are free and those for outpatients are subsidised, so that patients generally only pay a minimum co-payment - usually around $12 (£9). For some groups, prescriptions are completely free, like those under 16, the elderly or full-time students up to age 18.


ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:28

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The US students who want to pay slavery descendants

Students at Georgetown University are voting on whether or not they should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves sold by the institution.

In 1838 the Jesuit university, which relied on financial support from wealthy plantation owners and often received slaves as gifts from prosperous parishioners, had fallen on hard times.

It decided to raise funds by selling 272 slaves to plantations in Louisiana, in a deal worth the equivalent of $3.3m (£2.5m).

Now, students at the elite institution are voting on what could be the first time reparations have been paid directly to the descendants of slaves in the US.

Proponents of slavery reparations argue that America built its wealth off the backs of enslaved people, and in the centuries following emancipation enacted policies to exclude black people from sharing in the wealth of the country.

Lower incomes, worse health outcomes and the higher rates of incarceration currently experienced by the black community are highlighted as vestiges of this history.

'Repay our debts'

The proposal would see all Georgetown undergraduates pay a $27.20 (£21) fee per semester, which will be "allocated for charitable purposes that benefit the descendants" who mostly live in Louisiana and Maryland.

"As students at an elite institution, we recognize the great privileges we have been given, and wish to at least partially repay our debts to those families whose involuntary sacrifices made these privileges possible," the proposal reads.

"As individuals with moral imagination, we choose to do more than simply recognise the past - we resolve to change our future."

Melisande Short-Colomb is the descendent of one of the 272 people sold by Georgetown, and became a student at the university at the age of 63.

"At the bedrock there was slave labour, there was human ownership and bondage," Ms Short-Colomb says, pointing to the grand buildings of the Georgetown campus, which the sale of her ancestors helped to fund.

She is part of the team advocating for the proposal and is hopeful that it will "start a conversation across the country" on the issue of reparations.

"Reparations and repair are important to the whole of America because we are a broken society," she says. "Bridges are falling down - physically, emotionally, mentally - all around us, and we have to repair ourselves."

Hannah Michael, a second-year student, suggests that every student at Georgetown is the "direct beneficiary" of the organisation's slave-owning past, regardless of their personal history.

"I am daughter of two Ethiopian refugees," Ms Michael says. "My parents came to this country about 25 years ago, and have no relation to the slave trade in America."

However, she argues her education is "only possible because of the enslavement and sale of African-Americans".

"Our classes, the beds that we sleep on, the food we eat, the literal foundations of the school were created and maintained by the profit gained from the 1838 sale."

Ms Michael is keenly aware of how the Georgetown vote reflects a broader national conversation, and hopes it will spark more action on the issue.

"[The vote] tells us there are things we can do right now to benefit people who are impacted by the history of slavery.

"I hope people outside the university see that it is possible to grapple with the difficult history of America."

'Totally symbolic'

However not all students agree with the proposal.

Hunter Estes, who is studying international politics, says he thinks the fee is an "arbitrary number" and "an attempt to compound a moral obligation onto the whole student body".

He suggests that any reparations should be "opt-in" to avoid "imposing a moral structure" which he says "crushes an aspect of liberty".

"It is driven by good intentions," Mr Estes says. "But good intentions can't be what defines policy."

Mr Estes suggests the university should focus on providing education to the descendants of the 272 people sold, rather than "throwing money at the problem".

He adds it is "tough to say" if he personally benefits from Georgetown's slave-owning history.

"I am trepidatious about applying a 2019 standard of morality in evaluating history," "If we are constantly apologising about the issues of the past, we'll always find something to apologise about."

Sam Dubke, an international economics student, is worried by some of the practicalities of the proposal.

"The $27.20 figure is totally symbolic," he says. "There is no analysis or systematic investigation of the amount."

He also questions how the roughly $400,000 expected to be raised in the first year will be spent, suggesting it is "not something that can just be done on a whim".

Further, Mr Dubke suggests student action should be directed at the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation set up by the university in 2015 to engage with the university's past.

"We should put pressure on the university administration to take action, rather than relying on students to pay out of pocket."

"Current students are not to blame for the past sins of the institution, and a financial contribution cannot reconcile this past debt on behalf of the university," he wrote in the student newspaper.

Georgetown spokesman Matt Hill told the BBC "student referendums help to express student perspectives but do not create university policy and are not binding on the university."

"Following a formal apology to Descendants, renaming two buildings, and offering Descendants the same consideration in admissions that it gives members of the Georgetown community, we are continuing to deepen our campus' engagement to develop education and programming that will enable all students to meaningfully engage with Georgetown's history of slavery," he said in a statement.

Why now?

Slavery reparations have become a hot button issue in the US recently, as a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls have floated the idea as part of their 2020 nomination bids.

While the level of support for reparations varies between candidates, the migration of the issue from the political fringe to the mainstream reflects a wider shift in US political discourse.

William Darity Jr is a professor of public policy at Duke University, and is one of the leading scholars on reparations in America.

"I am refreshingly surprised that the reparations conversation has become so rich and expansive in the public arena recently," he says.

"To see multiple presidential candidates talking openly about the issue means the conversation we are having is unlike any we have had on the topic before in the United States of America."

Democratic senator, and presidential hopeful, Cory Booker recently introduced a bill to study the possibility of reparations for the descendants of slavery as "a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias" in the US.

Mr Darity says that this bill could provide a way to analyse how reparations would work.

"We have a court system where when someone is injured... we find a way to assign a value to that. I am always startled when people say we couldn't do something similar for the decedents of slaves."

Mr Darity uses the example of the "40 acres" promised, but never given, to former slaves.

"I have done a computational analysis of the value of the 40 acres of land that slaves were promised. That would work out as around $80,000 for each eligible American."

Mr Darity says that he "admires" the Georgetown students, but has "strong reservations" about "piecemeal reparations", and hopes such local initiatives don't distract from the need for national actions.

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:16

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British woman found dead in Swiss hotel

A 22-year-old British woman has been found dead in the bathroom of a hotel in southern Switzerland, police say.

Her 29-year-old German boyfriend has been taken into custody and reportedly told police that the death was the result of a "sex game" that went wrong.

The victim has not been officially named. Local media say a post-mortem examination has shown she died of suffocation.

The UK Foreign Office said it was offering assistance to the family.

Swiss media said the woman had been staying at the Hotel La Palma au Lac in Muralto, in the district of Locarno, with her boyfriend, who lives in Zurich. She was found dead on Tuesday morning.

Police say they are still investigating the circumstances of the death. Reports say officials are looking into the possibility of an intentional killing.

Some hotel guests told Swiss news outlets that they had heard arguing coming from the couple's room the night before she was found dead.

The UK Foreign Office confirmed it was offering consular assistance to the family following the death of a British citizen.

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:12

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Australia election announced: 10 things to know about the poll

Australians will vote in a general election on 18 May, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

The poll will decide whether the conservative government wins a third term or is replaced by a Labor administration led by Bill Shorten.

All 151 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested, and half of the 76 seats in the Senate.

The election is expected to be hotly contested in several areas including climate change and the economy.

"[The election] will determine the economy that Australians live in, not just for the next three years, but for the next decade," Mr Morrison said at a press conference on Thursday.

"We live in the best country in the world, but to secure your future, the road ahead depends on a strong economy," he said. "That is why there is so much at stake."

Here are some key things to know about the vote.

1. Voting in the election is compulsory

Unlike many other global democracies, Australia has mandatory voting for people aged 18 and over - or they risk a fine.

It ensures a high turnout: 95% of people voted in Australia's last election. The most recent US and UK elections, by contrast, drew an estimated 55% and 66% respectively.

Advocates say it depolarises the vote and reduces the influence of lobby groups, though critics dispute this.

2. Leadership 'madness' may haunt the government

Mr Morrison only became prime minister last August after bitter party infighting ousted his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.

In doing so, Mr Morrison became Australia's fifth leader since 2013.

"It was a peculiarly Australian form of madness," Mr Turnbull told the BBC in March, speaking about a coup culture which began with Labor in 2010.

It's likely to harm the government's standing with voters, predicts Prof Sally Young, a politics expert from the University of Melbourne.

"They're sick of the sniping and undermining," she says. "Knifing a leader - it never goes down well."

3. Climate change could sway votes - but to what extent?

Australia has just endured a year of extreme weather events, including destructive floods, bushfires, cyclones and a severe drought. The past summer was the nation's hottest on record.

It has made climate change a key election issue in some seats, experts say.

Last year, the government scrapped plans to set an emissions reduction target in legislation - prompting fierce criticism.

"Australia's lack of action [on climate change] internationally is becoming more recognised within this country," says Prof Young.

The University of Sydney's Prof Marc Stears agrees, but says it's unclear how widely it will affect voting decisions.

4. In many ways, the main battle lines are familiar

Prof Stears says the major parties are already talking up their traditional strengths. That's subjects like jobs and infrastructure for the government, and health and education for Labor.

They will compete fiercely on economic issues, with both parties promising policies aimed at reducing the cost of living,

Although Australia's economy is the envy of many countries, wages growth is flat, and there is a generational split in attitudes to house prices.

5. There's much talk about a north-south divide

Mr Morrison is overseeing a minority government, meaning he can ill afford to lose support anywhere in the country.

Political observers say he faces challenges from the left and right - a debate that is often framed in geographical terms.

In the northern state of Queensland, experts say the government fears losing votes to more socially conservative minor parties and independents.

But in Victoria in the south, the electorate is perceived as more progressive. It delivered a resounding victory to Labor in a state election five months ago.

6. Will migration and refugee debates resurface?

During past elections, Australia's major parties have employed tough rhetoric on immigration issues - particularly regarding asylum seekers.

It has often been used to appear strong on issues such as national security, says Prof Stears.c

That debate resurfaced in February, however, Prof Stears believes that last month's New Zealand mosque attacks may see politicians tone down such rhetoric.

7. There are signs of support for minor parties

Prof Young says there is some public cynicism about the major parties, pointing to possible increases in support for other candidates.

High-profile independent candidates have entered key races, and in New South Wales, a recent state election saw rises in minor party support in rural electorates.

8. Is there a risk of foreign interference?

In February, Mr Morrison said a "state actor" had carried out a cyber attack on the parliament and political parties.

Authorities said there was no evidence of electoral interference, but security experts have urged vigilance.

9. Citizenship checks should be water-tight

In 2017, several MPs were disqualified for unintentionally breaking a rule that lawmakers cannot be dual citizens when elected.

Fifteen parliamentarians were ousted, though six later managed to return after relinquishing their non-Australian citizenships.

The saga sparked comprehensive checks of MPs' statuses.

10. What do the opinion polls say?

Opinion polls in recent times have consistently put Labor in front on a two-party preferred basis.

However, those measures also say that Mr Morrison leads Mr Shorten as preferred prime minister.

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:05

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Cate Faehrmann: Why a lawmaker admitted to taking MDMA

Australian Cate Faehrmann may be the world's first politician to admit to having used the illicit drug MDMA. The reaction in Australia, and globally, has surprised her, she tells Gary Nunn in Sydney.

Ms Faehrmann's admission, made in January, has come amid a fierce debate about introducing "pill testing" services in New South Wales (NSW).

Five music festival-goers have died from suspected drug overdoses in NSW since September. It has prompted passionate calls for action - but state lawmakers are divided on what should be done.

Ms Faehrmann, 48, from the Greens party, argues that her opponents have a "limited understanding of the people they're needing to connect with". She says she has taken MDMA (known as ecstasy when in pill form) "occasionally" since her 20s.

"I'm sitting here as a politician with more experience than anyone else in the building," she says, adding: "Maybe not - maybe I'm the only one being honest."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is opposed to pill testing. She has said that "no evidence [has been] provided to the government" that it saves lives, and that testing would give drug users "a false sense of security".

It would also fail to prevent "the lethal combination" of taking drugs and alcohol, or "the fact that what's ok for one person's body isn't ok for another person's body", according to the premier.

Ms Berejiklian favours a tougher policy approach. Notably, she has vowed to shut down a festival where two people died in September.

Spreading the debate

In January, Ms Faehrmann wrote that it was a "difficult decision" to "come out" about her past drug use. Certainly, her admission generated publicity and discussion.

Australia's opposition leader, Bill Shorten, was among those immediately drawn in. He was asked about drug use at a press conference and responded that he "might have done something in his university days".

A domino effect followed. In the Australian Capital Territory, a string of lawmakers admitted to using illegal drugs: Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he once ate a hash brownie; Police Minister Mick Gentleman said he had used cannabis in his youth; and MP Shane Rattenbury said he'd tried ecstasy once.

The police minister's admission surprised Ms Faehrmann most: "I thought: wow. We've possibly now moved the debate on to a point where previous use is no longer an issue."

Outside Australia, the Philadelphia Inquirer picked up Ms Faehrmann's story, with columnist Abraham Gutman writing that it had taken "a lot of courage".

In her home state, however, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told the Australian Associated Press that her admission was "reckless" and a "really bad message for young people".

Ms Faehrmann says she received a mostly positive response, notwithstanding one conservative columnist who wrote that she "deserves the boot": "It could've been the end of my political career but... the mainstream media was surprisingly positive."

What's the wider context?

Ms Faehrmann argues that the debate about pill testing must be "put in proportion" to deaths from legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco.

She references a UK study, published in The Lancet in 2010, which found that ecstasy had a fraction of the harm of alcohol. Analysis on the UK's NHS website suggests the study is useful, but a limitation is that alcohol tops the list of overall harms largely because it is legal and widely consumed.

Last week, Australia's National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre reported that almost one in five deadly strokes among people aged 15-44 were linked to methamphetamines, MDMA or other psychostimulants.

Pill testing is being used in some countries, and advocates argue it saves lives. An Austrian study found about half of those who had their pills tested said it would affect their consumption choices.

It was trialled at a festival in the Australian Capital Territory last year: two samples were found to be potentially deadly, and those festival-goers chose to dispose of their drugs.

But others, such as Tony Wood, remain strongly opposed. Mr Wood is the father of Anna Wood, who died in 1995 - becoming Australia's first high-profile ecstasy-related death.

"It was confirmed that the tablet Anna took that night was pure, not contaminated," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation recently.

"Drugs are idiosyncratic, so how will pill testing save lives? It won't."

'Honesty' in politics

Other parents have thanked Ms Faehrmann for opening up constructive conversations with their children.

As for her admission being a world first, British author Johann Hari, who has researched this area extensively, believes it is: "Other politicians have admitted using cocaine and cannabis; I've never seen an MDMA admission. That's partly generational: it's only now that a generation of politicians who have used MDMA is coming up (excuse the pun). But I think this is a first."

Ms Faehrmann says she "very deliberately" didn't confine her admission to her university days, unlike most other politicians who make drug use confessions.

Her view is that voters are attracted to honesty: "They don't want spin [or] people who've lived as advisers their whole life, in a cushioned bubble and not the real world."

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 12:00

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New York holidaymakers presumed dead in Dominican Republic

A New York couple missing for two weeks in the Dominican Republic probably died after a car accident on the way to the airport, police say.

Two unidentified bodies found in Santo Domingo East match descriptions of Portia Ravenelle and Orlando Moore, according to officials.

Authorities believe the pair crashed early in the morning on 27 March in a rental car.

The bodies have been sent for post-mortem examinations.

According to Dominican Republic National Police spokesman Col Frank Felix Durán Mejia, a woman believed to be Ms Ravenelle was found alive but critically injured on the Las Americas highway on 27 March, the same day the pair went missing.

The woman, found without any identifying documents, was taken to the Doctor Darío Contreras hospital where she spent six days in intensive care before dying on 4 April.

Four days after she was discovered, on 31 March, the body of a man was reportedly retrieved by authorities washed ashore near San Souci.

His remains were in an advanced state of decomposition, police said, and he had a tattoo that read "Milano" on the right arm, matching one known to be on Mr Moore.

The body was recovered about 21km (13 miles) from where authorities believe the couple's car plunged into the Caribbean Sea.

Authorities have not yet been able to identify or recover the car due to poor water conditions.

Although their bodies were found within days of the car crash, family and friends of the couple are only just learning what happened to them, CNN reports.

"She had to die by herself" family friend Franecsca Figueroa told CNN. "When one of us could have been there holding her hand."

Ms Figueroa told CNN she had known Mr Moore for about 25 years.

She described the couple as "happy-go-lucky", "always trying to help people".

The pair, of Mount Vernon, New York, stayed at the all-inclusive Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa resort in Samaná from 23- 27 March.

They had not been heard from since they began their drive to the airport to return home, according to reports.

Authorities had confirmed that Mr Moore and Ms Ravenelle passed a toll booth on the way to Santo Domingo at 01:41 on 27 March.

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 11:28

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Is the honeymoon period over for Brazil's Bolsonaro?

Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil's presidential election last October on a platform of change.

He said he would deliver a safer Brazil to appease those worried about rising violence, an economic turnaround after several years of crisis and - perhaps most central to his campaign - an end to old-style corrupt politics which have seen dozens of high-ranking politicians, including a former president, jailed.

For millions of Brazilians fed up with the status quo, the gun-loving former army officer was the only man for the top job despite sexist, racist and a homophobic remarks he made during the campaign.

Reality sets in

While 100 days in office may not be long enough to judge the president's performance, some of his erstwhile supporters are now expressing doubts about his ability to lead the largest democracy in Latin America.

And among his detractors, there is definitely a feeling of "I told you so" after his first months were beset by a series of problems.

Late last month, the president caused outrage by suggesting the armed forces commemorate the start of military rule 55 years ago. His anti-corruption image has been tainted by allegations that his son Flavio was involved in financial scandals and death squads.

And then of course, there was that awkward time during carnival when he posted a video on Twitter of a sex act performed by two men at a street party that he felt was bringing the reputation of the country down.

He has now got the lowest approval rating recorded by a first-time president in the initial 100 days in power since the country returned to democracy in the 1980s.

Lack of change

"The feeling is that the situation is worse than it was before the elections," says Rafael Alcadipani, an associate professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation. "Everyone wanted change in society but the commander-in-chief hasn't shown himself to be capable of delivering any type of change."

"He's failed to show Brazilians confidence in his plan for government," says Roberta Braga, associate director at the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Centre in Washington DC. "He's losing a lot of support. It clearly takes time to implement these very complex reforms but Brazilians expected a lot from him."

One of Mr Bolsonaro's campaign commitments was to bring down violence by making it easier for people to own guns. Within a couple of weeks of being sworn in, he had loosened regulations to make it easier to keep guns at home.

This was music to the ears of people like gun club member Natasha Imata, whom I met at LAAD Expo, Latin America's largest security and defence show in Rio de Janeiro last week.

But despite his swift action on gun ownership, Ms Imata thinks that the new president is "not focussed on security".

Her husband Vitor agrees. "His whole campaign was focussed on helping Brazilians but that's not happened. It's been a weak start," he says.

From bullish to confused

Brazil's stock market and currency soared after Mr Bolsonaro's election in what some dubbed the "Bullsonaro wave". But since he took over power on 1 January, signals have been more mixed.

While many in the industry point to a strong economic team led by market-friendly economy minister Paulo Guedes, unemployment levels have remained stubbornly high.

There is also a reluctant acceptance that the government may not be able to push through much-needed reforms such as pension cuts as easily as it had hoped.

"We have serious doubts about the capacity of the government to continue to do these reforms," says Andre Perfeito, chief economist at Necton brokerage in São Paulo. "Bolsonaro's main promise was pension reform. And he's not doing the political job to deliver that."

Others though, are more upbeat.

Walter Maciel is the CEO of independent asset management company AZ Quest: "Most of the old political leaders were not re-elected and went home. There is a major renovation in congress, a new government that was elected by people who desired a huge change, not only in the way the country was led but also in the way that politics was done."

"So you have a lot of new people coming in, many of them coming in without any political experience. Of course there's some kind of externality and undesired volatility but it's part of the learning process," Mr Maciel says.

Change of heart

Government worker Gabriel Moraes voted for Jair Bolsonaro but says he would not do so again. He thinks the president needs to be more statesman-like and has so far failed.

"As a head of state, any message he sends out is a reflection of society today," Mr Moraes argues. "Life in civil society isn't like an army barracks. Sure there has to be order and discipline but there have to be principles, rules and respect too."

But his cousin Alessandra Guadelupe Regondi disagrees. A big fan of President Bolsonaro, she says he represents something very different, something that Brazil needs.

With a military background in her family, Ms Regondi warmed to the politician during the campaign.

His promises of cutting ministries in the government and making it more efficient, for example, appealed to her and she has even got a photo of the two of them together, in pride of place on her bookshelf in the living room.

Ms Regondi does not see any problem with the president's social media habit. "It helps him get closer to the people," she argues.

"Leaders were always from the same parties," she says. "He's a new hope, like Donald Trump was. He went against everything - and still won."

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 11:26

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‘I’m 35, with two young children – and Parkinson’s’

At 29, Ellie Finch Hulme was diagnosed with a condition often associated with much older people - Parkinson's disease. She decided it wasn't going to stop her living her life the way she wanted to.

Ellie doesn't fit the stereotype of someone with Parkinson's disease, as one of her recent tweets makes clear.

People are often shocked when they meet her for the first time, she says.

"I volunteer in a local charity shop occasionally around the kids and around my work and if I'm trembling, if I have to wrap something up - because anything can set off your tremor - someone will say something like, 'Is it your first day here?' And I'll be like, 'No I've got Parkinson's.'"

They expect someone with Parkinson's to be white-haired and stooping, but Ellie, who lives in Farnham in Surrey, has young onset (or early onset) Parkinson's disease, and was diagnosed before she was 30.

How people react

A survey of more than 2,000 people for Parkinson's UK, to mark World Parkinson's day, found that 87% of people with the condition had faced discrimination or harassment.

More than half (57%) said they had avoided or cancelled social situations because of concerns about how others would react to them.

For more information see Parkinson's Is

She first experienced symptoms when she was training for a half marathon in 2012. At first it was just a tremor in her left little finger, then her left leg started to go from under her as she ran.

Her GP suspected the problem was something called "essential tremor", a movement disorder, but Ellie wasn't convinced. After seeing a neurologist in April 2013 she underwent a series of scans and tests and was finally diagnosed with the condition that August.

By coincidence, in her work as a translator Ellie had been working on a text about one of the scans she herself was given. This led her to suspect she had Parkinson's before it was confirmed.

"I had a feeling that that's what it would be. But a lot of my friends were like, 'No, don't get ahead of yourself, it won't be that, it can't be that.'"

Ellie says it took a long time to accept that she had Parkinson's but one of the hardest experiences was having to break the news to friends and relatives.

"I think it was more difficult for friends and family to accept than it really was for me," she says.

Ellie and her fiance, Tom, had already planned to marry the following March and soon after returning from their honeymoon, Ellie realised she was pregnant.

Image copyright Matthew Quake

"That was intentional," she says.

"We knew we wanted to have kids and we wanted to do it sooner rather than later. In no way was I prepared to sacrifice that because of this condition."

Not many people with Parkinson's disease become pregnant. Although a third of people with the condition get it before the age of 65, only one in 20 get it below the age of 45, and only one in 100 below the age of 40, according to Prof Huw Morris, consultant neurologist at the Royal Free Hospital and professor of clinical neuroscience at University College London.

The symptoms - slower movements, stiffness and sometimes tremors - are caused by a loss of nerve cells in the brain, and a reduction in the amount of dopamine, the chemical in the brain that helps with movement.

Treatment for Parkinson's therefore includes dopamine replacement.

"We think that Levodopa, the main dopamine treatment, is probably safe in pregnancy, but it's difficult to know that," says Huw Morris.

Ellie says she felt extremely anxious throughout the whole of her pregnancy, even though the dose of her medication was reduced.

"It was scary. I was pretty concerned," she says. "I just didn't know how the drugs were going to affect the foetus at all."

In January 2015, Ellie went into labour on the day of her baby shower and gave birth to a son called Charlie three weeks early.

She took the decision not to breastfeed Charlie because of the risk that the drugs would be passed to him through her breast milk - she was told this was higher than the risk of them reaching the foetus had been.

"I found that absolutely heartbreaking," she says. "I always thought that I would breastfeed and I was not able to and it took a long time to get over that."

By this stage Ellie had a tremor in her left arm and hand, which made it harder to bottle feed her son. Holding him on her left side she would bottle feed him with her right hand, but it wasn't easy to keep her arm in a comfortable position - especially when she was doing it in public.

"Bath time was a bit scary," she says. "But I used to do that when my husband was there."

Ellie also struggled with some of the fiddlier baby clothes, such as doing up the poppers on Babygros or getting zips up. She buys shoes with Velcro fastenings to avoid problems with laces.

Twenty-two months after Charlie was born, in November 2016, Ellie gave birth to her daughter, Sophie.

"We were like, 'Let's just go for it, because I'm not going to get any better, so therefore it's probably better to just get through a second pregnancy sooner rather than later.' But obviously not too soon."

She says her reaction to having two small children was probably the same as any parent's.

"It's quite kind of, 'Wow!' A lot of things to deal with, like getting my son weaned off his dummy and then starting his potty training. And obviously, having a newborn, it's a lot to cope with. But it's a lot for any parent," she says. "I've tried not to let having Parkinson's really affect any of what I was doing with the kids when they were little."

Ellie says her children know that she takes medication and her son, now four, has started to ask some questions.

"As he gets older and he's able to understand, and his empathy builds as he grows, I think that it will be easier for me to say, 'This is what doesn't work properly,'" she says. "But they've never once said to me, 'Mummy, why do you shake?'"

The speed at which the disease develops tends to be slower in people with early onset Parkinson's, says Huw Morris. Treatments are very effective, he says, but there is nothing that can stop it in its tracks.

Like Ellie, the actor Michael J Fox was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's at the age of 29, and he's still acting occasionally in his late 50s.

Ellie says her hopes for the future are mostly the same as any person with children.

"I hope that my children understand all my decisions and the choice that my husband and I made to have them - and I'm pretty sure they will," she says.

"I do hope that I won't be a burden on them, that they won't see it like that, because one day I'll probably need to be cared for, and that's really quite difficult to say, to be honest."

Ellie says she does not spend each day wondering, 'What's my life going to be like?' but takes each day as it comes.

"I think that's the best way to be, to be positive and don't worry about what the future holds, either positive or negative, because you could get run over by a bus tomorrow and it would be totally unrelated to Parkinson's. It's just not worth worrying about."

Ellie says it is frustrating people tend to associate Parkinson's with just one thing - tremors - and are unaware of other symptoms.

"I do have a lot of stiffness in my hand," she says. "So at times when my medicine's wearing off I just can't raise my arm for example and my hand is completely stiff. People don't realise that is one of the main symptoms - and pain as well, and cramps."

Rates of anxiety and depression are also higher in people with young onset Parkinson's disease, according to Huw Morris.

Ellie says the things that have helped her most with her condition are continuing to do plenty of exercise, connecting with other young people who live with Parkinson's and avoiding the temptation to compare herself to others - because each person is different. It's impossible to know whether her condition will progress faster, slower or at the same speed as someone else's.

"It's not like a death sentence," says Ellie. "Hopefully I'll live a fulfilled life with this condition for many years."

All photographs courtesy of Ellie Finch Hulme, unless otherwise indicated. Ellie writes a blog about what life is like as a young mum with Parkinson's disease called PD Mama

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 11:19

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India election 2019: Voting begins in world's largest election

Indians have begun voting in the first phase of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Tens of millions of Indians across 20 states and union territories are voting in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.

With 900 million eligible voters across the country, this is the largest election ever seen.

Some observers have billed this as the most important election in decades and the tone of the campaign has been acrimonious.

Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014. He stakes his claim to lead India on a tough image and remains the governing BJP's main vote-getter.

But critics say his promises of economic growth and job creation haven't met expectations and India has become more religiously polarised under his leadership.

The BJP faces challenges from strong regional parties and a resurgent Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gandhi's father, grandmother and great-grandfather are all former Indian prime ministers. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally joined politics in January.

How has voting gone so far?

The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

Hundreds of voters began to queue up outside polling centres early Thursday morning. In the north-eastern state of Assam, lines of voters began forming almost an hour before voting officially began.

Voters at one polling booth in Baraut - in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh - got a royal welcome with people greeted by drums and a shower of flower petals.

But violence has flared in several places already. One person has died after clashes erupted at a polling station in Anantpur, in southern Andhra Pradesh state. Four others were critically injured in the fight that broke out between workers from two parties, BBC Telugu reports.

In central Chhattisgarh state, suspected Maoists detonated an IED device near a polling booth at around 04:00 local time (23:30 BST) - no injuries were reported.

The mineral-rich state has witnessed an armed conflict for more than three decades and attacks by Maoist rebels on security forces are common. On Tuesday a state lawmaker was killed in a suspected rebel attack.

How big is this election?

It is mind-bogglingly vast - about 900 million people above the age of 18 will be eligible to cast their ballots at one million polling stations. At the last election, vote turn-out was around 66%.

More than 100 million people are eligible to vote in the first phase of the election on Thursday.

No voter is meant to have to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station. Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

India's historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country's shortest ever.

Which states are headed to the polls?

On Thursday, the following states began voting, with polling stations opening from 07:00 local time (02:30 BST):

Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep.

Polling in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland, will conclude in one day. But other states, such as Uttar Pradesh, will hold polls in several phases.

What are the key issues?

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped poverty since the turn of the millennium but huge challenges remain.

Under Mr Modi, the world's sixth-largest economy appears to have lost some of its momentum. Although annual GDP growth has hovered at around 7%, unemployment is a major concern.

Mr Modi's government has been accused of hiding uncomfortable jobs data. In fact, a leaked government report suggests that the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1970s.

Farm incomes have also stagnated because of a crop glut and declining commodity prices, which has left farmers saddled with debt.

Unsurprisingly both parties have targeted the rural poor in their campaign manifestos. The BJP has promised a slew of welfare schemes to India's farmers, while Congress has promised a minimum income scheme for the country's 50 million poorest families.

National security is also in the spotlight this election after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 paramilitary police in Indian-administered Kashmir in February. India then carried out unprecedented air strikes in Pakistan.

Since then, the BJP has made national security a key plank in its campaign.

ruby Posted on April 11, 2019 11:10

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Israel election: Netanyahu set for record fifth term

PM Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to secure a record fifth term after almost complete results from Israel's election suggest a new right-wing coalition.

His Likud party is expected to finish with a similar number of seats as ex-military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance.

But Likud and right-wing allies are set to be the largest bloc with 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, local media said.

The 69-year-old premier is facing corruption allegations.

However, the election result means he could become Israel's longest-serving prime minister later this year, overtaking Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion.

Exit polls had predicted a tight race with no clear winner, prompting both Mr Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to claim victory on Tuesday night.

"It will be a right-wing government, but I will be prime minister for all," Mr Netanyahu told cheering supporters.

"I'm very touched that the people of Israel gave me their vote of confidence for the fifth time, and an even bigger vote of confidence than previous elections.

"I intend to be the prime minister of all citizens of Israel. Right, left, Jews, non-Jews. All of Israel's citizens."

No party has ever won a majority in Israel's 120-seat parliament and it has always had coalition governments.

There were roars of celebration at the election night party for Benny Gantz as the first exit poll was released. His supporters believed Israel was on the brink of a new centre-ground government.

But as the votes were counted overnight, Benjamin Netanyahu's success became clearer. The incumbent PM's Likud party appears most likely to be able to form another coalition government with the help of right-wing nationalist and religious parties.

He said history had given the people of Israel another chance as his supporters, using his nickname, chanted: "Bibi, the King of Israel."

With left-wing and Arab-Israeli parties suffering heavy losses, his win appears decisive, despite the most serious challenge yet to his decade in office.

How was the campaign fought?

Mr Netanyahu, 69, put forward tough messages on security ahead of the vote and it soon became one of the election's key issues.

He also made a significant announcement in the final days of the campaign, suggesting a new government would annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

In a separate controversy on Tuesday, Israeli Arab politicians condemned his Likud party for sending 1,200 observers equipped with hidden body cameras to polling stations in Arab communities.

The Arab alliance, Hadash-Taal, said it was an "illegal" action that sought to intimidate Arabs. Likud said it wanted to ensure only "valid votes" were cast.

Mr Netanyahu's main challenger, Mr Gantz, is a retired lieutenant-general who formed the Blue and White in February, promising to unite a country that had "lost its way".

The 59-year-old former chief of staff of the Israeli military rivalled Mr Netanyahu's tough stance on security and promised cleaner politics.

Mr Gantz's campaign platform referred to "separation" from the Palestinians but did not specifically mention them having an independent state. It also called for continued control over the Jordan Valley and retaining West Bank settlement blocs.

What allegations is Netanyahu facing?

At the end of February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Mr Netanyahu that he intended to indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three cases, pending a final hearing.

Now that the election is over, the evidence in those cases is to be turned over to the lawyers of the various parties involved.

The prime minister is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensed favours to try to get more positive press coverage. Mr Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and says he is a victim of a political "witch-hunt".

A date for the final hearing, at which the prime minister and his lawyers would be able to argue against the allegations, has not yet been set. Mr Mandelblit has said the Supreme Court will determine whether Mr Netanyahu has to resign if he is charged.

There have been reports that Mr Netanyahu will attempt to persuade his potential coalition partners to pass legislation that would grant prime ministers immunity from prosecution while in office.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Likud and four other allied parties, who together will control 61 seats in the Knesset, have made it clear that they will not require Mr Netanyahu to resign if he is charged.

ruby Posted on April 10, 2019 09:11

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Aphantasia: Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says 'my mind's eye is blind'

The former president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios says he has a "blind mind's eye".

Most people can close their eyes and conjure up images inside their head such as counting sheep or imagining the face of a loved one.

But Ed Catmull, 74, has the condition aphantasia, in which people cannot visualise mental images at all.

And in a surprising survey of his former employees, so do some of the world's best animators.

Ed revolutionised 3D graphics, and the method he developed for animating curved surfaces became the industry standard.

He first realised his brain was different when trying to perform Tibetan meditation with a colleague.

Visualisation is a core part of the practice and he was told to picture a sphere in front of him.

Ed told the BBC: "I went home, closed my eyes… I couldn't see a thing and for an entire week I kept trying to visualise this sphere."

He spoke to colleagues and learned that some animators could form mental images so strong they would open their eyes and the image would still be there, so they could practically trace what they could see.

Ed just thought: "That's interesting, it's probably what makes them an artist."

Glen Keane

But eventually Ed realised he was not alone and that, perhaps counter-intuitively, some of the greatest talents in animation could not visualise either.

Oscar-winner Glen Keane, who created Ariel (The Little Mermaid), also has no visual imagery.

Ed told the BBC: "He is truly extraordinary, he's one of the best animators in the history of hand-drawn animation.

"[And] he said that he could never visualise either."

Ed said: "When he first did The Little Mermaid, it's a bunch of scribbles.

"And then it converges, after he works on it for a while, into this gorgeous piece of art.

"And as far as he's concerned, that's the right way to work because it means he's looking deep down inside, for his emotions, and that's what drives his drawing."

Origins of aphantasia

The term aphantasia was coined by Prof Adam Zeman, from the University of Exeter Medical School, in 2015.

He had documented a case of a man who lost his mind's eye in his 60s following a heart operation.

Prof Zeman was then contacted by people who reported never having one and he described the condition as aphantasia in the journal Cortex.

Around one in 50 people is thought to have aphantasia, although exactly what is going on in the brain is still unclear.

Parts of the brain from the frontal and parietal lobes are involved in visualisation and differences at any point in the system could be the cause.

Ed, who co-founded Pixar, had a parting gift for his former employees when he left last year - a piece of homework.

He asked 540 members of staff to take a test of the vividness of their visual imagery.

It showed that the artists were slightly better than technical artists at visualising, but the differences were not that huge.

"It was not a large skew, that's the real issue," said Ed.

The production managers were better than both.

The homework also revealed stark differences between two artists and good friends of Ed's who had worked on Frozen.

One can see an entire movie in his head and play it backwards and forwards and never needs to see a movie twice because he can visualise it.

The other cannot see anything at all.

Lessons from aphantasia

Some people with aphantasia find it a cause of distress.

People have described feeling isolated and alone after discovering that other people could see images in their heads and they could not.

Ed argues aphantasia is not a barrier to success.

He told the BBC: "I think the main message is, 'OK folks you can't use it as an excuse, you can still do good work, regardless of your differences'."

And believes the study clears up misperceptions about the creativity.

He added: "People had conflated visualisation with creativity and imagination and one of the messages is, 'they're not the same thing'.

"The other one I think that people might have assumed, but if you think about it you can see why it's false assumption, is you would think if a person could visualise, they're more likely to be able to draw.

"If you open your eyes and you take out a pencil and pad, how many people can draw what they see? The answer is a very small number, so if you can't draw what is in front of you then why would we expect that you would be able to draw what you visualise?"

Discovering he has aphantasia has also led to some insight into Ed's personal life, because his wife has very strong visual imagery.

He can remember their first date was in a park on the other side of the freeway and that is it. She can describe the whole area.

Prof Zeman, who has led research in the field of aphantasia, said: "I think it's really helpful for people to know that the way they visualise - or not - doesn't define them.

"Although we all have different thought processes, that doesn't link with the quality of what you produce.

"We just all go about it in different ways."

ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 13:55

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US and China edge closer to 'epic' trade deal, says Trump

President Donald Trump says the US has found agreement on some of the toughest points in trade talks with China.

He said a deal could come in the next four weeks, but added some sticking points remained.

The Chinese echoed the optimism, with President Xi Jinping touting substantial progress, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

The US and China have been in talks since December trying to end a trade war that is hurting the global economy.

Mr Trump said the US and China had agreed on "a lot of the most difficult points" but that "we have some ways to go".

He was speaking from the White House, before a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

The US president said if there was a deal, he would hold a summit with President Xi.

"This is an epic deal, historic - if it happens," said Mr Trump.

"This is the Grand Daddy of them all and we'll see if it happens. It's got a very good chance of happening."

Sticking points in negotiations in recent weeks have included how fast to roll back tariffs and how a deal would be enforced.

Mr Trump suggested at the press conference that some of these persisted.

He said it would be tough for the US to allow trade to continue with China in the same way as in the past, if a deal did not materialise.

'Conflicting signals'

The world's two largest economies imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of one another's goods over the past year.

Negotiations between them have continued since a trade truce was agreed in December, but have at times been rocky.

The BBC's China correspondent Robin Brant said that both sides were - yet again - giving conflicting signals.

Mr Liu said the US and China had reached a new consensus on important issues like the text of the economic and trade agreement, Xinhua reported.

While that echoed Mr Trump's comments, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sounded more cautious. He said there were still some major issues left in trade talks, according to reports.

Mr Brant said there was clearly still significant distance between the two sides on the crucial issue of enforcement.

What's being discussed?

The US accuses China of stealing intellectual property from American firms, forcing them to transfer technology to China.

Washington wants Beijing to make changes to its economic policies, which it says unfairly favour domestic companies through subsidies and other support, and wants China to buy more US goods to rein in a lofty trade deficit.

China accuses the US of launching the largest trade war in economic history, and is unlikely to embrace broader structural changes to its economy.

What's at stake?

Failure to achieve a deal may see the US more than double the 10% tariffs on $200bn (£153bn) of Chinese goods and impose fresh tariffs.

Mr Trump has in the past threatened to tax all Chinese goods going into the US.

The US has already imposed tariffs on $250bn worth of Chinese goods, and China has retaliated with duties on $110bn of US products.

The damaging trade war has already cast a shadow over global trade and the world economy.

ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 13:14

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Fears over Hong Kong-China extradition plans

The Hong Kong government has proposed changes to extradition laws that could allow transferring suspects to mainland China for trial. The move has further fuelled fears of erosion of the city's judicial independence amid Beijing's increasing influence.

The Hong Kong government will also consider extradition requests from Taiwan and Macau after the new changes.

Officials say the change is needed so that a murder suspect can be extradited to Taiwan for trial, and that mainland China and Macau must be included in the change to close a "systematic loophole".

Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam has pushed for the amendments to be passed before July.

What are the changes?

The changes will allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of criminal wrongdoings, such as murder and rape.

The requests will then be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Several commercial offences such as tax evasion have been removed from the list of extraditable offences amid concerns from the business community.

Hong Kong officials have said Hong Kong courts will have the final say whether to grant such extradition requests, and suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited.

Why is this controversial?

There has been a lot of public opposition, and critics say people would be subject to arbitrary detention, unfair trial and torture under China's judicial system.

"These amendments would heighten the risk for human rights activists and others critical of China being extradited to the mainland for trial on fabricated charges," Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Lam Wing Kee, a Hong Kong bookseller said he was abducted and detained in China in 2015 for selling books critical of Chinese leaders and charged with "operating a bookstore illegally".

During a recent protest against the government proposal, Mr Lam said he would consider leaving the territory before the proposal was passed.

"If I don't go, I will be extradited," he said. "I don't trust the government to guarantee my safety, or the safety of any Hong Kong resident."

Though some pro-Beijing politicians eager to defend China, dispute the criticism of its judicial system.

The changes have also attracted opposition from the Hong Kong business community over concerns they may not receive adequate protection under Chinese law.

The proposal has already sparked a legal challenge from Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau, who was convicted in absentia in a corruption case in Macau in 2014.

Macau's government has not been able to have Mr Lau extradited because of a lack of extradition agreement between Hong Kong and Macau, but that will become possible if Hong Kong's legislature decides to amend the extradition laws.

His lawyers argue in a 44-page submission to Hong Kong's courts that the Macau trial was marred by "serious procedural irregularities that rendered the trial incompatible with internationally mandated standards of fairness".

Every citizen can request a judicial review like Mr Lau has done, but it's the High Court that decides whether this will be granted. Most observers say there is little chance Mr Lau's request will be successful.

Why the change now?

The latest proposal has come after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend, while holidaying in Taiwan together in February last year. The man fled Taiwan and returned to Hong Kong last year.

Taiwanese officials have sought help from Hong Kong authorities to extradite the man, but Hong Kong officials say they cannot comply because of a lack of extradition agreement with Taiwan.

"Are we happy to see a suspect that has committed a serious offence staying in Hong Kong and we're unable to deliver justice over the case?" Mrs Lam said on 1 April while responding to media questions.

She added that mainland China and Macau were included in the proposed change to address a "loophole" in current laws.

Isn't Hong Kong part of China anyway?

A former British colony, Hong Kong is semi-autonomous under the principle of "one country, two systems" after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The city has its own laws and its residents enjoy civil liberties unavailable to their mainland counterparts.

Hong Kong has entered into extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the UK and the US, but no such agreements have been reached with mainland China despite ongoing negotiations in the past two decades.

Critics have attributed such failures to poor legal protection for defendants under Chinese law.

ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 13:02

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Zhao Lixin apologises for 'defending' Japanese invaders

Chinese-Swedish actor Zhao Lixin has apologised after appearing to "defend" the Japanese forces which invaded China.

In a social media post on Tuesday, Zhao questioned why the Japanese military did not pillage and destroy the Beijing Palace Museum during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

He has faced a backlash online from people who have accused him of "forgetting his roots", some drawing comparisons with other recent Chinese-Swedish grievances.

Zhao's original comment on social media site Sina Weibo has been deleted, but screenshots of it have been widely shared online in China.

"Why didn't the Japanese steal relics from the Palace Museum," Zhao's post read, "and burn it down during the eight years the Japanese occupied Beijing?

"Is it in line with the nature of the invader?"

His comments refer to the Japanese occupation of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 to 1945. The Japanese captured many major Chinese ports and cities during the war, beginning with Beijing.

Zhao was born in China and grew up in Sweden. He returned to the country and found success as an actor, first appearing in Breaking Out in 1999.

It is this time abroad that seemed to be the source of contention online.

"You have forgotten that your roots are Chinese," said one commenter. "You've forgotten that you were born in China. You've forgotten that your parents are Chinese... this is unforgettable."

"You are not Chinese and you cannot speak for China," said another. "How much damage did the Japanese invasion of China cause? You don't understand anything. Don't pretend to know more about the history of the country."

Some people have defended Zhao, with some people calling it normal to discuss historical events, and others saying that they "understand what he meant".

But the backlash can be best explained by one commenter, who wrote that "this kind of vibrant topic is still not good on the Internet".

copyright Sina Weibo caption Zhao issued an apology on social media for his comments

Zhao, who has seven million followers online, has now said he "sincerely apologises" for his "inappropriately expressed post".

"I deeply, deeply express my apologies," he said. "I was not and will never defend the invaders. I strongly condemn them."

He has subsequently posted links to China's Central & State Organs' Working Committee, quoting from them: "Any country's citizen should, with regards to his country's history, carry some knowledge. This should especially be accompanied with a warmth and respect for the history of their country."

Despite this apology, he has been told to "get out of China" and "go back to Sweden" on social media, evoking serious and less-serious tensions between China and Sweden in the past year.

In February 2019, Sweden recalled its China envoy over her involvement in a bizarre meeting involving the daughter of a detained Swedish-Chinese bookseller.

And in September 2018, there was outrage when a satirical Swedish television show joked about Chinese people eating dogs and defecating in public.


ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 12:42

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Hong Kong 'Umbrella' protesters found guilty of public nuisance

Nine pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have been found guilty of public nuisance charges for their role in a civil disobedience movement that called for free elections in the city.

Among them are three prominent activists, seen as figureheads of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

They could be jailed for up to seven years for their part in the "Umbrella Movement" protests of 2014.

Thousands marched demanding the right for Hong Kong to choose its own leader.

Those convicted include the so-called "Occupy trio" - sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 60, law professor Benny Tai, 54, and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, 75.

They are seen as the founders of the movement that galvanised protesters in their campaign of civil disobedience.

"No matter what happens today... we will persist on and do not give up," Mr Tai told reporters ahead of the verdict.

Mr Tai, Mr Chan and five others were found guilty of two charges of public nuisance, and Mr Chu and one other of just one charge.

A large crowd gathered outside the court on Thursday to support them. It is not yet clear when they will be sentenced.

The nine defendants walked into the court building looking refreshed and in high spirits. All but one said a few words in what might have been their last hours of freedom before their predicted jail term.

Delivering his verdict, Justice Johnny Chan said the defendants had caused a nuisance - by occupying major roads - leading to injuries among civilians. The nine looked calm and not particularly emotional. By lunchtime they had gone, released on bail. Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming smiled as they passed me, as if it was just another day.

They are yet to say if they will appeal. The court was adjourned for the day as the lawyers are yet to finish their mitigation submissions. The sentences have yet to be announced.

The broader pro-democracy camp already has bad relations with Beijing. Activists and politicians did express their anger but political analysts also warn that people might simply leave the movement out of frustration.

"Some people might feel dispirited and helpless. I hope they can see that other people haven't given up," Benny Tai told BBC News Chinese ahead of today's verdict.

Seventy nine days of sit-in protests have already changed Hong Kong a lot. But today's verdict might serve more as a reminder that this city remains divided.

What has the reaction been?

At the trial Judge Johnny Chan rejected the idea that this would have a substantial impact on society.

"It cannot be reasonably argued that a charge of conspiracy to cause public nuisance would generate a chilling effect in society," he wrote in his ruling.

But rights groups criticised the ruling, with Humans Rights Watch saying the court was "sending a terrible message".

"[This] will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists, further chilling free expression in Hong Kong," said researcher Maya Wang in a statement to the BBC.

Lord Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, released a statement saying that it was "appallingly divisive to use anachronistic common law charges in a vengeful pursuit of political events which took place in 2014".

This verdict comes after a string of frustrations for pro-democracy activists. In the last few years the courts have removed six lawmakers for changing their swearing in oaths to include protest phrases. Others have also been disqualified from running for office.

What were the protests about?

The protests started in reaction to a decision made by China that it would allow direct elections in 2017, but only from a list of candidates pre-approved by Beijing.

Beijing is highly sensitive about Hong Kong's status and any calls for more autonomy from China.

The former British colony was handed back in 1997 on condition it would retain "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years.

Many people in Hong Kong believe they should have the right to elect their own leader.

In 2014, the three activists' calls for non-violent civil disobedience joined with student-led protests and snowballed into the massive demonstrations.

Tens of thousands of people camped in the streets and demanded the right to fully free leadership elections.

The protests became known as the "Umbrella Movement" after people used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray fired by police to disperse the crowd.

Protesters accused the Chinese government of breaking its promise to allow full democracy in Hong Kong, and of encroaching more and more on the region.

But the number of protesters dwindled to just a few hundred as the weeks dragged on and they ultimately failed to achieve their goal.

ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 12:38

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Indonesia 2019 elections: All you need to know

Some 192 million people in Indonesia will be eligible to cast their votes on 17 April, in what has been called one of the most complicated single-day elections in history.

The election will see two familiar faces square up: the incumbent Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, and his long-time rival Prabowo Subianto.

Here's what you need to know:

What's going to happen on 17 April?

Indonesia's presidential, parliamentary and regional elections will all be taking place simultaneously.

Some 245,000 candidates will be running for more than 20,000 national and local legislative seats across Indonesia.

India - with a population of five times as many people - votes in rolling elections that take place over two months.

Indonesian voters will have one day, making it "one of the most complicated single-day elections in global history," according to the Lowy Institute.

Who is running for the presidency?

It's a battle between current President Joko Widodo, and Prabowo Subianto, a former military general. They've come face-to-face before in the 2014 elections.

Mr Subianto is closely associated with the traditional elite. He was previously married to the daughter of former dictator General Suharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist.

Mr Subianto has been dogged by allegations of human rights abuses committed under Gen Suharto, though he has maintained his innocence.

After spending many years overseas, Mr Subianto made his political comeback in 2009.

He campaigned on a pro-poor platform in the 2014 presidential election, saying he wanted to reduce unemployment and create new jobs on farms.

Mr Widodo comes from humble beginnings, and first came to international prominence as the governor of Jakarta, winning the position in 2012.

In the 2014 presidential election he campaigned on a platform of "mind-set revolution" - a strategy to build national character, stamping out corruption, nepotism and intolerance, all of which he says flourished under Gen Suharto's regime.

He went on to win, but five years on has disappointed some supporters by abandoning campaign promises to resolve human rights violations, according to one analyst.

Who are the key voters?

It's all about the millennials.

According to the General Elections Commission of Indonesia, around 40% of eligible voters will be aged 17 to 35 - that's around 80 million people.

And it's clear parties have been trying their best to attract the youth vote - sometimes in innovative ways.

Last year Jokowi's party, the PDIP, launched "fashionable" merchandise including T-shirts, hats and jackets.

Mr Prabowo has been building up relationships with vloggers, YouTubers and influencers, according to a report by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Supporters of both candidates have also created their own music videos, complete with catchy tunes.

What might sway the public?

Social media is king in Indonesia, and can make or break a candidate.

Research by the University of Melbourne found Indonesia has the fourth-highest number of Facebook users in the world, with WhatsApp and Instagram not too far behind.

Earlier this year, three Indonesian housewives were arrested over an online video that claimed President Widodo would ban prayer and make gay marriage legal if he was re-elected.

Mafindo, an Indonesian organisation fighting fake news, said political fake news and disinformation shot up by 61% between December 2018 and January 2019.

The group's co-founder told Reuters that a large proportion of the misinformation targets Mr Widodo, making him out to be a Christian, of Chinese ancestry, or a communist.

These may not sound like dramatic claims - but they're big accusations in Muslim-majority Indonesia, where race and ideology are especially sensitive issues.

ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 12:09

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Sudan protest: Demonstrators continue sit-in despite crackdown

Heavy gunfire has been heard outside the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum where thousands of protesters have been holding a sit-in for the third night in a row.

They are calling for the resignation of President Omar al-Bashir.

Witnesses reported seeing people running for cover after the shooting began. Earlier, tear-gas was fired.

It appears to be the latest attempt by government security agents to break up the protests.

One of the protesters, Ahmed Mahmoud, told the BBC that "tear-gas and live bullets were used" by National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) agents against protesters.

He added that army soldiers had provided sanctuary for protesters within their compound.

"It is pointless for Omar Bashir to continue using his thugs to get us off the streets as we are not going anywhere."

At least two soldiers are reported to have died since the demonstrations outside the army HQ began on Saturday.

Previous attempts to break up the crowds have also led to reports of soldiers intervening to protect protesters from NISS agents.

There have been international calls urging the government to refrain from using force against civilians. President Bashir has called for talks to end the crisis.

The country's interior minister said on Monday that seven protesters had been killed and 15 injured, while 42 members of the security forces had been injured. He added that almost 2,500 people had been arrested.

Protests against Mr Bashir, who has governed Sudan since 1989, have been under way for several months.

The protests were originally sparked by a rise in the cost of living, but demonstrators are now calling for the president to resign.

Over the weekend, a large group gathered outside the Khartoum headquarters of the army, defence ministry and the president.

The protesters want the armed forces to withdraw their support for the government. Representatives of the protesters say they are seeking talks with the army regarding the formation of a transitional government.

Omar el-Digeir, a senior protest member, told AFP news agency the group were seeking a path "that represents the wish of the revolution".

Monday marked the third night of the sit-in, despite security force efforts to disperse the group.

The government has been criticised by rights groups for a heavy-handed response to the unrest.

What has the response been?

Dramatic video emerged on Monday showing soldiers firing at an unclear target as civilians took cover behind them. The protesters said the soldiers were responding to gunfire from NISS agents.

Other eyewitnesses have alleged the military fired warning shots while chasing the agents off.

Information Minister Hassan Ismail has contradicted the reports about the divide.

"The security apparatus are coherent together and working with positive energy and in harmony," he said on Monday.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has urged all parties to "exercise utmost restraint and avoid violence".

Government officials now admit 38 people have died since the unrest began in December, but the pressure group Human Rights Watch says the number is higher.

Why is the president controversial?

Mr Bashir's rule has been blighted by accusations of human rights abuses.

He is subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant over accusations of of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The US imposed sanctions against the country more than 20 years ago, accusing Khartoum of sponsoring terror groups.

Last year the Sudanese pound fell rapidly in value and inflation rose. The government then announced the price of fuel and bread would rise, sparking protests.

In February, it looked as though the president might step down, but instead Mr Bashir declared a state of national emergency.

The latest protests mark the 34th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the regime of former President Jaafar Nimeiri.




ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 10:46

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'Our children are gasping' - Senegal's toxic air battle

Two-year-old Thayi loves the aerosol therapy room at Senegal's Albert Royer Children's Hospital, where she gets to fall asleep on her mother's lap, breathing deeply - something that is usually hard to do.

The mask over her face pumps out medicine that soothes her asthmatic lungs, a condition worsened by air pollution.

The hospital in the capital, Dakar, has a large unit dedicated to respiratory issues.

Dr Idrissa Ba, who has been working there for 15 years, says the number of patients keeps growing and growing - something he thinks is linked to worsening air quality in the city.

Dakar does have particularly bad levels of outdoor pollutants or tiny particles, known as particulate matter (PM), which is how pollution is measured.

ir pollution: What is particulate matter (PM)?

  • Microscopic particles that can be inhaled into the lungs and cause serious health problems
  • The particles come in many tiny sizes, often from traffic fumes, and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals
  • PM10 - particles of 10 microns and smaller in diameter (one micron is one thousandth of a millimetre)
  • PM2.5 - particles of 2.5 microns and smaller in diameter, about 20 times smaller than a grain of sand and small enough to get into the blood stream
  • Evidence is growing that PM can limit the growth of children's lungs
  • Researchers are investigating the potential effects of these particles on conditions such as dementia
  • About seven million people are estimated to die each year from exposure to fine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system

These particles can reach deep into the body with the danger of causing lasting damage to people's health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a safe level of PM10 should be 20 and the level of PM 2.5 should be 10.

In Dakar, the average levels are 146 for PM10 - seven times more than recommended - and 30 for PM2.5.

This is according to Senegal's centre for air quality control, whose director, Aminata Mbow Diokhané, says it is important to understand that most cities do not respect the recommendations.

She adds that Dakar is one of the only cities in Africa to measure air quality daily.

Others on the continent are likely to have far worse levels, she says.

Africa's 'dirty fuel'

There are two main reasons why air quality in Dakar can get particularly bad:

  • Natural pollution. Every year during the dry season, an unpleasant wind, known as the harmattan, blows in dust from the Sahara.
  • Pollution from industry and cars. With a growing population, the number of cars and buses on the roads keep increasing in Dakar.

And while there are more cars in London or Tokyo, those in Dakar cause more damage to the environment as many of them are old or second hand, meaning they pollute more.

More significantly, fuel imported to Africa contains much higher levels of sulphur than that used in Europe or the United States, as an investigation in 2016 by Swiss campaign group Public Eye revealed.

This means cars using "dirty fuel" emit more toxic gas considered a major pollutant.

"Today the diesel standards in Senegal are still at 5,000 parts per million as compared to Europe at 10 parts per million," Jane Akumu, a spokeswoman for the UN Environment's Air Quality and Mobility Unit told the BBC.

Anyone who walks around Dakar or drives with their windows open is more often than not submerged by clouds of thick black smoke coming from surrounding exhaust pipes.

"The good news is that in December 2018, technical experts from the region met in Abidjan [in Ivory Coast] and agreed to harmonise low sulphur fuel standards in a number of West African countries," Ms Akumu said.

This still needs to be approved by heads of state, but experts hope that by the end of the year all fuel imports to the region, including to Senegal, will have lower sulphur levels.

'Changing attitudes'

For Dr Ba this can only be good news.

"We've done studies on the impact of pollution on children's health and we concluded there is a very significant correlation between the level of small particles and the number of patients having asthma attacks," he says.

But he believes more rules needs to be brought in to regulate vehicles and says it is also about changing attitudes.

"Pollution is a problem that affects everyone so the response must be global, but people should also be more responsible, pollute less," he says.

"It's true that we have a problem with car pollution but here people also burn their rubbish outside in the open, for example."

The WHO estimates that around seven million people die every year from exposure to fine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease and lung cancer.

Children are particularly affected because they breathe more air than adults, in proportion to their size, and their organs are not fully developed.

The average age of patients at Albert Royer Hospital is five.

One of those who has been diagnosed with pneumonia, a lung infection, is a 20-month old baby boy.

His mother, who prefers to remain anonymous, watches over her fragile child, whispering: "My message to other parents is that they should be vigilant and keep an eye on their children's health."

Dr Ba agrees that early treatment is key.

"We know that many young children who have asthma, infections, allergies, if we don't treat them early, their pulmonary capacity can be reduced by 10%."


ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 10:22

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Revolutionary Guard Corps: US labels Iran force as terrorists

US President Donald Trump has designated Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation.

It is the first time the US has labelled another nation's military as a terrorist organisation.

Iran retaliated by declaring US forces in the Middle East as a terrorist organisation, Iran state news reported.

Washington-Tehran tensions have risen since Mr Trump withdrew the US from the international Iran nuclear pact.

Labelling the Guards as a terrorist organisation will allow the US to impose further sanctions - particularly affecting the business sector, given the IRGC's involvement in Iran's economy.

A number of IRGC and affiliated entities have already been targeted by US sanctions for alleged proliferation activities, support for terrorism and human rights abuses.

What did President Trump say?

Mr Trump's statement on Monday said: "This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognises the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft."

The president added that the move was meant to "significantly expand the scope and scale" of pressure on Iran.

"If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism," Mr Trump said.

The measure will take effect in one week's time, according to the State Department.

Was there any dissent in the Trump administration?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, both Iran hawks, championed the decision, but not all US officials were so supportive.

Mr Pompeo told reporters on Monday the US will continue to sanction and pressure Iran to "behave like a normal nation" and urged America's allies to take similar action.

"The leaders of Iran are not revolutionaries and people deserve better," Mr Pompeo said. "They are opportunists."

In a later tweet, he added: "We must help the people of Iran get back their freedom."

Mr Bolton said labelling the IRGC as terrorists was "the rightful designation".

But some Pentagon officials, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Joe Dunford, had expressed concerns about troop safety, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Military officials cautioned the designation could incite violence against US forces in the Middle East without severely impacting Iran's economy.

The Central Intelligence Agency had also reportedly opposed the move.

What was the response?

Iran's national security council declared US Central Command (Centcom) a terrorist organisation after Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote to President Hassan Rouhani urging such a response, state news channel IRINN said.

Centcom is the Pentagon wing that oversees Washington's security interests across the central area of the world map, most notably Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Syria.

The Islamic Republic had warned it would retaliate in kind last week, after reports of the Trump administration plan first surfaced.

"We will answer any action taken against this force with a reciprocal action," a statement issued by 255 out of the 290 Iranian MPs said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is battling for political survival in Tuesday's elections, cheered the US move.

This move underscores the Trump administration's desire to isolate and stigmatise Iran, though it is unlikely to have a significant impact upon the Revolutionary Guard Corps' activities.

Few Western commentators would disagree that the IRGC is responsible for all sorts of disruptive activities in the region and beyond.

But many - including it seems some officials in the US Department of State and the Pentagon - fear that this step could simply backfire.

The fear is that it could encourage the IRGC or its proxies to take action against US personnel or other targets in places where they might be vulnerable, for example in Iraq.

What this move does do is signal the unremitting desire of the Trump Administration to ramp up its battle with Tehran which some fear may, one day, spill into open military conflict.

What is the IRGC?

Iran's most elite military unit, the IRGC was set up shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country's Islamic system, and to provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

It has since become a major military, political and economic force in Iran, with close ties to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and many other senior figures hailing from its ranks.

The IRGC is estimated to have more than 150,000 active personnel, boasts its own ground forces, navy and air force, and oversees Iran's strategic weapons, including its ballistic missiles.

The IRGC exerts influence elsewhere in the Middle East by providing money, weapons, technology, training and advice to allied governments and armed groups through its shadowy overseas operations arm, the Quds (Jerusalem) Force.

ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 10:07

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Nxivm: Actress Allison Mack pleads guilty in 'sex cult' case

US actress Allison Mack has pleaded guilty to charges linked to an alleged sex trafficking operation disguised as a mentoring group.

Appearing in Brooklyn federal court, Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges related to the suspected sex cult Nxivm.

In a statement, Mack admitted to recruiting women by telling them they were joining a female mentorship group.

"I must take full responsibility for my conduct", she said.

Mack, known for the US television series Smallville, is one of six people facing criminal charges as part of an investigation into Nxivm.

What is Nxivm?

Nxivm, pronounced 'nexium', is a group that started in 1998 as a self-help programme and says it has worked with more than 16,000 people including the son of a former Mexican president and Hollywood actresses such as Mack.

On its website Nxivm describes itself as a "community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human".

Despite its tagline of "working to build a better world", its leader Keith Raniere stands accused of overseeing a "slave and master" system within the group.

According to the group's website, it has suspended enrolment and events because of the "extraordinary circumstances facing the company at this time".

Prosecutors allege the group mirrors a pyramid scheme, in which members paid thousands of dollars for courses to rise within its ranks.

How was Allison Mack involved?

Mr Raniere is alleged to be at the top of this structure as the only man, but Mack served as one of his top female deputies.

Female recruits were allegedly branded with Mr Raniere's initials and expected to have sex with him, as part of the system.

"Allison Mack recruited women to join what was purported to be a female mentorship group that was, in fact, created and led by Keith Raniere," Richard Donoghue, US attorney for the Eastern District in New York, said in a statement last year.

In court on Monday, Mack said she was instructed by Mr Raniere to collect compromising materials and images of two women within the group, threatening to make the photos public if they revealed information about the secret society.

"I believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people", Mack said in court on 8 April. "I was wrong."

Mr Raniere was arrested in Mexico last year. His defence team argued that the alleged sexual relationships were consensual.

Mack had previously pleaded not guilty in April 2018 to charges including sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and forced labour.

She is now scheduled to be sentenced in September and will face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the two charges.

Last month the co-founder of the group, Nancy Salzman, 65, also pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering. She is due to be sentenced in July.

ruby Posted on April 09, 2019 10:02

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US revokes visa of International Criminal Court prosecutor

The US has revoked the entry visa for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda.

The decision is thought to be the US response to Ms Bensouda's investigation into possible war crimes by American forces and their allies in Afghanistan.

The US secretary of state had warned the US might refuse or revoke visas to any ICC staff involved in such probes.

Ms Bensouda's office said the ICC prosecutor would continue to her duties "without fear or favour".

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: "If you're responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of US personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you will still have or get a visa, or that you will be permitted to enter the United States.

"We're prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions if the ICC does not change its course," he added.

A 2016 report from the ICC said there was a reasonable basis to believe the US military had committed torture at secret detention sites in Afghanistan operated by the CIA, and that the Afghan government and the Taliban had committed war crimes.

The US, which has been critical of the ICC since it was established, is among dozens of nations not to have joined the court.

What is the ICC?

The court investigates and brings to justice people responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, intervening when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.

The ICC was established by a UN treaty in 2002, and has been ratified by 123 countries, including the UK.

However several countries, including China, India, and Russia, have refused to join.

Some African countries have called for withdrawal from the court over perceived unfair treatment of Africans.

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 16:22

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Algeria protesters demand end to regime after Bouteflika's fall

Thousands have taken to the streets of the Algerian capital demanding a complete overhaul of the country's political structure.

This is the seventh successive week of Friday protests and Tuesday's resignation of long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika does not appear to have satisfied the demonstrators.

According to the constitution, parliament's speaker should take over.

But protesters want all those associated with Mr Bouteflika to go.

The president, who had been in power for 20 years, said this week that he was "proud" of his contributions but realised he had "failed in [his] duty".

He added that he was "leaving the political stage with neither sadness nor fear" for Algeria's future.

The youth are the main driving force behind these demonstrations, young men and women who have known no president other than Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

But they are not satisfied.

"We are tired of this regime, they have robbed us. We've had enough of that," an emotional young woman tells me.

Nearly half of the population is under 30, many of whom are unemployed and having to live in poor conditions.

But I have also seen Algerians from older generations taking part in the protests.

Everybody here wants a change. They are sending a clear message: "a new phase with new faces".

They tell me they don't trust anyone associated with the Bouteflika era.

The mood is full of enthusiasm and energy but the people here take pride in the peaceful nature of the protests.

They have been emboldened by their success in unseating the president and now believe the same can happen with his entourage.

Earlier on Friday, the head of intelligence and close ally of Mr Bouteflika, Athmane Tartag, was reportedly sacked.

The octogenarian leader suffered a stroke six years ago and has rarely been in public since.

Pressure had been building since February, when the first demonstrations were sparked by Mr Bouteflika's announcement that he would stand for a fifth term in national elections.

The president later withdrew his plans and reshuffled Algeria's cabinet to quell accusations of corruption and cronyism, but resigned this week as protests continued.

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 15:54

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Brexit: Tom Watson urges public vote to 'solve national crisis'

A public vote on any Brexit deal could "solve the national crisis" in the UK, Labour's deputy leader has said.

Tom Watson said he was a "reluctant convert" to a confirmatory ballot but if MPs "failed" to do their job, the public could make the final call.

Talks between Labour and the Tories on finding a way forward on Brexit are entering their third day.

He suggested Labour MPs would find it "a bit difficult" to accept any outcome which excluded a referendum option.

He also revealed that Labour has opened nominations for European elections to make sure the party was prepared if the polls do go ahead on 23 May.

Theresa May announced earlier this week that she wanted to hold discussions with Jeremy Corbyn in order to find a proposal to put to MPs ahead of an emergency EU summit on 10 April.

If passed, and agreed by the EU, it would stop the UK leaving the bloc on the 12 April with no deal.

Mrs May has now written to European council President Donald Tusk to ask for an extension until 30 June - but said she still hopes to leave before 23 May so the UK does not have to take part in European elections taking place that month.

'Divide country further'

Labour agreed a policy at its last conference that if Parliament voted down the government's deal or talks end in no deal, there should be a general election.

But if they cannot force one - Labour's attempt to call a no confidence vote in January failed - then the party "must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote".

There is opposition to another referendum within Labour, with nine shadow cabinet members believed to remain sceptical and 25 Labour backbenchers writing to Mr Corbyn on Thursday, urging him to rule it out.

They wrote: "Delaying for many months in the hope of a second referendum will simply divide the country further and add uncertainty for business.

"A second referendum would be exploited by the far right, damage the trust of many core Labour voters and reduce our chances of winning a general election."

And it has emerged that party chairman Ian Lavery offered to quit the shadow cabinet, after twice defying orders to vote in favour of another referendum.

But Mr Watson said about 80% of Labour MPs backed a confirmatory referendum of some sort, evidence that the party was "holding it together" in difficult circumstances.

'Strong policy'

He BBC Radio 4's Today that his party was going into the talks "with an open mind," but warned that if a confirmatory ballot was not part of an agreed plan, "we would have a bit of difficulty in our parliamentary party".

"We have got a strong policy on it," he said. "People would say we don't like Theresa May's deal....That is why we are genuinely with open minds and good faith on both sides trying to see if we can work through a solution."

"[But] it is pretty clear the people need to be part of that process and that is really a recognition of parliamentary failure. The argument has not been resolved in the chamber of the House of Commons."

Media captionCorbyn on Brexit talks: May meeting "useful but inconclusive"

The public, he added, would be able to "work out for themselves if this deal will work for them and their families".

"People can take a look at the deal and they can make a call on it."

But Mr Watson did warn that the process of talks with the government would take time.

"From our point of view, we [just had] day two," he said. "But we have had over 1,000 days being locked out of any discussions.

"We've had all this long delay, unnecessary delay. We think these talks are happening in good faith, but it is going to take a bit of time."

He added: "A lot of us hope they can find a creative solution to this issue. The first part of the talks were to establish some clarity on everyone's position. Now we are looking at quite technical detail.

"We hope today [the government] can give some indication of where we can work more closely."

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 11:20

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Breast implants: France bans designs linked to rare cancer

France has become the first country to ban a type of breast implant that has been linked to a rare form of cancer.

The ban covers several models of the implants with a textured surface, which are produced by six manufacturers.

Those implants have been linked to a type of cancer that attacks the immune system.

Some 70,000 women are believed to have received the implants, out of an estimated 400,000 women who have had breast implants in France.

The ban was a "precautionary measure" taken in light of the "rare but serious danger" posed by the implants, the National Agency for Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) said in a statement (in French).

It said it had recorded 59 cases of the cancer among French implant wearers, of whom three had died.

"The more the implant is textured and rough the greater the risk of BIA-ALCL [anaplastic large-cell lymphoma]," it said.

The ANSM said it had noted a "significant increase in cases of anaplastic large-cell lymphoma linked to the wearing of breast implants since 2011".

"We have no scientific explanation for the development of ALCL, all we have are observations," Thierry Thomas, the agency's deputy director for health devices, told a press conference.

The ANSM, however, did not recommend that the women who had received the implants undergo surgery to have them removed, because of the "rarity of the risk", it said.

Media captionJanet Trelawny: "I was devastated"

Implant founder dies

The founder of a French company that was found to have used sub-standard silicone gel in its implants died on Thursday.

Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), was 79, his lawyer said.

PIP created a popular brand of implant that was filled with a cheap industrial-grade silicone gel - rather than medical-grade silicone - resulting in implants rupturing.

PIP exported 80% of its implants before the firm was shut down.

The scandal affected about 300,000 women in as many as 65 countries, including France, the UK, Germany, Venezuela and Brazil.

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 11:17

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Brexit: Germany's CDU leader hopes for second referendum

"Have you heard about the British party guest? He's the one who announces he's leaving, then you find him hours later wandering around the house with no money for a taxi. When he finally goes, he takes two bottles of wine with him."

European stereotype depictions tend to portray Germans as lacking a sense of humour.

But in political cartoons and on satire shows like Extra 3, Germany is finding plenty to laugh about Brexit.

"Fisch und Tschüss" is a die Heute Show slogan. A play on words for the traditional UK dish, fish and chips. Except Tschüss in German means goodbye.

After initially mourning the UK's vote to leave, then following every twist and turn of negotiations for a while, many Germans now feel alienated from the process.

They can't keep up with what's going on in the House of Commons.

"I no longer care so much how Brexit ends," you often hear. "As long as it ends."

"Brexit has been a strain on all of us. In some ways it has paralysed us," Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told me in Berlin in a UK exclusive interview.

She's the leader of Germany's CDU party, very close to Angela Merkel and widely tipped to be the next German chancellor.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer - also known as AKK- is far from detached when it comes to Brexit.

She and a number of other German politicians penned a letter to The Times newspaper back in January, appealing to the UK to change its mind.

Now the thing about the EU's determined attempt to show unity at all times over Brexit means it has been frustratingly difficult to get EU leaders to agree to in-depth on-the-record Brexit interviews .

But AKK is not the German chancellor. She had no qualms about laying bare her Brexit regret.

"Anything that keeps the UK close to the EU and best of all, in the EU, would make me personally very happy" she told me.

"Maybe that could result from the current talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn."

She hopes for a second referendum - but only, she said, if the majority of UK citizens felt it would heal the country rather than exacerbate divisions further.

With the deadline for a Brexit decision looming next week on 12 April, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer believes the risk of the UK leaving without a deal have "risen dramatically". This is something German business find no laughing matter.

A recent poll suggested 100,000 German jobs could be affected by a no-deal Brexit.

The BDI Federation of German Industry warned Germany would lose at least 0.5% of its GDP - and this at a time when the German economy is already heading south.

That, I think, is why there is a sudden, noticeable softening in tone when EU leaders speak about Brexit.

At a press conference in Dublin on Thursday, Chancellor Merkel struck a determinedly encouraging note.

Instead of "no-deal is the most likely scenario" or "if Theresa May requests a longer extension, we'll attach really tough conditions", which we've got used to hearing by now, Mrs Merkel chose the words: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Peering into the abyss of a no-deal Brexit over the last few days, EU leaders have had a short, sharp reality check.

What impact would that have on them and their countries, they wonder? And what are they be prepared to do to avoid it?

There is no common EU position on this yet. That's putting it politely.

Verbal fisticuffs are predicted at next week's emergency Brexit summit when the 27 EU leaders come face-to-face.

The man who represents all of them here in Brussels, president of the European Council Donald Tusk, thinks he may have found a solution. Though it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

He's proposing what he calls a "flextension" which could see the UK signing up to a one-year-long Brexit delay with the option to cut it short as soon as parliament ratified the Brexit deal.

Mr Tusk believes the arrangement would suit the EU and the UK - and as one EU official put it to me: it would avoid Brussels potentially being faced with "endless" UK requests for repeated short extensions every few weeks.

EU leaders will discuss Mr Tusk's proposal at their emergency Brexit summit next Wednesday. By law, their decision must be unanimous.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested something else the EU could do: take another look at the controversial backstop guarantee to keep the border open after Brexit:

If the UK now came to us and said "let's spend five days negotiating non-stop on how to avoid the backstop", I can't imagine anyone in Europe saying 'No'. If the UK had new watertight proposals for the border, I don't think anyone in the EU would say 'We don't want to talk about it.'"

Far from official EU Brexit policy, but it gives us a taster of the kind of conversations going on behind closed EU political doors.

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 10:57

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Boxing: Why hasn't Dillian Whyte fought for a world title yet?

Heavyweight boxer Dillian Whyte is nicknamed "the Body Snatcher" but so far he's not had the chance to snatch a world title.

The 30-year-old is highly ranked with three of the sport's governing bodies and has had 26 professional fights - 25 of which he's won.

But Dillian, from south London, has yet to fight for a world title and he believes the World Boxing Council (WBC) has a role to play in this.

"I think they're just trying to freeze me out for as long as they can, hoping I'll get older and get demotivated," Dillian tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

The WBC denies it's holding him back, saying it's openly following the rules.

Newsbeat has followed the boxer for the last eight months to see if he could secure the fight that could make him champion of the world.

We filmed him at his training camp at Loughborough University, saw him preparing for a big fight and met his friends and family for the documentary Dillian Whyte: Fighting To Be Champ.

Dillian is hard working and determined, but also very funny.

And while nothing will come between him and his training regime, he's always laughing and joking with those around him.

But one thing you realise is that he just wants the chance to compete for a heavyweight world title - something that's not happened yet.

Boxing is a mysterious business and it seems that being smart in the ring isn't enough.

"He's been royally stitched-up," says BBC Radio 5 Live boxing pundit Steve Bunce.

"If you wanna go back through history, you have to go back to about the late 50s or early 60s to find guys who were overlooked for as long as Dillian."

Steve believes the boxer is being ignored "because people know he can beat them".

Dillian Whyte is one of Britain's biggest names in boxing - behind the likes of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.

2018 was an amazing year for the heavyweight and after beating Lucas Browne, Joseph Parker and Derek Chisora, it seemed a world title shot was inevitable.

So why is he still waiting?

One of the biggest fights boxing fans would like to see is an Anthony Joshua v Dillian Whyte rematch - they last fought in 2015 and Joshua won in the seventh round.

Joshua currently holds three heavyweight world titles - the WBO, the WBA and the IBF - and during our filming it looked like a rematch could be on the cards.

Wembley Stadium was booked for 13 April and negotiations were going back and forth between the two camps.

Joshua's team came to Dillian's with a few offers but he turned them down.

So why did he reject the opportunity he'd been working towards for so long?

Dillian says it's because he was offered "rubbish" money and he knows his "value".

"You can't offer [Tyson] Fury £15m and offer me £4m," he says.

"Fury's not three times the draw that I am. I know what value I bring. Of course I believe I can become world champion, anything could happen.

"Of course I believe I can beat him."

If Dillian had accepted, it certainly would've made his promoter Eddie Hearn's life easier.

"I really wanted him to fight AJ because he puts me under so much pressure to fight for the world title, that would have been me finally saying 'Leave me alone, right go!'" he tells Newsbeat.

"But he's playing the long game, he's backing himself, whereas others would have gone - where do I sign?"

The other route Dillian can follow to try to become a heavyweight world champion is to fight Deontay Wilder - who holds the WBC title.

Currently Dillian is the WBC's most highly-ranked boxer and holds its silver title - so you'd expect he'd be in with a chance of fighting Wilder.

But boxing is anything but straightforward.

In February, the WBC ordered Dillian to fight a US boxer called Dominic Breazeale in order to determine who'd be next to challenge Wilder for his world title.

This was controversial, given Dillian was already above Breazeale in the rankings.

However, in March, the WBC scrapped this match and instead said Breazeale could fight Wilder for the title in May.

"The WBC is a joke," says Dillian. "Boxing is a funny sport, it makes no sense. These things only happen in boxing.

"It wouldn't happen in the business world, it wouldn't happen in normal life or in any other sport apart from boxing.

"It's just boxing and you get on with it."

So how can the WBC do this?

The WBC says Breazeale signed a contract which meant if he won a fight against Eric Molina in 2017 - which he did - he would become the "mandatory contender".

This means he gets the automatic right to challenge Wilder for the WBC title.

"These are not decisions that are made behind closed doors," WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman tells Newsbeat.

"These are not decisions that are made against the rules."

The WBC says it's given Dillian the platform to become a celebrity name but accepts some fans might think it's unfair that he's not yet had a world title fight.

"When you're following a fighter, you want him to get the opportunity and get the chance. We're working towards that," says Mr Sulaiman.

"I believe I'll be world champion one way or another," says Dillian.

Despite the setbacks, the boxer is as motivated as ever and looks set to fight in London on 13 July - although it won't be for a world title.

"They can't run forever and when I get my shot, whichever it is, I'm gonna take years of frustration and anger and stress out on them.

"So they might as well just give me the world title before the fight even happens."

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 10:54

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The nations of the Amazon want the name back

Online retail giant Amazon and the governments of eight South American countries have been given a final deadline to reach an agreement over how to use the ".amazon" web address extension after a seven-year dispute. What will happen next?

It's a name that evokes epic proportions: the world's largest rainforest; a global tech company; and now a diplomatic saga nearing its end.

This is the battle of the Amazon and it starts back in 2012.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that polices the world wide web's address system, decided to expand its list of generic top-level domains (gTLD) - the bit that comes after the dot in a web address.

The new rules allowed companies to apply for brand new extensions, offering internet users and businesses more ways to personalise their website name and addresses.

But eight countries containing the Amazon rainforest objected to the retail giant's plans concerning the new .amazon domain name.

The governments of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela - all members of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) - say that relinquishing the domain exclusively to Amazon could impact on matters of their sovereignty.

Diplomats have told the BBC that they are not seeking to deny Amazon use of the domain but are proposing a "shared governance" of it.

According to their proposals, Amazon would be immediately allowed to use the domains which are relevant to its commercial interests, such as "" or "".

But each country in turn would be entitled to use domains which relate to their cultural heritage - imagine Amazon nations coming together to promote the region under the "" domain, for example.

Crucially, the countries want to establish a committee in which both Amazon and the eight countries would have the opportunity to object to new top-level domains in the future.

But Amazon has rejected these proposals, instead suggesting that the .amazon extension be used in conjunction with two letters representing each country - for Brazil, for example.

The company has declined to comment ahead of the 7 April deadline, but pointed to previous remarks by its vice-president of public policy, Brian Huseman, who vowed that Amazon "will not use the TLDs in a confusing manner".

Amazon has promised to work with governments to identify and block the use of "names that touch national sensitivities" and has pledged to support a new top-level domain using local terms such as .amazonia and .amazonas.

And last year it tried to persuade the countries by promising them $5m (£3.8m) worth of free Kindle e-readers and hosting services.

They turned down the offer.

In a letter sent to ICANN in March, the Ecuadorian Ambassador to the US, Francisco Carrión, said: "We are not looking for financial compensation. Nor are we after ex-gratia concessions to use one or a few second-level domains.

"It is a matter of sovereignty for many of us, and the offer to share the TLDs with the company Amazon Inc. is already a compromise."

The current dispute follows similar cases already settled.

In 2013, for example, the US-based outdoor clothing brand Patagonia withdrew an application for the .patagonia extension after objection from Argentina and Chile.

A Mexico-based company had to reach a financial agreement with the town of Bar, Montenegro, in order to obtain consent to register the .bar extension.

And in 2016, ICANN granted the registry of the .africa gTLD to a charity based in Johannesburg, South Africa, after it received support from three quarters of African Union countries.

But the Amazon saga has been quite unlike any other.

Amazon's application was initially deferred, but Brazilian and Peruvian diplomats managed to overturn it by securing the support of the group that represents governments within ICANN - the GAC.

That in itself required diplomatic pressure to change the US position from supporting Amazon Inc. to remaining neutral in the dispute.

Then Amazon appealed and a review panel ordered ICANN to make a decision by reaching its own conclusions.

If the parties don't reach a consensus by 7 April, Amazon will have two weeks to argue its case again before ICANN makes up its mind.

The case is prompting questions about the independence of ICANN.

Amazon's Brian Huseman told ICANN that "globally, hundreds (if not thousands) of brands have names similar to regions, land formations, mountains, towns, cities, and other geographic places". These could be put off applying for new gTLDs because of "uncertainty" over ICANN policy over geographic names.

The US-based body is under pressure to resist the push of governments and some believe it might be more open to arguments coming from the business sector this time around.

But Daniel Sepulveda, who served as a US Ambassador, deputy assistant secretary of state, and co-ordinator for communications and information policy from 2013 to 2017, says: "The ICANN community would make a mistake if it diminishes Brazil's concerns or engages in aggressive libertarian rhetoric".

He believes ICANN needs to strike a fine balance between the interests and freedoms of businesses, organisations and individuals using the internet, without alienating anyone.

"This is a sensitive situation that requires diplomacy, the exercise of mutual respect, and creative mechanisms for ensuring all sides feel fairly treated," he says.

So if Amazon and the eight nations don't reach agreement before the deadline, ICANN has a very difficult decision to make - one that might end up pleasing no-one.


ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 10:44

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Libya crisis: General Haftar tells forces to take capital

The leader of forces in eastern Libya has ordered them to march on the capital Tripoli, the base of the internationally recognised government.

Khalifa Haftar's order to the self-styled Libyan National Army came as UN chief Antonio Guterres was in Tripoli.

Armed groups from the western city of Misrata, which back the government, have vowed to stop any advance.

Libya has been riven by violence and division since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

What reaction has there been?

Mr Guterres, the US and European nations have all called for calm.

Speaking to reporters in Tripoli, Mr Guterres said he was making a "strong appeal to stop... the escalation".

The UN Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the situation following a request from the UK, reports said.

The US, UK, France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) issued a joint statement appealing for calm.

"At this sensitive moment in Libya's transition, military posturing and threats of unilateral action only risk propelling Libya back toward chaos," the statement, issued by the US state department, said.

"We strongly believe that there is no military solution to the Libya conflict," the governments added.

The UN had been planning to hold a conference in Libya later this month for talks over ending the country's long-running crisis.

What is happening on the ground?

After Gen Haftar's announcement, his forces moved towards the capital from several directions, one of his spokesmen said.

There were conflicting reports that Gen Haftar's forces had entered the town of Gharyan, 100km (60 miles) south of Tripoli.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) says it has secured Gharyan and moved on. However it said two of its soldiers had been wounded in clashes in a nearby area.

A Gharyan official told AFP that there were "ongoing efforts to avoid a confrontation" between rival fighters in the town.

The UN-backed government in Tripoli said it had put its forces on high alert.

Meanwhile residents in Misrata said armed groups from the city had begun moving towards the Libyan capital, Reuters reported.

The offensive comes after Gen Haftar's forces seized parts of the south of the country earlier in the year.

Who is General Haftar?

A former army officer, he helped Colonel Gaddafi seize power in 1969 before falling out with him and going into exile in the US. He returned in 2011 after the uprising against Gaddafi began and became a rebel commander.

In December Gen Haftar met Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj from the UN-backed government at a conference but refused to attend official talks.

Gen Haftar has received backing from Egypt and the UAE, who see him as tough on Islamists.

He visited Saudi Arabia last week, where he met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks.

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 10:39

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Benny Gantz: The Israeli ex-military chief challenging Netanyahu

Benjamin "Benny" Gantz is a former Israeli military chief who believes he can unseat long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the general election on 9 April.

The 59-year-old retired lieutenant-general is a newcomer to politics who formed the centrist Blue and White alliance in February, promising to unite a country that had "lost its way".

Mr Gantz was born in 1959 in Kfar Ahim, a co-operative farmers' village in central Israel founded by immigrants. His father and mother, Nahum and Malka, were survivors of the Holocaust.

As a youth, Mr Gantz attended a boarding school in a youth village near Tel Aviv.

After finishing there in 1977, he enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and joined the Paratroopers Brigade. His first assignment was to help provide security for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Israel.

Last soldier in Lebanon

Two years later, he graduated from the IDF officer school and was made a company commander in the Paratrooper Brigade. From then on, he rose steadily through the ranks.

He has played key roles in significant military campaigns, including in May 1991 when he led the Israel Air Force's elite commando unit in the operation that saw thousands of Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel in only 36 hours.

As head of the IDF's Judea Brigade in 1994, he was tasked with restoring security in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, after a Jewish settler killed 29 Palestinians in an attack at the revered Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque site.

In between periods of active military service, he spent a year in the US in 1997 obtaining a master's degree in national resource management from the National Defense University.

By 1999, he had effectively become the top Israeli officer in occupied southern Lebanon - a position he took on after his predecessor was killed by a roadside bomb. Gen Gantz has said he was the last soldier to cross the border and personally shut the gate when Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

Gaza operations

That same year, he was appointed commander of the Judea and Samaria Division. He started days before the outbreak of the second intifada, or uprising, by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation.

He was also commander of the IDF's Ground Forces during the 2006 war with Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement - a conflict for which Israel's military and government leaders were widely criticised. Gen Gantz acknowledged years later that there had been "success and mistakes".

At the end of 2007 he left Israel to serve as the country's military attaché in Washington DC - a position he held for two years, before being called back to Israel to serve as the IDF's deputy chief of staff.

In 2011, he was unexpectedly became the IDF's 20th chief of staff after a dispute between then Defence Minister Ehud Barak and the outgoing IDF chief of staff, General Gabi Ashkenazi, over candidates and the disqualification of the frontrunner.

During his tenure, the IDF launched two major operations in 2012 and 2014 against Palestinian militants in Gaza, led by the Islamist movement Hamas, which Israeli leaders said were intended to halt attacks on Israeli civilians.

The first operation - Pillar of Defence - ended after eight days of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire but without an Israeli ground incursion. The UN said 174 Palestinians were killed during the fighting, including 101 civilians. Six Israelis - two soldiers and four civilians - were also killed.

The second operation - Protective Edge - lasted 50 days and saw Israeli forces launch a ground offensive. The UN said 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, were killed. Six civilians in Israel and 67 Israeli soldiers were also killed.

Palestinian officials and human rights groups accused the Israeli military of committing war crimes during the conflict. But Mr Gantz said his forces had worked hard to prevent civilian casualties and blamed Hamas for embedding military infrastructure in residential areas.

Israel's state comptroller later criticised Mr Gantz and other military and political leaders for failing to prepare adequately for the threat of the many cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas that it used to carry out attacks during the war.

Before Mr Gantz's military career came to an end in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu praised his decades of "excellent service" and described him as "a high-quality, ethical, responsible, balanced and thoughtful chief of staff".

But four years later, Mr Netanyahu paid no such compliments to the man who had become his main rival for the premiership, dismissing him as a "weak leftist".

Military veterans join forces

Mr Gantz has declared that if his Israel Resilience party is victorious in April's general election, he would form a government that would "act responsibly, firmly and decisively".

He has talked tough on Iran and warned the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yehiya Sinwar, "do not test me again". But he has also promised to "strive for peace" and "not miss an opportunity to bring about regional change".

He has also stressed that "the mere notion that in Israel a prime minister can remain in office while under indictment is ridiculous" - a reference to the attorney general's announcement in February that he intended to indict Mr Netanyahu on corruption charges, pending a final hearing.

For the election, Israel Resilience has formed an alliance called Blue and White - after the colours of the Israeli flag - with the centrist Yesh Atid party of former Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Two other former IDF chiefs of staff - Moshe Yaalon and Gabi Ashkenazi - have joined Blue and White, along with Orna Barbivai, the first woman to reach the rank of major general in the IDF.

Mr Gantz and Mr Lapid have agreed to take turns as prime minister if Blue and White forms a government, with the former general holding the post for the first two-and-a-half years.

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 10:36

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Sally Challen bailed after denying murdering husband

A woman whose sons campaigned against her conviction for murdering her husband has been bailed ahead of a fresh trial.

Sally Challen, 65, was found guilty of murdering 61-year-old Richard in a hammer attack in August 2010 and jailed for life in 2011.

But the conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal in February.

Appearing at the Old Bailey via video-link earlier, Challen, of Claygate in Surrey, denied murdering her husband.

Mr Justice Edis said Challen, who has been held at HMP Bronzefield, should be released from custody from midday on Saturday.

He set a further hearing for 7 June and a trial date for 1 July "if necessary".

The appeal followed a campaign by her sons David, 31, and James, 35.

As they left court, the men smiled and expressed relief that their mother would soon be freed.

During the two-day appeal hearing in February, the court heard evidence relating to Mrs Challen's state of mind at the time of the killing and the issue of "coercive control".

Coercive control describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim and became a criminal offence in England and Wales in December 2015.

The murder conviction was overturned by three judges who said the evidence of a psychiatrist, that Mrs Challen was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing, was not available at the time of her trial and undermined the safety of her conviction.

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 10:30

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Ian Paterson: 'Sheer volume' of victims delays breast surgeon report

Victims of disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson are still coming forward two years after he was jailed following hundreds of botched operations.

The "sheer volume" of patients giving evidence to an independent inquiry has pushed back a report into his malpractice, an official said.

Paterson is serving a 20-year sentence for 17 counts of wounding with intent.

About 150 patients gave evidence last year and dozens more are understood to have since come forward.

Inquiry secretary Rebecca Chaloner said many of those were cases that were not previously known about.

The report was due this summer but is now expected by the end of the year.

Appeal Court judges, who increased Paterson's 15-year sentence, said victims were left feeling "violated and vulnerable", with his treatment of patients described as "brutal and sustained".

The inquiry, which began in January 2018, is taking evidence from the NHS and private hospitals at which Paterson, from Altrincham in Greater Manchester, worked, the Royal College of Surgeons and the insurance and indemnity industry.

It is understood a number of previously unknown victims have come forward to the inquiry through support groups in the West Midlands.

Ms Chaloner said the process would give victims "a voice" despite the delay.

"It's due to the sheer number of people coming forward," she said.

"We spent the spring and summer of 2018 taking evidence from more than 150 patients, but people are still coming forward - quite a few that weren't a part of anything else (the criminal and civil cases).

"We are pleased as it has given them a voice."

The Department of Health said it wanted to learn lessons from the case and improve care.

It said the scope of the inquiry was likely to consider:

  • The responsibility for the quality of care in the independent sector
  • Information sharing, reporting of activity and raising concerns between the independent sector and the NHS
  • The role of insurers of independent sector healthcare providers, including how data it held about the scope and volume of work carried out by doctors was shared with the sector

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 09:54

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Who lived in Harry and Meghan's house?

With the birth of their first child imminent, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have left Kensington Palace for their new home.

Nestled in a quiet corner in the grounds of the grand Frogmore House in Windsor, Frogmore Cottage has a rich history - and Meghan and Harry are far from its first notable residents.

If Meghan and Harry are seeking a home hidden from the public gaze, then Frogmore Cottage is an ideal spot.

From the very beginning it was intended as a secluded refuge from the pressures of royal life, with records of its occupants scarce.

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, had it built in 1792 as a place for her and her daughters to escape the court.

At the time it was fashionable for the wealthy to build large homes disguised as idyllic rural cottages.

However, the queen also wanted somewhere for her daughters to "go off and escape George's madness", according to the writer and historian Helen Rappaport.

"It was like a large retreat on the Windsor estate where she could go off and hunker down," said Dr Rappaport.

"The king had bouts of madness. He was probably quite difficult to live with and she probably used Frogmore Cottage as a retreat."

Abdul Karim, an Indian Muslim, arrived in England in 1887 to serve at Queen Victoria's table during her golden jubilee celebrations.

The 24-year-old made such a big impact on the aging monarch that within the year he had become an established figure at court.

The queen made him her teacher - or munshi - instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. She lavished honours, titles and gifts on him, one of which was the use of Frogmore Cottage.

She visited him at the cottage "every second day" and "never missed a lesson" from Karim, according to the writer Shrabani Basu.

Ms Basu, who discovered diaries detailing their relationship., said Victoria developed a close, almost maternal relationship with Karim and would sign letters to him as "your loving mother" and "your closest friend".

Karim refurbished the house and lived there with his wives from 1893.

However, his close relationship with the Queen angered her family and courtiers and her death in 1901 brought his life at Frogmore - and in the UK - to an abrupt end.

Within hours of her funeral, the new king Edward VII, who "hated" Karim, had his residences raided and his papers destroyed. He ordered him to return to India, where he died a few years later, aged 46.

"She was his protector," Ms Basu said. "It was curtains for him. They just cast him off."

When Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, his surviving relatives fled to the UK in a warship sent by their close relative, King George V.

Among them was the tsar's sister - and the king's cousin - Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna.

On arrival in the UK, the grand duchess and her children lived independently for a while but soon ran out of money.

In 1925, the king put them up in Frogmore Cottage, along with several of her sons and their families. When it became too crowded, the king made the nearby Home Park Cottage available as well.

Marlene Eilers Koenig, an expert on British and European royalty, said the grand duchess was "nearly destitute" by the point she moved in.

The royal refugees' poverty meant the cottage soon fell into disrepair. Residents of grace-and-favour homes were required to pay for all internal changes but the grand duchess's "dire" financial situation meant she could not afford to maintain the house.

A Ministry of Works official in 1929 found the cottage was in a "deplorable condition".

"Wallpaper was tearing off the walls, the ceilings were dirty and the plaster was breaking off from the walls," added Ms Koenig. "The house needed more than a mere lick of paint."

Dr Rappaport said the cottage had been "extremely neglected", was lit with "oil lamps and candles" and did not have a toilet that flushed.

The refurbishment was paid for by the king, who also provided his cousin with a £2,400 annual pension.

After the king's death in 1936, his son, King Edward VIII offered Xenia and her family Wilderness House, in the grounds of Hampton Court, and they left Frogmore.

Since World War Two, the cottage is believed to have been used as a home for members of royal household staff, although mystery surrounds it occupants.

Perhaps this helps explain why the Duke and Duchess Sussex see Windsor as their "very special place".

ruby Posted on April 05, 2019 09:50

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Mosul: A city still in ruins, two years after defeat of IS

It has been almost two years since the jihadist group Islamic State was defeated in Iraq's second city of Mosul following a battle that left thousands of civilians dead. Large parts of the city has yet to be rebuilt and residents are growing increasingly frustrated, as the BBC's Shaimaa Khalil reports.

The Old City on the western side of the River Tigris was the heart and soul of Mosul. Now, it lies in ruins.

The streets were largely deserted apart from a handful of people and bulldozers.

The crumbling buildings were riddled with bullet holes.

The Old City suffered the greatest destruction during the fighting between IS militants and Iraqi government forces.

It is where the historic Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its famous leaning al-Hadba minaret once stood.

Children were climbing on heaps of rubble; some extracting metal to sell for scrap.

People have said that, to this day, bodies and explosive devices are still buried under the debris across Mosul.

Posters were displayed on walls warning people, particularly children, not to touch any suspicious objects.

When Mosul was recaptured by the government in July 2017, it was hailed as a major victory against IS. But this has not led to better lives for people living there.

"We have nothing," a former resident of the Old City told me. "No food. The air here is not pure. The water is not pure. No schools. No hospitals."

"This is not good for the next generation," he added.

Mohamed Hashimie runs Radio Alghad, a station founded in 2015 to give the people of Mosul a voice while they lived under IS rule.

"People have been liberated for about two years now, but what happened on the ground really didn't meet their expectations," he said.

Radio Alghad hears from people frustrated about corruption, the lack of basic services, and the slow rebuilding process, according to Mr Hashimie.

"Right after the liberation people were so positive. This was a golden time. Unfortunately, now that positivity is decreasing. They realise there's no real plan."

A recent ferry accident in the Tigris, which killed more than 100 people, sparked fury among residents. They took to the streets blaming local officials of corruption and negligence. The governor has since been sacked and a warrant has been issued for his arrest on corruption charges.

Mr Hashimie said the accident was the last straw for some people.

The University of Mosul's campus lies on the eastern side of Tigris. The hustle and bustle of the area was a stark contrast to what we witnessed in the Old City.

It was also a testament to residents' determination to get on with their lives.

Young women in colourful headscarves braved the muddy, potholed streets. A group of men sat on the pavement with their building tools, looking for work.

Men and women made their way to cafes and restaurants on the road opposite the campus. That would have been unheard of less under IS rule.

Security and corruption may be the most pressing issues in Mosul, but unemployment is also a major problem.

The UN estimates more than half of Mosul's youths are without work.

Asma al-Rawi, a 22-year-old student, fled Mosul with her family in 2014, when IS seized control of the city. Since returning, she has had to face the harsh realities of life in her hometown.

"Something bad will happen. We might lose our home again. We might have to leave the city. We might lose our lives like many people," she said.

"It's very hard to be optimistic when you live in these circumstances."

Mosul has seen a number of attacks blamed on IS sleeper cells.

In October 2018, a car bomb killed five people in a busy market in the south of the city. The following month, three people were killed when a car bomb exploded near a restaurant in a busy area in the west.

Asma's teacher, Ali, said society was also fractured.

"Mosul has always been a melting pot. It's no longer like that," he told me.

"Most of the Christians are not back. It's heartbreaking when you go to western Mosul and the Christian neighbourhoods are still empty. Their churches still in ruins."

Ali also warned against keeping families who supported IS in camps in the desert, saying the authorities were not dealing with them properly.

"This is another way to radicalise and create a new generation of IS [militants]," he explained

The UN has said that IS has already evolved into a covert network in Iraq, regrouping and organising cells in remote desert areas in provinces like Anbar and Kirkuk. US officials believe there may be between 15,000 and 20,000 armed adherents active in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

"Very few people know what [the IS militants] will do next. I can't tell you what or when their next move will be," said Mahmoud Hammady, a member of an elite Iraqi commando unit based in Mosul.

"The people of Mosul are justified in that fear. [The militants] are waiting for orders for assassinations, bombings or suicide attacks."

"If a political solution is found, Mosul will be alright. This tension and bickering between the politicians destabilises the city," Mr Hammady added.

IS has lost its territory, but the group has not lost its influence.

Poverty, corruption, unemployment and an increasingly angry population with sectarian divisions bubbling underneath the surface all contributed to the IS takeover of Mosul five years ago.

And unless those root causes are tackled, IS will remain a threat.

ruby Posted on April 03, 2019 12:24

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika: Algerian leader resigns amid protests

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned after weeks of massive street protests.

Mr Bouteflika, who has been in power for 20 years, had already dropped plans to seek a fifth term as opposition to his rule grew.

The powerful Algerian army had called for the 82-year-old to be declared incapable of carrying out his duties.

Protesters have vowed to continue piling on pressure until the entire government is ousted.

The BBC's Mohamed Arezki Himeur in Algiers says there were huge celebrations in the city, with people shouting, waving the national flag and honking their car horns all night.

He says the protesters do not only want Mr Bouteflika to go, but the whole system, in particular the government which was only appointed last weekend.

"This is just a little victory - the biggest is still to come," one protester said.

Mr Bouteflika, who has been ill since he suffered a stroke six years ago, has avoided public events ever since.

However, he made a rare appearance on state TV to relinquish power hours after military chief Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah called on him to leave office immediately.

One man, Selmaoui Seddik, told Reuters: "God willing, we will have a 100% democratic transition, this is very important. We need to remove the whole previous regime and that is the hardest thing."

However, one protest leader, Mustapha Bouchachi, said before the announcement that any decision by Mr Bouteflika to quit would still change nothing and that the protests would continue.

News of the resignation came in a statement carried on state news agency APS.

"The president of the republic, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has officially notified the president of the constitutional council of his decision to end his mandate as president of the republic," it said.

State TV then reported that this would be with immediate effect.

According to the constitution, the Senate speaker should take over as interim head of state until fresh elections are held.

How did it come about?

Pressure had been building since February, when the first demonstrations were sparked by Mr Bouteflika's announcement that he would be standing for a fifth term.

Tens of thousands protested across the country on 1 March. Mr Bouteflika's promise not to serve out a fifth term if re-elected, along with a change of prime minister, failed to quell the discontent.

Leaders of the protests also rejected Mr Bouteflika's offer this week that he would go by the end of his current term - 28 April - as not quick enough.

It seems the powerful military agreed. Its chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah, said earlier on Tuesday: "There is no more room to waste time."

What next?

The demonstrations have also called for the whole political system, in which the military plays a significant role, to be overhauled.

Many of the protesters are young and say they want a new system of government.

There were accusations that Mr Bouteflika was being used as a front by "le pouvoir" - a group of businessmen, politicians and military officials - to retain their power.

Elections originally scheduled for 18 April were postponed and the governing National Liberation Front (FLN) vowed to organise a national conference on reforms.

The FLN has ruled Algeria since the country won independence from France in 1962 after seven years of conflict.

Mr Bouteflika, who came to power in 1999, strengthened his grip after a bloody civil war against Islamist insurgents which left 150,000 dead.

The chairman of the upper house of parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, is expected to become caretaker president for three months until elections.

Mr Bensalah has been in post since 2002 and has represented Mr Bouteflika at official visits and events.

He also shares a similar background with the president, growing up in neighbouring Morocco before returning to fight in the liberation war.

Who is Bouteflika?

He is a veteran of Algeria's war of independence who served as foreign minister for more than a decade before becoming president in 1999.

His primary task was to rebuild the country, and its economy - but first, he needed to end Algeria's brutal civil war sparked by the military's refusal to recognise the election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in the early 1990s.

Despite guaranteeing stability in the oil-rich nation, his government has been accused of widespread corruption and state repression.

The man who once said he would not accept being "three-quarters a president" spent his last years in a wheelchair after a stroke in 2013, rarely appearing in public, and fuelling fierce debate over who was really in charge, the BBC's North Africa correspondent, Rana Jawad, says.

Revolutionaries praise him for welcoming Che Guevara to Algeria, and giving a young Nelson Mandela his first military training.

ruby Posted on April 03, 2019 12:11

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The mystery Samoan in my family tree

When Lennard Davis received an email from a stranger who said Lennard was his closest living relative, he thought it must be a scam. Lennard is a Jewish professor from New York, and the stranger claimed to be from a line of Polynesian chieftains. It took four years and the unravelling of two family secrets to solve the puzzle.

In 1979 Lennard Davis's Uncle Abie told him he had a secret - but he said he couldn't reveal it while Lennard's father, Morris, was alive.

Morris was then in hospital with cancer. When he died, two years later, Lennard reminded Abie about the secret, and asked if he could now be told.

Initially, Uncle Abie was reluctant - he told Lennard to forget all about it, he didn't want to tell him. But Lennard pressed him.

"So, he told me," Lennard says. "He said, 'I'm your father.'"

It was a disturbing revelation - Lennard had been brought up to dislike Uncle Abie and to believe that he was untrustworthy. And with both of his parents now gone - Lennard's mother had died almost a decade earlier - there was no-one left who could explain what had happened.

"My parents had never told me. It was a family secret and probably, on some level, a shameful one," Lennard says.

Years passed before he decided to investigate this secret that his parents had taken to their graves. But at the age of 55, in the year 2000, Lennard decided to take some tests that would verify his paternity.

Lennard searched for envelopes that Morris may have licked that might provide a remnant of his DNA, and asked his cousin to do the same to try to harvest some of Abie's, who had by now also died.

When the first results came back, Lennard nervously opened the letter.

He'd never particularly liked his father, a man he describes as difficult and intolerant, with an explosive temper. Yet when he read the letter which explained that Morris, the man who'd raised him, was not his biological father, he felt genuinely sad.

Subsequent testing revealed that Uncle Abie was most likely Lennard's real dad.

Years later, in 2014, Lennard was contacted out of the blue by a man from Pago Pago, in American Samoa.

He said his name was Lancelot Tauoa, and that after taking a DNA test he'd discovered a very close genetic link between himself and Lennard.

"My initial reaction was that I should be very, very suspicious," Lennard says.

But when he looked at the database where his DNA test results had been entered, Lennard could see that right next to his half-brother (the man he had once regarded as his cousin) was the name Lancelot Tauoa. The two men appeared to be second cousins.

"This was extremely confusing," Lennard says. "My family's Jewish, pretty much through and through, and suddenly there's a guy from American Samoa who turns out to be a close relative? It was a very strange, jaw-dropping concept."

Lennard remained sceptical but struggled to imagine how these two families might possibly have become linked. Was there a GI from his family who'd been posted to the South Pacific?

"I had no idea who it could have been or any of the details, but frankly, I imagined it was something related to prostitution - that was my assumption," Lennard says.

Lennard and Lance stayed in touch by email and, over time, Lennard's suspicions about Lance began to diminish.

"There was something very poignant about Lance's letters," Lennard says.

"Through his emails I could feel his need. He really, really wanted to know, and I identified with him, even though I had never met him."

Having already discovered that his uncle was in fact his biological father, Lennard imagined that a similar family secret must lie behind his connection to Lance.

He assumed it would be relatively straightforward to get to the bottom of the mystery, but it took more than four years, and a lot of wrong turns, false assumptions and dead ends before the truth was finally established.

More than 7,000 miles away on an island in the South Pacific Ocean, Lancelot Tauoa had never had any inkling that there were secrets in his family until the day of his grandmother's funeral in 2000.

Lance's grandmother was the daughter of the village chief in Pago Pago, a small Christian society where everybody knows everybody else's business. On the day of the burial, many people had come to the pay their respects, including Lance's great-aunt Eppe - his grandmother's sister - who was beside herself with grief.

By chance Lance overheard one of the mourners saying that the reason Eppe was so upset was that Lance's grandmother had raised Eppe's son, Sekele. But Sekele was Lance's father, who'd died a few years earlier - so this would make Eppe Lance's grandmother, rather than the woman being buried.

Sekele had looked a bit different to other people on the island and was known to many by the nickname, the Samoan Elvis.

"My father was very tall, about 6ft 2in, and very fair-skinned," Lance says. "He didn't like to go to church and he was really into Western movies. He was really fun."

A few weeks later, Lance decided to confront Eppe about what he had overheard at the funeral.

"She dismissed it," Lance says. "She said, 'Don't listen to that kind of gossip,' and then a few months later she passed away."

But while planning Eppe's funeral, Lance's suspicions were confirmed when the chief of their family said that either Lance or his sister would have to eulogise Eppe at the service. Their father had been Eppe's biological son, he explained.

"It was very shocking," Lance says. "I was mystified and I wanted some answers, so I went to my dad's sister, and she told me that she thought that we all knew."

Lance was told that Eppe, the high chief's daughter, had become estranged from her husband and had fallen pregnant as a result of a clandestine romance with a foreign man.

Lance's grandmother had then adopted and raised the child.

Lance felt angry, betrayed and confused. Had his father known too? Why hadn't anyone told him?

After Eppe's burial, Lance began approaching the family elders for answers, but was told that since neither his grandparents or father had talked to him about this he should now let it rest. But Lance really wanted to find out who his grandfather was.

"The only thing I knew from the rumours was that the man was a US marine in American Samoa - that was it," Lance says. "There was no name, nothing."

Lance began his research by reading books about the US presence in the South Pacific during WWII, but it seemed almost pointless - like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Then he decided to take a DNA test and had an immediate breakthrough. Lennard Davis, the academic from the Bronx, had to be the key to the puzzle.

Once Lennard had overcome his doubts, the two men began a combined search for the mysterious American soldier who connected them.

Lennard first searched for clues in his mother's side of the family, but turned up nothing useful. Eventually he focused on his paternal grandmother's line.

"But this was a side of my family I knew nothing about," he says. "We had absolutely no information about them."

Lennard's grandmother's maiden name was Movshovich. The family had arrived in the US from Lithuania, via the UK, but it took the discovery that they had changed their name to Morse to open up the family records.

With the help of a genealogist, Lennard and Lance traced the family as far back as 1700. Then they located a distant cousin of Lennard's who said she had an old family photo album that might be of interest to them. In it they found a picture of a man who looked very familiar to Lance.

"He had his uniform on, he was smiling, he was looking directly into the camera," Lance says. "He looked so much like my father - like my father's twin. He was extremely handsome."

Lance kept the photo of the man in military uniform on his phone as his screensaver, and couldn't stop looking at it.

"The eyes jumped out at me - I think I have those eyes," Lance says.

In other photographs he spotted other similarities.

"I recognised the hairline - I always wondered why I had this weird hairline," he says.

But who was the man in the photograph smiling back at Lance? Nobody knew anything about him, not even his name.

Another year passed before Lennard and Lance eventually established that he was the youngest son of Lennard's great-uncle, born in 1918. His name was Charles Morse and he'd enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1940 and served in Pago Pago in 1942. Lance's father had been born the following year.

But Lennard and Lance wanted incontrovertible evidence of Charles Morse's connection to Eppe, so Lance decided to ask Peter a very direct question: did he have any interesting stories about Charles Morse in the South Pacific?

"Yes!" Peter replied. "I have a very interesting story!"

Peter told Lennard and Lance that during Charles's time in Pago Pago he'd fallen in love with the chief's daughter, Eppe. Charles had proposed, asking the chief for Eppe's hand in marriage, but his proposal had been rejected and Charles had returned to the US alone.

It's not clear whether he knew about Eppe's husband, or whether he knew and hoped in vain that she would be allowed to divorce him.

After Charles's departure, Eppe had given birth to his son, Sekele, who was then adopted and brought up by Eppe's sister.

Back in the US, Charles never married or had a family, and presumably never knew that he had a child in American Samoa.

In late November 2018 Lennard and Lance met for the first time in San Francisco and visited Charles Morse's grave at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery together.

"I was really excited," Lance says. "I was looking forward to finally seeing the headstone and touching it."

Lance had brought with him from Samoa some sand from the beach, some soil from the land, and some stones from the stream where the US marine encampment had been. He took them to the cemetery.

Lennard waited while Lance made his way to the grave.

"And I just let it out," Lance says. "All kinds of emotions, it was very, very heavy."

When Lennard walked over Lance put his head on Lennard's shoulder and sobbed.

"It really made me feel the power of this connection and the incredible circle that had been completed," Lennard says.

"Charles had been a marine in Samoa in the very place from where the stones were coming back, the soil was coming back, Lance was coming back, the DNA was coming back to this very spot where Charles was now buried and where his DNA was now under the soil.

"It was cosmic."

Millions of people are giving DNA testing kits as presents, and the craze is spreading .But what happens when you find out a lot more than you were expecting?

ruby Posted on April 03, 2019 12:07

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Will talks with the Taliban bring peace or chaos?

For the first time in 18 years, the US government seems serious about withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan and winding up the longest war in its history.

Since October, US officials and representatives of the Taliban have held five rounds of direct talks and are about to embark on a sixth - aimed at ensuring a safe exit for the US in return for the insurgents guaranteeing that Afghan territory is not used by foreign militants and wouldn't pose a security threat to the rest of the world.

A US-led military coalition overthrew the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering al-Qaeda, the militant group that Washington blamed for the 9/11 attacks.

A rare consensus about resolving the conflict peacefully, both inside and outside Afghanistan, means peace has never been so close.

But the US-Taliban talks in Qatar's capital, Doha, are only the first phase of a complicated process with an uncertain outcome - and there are many hurdles to overcome.

Intense fighting is still going on all over the country, and while the Taliban negotiate they now control and influence more territory than at any point since 2001.

Given the continued stalemate with the insurgents, US President Donald Trump is keen to end the war, which, according to US officials, costs about $45bn (£34bn) annually.

His recent indication to withdraw most or all of his 14,000 forces in the near future caught everyone by surprise, including the Taliban.

There are also nearly 1,000 British troops in Afghanistan as part of Nato's mission to train and assist the Afghan security forces.

But even if the US and the Taliban resolve their major issues, the Afghans themselves will need to sort out a number of key internal issues - including a ceasefire, dialogue between the Taliban and the government, and most importantly, the formation of a new government and political system.

Ideally, a ceasefire would precede fresh elections later this year and the Taliban would take part - but the latter seems unlikely.

Without a full or even partial ceasefire, there are fears that poll irregularities and a possible protracted political turmoil over the results could undermine any peace process and may increase political instability.

Can power be shared, and if so how?

There are a number of options and scenarios.

First of all, a decision will need to be taken by all major players on whether presidential elections, already postponed to late September, take place as planned.

If they do, a new government in Kabul could negotiate terms with the Taliban, unless a peace deal had been reached before the vote. Whether that government served a full term or on an interim basis while intra-Afghan power-sharing options are discussed is unclear.

But elections could also be further delayed or suspended - and the current government's term extended - while a mutually agreed mechanism to establish a new government, acceptable to all sides including the Taliban, is sought.

Will the Taliban end up back in government?

Creating a temporary neutral government or a governing coalition, that could even include the Taliban, is another option being looked at in this scenario.

A loya jirga - or grand assembly - of Afghans could also be called to choose an interim government which would hold elections once US troops have left and the Taliban has been reintegrated.

An international conference similar to the one in Bonn, Germany, in 2001 is another suggestion to help chart a future course for the country.

It would include Afghan players, major powers and neighbouring states - but this time also with the participation of the Taliban.

Several Taliban leaders have told me they need time to enter mainstream Afghan society and prepare for elections.

Would former enemies be able to work together?

There will be very difficult issues to surmount after a conflict that has left hundreds of thousands of casualties on all sides, including government forces, insurgents and civilians.

For example, the Taliban do not accept the current constitution and see the Afghan government as "a US-imposed puppet regime".

So far the elected government of President Ashraf Ghani has not been involved in direct talks with the insurgents who refuse to talk to a government they don't recognise.

A number of Afghans fear that sharing power with the Taliban could see a return to the group's obscurantist interpretation of Islamic justice. They are concerned that various freedoms, notably certain women's rights, could be lost.

The Taliban banned women from public life when they were in power in the 1990s, and their punishments included public stoning and amputations.

What if talks don't lead to peace?

Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, there has been a long list of unfulfilled agreements and failed attempts aimed at ending the war in the country.

Several scenarios from the past could be repeated this time round.

A US pullout, with or without a peace deal, might not automatically result in the sudden collapse of the government in Kabul.

The war could continue and the government's survival would largely depend on financial and military assistance from foreign allies, especially the US, and the unity and commitment of the country's political elite.

When Soviet forces withdrew in 1989, the Moscow-backed government in Kabul lasted for three years.

But its collapse in 1992 ushered in a bloody civil war, involving various Afghan factions supported by different regional powers.

If issues are not handled with care now, there is a risk of a re-run of these two scenarios.

The Taliban, who emerged out of the chaos of the civil war, captured Kabul in 1996 and ruled most of Afghanistan until the US-led invasion removed them from power in 2001.

They could try to capture the state again if a deal is not reached this time round, or one fails.

What would chaos look like?

The current peace efforts could see the Taliban participating in a new set-up in Afghanistan.

This would mean the end of fighting and the formation of an inclusive Afghan government - a win-win for Afghans, the US and regional players.

But the alternative is dire - a probable intensification of conflict and instability in a country strategically located in a region with a cluster of major powers including China, Russia, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Another round of chaos could well result in the emergence of new violent extremist groups.

Afghans and the rest of the world would have to deal with a possible security vacuum in which militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State found fertile ground.

Increased production of drugs and the overflow of refugees would pose serious challenges not only to Afghanistan but also to the whole region and the rest of the world.

How could it be avoided?

History shows that starting negotiations and signing deals does not guarantee that conflicts will be peacefully resolved.

These steps are only the beginning of a complicated and challenging process - implementation of what's on paper is even more important.

The biggest challenge for Afghanistan would be the creation of verifiable enforcement mechanisms in any post-deal scenario.

Given the history of conflict in the country, the current opportunity could be easily squandered if the process is taken in the wrong direction by one or more of the local or foreign actors.

Therefore, a framework involving the region and the key international players is needed to co-ordinate efforts for peace and deter and prevent spoilers from sabotaging the process.

There's a rare opportunity to resolve four decades of war - handle it with care, or risk facing the consequences.

The Taliban delegation features the "Guantanamo Five" - former high-ranking officials captured after the fall of the regime and held for nearly 13 years in the controversial US detention camp.

They were sent to Qatar in a 2014 prisoner exchange involving Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier captured by insurgents in 2009.

They are (clockwise from top left in photo above):

  • Mohammad Fazl - the Taliban's deputy defence minister during the US military campaign in 2001
  • Mohammad Nabi Omari - said to have close links to the Haqqani militant network
  • Mullah Norullah Noori - a senior Taliban military commander and a former provincial governor
  • Khairullah Khairkhwa - served as a Taliban interior minister and governor of Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city
  • Abdul Haq Wasiq - the Taliban's deputy head of intelligence

Leading the delegation will be Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, a senior Taliban figure who was until recently the head of the group's political office in Qatar.

In an interview with the BBC in February, he said a ceasefire would not be agreed until all foreign forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Also present in Qatar will be Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy head and one of the groups' co-founders, who was released from prison in Pakistan last October after spending nearly nine years in captivity.

Meanwhile, US special representative for Afghanistan's reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is touring the region for consultations ahead of the next session of peace talks in Qatar. In January, he said "significant progress" had been made.

ruby Posted on April 03, 2019 11:50

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Fraser Anning: Australian MP censured for 'appalling' Christchurch remarks

The Australian Senate has formally censured a lawmaker who sparked outrage by blaming the New Zealand mosque attacks on Muslim migration.

Senator Fraser Anning, a far-right independent, made his comments on the day of the shootings in Christchurch which killed 50 people last month.

On Wednesday, lawmakers from across the political spectrum condemned his "inflammatory and divisive" remarks.

Mr Anning said the censure was "an attack on free speech".

The reprimand, the fifth to be passed by the Senate in the past decade, stated that Mr Anning's remarks last month did not reflect the views of the parliament or the Australian people.

He had said: "The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program that allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place."

His comments were "shameful" and "appalling", other lawmakers told the Senate. The censure read that Mr Anning had sought to "attribute blame to victims of a horrific crime and to vilify people on the basis of religion".

Though it carries no practical punishment, the censure is seen as an official condemnation. Lawmakers cannot be expelled from the parliament unless they are dual citizens, bankrupt, hold other offices, or have been convicted of an offence, constitutional law experts say.

Only one senator, Cory Bernardi, voted against the motion on Wednesday. Three others including Mr Anning abstained.

Mr Anning entered parliament in 2017 as a replacement for a disqualified senator, despite receiving just 19 votes in the 2016 election.

Last year he also drew condemnation for using the words "final solution" - a term invoked during the Holocaust - while calling for race-based immigration restrictions.

More than 1.4 million people signed a petition demanding Mr Anning's resignation in the days following his comments on 15 March.

At the time, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called his remarks "a disgrace".

In one highly publicised incident, a teenage protester squashed an egg on the senator's head during a press briefing.

Mr Anning has repeatedly defended his comments. He left the Senate on Wednesday before the motion was passed.

Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann said Mr Anning's comments were "sadly made worse given [his] position in this parliament".

Labor Senator Penny Wong said there was "a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech", adding: "While those injured were being treated, this senator sought to further fan the flames of division."

ruby Posted on April 03, 2019 11:45

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Najib 1MDB trial: Malaysia ex-PM faces court in global financial scandal

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak has gone on trial for his role in a financial scandal that has sent shockwaves around the world.

He faces seven charges in the first of several criminal cases accusing him of pocketing $681m (£522m) from the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Mr Najib pleaded not guilty to all the charges on Wednesday.

The 1MDB fund was designed to boost Malaysia's economy through strategic investments.

But instead it allegedly funded lavish lifestyles, a Hollywood film and a super-yacht.

A group of supporters met Mr Najib as he arrived at the court in Kuala Lumpur. They stood and prayed with him before he entered the building to chants of "Long live Najib".

Mr Najib's lawyers made a last-minute bid to delay proceedings but the judge ruled against them.

In the prosecution's opening statement, Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said the "near absolute power" Mr Najib had wielded carried with it "enormous responsibility".

"The accused is not above the law," he added.

While the former prime minister faces several criminal cases, Wednesday's trial is the first major trial in the scandal.

Proceedings were originally set to begin on 12 February, but were delayed for related appeals to be heard.

Malaysia's government has also filed criminal charges against Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, accusing the investment bank of defrauding investors by raising money for 1MDB.

The bank has denied all wrongdoing and said it would "vigorously defend the charges".

Mr Najib is facing 42 charges in total, mostly linked to 1MDB.

The first of several trials begins on Wednesday, centring on the allegations that 42m Malaysian ringgit ($10.3m; £7.9m) was transferred from SRC International, a unit of 1MDB, into Mr Najib's personal bank accounts.

The case involves three counts of money laundering, three of criminal breach of trust and one of abuse of power. Mr Najib has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The money involved in this particular trial is thought to be in addition to the $681m that allegedly ended up in his personal accounts.

Mr Najib set up the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund in 2009, while he was prime minister, to aid the nation's economic development.

In 2015, questions were raised around its activities after it missed payments owed to banks and bondholders.

The US, one of the countries probing global money laundering, started an investigation saying $4.5bn had been diverted into private pockets.

US prosecutors had previously said a person described as "Malaysian Official 1" had allegedly received $681m from 1MDB. That person was later confirmed to be Mr Najib.

Prosecutors said the money had been used to fund a lavish lifestyle for the former PM and his wife Rosmah Mansor, who is also facing charges of corruption.

Mr Najib was cleared of all wrongdoing by Malaysian authorities while he was prime minister.

Nonetheless, the corruption allegations played a big part in his historic election defeat in 2018 - and the new government swiftly reopened investigations into 1MDB.

Police said they had recovered luxury goods and cash from Mr Najib's properties, and he was arrested by anti-corruption authorities before being freed on bail.

Another target of the investigation is Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho - known as Jho Low - who played a key role behind the scenes in 1MDB's dealings.

He is accused of diverting money to himself and his associates, but has also consistently denied any wrongdoing. His location is unknown.

His infamous $250m luxury super-yacht Equanimity, allegedly purchased with money taken from the fund, was confiscated by authorities in 2018.

On Wednesday a court approved its sale for $126m to casino company Genting Malaysia, the Malaysian attorney general said, making it the largest amount of money the country has managed to recover from the 1MDB losses.

At least six countries including Singapore and the US have launched money laundering and corruption investigations into 1MDB.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs is one of the biggest players embroiled in the scandal.

Malaysia's government has filed criminal charges against the bank, accusing it of helping to misappropriate money intended for the fund.

Tim Leissner, who served as Goldman Sachs's South East Asia chairman, pleaded guilty to participating in bribery and money laundering schemes.

Goldman Chief Executive David Solomon apologised to the Malaysian people for Leissner's role in the scandal, but said the bank had been deceived about the details of the deal.

"We believe these charges are misdirected, will vigorously defend them and look forward to the opportunity to present our case," the bank said in response to the charges.


ruby Posted on April 03, 2019 11:42

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Brunei implements stoning to death under new anti-LGBT laws

Brunei is introducing strict new Islamic laws that make anal sex and adultery offences punishable by stoning to death.

The new measures, that come into force on Wednesday, also cover a range of other crimes including punishment for theft by amputation.

The move has sparked international condemnation.

Brunei's gay community has expressed shock and fear at the "medieval punishments".

"You wake up and realise that your neighbours, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn't think you're human, or is okay with stoning," one Bruneian gay man, who did not want to be identified, told the BBC.

The sultan of the small south-east Asian nation on Wednesday called for "stronger" Islamic teachings.

"I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger," Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said at a public address, according to AFP news agency, without mentioning the new laws.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Muslims make up about two-thirds of the country's population of 420,000. Brunei has retained the death penalty but has not carried out an execution since 1957.

What is punishable under the changes to the penal code?

The law mostly applies to Muslims, including children who have reached puberty, though some aspects will apply to non-Muslims.

Individuals who have not reached puberty but are convicted of certain offences may be instead subjected to whipping.

What has global reaction been?

Sultan Hassanal heads the Brunei Investment Agency, which owns some of the world's top hotels including the Dorchester in London and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

Brunei's ruling royals possess a huge private fortune and its largely ethnic-Malay residents enjoy generous state handouts and pay no taxes.

But Hollywood actor George Clooney and other celebrities have now called for a boycott of the luxury hotels. TV host Ellen DeGeneres also called for people to "rise up", saying "we need to do something now".

A honorary degree awarded by the UK's University of Aberdeen to Sultan Hassanal is also under review now.

Is this the first time Islamic law is being introduced in Brunei?

The country first introduced Sharia law in 2014 despite widespread condemnation, giving it a dual legal system with both Sharia and Common Law. The sultan had said then that the new penal code would come into full force over several years.

The first phase, which covered crimes punishable by prison sentences and fines, was implemented in 2014. Brunei had then delayed introducing the final two phases, which cover crimes punishable by amputation and stoning.

But on Saturday, the government released a statement on its website saying the Sharia penal code would be fully implemented on Wednesday.

In the days since, there has been international outrage and calls for the country to reverse course.

"These abusive provisions received widespread condemnation when plans were first discussed five years ago," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International.

"Brunei's penal code is a deeply flawed piece of legislation containing a range of provisions that violate human rights."

The United Nations echoed the statement, calling the legislation "cruel, inhuman and degrading", saying it marked a "serious setback" for human rights protection.

There are several theories, but Matthew Woolfe, founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, said it could be linked to Brunei's weakening economy.

"One theory is that it is a way for the government to strengthen its hold on power in the face of a declining economy that could potentially lead to some unrest in future," Mr Woolfe told the BBC.

"Connected to this is [Brunei's] interest in attracting more investment from the Muslim world, along with more Islamic tourists… this could be seen as one way of appealing to this market."

Mr Woolfe also added that the government might have hoped to get away with the latest roll-out without anyone realising.

"I think that the government did want to ensure that the international uproar that followed implementation of the first phase in 2014 had well and truly died down before further [implementation], in the hope it would just quietly [do so] without anyone realising," he said.

"It wasn't until increasing international attention that it finally came out and confirmed [this]."

The penal code changes were posted on the attorney general's website in December but only came to public attention in late March. There was no public announcement.

One 40-year-old gay Bruneian currently seeking asylum in Canada, said the impact of the new penal code was already being felt in Brunei.

The ex-government employee, who left Brunei last year after being charged with sedition for a Facebook post that was critical of the government, said people were "afraid".

"The gay community in Brunei has never been open but when Grindr (a gay dating app) came that helped people meet in secret. But now, what I've heard is that hardly anyone is using Grindr anymore," Shahiran S Shahrani Md told the BBC.

"They're afraid that they might talk to a police officer pretending to be gay. It hasn't happened yet but because of the new laws, people are afraid," he said.

Another male Bruneian, who is not gay but has renounced Islam, said he felt "fearful and numb" in the face of the laws being implemented.

"We ordinary citizens are powerless to stop Sharia law from being implemented," said the 23-year-old who did not want to be identified.

"Under Sharia, I would face the death penalty for apostasy."

One gay man was hopeful that the laws may not actually be enforced widely.

"Honestly, I'm not too scared as the government here often bluffs with the harsh punishments. But it can and will still happen even with it being rare."

ruby Posted on April 03, 2019 11:34

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