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LGBT group severs links with Navratilova over transgender comments

A US-based organisation that campaigns for LGBT sportspeople has cut its links with tennis legend Martina Navratilova over comments she made about male-to-female transgender athletes.

The 18-times Grand Slam winner wrote it was "cheating" to allow transgender women to compete in women's sport as they had unfair physical advantages.

Athlete Ally said the remarks were transphobic and perpetuated myths.

It said it had sacked the star from its advisory board and as an ambassador.

In an article for the British newspaper The Sunday Times, Navratilova wrote: "A man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires."

She added: "It's insane and it's cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair."

Trans sportswomen quickly hit back. Rachel McKinnon, who last year became the first transgender woman to win a world track cycling title, called the comments "disturbing, upsetting and deeply transphobic".

In its statement, Athlete Ally said Navratilova's comments were "transphobic, based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence".

Martina Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles

It added: "This is not the first time we have approached Martina on this topic. In late December, she made deeply troubling comments across her social media channels about the ability for trans athletes to compete in sport. We reached out directly offering to be a resource as she sought further education, and we never heard back."

Athlete Ally said Navratilova joined as an ambassador and was honoured with an Action Award at the group's first annual gala in 2014.

She has since taken part in advocacy campaigns including signing an open letter calling on the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) to overturn its ban on the hijab and an open letter speaking out against an anti-trans bill in Texas in 2017.

The group said the former champion had not yet responded to its decision to drop her.

Navratilova has been a longstanding campaigner for gay rights and suffered abuse when she came out as gay in the 1980s.

Under guidelines introduced in 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allows athletes transitioning from female to male to participate without restrictions.

Male to female competitors, however, are required to have kept their levels of testosterone - a hormone that increases muscle mass - below a certain level for at least 12 months.

ruby Posted on February 20, 2019 16:40

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House launches probe of US nuclear plan in Saudi Arabia

The US is rushing to transfer sensitive nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, according to a new congressional report.

A Democratic-led House panel has launched an inquiry over concerns about the White House plan to build nuclear reactors across the kingdom.

Whistleblowers told the panel it could destabilise the Middle East by boosting nuclear weapons proliferation.

Firms linked to the president have reportedly pushed for these transfers.

The House of Representatives' Oversight Committee report notes that an inquiry into the matter is "particularly critical because the Administration's efforts to transfer sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing".

President Donald Trump met nuclear power developers at the White House on 12 February to discuss building plants in Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia.

And Mr Trump's son-in-law, White House adviser Jared Kushner, will be touring the Middle East this month to discuss the economics of the Trump administration's peace plan.

Lawmakers have been critical of the plan as it would violate US laws guarding against the transfer of nuclear technology that could be used to support a weapons programme.

They also believe giving Saudi Arabia access to nuclear technology would spark a dangerous arms race in the volatile region.

Saudi Arabia has said it wants nuclear power in order to diversify its energy sources and help address growing energy needs.

But concerns around rival Iran developing nuclear technology are also at play, according to US media.

Previous negotiations for US nuclear technology ended after Saudi Arabia refused to agree to safeguards against using the tech for weaponry, but the Trump administration may not see these safeguards as mandatory.

Adviser Jared Kushner watches alongside a member of the Saudi Delegation during a meeting between President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The House report is based on whistleblower accounts and documents showing communications between Trump administration officials and nuclear power companies.

It states that "within the US, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia".

These commercial entities could "reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia".

The White House has yet to comment on the report.

The report includes a timeline of events and names other administration officials who have been involved with the matter, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Mr Kushner, Mr Trump's inaugural committee chairman Tom Barrack and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Flynn was found guilty of lying to the FBI about Russian contacts as a part of special counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

  • IP3 International, a private company led by ex-military officers and security officials that organised a group of US companies to build "dozens of nuclear power plants" in Saudi Arabia
  • ACU Strategic Partners, a nuclear power consultancy led by British-American Alex Copson
  • Colony NorthStar, Mr Barrack's real estate investment firm
  • Flynn Intel Group, a consultancy and lobby set up by Michael Flynn

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was deeply involved with the nuclear plans, the report says

The report states that Flynn had decided to develop IP3's nuclear initiative, the Middle East Marshall Plan, during his transition, and while he was still serving as an adviser for the company.

In January 2017, National Security Council staff began to raise concerns that these plans were inappropriate and possibly illegal, and that Flynn had a potentially criminal conflict of interest.

Following Flynn's dismissal, however, IP3 continued to push for the Middle East Plans to be presented to Mr Trump.

According to the report, one senior official said the proposal was "a scheme for these generals to make some money".

And whistleblowers described the White House working environment as "marked by chaos, dysfunction and backbiting".

The report says an investigation will determine whether the administration has been acting "in the national security interests of the United States or, rather, [to] serve those who stand to gain financially" from this policy change.

These apparent conflicts of interest among White House advisers may breach federal law, and the report notes that there is bi-partisan concern regarding Saudi Arabia's access to nuclear technology.

The oversight committee is seeking interviews with the companies, "key personnel" who promoted the plan to the White House, as well as the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defence, State, Treasury, the White House and the CIA.

ruby Posted on February 20, 2019 16:36

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Islamic State group: Civilians evacuated from last Syria enclave

Civilians have been evacuated from the last village in Syria still held by the Islamic State (IS) group.

At least 15 lorries carrying men, women and children were seen leaving Baghuz, near the Iraqi border, where 200 families were reportedly trapped.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which is besieging the area, said it did not yet know if any IS fighters were among the passengers.

There have been conflicting reports about the state of the operation.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the BBC it believed all the civilians and militants who were in Baghuz had left.

The monitoring group cited its sources as saying the militants had agreed to surrender following extensive negotiations with SDF.

However, the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat IS says it cannot verify reports about militants surrendering.

On Twitter, it said the SDF were continuing to evacuate civilians and that the "most hardened" fighters remained within Baghuz.

On Tuesday, the UN expressed concern about the fate of some 200 families reportedly trapped in the area.

Many of the men on the lorries were wearing checkered keffiyehs

Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said they were apparently being actively prevented from leaving by IS and continued to be subjected to intense bombardment by SDF and US-led coalition forces.

A convoy of about 50 lorries arrived on the outskirts of Baghuz after Ms Bachelet spoke. But none of them had departed by nightfall, Reuters news agency reported.

US-led coalition aircraft reportedly carried out two strikes in the area before the first lorries left on Wednesday.

"We have special forces working on the evacuation of civilians. After many days of trying, we were able to evacuate the first batch today," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told AFP news agency.

Mr Bali said he did not know how many people were being brought out, or whether they included any IS militants, but that it would become clear once the lorries reached a nearby SDF screening point.

"There are still civilians inside [Baghuz]," he added.

On Tuesday, the SDF said that its fighters would attack the IS pocket once it had evacuated all the civilians who wanted to leave. The militants, it warned, had only two options - surrender or die.

Some 20,000 civilians who have fled Baghuz in recent weeks have been taken by the SDF to a makeshift camp for displaced people at al-Hol, in Hassakeh province.

Is this the end for Islamic State?

Among them are the wives and children of IS militants and many foreign nationals, including the British teenager Shamima Begum, who was 15 when she ran away from her home to join IS four years ago.

Ms Begum, who has just given birth to a son, has said she wants to return to the UK. But the government wants to revoke her British citizenship - a decision she called "unjust".

Five years ago, IS controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) of territory stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq. It proclaimed the creation of a "caliphate", imposing its brutal rule on almost eight million people and generating billions of dollars from oil, extortion, robbery and kidnapping.

Now, an estimated 300 militants are holed up inside about 0.5 sq km of land.

ruby Posted on February 20, 2019 16:19

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How many IS foreign fighters are left in Iraq and Syria?

Tens of thousands of foreign nationals have travelled to Syria and neighbouring Iraq to fight for the Islamic State (IS) group.

With the end of the IS territorial "caliphate" imminent, the US has led calls to repatriate the hundreds of men women and children who have been detained on the battlefield. However, many countries have so far been reluctant to do so.

Jihadists began travelling to Iraq in 2003 when a US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime triggered a Sunni insurgency. Hundreds are thought to have joined al-Qaeda in Iraq, a precursor to IS.

The Islamic State group urged Muslims to migrate to their new "caliphate"

Many more went to Syria after a civil war erupted there in 2011. Their presence complicated the conflict and helped make it overtly sectarian in nature, pitching the country's Sunni majority against President Bashar al-Assad's Shia Alawite sect.

There was a huge surge in arrivals after IS seized control of swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014 and urged Muslims to migrate to their new "caliphate".

How many foreigners joined IS?

The United Nations has said that more than 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries may have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist groups.

A July 2018 study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's College London based on official, academic and other data concluded that 41,490 people - 32,809 men, 4,761 women, and 4,640 children - from 80 countries were affiliated with IS specifically.

Researchers found 18,852 came from the Middle East and North Africa, 7,252 from Eastern Europe, 5,965 from Central Asia, 5,904 from Western Europe, 1,010 from Eastern Asia, 1,063 from South-East Asia, 753 from the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, 447 from Southern Asia, and 244 from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Approximately 850 people from the UK were among them, including 145 women and 50 children.

The US-led Global Coalition to Defeat IS, which has provided air support and military advisers to local forces in Iraq and Syria since 2014, has said it believes the vast majority of IS militants are dead or in custody. But it has declined to speculate on the number of foreign fighters who may have been killed.

The head of MI5 said in October 2017 that more than 130 Britons who had travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with IS had died.

An official from a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said on 18 February that it had about 800 foreign fighters from almost 50 countries in its prisons. At least 700 women and 1,500 children were being held at camps for displaced people, Abdul Karim Omar added.

Few of the SDF's detainees have been identified. But El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are among six from the UK to have been named. The pair are alleged to have been part of an IS execution cell dubbed "the Beatles" that beheaded at least 27 Western hostages.

Interview with so-called 'IS Beatles' duo

Mr Omar reiterated that the SDF wanted the foreign fighters to be repatriated. He warned that they were a "time bomb", saying an attack on northern Syria by Turkey - which has vowed to crush a Kurdish militia that dominates the SDF - could spark chaos and allow the jihadist to escape.

However, their home countries have raised concerns about bringing hardened IS members back and the challenges of gathering evidence to support prosecutions.

There are believed to be another 1,000 foreign fighters of various, sometimes undetermined, nationalities under arrest in Iraq, according to the UN.

Djamila Boutoutaou from France was sentenced to life in prison in Iraq for being an IS member

It is not clear whether that figure includes women and children. But a group of more than 1,300 of them are known to have been detained near Tal Afar in 2017.

Human Rights Watch said at least 72 of those women had been put on trial by June 2018, accused of illegal entry and being a member of, or assisting, IS. Most of them, it added, had been found guilty and sentenced to death or to life in prison. They were from a number of countries, including Turkey, Russia, France and Germany. Children aged nine and above have also been prosecuted.

After five years of fierce and bloody battles, Syrian and Iraqi forces, backed by world powers, have driven IS out of almost all of the territory it once controlled.

However, UN Secretary General António Guterres told the Security Council at the start of February 2018 that IS was reported to still control between 14,000 and 18,000 militants in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreigners.

Is this the end for Islamic State?

Mr Guterres published his findings as the SDF launched an offensive to capture the last pocket of territory controlled by IS in Syria.

Foreigners who have fled the fighting around the village of Baghuz and been detained by the SDF include the British teenager Shamima Begum, who was 15 when she ran away from her home to join IS.

ICSR researchers found that at least 7,366 foreigners affiliated with IS had travelled back to their own countries, including 256 women and up to 1,180 children.

By June 2018, 3,906 had returned to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, 1,765 to Western Europe, 784 to Eastern Europe, 338 to Central Asia, 308 to South-Eastern Asia, 156 to Southern Asia, 97 to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, and 12 to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Of the 425 who returned to the UK, only two women and four children were confirmed, according to the ICSR.

The UN has expressed concern about returnees becoming active again on release from prison or for other reasons. It has also said radicalised women and traumatised minors may pose a threat.

More than 2,000 children of foreign fighters are being detained at prisons in Iraq and at three SDF-run camps in Syria, often in poor conditions with a lack of access to education and basic services.

Most of the children are being held with their mothers. Many of their fathers are detained elsewhere, missing or dead. Some of the children have meanwhile been orphaned.

The UN has called for all children under 18 to be repatriated immediately

The majority of the children have not been charged with any crime, according to Human Rights Watch. But most of their home countries have resisted calls to repatriate them. Officials have said traumatised children may be security threats, or that it is difficult to verify their nationalities.

The UN has warned that the children may be at risk of becoming stateless, despite having citizenship or a claim to citizenship of a country. It has called for all children under 18 to be repatriated immediately and for the development of specialised child-protection programmes to ensure their full reintegration into society in their home countries.

In January, two Trinidadian boys taken to Syria by their father were released from an SDF camp and repatriated with the help of Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters.

ruby Posted on February 20, 2019 16:08

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Letter from Africa: How 'cheating husbands' are linked to Sudan's protests

In our series of letters from African journalists, Zeinab Mohammed Salih explores how women in Sudan are using a Facebook group about love to expose alleged abuse amid anti-government protests.

Unprecedented numbers of women are taking to the streets to join daily nationwide protests that erupted in mid-December.

Despite a violent crackdown by the security forces and reports of sexual harassment, they remain undeterred.

More than 50 people are thought to have died at the hands of security agents and many have been tortured, rights groups say.

Yet women make up 70% of marchers at some protests, observers say, defiant in the face of the repressive laws of the conservative, Islamic state.

They all wear headscarves in compliance with the country's Public Order Act, which regulates what women should wear - they can, for example, be flogged for wearing clothes such as trousers that are considered indecent.

Hair cut with razorblades

But a 23-year-old graduate told me how her headscarf was ripped off when she was detained on 31 January by security agents at a protest in the capital, Khartoum.

"They cut the bun off my head with a razorblade and they threatened me with rape when I was taken in their truck from downtown Khartoum," Jode Tariq said.

What happens inside Sudan’s secret detention centres?

A 24-year-old related a similar incident in Khartoum earlier in January.

"They cut my hair along with another woman at an unknown location used as a detention centre," Afraa Turky said.

Female journalists Shamael al-Nnoor and Durra Gambo, who were both arrested for covering the protests over the last month, said some young women they met while in custody told them they had been sexually abused by security agents.

And dozens of other women thrown into jail have not been heard from since their detention.

Sudan's Public Order laws

  • The law is Article 152 of the Criminal Code and applies to "indecent acts" in public
  • This can include wearing an "obscene outfit" or "causing an annoyance to public feelings"
  • Women must wear a headscarf and cannot wear trousers
  • Between 40,000 and 50,000 women are arrested and flogged every year by public order police because of their clothing
  • Women have also be charged under this law for being alone with a man
  • People can also be charged for drinking alcohol under these laws

But women are fighting back against these alleged abuses using a private all-women Facebook group that was set up three years ago to identify cheating husbands and follow their crushes.

Sudan's powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) is behind the brutal response to the demonstrations that started in the eastern city of Atbara initially in response to a hike in bread prices.

Now photos taken at protests of suspected NISS agents are shared in the group, called Minbar-Shat, which in Sudanese Arabic means "Extreme Love".

If anyone is able to identify or knows anything about them - they share these details, sometimes even giving names, addresses and phone numbers. This has led to some protesters writing graffiti on houses saying a known NISS agent lives there.

'Don't look at me'

The Sudanese authorities have tried to block social media in the country, but the women bypass the blockade by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which can hide a user's location.

Protesters angered with rising prices want President Bashir to step down

So successful has the strategy been that NISS agents have started to wear face masks in an effort to avoid identification and ostracisation.

Some protesters have told me that when they were arrested they were forced to look down towards the ground for hours.

One said, "I was beaten on my head with a stick because I accidentally looked up and he told me, 'Do you want to take my pictures to Minbar-Shat? Don't look at me.'"

The protesters themselves also have to wear masks but for different reasons.

They get them from pharmacies to avoid the bad smelling tear gas usually thrown at them during the protests.

Minbar-Shat is now active in posting on Toyota's Facebook page informing the company about the use of their cars in Sudan by NISS members to arrest and sometimes run over protesters.

U-turn over dress laws?

Sudan's poor record on women's rights is well documented, with Human Rights Watch saying the security forces have often used sexual violence and intimidation to silence women.

Many protesters now wear masks too because of the tear gas

Ten days ago a group of women were raped by a government militia at a camp for internally displaced people in northern Darfur, where the UN says rape has been used as a weapon of war during the conflict that began more 13 years ago to demand greater political and economic rights for communities in the region.

According to the No To Women Oppression group, thousands of women get arrested and flogged each year by the police for wearing indecent clothes or simply for being out with men.

President Bashir, seen addressing supporters last week, has led Sudan for nearly 30 years

Interestingly, President Omar al-Bashir, who has led a hardline administration since coming to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, has softened his language about the Public Order laws.

The 75-year-old sees their harsh implementation as the reason for the protests and says they are too strict an interpretation of Sharia.

This is indeed a turnaround as he defended the law vociferously in 2010 when there was an outcry over a video on social media showing a woman screaming as she was whipped for wearing trousers.

But his words, spoken during a recent meeting with newspaper editors, seem unlikely to be able to douse the flames.

Ms Tariq and Ms Turky, who both had their hair cut by agents last month, insist they will not stop protesting until Mr Bashir leaves office.

ruby Posted on February 20, 2019 13:59

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How will Pope Francis deal with abuse in the Catholic Church?

In an effort to deal with the sex scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope has convened an extraordinary summit of bishops in Rome.

This follows his recent, unprompted, admission that priests had exploited nuns as "sex slaves" at a convent in France.

Pope Francis decided to call this global conference after discussions with the so-called C9. This is the group of nine cardinal advisers who were appointed soon after Francis was elected.

The Pope is under serious pressure to provide leadership and generate workable solutions to what is the most pressing crisis facing the modern Church.

Stories of abuse have emerged in every corner of the world. And the Church has been accused of covering up crimes committed by priests, leaving its moral authority in tatters.

Pope Francis must also confront the assumptions, attitudes and practices that have allowed a culture of abuse to flourish. The extent of this challenge may prove overwhelming.

Journalist Jason Berry was one of the first people to expose the extent of abuse in the Church

The summit, to be attended by the heads of all national bishops' conferences from more than 130 countries, is only the beginning of an attempt to address a sickness that has been poisoning the Church since at least the 1980s.

When Jason Berry, a local newspaper reporter in the US state of Louisiana, began following the story of an abusive priest called Father Gilbert Gauthe, he did not expect his work to ignite an international scandal that is still ablaze more than 30 years later.

Mr Berry's work led to the 1992 book Lead Us Not Into Temptation, based on civil legal actions that the Church settled with multiple accusers towards the end of the 1980s.

In 2002, Mr Berry's work was followed by an investigation at the Boston Globe newspaper that provided an even more extensive narrative of clergy abuse and cover-up. The journalists won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize and their work was dramatised in the film Spotlight.

The work of the Boston Globe's Michael Rezendes, (left), Walter V Robinson, and Sascha Pfieffer (right) led to the Academy Award-winning film Spotlight

The scandals kept coming.

Consider six of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania, which were the subject of scrutiny last year.

The State Attorney, Josh Shapiro, subpoenaed and reviewed half a million internal diocesan documents. Dozens of witnesses gave evidence, some clergy admitted to their offences. Mr Shapiro's report, published in December, was devastating.

"Over 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the Church's own records," he wrote, with "credible allegations against over 300 predator priests".

The report, which is more than 1,000 pages long, covers the past 70 years - and the examples are horrific.

In the diocese of Scranton, a priest raped a girl and when she became pregnant arranged for an abortion. The priest's line manager, his area bishop, wrote a letter.

"This is a very difficult time in your life and I realise how upset you are," he wrote. "I too share your grief."

The letter was not addressed to the girl, but the priest.

In another diocese, a priest visited a seven-year-old girl in hospital after she had undergone a tonsillectomy - and raped her.

In another, a priest abused a nine-year-old and then rinsed out the boy's mouth with holy water "to purify him".

The report concluded that predatory paedophiles had been able to abuse children because the Church hid their activities by moving accused clerics on to other parishes and not reporting their offences to the police.

Rape claims

The Rt Rev Franco Mulakkal had risen from small-town Kerala, on India's south-west coast, to become a bishop in the north of the country.

He was arrested in September 2018, following allegations from a nun that he regularly visited her convent in order to rape her. The bishop, who has temporarily stood down from ministry, has denied all the charges, telling reporters the accusations are "baseless and concocted".

Catholic nuns in Kerala, India, are calling for the arrest of the Rt Rev Franco Mulakkal, of Jalandhar, for alleged rape

In a letter, written by the nun to her superiors, she claimed the first rape had happened in May 2014 and the last in September 2016.

In January, the nuns appealed to the chief minister of Kerala to intervene on their behalf, after Church officials allegedly ordered them to leave the state, in an effort to clean up the mess.

Nuns have complained that they are exploited because they are often reliant upon priests and bishops for their accommodation and fear abandonment if they fight back against abusive clergy.

In Malawi, where HIV prevalence among adults up to the age of 64 is more than 10%, nuns are also alleged to have been targeted because they are regarded as "pure" and much less likely to be carrying the virus.

'Never again' pledge

In 2012, the Australian government announced a Royal Commission, which was charged with investigating institutional responses to child abuse. The organisations involved included residential care centres for young people, schools, sports, arts and other community groups, and the Church.

The commission concluded that 7% of Australia's Roman Catholic priests had allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

In one religious order, the St John of God Brothers, 40% of its leaders were accused of abusing children.

Chrissie Foster, the mother of two children who were abused by priests in Melbourne, complained to the authorities. She told BBC News that instead of addressing her concerns, the family became the subject of a whispering campaign.

"They said that we were liars, that we were after money," she said.

"That's what they would say to parishioners. And parishioners would believe [it] because who would believe that a priest would rape a child? It was much easier to believe that lie than the truth that priests were sexually abusing children."

In August 2018, the Roman Catholic Church in Australia published its formal response to the Royal Commission.

Chrissie Foster is the mother of two children who were abused by priests in Melbourne, Australia

Archbishop the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said that "far too many" clergy, religious and lay people within the Church in Australia had "failed in their duty to protect and honour the dignity of all including and especially the most vulnerable, our children and our young people".

"With one voice, the bishops and the leaders of religious orders here this morning make the pledge, 'Never again,'" he said.

'Appalling abuse'

Last summer, Britain's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published a report on two of the most prestigious Roman Catholic schools in the UK: Ampleforth College, in North Yorkshire, and Downside School, in Somerset.

According to the report, the schools "prioritised the monks and their own reputations over the protection of children" and "appalling abuse was inflicted over decades on children as young as seven at Ampleforth and 11 at Downside".

The inquiry heard witness testimony from those who were forced into sexual acts, sometimes in the presence of fellow pupils.

In conclusion, the report found that "many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the children".

"The blatant openness of these activities demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour," it said.

Following publication, Ampleforth said the "abbey and college wishes to repeat their heartfelt apology to all victims and survivors of abuse".

Downside expressed similar regret, saying: "The abbey and school fully acknowledges the serious failings and mistakes made in both protecting those within our care and responding to safeguarding concerns."

Downside Abbey and school apologised for failing its pupils

For an organisation that numbers more than 1.2 billion adherents and is present in virtually every country on Earth, the focus is now firmly fixed on Pope Francis.

When he was elected, in March 2013, the Pope was fully aware of the impact of clerical abuse scandals on the Church.

Within a year, in July 2014, he met six victims from three countries - two people each from Ireland, Britain and Germany. At a private Mass, with the six victims among the congregation, he offered an explicit apology.

"Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you," Pope Francis said during his homily, published later by the Vatican.

A demonstration near the Vatican in support of the victims of paedophile priests

"And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves."

Soon after, Pope Francis added eight new members to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and South America. But this body was soon hit by defections. The only two individuals on the commission who'd been victims of abuse, Marie Collins and Peter Saunders, resigned.

Marie Collins, who was molested by a priest when she was 13, wrote a letter saying that while the Pope may have wanted to address clerical abuse, the Vatican's bureaucracy kept obstructing proposals for change.

After the commission made a recommendation that all correspondence from victims and survivors should receive a response, she discovered that none had received replies.

"I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the Church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse," she wrote, "yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters."

She concluded with these words: "It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the Church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors."

Clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned from the Church's commission for the protection of minors

Pope Francis has decided to open the doors, convening an unprecedented summit to address the issue. But he's already tried to reduce expectations by warning the media, during the flight back to Rome from the United Arab Emirates, that a three-day conference represents only the beginning of a conversation.

Others have argued that he should simply issue an edict for the Church to follow. But implementing universal protocols is challenging because the Church exists in a range of cultures and judicial systems.

It's hard to imagine a more pressing challenge for the 82-year-old pontiff. His pontificate began with widespread enthusiasm for a man who chose pastoral appeal over pomp and ceremony, humility and compassion over the trappings of status.

But how it ends is likely to depend on the action he takes, and the protocols he implements, to deal with the scourge of abuse.

ruby Posted on February 20, 2019 13:54

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Pulwama attack: What are Modi's options?

A suicide bomber killed more than 40 paramilitary police in Indian-administered Kashmir last week in what was the deadliest attack on Indian forces in the region for decades. Pakistan denies any role in the attack by militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is based on its soil.

With Indian general elections around the corner, the government is under pressure to respond, or at least demonstrate that such actions are not without consequences. Dhruva Jaishankar weighs in with the options before India - diplomatic, economic and military.

Political relations between India and Pakistan have been frozen for almost three years.

In his first two years in office after coming to power in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration, resumed talks between national security advisers, made an unscheduled visit to Lahore, and approved a much-criticised effort at collaborative counter-terrorism investigations.

The de facto border between India and Pakistan, also known as Line of Control

Pakistan responded to these efforts with firing across the Line of Control separating the two sides, insisting on meeting with Kashmiri separatists in India, and arresting and sentencing to death an alleged Indian spy.

Days after Mr Modi and Mr Sharif met in Lahore to launch a peace initiative, six soldiers were killed in an attack on an Indian air force base in Pathankot. Indian officials blamed the attack on the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a militant group close to Pakistani intelligence.

By July 2016, Delhi's patience dried up and its position on a number of issues hardened.

Despite a new government in Pakistan under Imran Khan, a meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers at last year's UN General Assembly was cancelled. Normal diplomatic channels have, however, continued.

After the attack in Pulwama on Thursday, India has renewed its diplomatic efforts to make the case against what it says is Pakistan's state support for terrorism.

This builds upon many years of India condemning Pakistan in diplomatic pronouncements made with friendly countries. In India's joint statements with the US and others, they now name specific Pakistan-based terrorist groups such as JeM, Lashkar-e-Taiba and D-Company, a criminal syndicate led by the Pakistan-based Indian fugitive Dawood Ibrahim.

Mr Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in 2014

India has also linked Pakistan to the primary security challenges of its partners: for example, Japan's concerns about North Korea.

Such moves have sensitised others to India's concerns about Pakistan, facilitated intelligence cooperation on Pakistan-based terrorist groups and encouraged crackdowns on their financing in many countries. Delhi's continued efforts also increase acceptability for any economic or military costs that India might impose at a later date.

The challenge facing India is that other countries, however sympathetic, will continue to see value in retaining their ties with Pakistan.

Although the US has become increasingly frustrated with Pakistan "tolerating and encouraging groups which use violence against Pakistan's neighbours", China remains Pakistan's closest ally, as it has for decades.

It has provided Pakistan with nuclear and missile technology and equipment, conventional arms and - under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - billions of dollars of investment in strategic projects.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates too have continuing economic and security ties with Pakistan, although both have also been warming their relations with India over the past few years.

India has already begun to crackdown on suspected militants in Kashmir

The US and European Union continue to offer Pakistan preferential trading benefits, in some cases resulting in lower tariffs on imports compared to India.

Some EU officials have privately blamed the United Kingdom for Brussels' accommodative approach towards Pakistan - and have suggested that they may take sterner measures after Brexit.

The day after the Pulwama attack, India revoked Pakistan's Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status, raised customs duties to 200% and vowed to isolate it in the international community.

The absence of MFN will significantly raise customs duties on Pakistani exports to India, effectively resulting in unilateral Indian sanctions. Given that direct trade between the two countries is negligible, this move is largely symbolic.

In some ways, India has been implementing punitive measures against Pakistan for years. For instance, India has not played Pakistan in a bilateral Test cricket series since late 2007, in part because such a series would result in a financial windfall for the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Other, more severe, measures such as abrogating the 1960 Indus Waters Treatyhave been suggested.

Such a step would have significant costs, including eroding India's relations with other countries - China, Nepal, and Bangladesh - with which it has water-sharing arrangements.

India will also likely continue to apply diplomatic pressure to raise the costs of economic ties with Pakistan.

Pakistan PM Imran Khan has said Pakistan was not behind the Pulwama attack

It is expected to advocate adding Pakistan to the black list (which includes Iran and North Korea) of the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body that combats money laundering.

This would raise scrutiny on financial transactions involving Pakistan and effect its currency inflows, credit rating, stock market and banking sector.

However, China will likely resist such a move - it only dropped its opposition to Pakistan's "grey listing" last year in exchange for India's support for Beijing's vice presidency of the task force.

Other multilateral efforts may extend to leveraging India's position at various export control groups in which it recently acquired membership.

The biggest challenge for India is that Pakistan possesses a nuclear deterrent - including possibly one of the fastest growing nuclear arsenals - and a potent military.

For all the sabre-rattling in the Indian press and public, these are realities that the Indian leadership must keep in mind.

However, both Pakistan and India have explored options below the nuclear threshold.

In 1999, Pakistani forces made an incursion onto India's side of the de facto border (also know as the Line of Control) resulting in the limited Kargil conflict. On several occasions after that, India retaliated to Pakistani provocations with coordinated small-scale raids across the Line of Control. The 2016 attacks, in response to the Uri base attack, became widely known as "surgical strikes".

Other military options would be long-term in nature.

Indian efforts against cross-border infiltration from Pakistan have already benefited from new security technologies as well as intelligence partnerships with other countries.

Improvement in this area - such as buying unmanned aircraft and enhancing technical intelligence cooperation - would count as a major investment in countering cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

Of course, these are only some of the many ways in which India might choose to respond. If recent history is any guide, we may witness something entirely unprecedented and unexpected.

ruby Posted on February 20, 2019 10:11

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Bernie Sanders announces second US presidential bid

US Senator Bernie Sanders says he will run again for president in 2020, making a second attempt to win the Democratic Party's nomination.

The 77-year-old Vermont senator became a progressive political star in 2016 although he lost his candidacy bid.

In an email to supporters, he said it was time to complete the "political revolution" they had started.

An outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, Mr Sanders has described him as a "pathological liar" and "racist".

Mr Sanders - an independent who caucuses with the Democrats - is one of the best-known names to join a crowded and diverse field of Democratic candidates, and early polls suggest he is far ahead.

His calls for universal government-provided healthcare, a $15 national minimum wage and free college education electrified young voters, raised millions of dollars in small donations and are now pillars of the party's left-wing.

Mr Sanders, who lost the 2016 Democratic primary to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said in his email: "Three years ago, when we talked about these and other ideas, we were told that they were 'radical' and 'extreme'.

"Together, you and I and our 2016 campaign began the political revolution. Now, it is time to complete that revolution and implement the vision that we fought for."


After building a grass-roots political movement that roiled the Democratic Party in 2016, Bernie Sanders is making another run at the prize.

This time, he won't be the rumpled underdog. He'll start the race near the front of the pack - with advantages in small-donor fundraising, name recognition and a 50-state organisation of loyalists.

His front-runner status will come with a price, however. Unlike 2016, when Hillary Clinton largely avoided confronting the Vermont senator for fear of alienating his supporters, his opponents will have no such reluctance this time.

In 2016, the self-proclaimed "Democratic socialist" staked out a progressive agenda in contrast with Ms Clinton's pragmatic centrism. Now, in part because of Mr Sanders' efforts, the party has moved left on issues like healthcare, education and income inequality. His message is no longer unique.

The 77-year-old senator will keep his devoted base, but will some former supporters opt for a fresh face? That could lead to conflict with those who believe a Bernie "revolution" is the only way forward, inflaming Democratic wounds not fully healed from the last campaign.

In a crowded field, Mr Sanders has a realistic shot - but it could be a bumpy ride.

Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Delaney and Julian Castro are among those who have also announced their intention to run in the Democratic primary in 2020, the first time more than one woman has competed.

If Mr Sanders is successful in his bid, he will become the oldest presidential candidate in US history.

In his email, which lays out a series of policy issues, Mr Sanders also says: "You know as well as I do that we are living in a pivotal and dangerous moment in American history.

"We are running against a president who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction."

Mr Sanders speaks at a Committee on Racial Equality Sit-In in 1962

Mr Sanders is the longest-serving independent in congressional history, but competes for the Democratic nomination as he says standing as a third-party candidate would diminish his chances of winning the presidency.

He attended the University of Chicago, and in the 1960s and 1970s participated in antiwar and civil rights activism, like the 1963 March on Washington.

He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1990, the first independent to achieve such a feat in 40 years. He served there until he ran for and won a seat in the Senate in 2007.

Mr Sanders entered the race for the 2016 Democratic nomination as a long-shot candidate but emerged as a surprise star during a series of televised debates.

He labels himself a Democratic socialist, which he has defined as someone who seeks to "create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy".

Mr Sanders also has a diplomacy-first attitude towards foreign policy and voted against the US invasion of Iraq in 2002.

Mr Sanders attracted a large amount of younger voters during his 2016 campaign

He became Mrs Clinton's closest rival, but she ultimately won the nomination before losing the presidential election to Mr Trump.

In January, Mr Sanders apologised to female staff members on his 2016 campaign after allegations of harassment against senior aides emerged.

Several aides complained of a "predatory culture" in his campaign and alleged that senior male staff had mistreated younger workers.

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 14:20

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Pulwama attack: Pakistan warns India against military action

Pakistan has warned it will retaliate if India takes military action against it after a militant attack on Indian forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Prime Minister Imran Khan went on television to call on India to provide evidence to support its claims that Pakistan was involved.

More than 40 members of India's security forces died in Thursday's suicide bombing on their convoy.

Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad said it was behind it.

The attack has raised tensions between India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars and a limited conflict in the region and are both nuclear powers.

In his first comments addressing the attack, he said India should "stop blaming Pakistan without any proof or evidence" and urged Indian authorities to share any proof they might have about Pakistani involvement.

"If you think that you will launch any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliation, Pakistan will retaliate," he said, adding that only dialogue could help solve issues in Kashmir.

India has long accused Pakistan of backing militant separatists in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Mr Khan, who took office last year, said his government was ready to co-operate with India in investigating the attack and asked what benefit Pakistan would derive from the attack at a time when the country was "going towards stability".

The prime minister said he had not addressed the attack earlier because of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's high-profile visit to Pakistan on Sunday and Monday.

The suicide bomber has been identified as a young man from the region. Correspondents say a significant number of young Kashmiris have joined militant groups in recent years.

Earlier, India's top military commander in Kashmir, Lt Gen KJS Dhillon, accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of "controlling" the attack with Jaish-e-Mohammad commanders, but he provided no evidence.

"I'd request all the mothers in Kashmir to please request their sons who have joined terrorism to surrender and get back to the mainstream," he said. "Otherwise anyone who has picked up the gun will be killed."

On Monday, India said it had killed three members of Jaish-e-Mohammad in a gunfight that also left four Indian soldiers, a policeman and a civilian dead.

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

Thursday's bombing was the deadliest attack on Indian forces in the region for decades.

Indian mourners held a candle light vigil in Siliguri, West Bengal

So far India has focused on retaliation by economic and diplomatic means. It has revoked Pakistan's Most Favoured Nation trading status and raised customs duties to 200%.

Both countries have recalled top diplomats.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing an election later this year, has vowed a strong response and says he will give the military free rein.

The last time an attack on Indian forces close to this magnitude occurred in Kashmir was in 2016, when 19 soldiers were killed at a base. In response to that, India carried out "surgical strikes" which involved Indian soldiers crossing the de facto border to hit Pakistani posts.

Why has 2018 seen a spike in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir?

This time heavy snow in the region could make that kind of limited ground response impossible, analysts say. But there are fears that going further - with air strikes, for example - could lead to Pakistani retaliation and a significant escalation.

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 11:20

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Could hackers 'brainjack' your memories in future?

Imagine being able to scroll through your memories like an Instagram feed, reliving with vivid details your favourite life moments and backing up the dearest ones.

Now imagine a dystopian version of the same future in which hackers hijack these memories and threaten to erase them if you don't pay a ransom.

It might sound far-fetched, but this scenario could be closer than you think.

Advances in the field of neurotechnology have brought us closer to boosting and enhancing our memories, and in a few decades we could also be able to manipulate, decode and re-write them.

The technologies likely to underpin these developments are brain implants which are quickly becoming a common tool for neurosurgeons.

They deliver deep brain stimulation (DBS) to treat a wide array of conditions, such as tremors, Parkinson's, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), in around 150,000 people worldwide. They even show the potential to control diabetes and tackle obesity.

Advances in the field of neurotechnology promise to bring better understanding of our brains

The technology is also increasingly being investigated for treating depression, dementia, Tourette's syndrome and other psychiatric conditions.

And, though still in its early stages, researchers are exploring how to treat memory disorders such as those caused by traumatic events.

The US Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a programme to develop and test a "wireless, fully implantable neural interface" to help restore memory loss in soldiers affected by traumatic brain injury.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is a commercially available memory implant within the next 10 years or so - we are talking about this kind of timeframe," says Laurie Pycroft, a researcher with the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences at the University of Oxford.

In 20 years' time, the technology may evolve enough to allow us to capture the signals that build our memories, boost them, and return them to the brain.

By the middle of the century, we may have even more extensive control, with the ability to manipulate memories.

But the consequences of control falling into the wrong hands could be "very grave", says Mr Pycroft.

Imagine a hacker has broken into the neurostimulator of a patient with Parkinson's disease and is tampering with the settings. They could influence his or her thoughts and behaviour, or even cause temporary paralysis.

A hacker could also threaten to erase or overwrite someone's memories if money is not paid to them - perhaps via the dark web.

Hackers could either target high-profile individuals or mass target groups of individuals

If scientists successfully decode the neural signals of our memories, then the scenarios are infinite. Think of the valuable intelligence foreign hackers could collect by breaking into the servers of the Washington DC veterans' hospital, for example.

In a 2012 experiment, researchers from the University of Oxford and University of California, Berkeley managed to figure out information such as bank cards and PIN numbers just by observing the brainwaves of people wearing a popular gaming headset.

"Brainjacking and malicious memory alteration pose a variety of challenges to security - some quite novel or unique," says Dmitry Galov, a researcher at the cyber-security company Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky and University of Oxford researchers have collaborated on a project to map the potential threats and means of attack concerning these emerging technologies.

"Even at today's level of development - which is more advanced than many people realise - there is a clear tension between patient safety and patient security," says their report, The Memory Market: Preparing for a future where cyberthreats target your past.

It is not impossible to imagine future authoritarian governments trying to rewrite history by interfering with people's memories, and even uploading new memories, the report says.

Carson Martinez from the Future of Privacy Forum is sceptical about memory manipulation

"If we accept that this technology will exist, we could be able to change people's behaviour. If they are behaving in a way that we don't want them to, we can stop them by stimulating the part of the brain that sparks bad emotions," Mr Galov tells the BBC.

Carson Martinez, health policy fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum, says: "It is not unimaginable to think that memory-enhancing brain implants may become a reality in the future. Memory modification? That sounds more like speculation than fact."

But she admits: "While the threats of brainjacking may not be imminent, it is important that we consider them and work to prevent their materialisation."

Even the idea of brainjacking "could chill patient trust in medical devices that are connected to a network", she warns.

Hacking into connected medical devices is not a new threat. In 2017, US authorities recalled 465,000 pacemakers after considering them vulnerable to cyber-security attacks.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said ill-intentioned people could tamper with the devices, changing the pace of someone's heartbeat or draining the batteries, with the risk of death in either scenario.

Doctors and IT manufacturers will need to collaborate to stay up-to-date with cyber-security issues, according to Galov and Pycroft

No harm was done, but the FDA said: "As medical devices become increasingly interconnected via the internet, hospital networks, other medical devices, and smartphones, there is an increased risk of exploitation of cyber-security vulnerabilities, some of which could affect how a medical device operates."

This is a problem for many medical areas and Kaspersky believes that, in the future, more devices will be connected and remotely monitored by machine. Doctors will only be called in to take over in situations of emergency.

Fortunately, reinforcing cyber-security early in the design and planning of the devices can mitigate most of the risks.

"Encryption, identity and access management, patching and updating the security of these devices, will all be vital to keeping these devices secure and maintaining patient trust in them," says Ms Martinez.

Clinicians and patients need to be educated on how to take precautions, thinks Mr Galov - setting strong passwords will be key.

Humans represent "one of the greatest vulnerabilities" because we can't ask doctors to become cyber-security experts, and "any system is only as secure as its weakest part".

Mr Pycroft says that in the future, brain implants will be more complex and more widely used to treat a broader range of conditions.

But he gives a stark warning.

"The confluence of these factors is likely to make it easier and more attractive for attackers to try to interfere with people's implants," he says.

"If we don't develop solutions for that first generation of implants, then the second and third generations will still be insecure - but the implants will be so much more powerful that the attackers will have the advantage."

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 10:49

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Gilets jaunes: How much anti-Semitism is beneath the yellow vests?

The French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, has said she won't join other political parties in a march against anti-Semitism on Tuesday, accusing France's leaders of doing nothing to tackle Islamist networks in France and saying she will mark the occasion separately.

It comes days after a prominent French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was verbally attacked for being Jewish as he walked past the weekly gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests in Paris.

A small group of protesters shouted a barrage of abuse at him as he passed by the demonstration on his way home from lunch on Saturday, calling him a "dirty Zionist" and telling him to "go back to Tel Aviv".

"I felt an absolute hatred," Mr Finkielkraut told one French newspaper later that night. "If the police hadn't been there, I would have been frightened."

A few days before that, official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year.Now many here are questioning whether the gilets jaunes movement is providing a new kind of forum for these extremist views, and how central those attitudes are to the movement.

"It's very serious," says Vincent Duclert, a specialist in anti-Semitism in France at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Science - one of France's most prestigious colleges.

"The gilets jaunes are not an anti-Semitic movement, but alongside the demonstration each Saturday there's a lot of anti-Semitic expression by groups of the extreme right or extreme left."

'Yellow-vests' pelt police van with stones

"You can be on the streets demonstrating every Saturday, shouting your slogans against the Jews," says Jean-Yves Camus, an expert in French political extremism.

"And as there's no leadership in the movement and no stewarding of the demonstrations, you can be free to do it. I'm afraid there will be more attacks, because the self-proclaimed leaders simply do not seem to care that much."

Jason Herbert, a spokesman for the movement, says the incident on Saturday is a scandal, but not representative of the gilets jaunes as a whole.

"It's the inherent weakness of a movement that lets the people speak," he explained. "Everyone can come and give his opinion - and some opinions are despicable and illegal. To think someone is inferior because of his or her origins is just not acceptable, and it's completely unrelated to our demands. Amongst our demands, I've never heard 'we want fewer Jews'."

Some protesters have carried signs denouncing racism and discrimination

The gilets jaunes began life as a protest against fuel tax rises, but have broadened into a loose confederation of different interest groups with no official hierarchy or leadership. Over the past three months, as the movement has appeared more radical, its wider support has dipped.

Vincent Duclert believes that the movement does bear some responsibility for the extremist abuse in its midst, because the protest's violence - towards the police, state institutions and public property - encourages anti-Semitism by encouraging "transgression".

And, he says, it's possible that the gilets jaunes are also offering "a new space for different kinds of anti-Semitism to come together: from the extreme right and extreme left, but also from radical Islamist or anti-Zionist groups, and some types of social conservatives".

There are signs over the past year, he says, that levels of anti-Semitism have risen within these different groups, because of changes at home, across Europe and in the Middle East. And that French public opinion has been too tolerant of this.

Marine Le Pen is among those trying to court the support of the protesters

Politicians here have been quick to condemn Saturday's attack on Alain Finkielkraut. President Macron tweeted that it was "the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation".

Others tried to blame it on their political rivals.

A member of France's centre-right opposition, Geoffrey Didier, told reporters that anti-Semitism was growing "because radical Islamism is growing in France", while Marine Le Pen said it illustrated "how the anti-Semite far-left is trying to infiltrate the gilets jaunes movement".

Both Ms Le Pen's party and that of her far-left rival, Jean Luc Melenchon, have been trying to win the support of the gilets jaunes ahead of European elections in May.

Jean-Yves Camus believes last week's attack will help turn public opinion against the movement, saying it has become "a hotbed of radical activity from both sides of the political spectrum and the French do not want that".

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 10:27

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'Crossing the Channel by boat is risky - we came by lorry'

Azis Hanna, from Iraq, was about to pay smugglers to get his family across the English Channel in an inflatable boat. But when his friends nearly died he thought again, says the BBC's Sue Mitchell.

Azis Hanna, his wife Maryam, and their five-year-old daughter, Chia, arrived in Dunkirk in October and made more than 20 attempts to reach the UK before finally succeeding last weekend, in the back of a lorry.

For a while he had considered making the trip in an inflatable rubber boat. The smugglers made it sound quite safe, promising that one of them would travel in the boat with the migrants for 14 miles.

"When you go to English water they then call the police, the police come to help take you to England. Every smuggler says like this," Azis says.

At this point the smugglers themselves would travel back to France in an accompanying boat, the story went.

But the experiences of two friends from the Dunkirk camp filled Azis with horror.

Iranian Christians Bahador and Shoku, together with their children Maryam and Brinyamin, were driven to a beach south of the ferry port one winter morning and climbed into a small boat with six others.

About 15 minutes after setting off, it capsized - and there were no life jackets. Seven-year-old Maryam says she was one of the only ones who could swim.

"This water was so cold, so much cold. My feet were going cold, it made me want to die," she says. "I saw my brother, but couldn't get him."

Fortunately Bahador was able to lift them on top of the upturned boat.

"The sea was going up and down so much," Maryam says. "It was strong and dark. My mum was crying and praying and others were shouting for help. They said we were going to die."

Eventually they were rescued but both children had to be treated in hospital for hypothermia.

Bahador and his children, Brinyamin and Maryam

The other story that put Azis off the boat crossing involved his friend Solomon, and Solomon's partner, Siree, both also Iranian Christians.

They had already been at sea for hours when their engine failed. As efforts were made to restart it, the boat began to fill with a mixture of salt water and fuel - which burned their skin.

"Our skin was burning, just so painful. We were just scared. Somebody was crying, someone was praying. The boat was drifting," Solomon says.

"We were asking God, 'Why, what is happening to us? Why?' Me too, I ask God, 'Why God you take me from Iran to this sea to die here? Nobody knows where I am.' Three hours after our engine went off we were still at sea."

It was dark when a small boat - British, Solomon thinks - picked them up and transferred them to a French vessel, and they were taken to a hospital in France.

Azis on the lorry that brought him to the UK

After hearing these stories, Azis told smugglers in Dunkirk that he wanted to make the journey by lorry. His mother borrowed £10,000, using her house as security, and paid the money to the smugglers' associates in Iraq. Then a long series of failed attempts began.

Sometimes they were found by sniffer dogs at the French ports. On other occasions, the lorries set off in the wrong direction, heading into France towards Spain or Romania. On one occasion they climbed into a refrigerated lorry, but Chia could not stand the cold and started feeling unwell.

Azis says the French police took a relaxed attitude if they caught him, often wishing him better luck next time.

His successful crossing took place on Saturday. They were called by the smugglers during the day and travelled by bus from Dunkirk to a lorry park in Belgium. There they were put in the back of a Romanian lorry with another family and entered the UK via the Eurotunnel. They stayed hidden until Northampton, when they created a disturbance and the surprised driver let them out.

DCI Neil Cripps of the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit says investigators sometimes have to allow unsafe boats to set off in order to gather evidence against the smugglers.

"To get our best evidence and to do a long-term permanent disruption to this crime route, we have to balance and juggle an element of risk to people."

An Iraqi Kurd smuggler operating in northern France, using the name Johno, says he spent four years in jail for human trafficking - then returned to the illegal business after his release.

They hid in woods until one of Azis's cousins, who is already living in the UK, could pick them up. Hours later, Azis reported to a police station to start his claim for asylum.

Azis says life in Iraq had become dangerous for him because of an earlier attempt to reach the UK as a teenager, 15 years ago. On that occasion his travelling companion had died, as he jumped from a slowly moving lorry. Years later the man's uncle contacted Azis out of the blue, blaming him for the tragedy, he says, and threatening to kill his daughter if he failed to pay £50,000 in compensation.

Azis did not think of staying in France, because he speaks English, has relatives in the UK, and because the UK government helps refugees, he says. "They give houses and everything," he says. "In France it isn't like that. They do help, but nothing like that."

He adds: "I am overjoyed and thank God for this. England is like heaven to me. No-one can hurt us here and we can sleep properly for the first time in months. My daughter can start school and get an education. She will be very clever and maybe even a doctor."

British volunteer Rob Lawrie with Bahador's daughter, Maryam, in Dunkirk

DCI Neil Cripps of the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit says increased vigilance at ferry ports, and the increased risk of getting caught when travelling by lorry, is making sea crossings more attractive for migrants.

"I am predicting, probably in the spring when the weather becomes calmer, that dinghies will start to increase," he says.

Despite his family's disastrous experience, Azis's friend, Bahador, is one of those thinking of attempting the boat crossing again.

"We want to get away from here," he says.

"And we cannot come back to Iran because I am a Christian and would definitely die. The sea is dangerous, but Iran is more dangerous."

More than 3,000 Nigerian migrants who failed to reach Europe, have been flown home by the International Organization for Migration. Many sold everything to make the trip and aren't sure how to face their families.

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 10:16

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India-Pakistan crisis: Saudi Arabia aims to de-escalate tensions

Saudi Arabia has said it will work to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan, ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's arrival in Delhi.

The prince, known as MBS, is on a tour of Asia and has just visited Pakistan.

Hostilities between Delhi and Islamabad flared last week, after a suicide bombing in the India-administered part of Kashmir killed at least 40 paramilitary police.

A Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, said it was behind it.

Pakistan denies any role in the bombing, but India has accused the state of being complicit and vowed to isolate its neighbour internationally.

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

Speaking on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the Arab state's objective was to "try to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, neighbouring countries, and to see if there is a path forward to resolving those differences peacefully".

Delhi has imposed a swathe of economic measures on Islamabad, including revoking Most Favoured Nation trading status and raising customs duty to 200%.

The attack caused mourning but also anger against Pakistan

On Tuesday, Pakistan's foreign minister on Tuesday appealed to the UN to help with the hostilities.

"It is with a sense of urgency that I draw your attention to the deteriorating security situation in our region resulting from the threat of use of force against Pakistan by India," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wrote to Secretary General Antonio Guterres, adding that the UN "must step in to defuse tensions".

Pakistan is in the midst of a financial crisis, and the crown prince's visit saw Saudi Arabia pledge much-needed investment deals worth $20bn (£15.5bn).

With only $8bn left in foreign reserves, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been seeking help from friendly countries in order to cut the size of the bailout package his country is likely to need from the International Monetary Fund, under very strict conditions.

The country is seeking its 13th bailout since the late 1980s, and Saudi Arabia has already provided a $6bn loan.

After a personal plea to the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia also said it would release some 2,107 Pakistani prisoners in a gesture to foster ties.

The inmates are mostly migrant workers who are jailed with little or no legal recourse - a sensitive issue between Islamabad and Riyadh.

Huge numbers of Pakistani workers labour on construction sites in the Middle East, or work as domestic helpers. The remittances they send back home are vital for Pakistan's economy.

Islamabad has said it will confer its highest civilian honour, the Order of Pakistan, on Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It comes despite wider international condemnation of Saudi Arabia's role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered in the kingdom's Turkish consulate last year.

Saudi Arabia 'is Pakistan's friend in need'

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 10:09

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Islamic State group: Could it rebound from caliphate defeat?

The jihadist terror group's self-proclaimed "caliphate", which once ruled over nearly eight million people across Syria and Iraq, has been all but eliminated.

The temptation for triumphalism in Western capitals is overwhelming. It has taken four and a half years of relentless military pressure by a 79-nation coalition to get to this point. It has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives, many of them civilian.

But people who have access to secret intelligence on the Islamic State (IS) group's activities and intentions are calling for caution.

At the recent Munich Security Conference, Alex Younger, the chief of Britain's secret intelligence service (MI6) - an organisation that was frankly caught completely off-balance by IS's lightning advances in 2014 - said this:

"The military defeat of the 'caliphate' does not represent the end of the terrorist threat. We see it therefore morphing, spreading out... within Syria but also externally... This is the traditional shape of a terrorist organisation."

Speaking at the same event, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen assessed that IS was currently going deeper underground and building networks with other terrorist groups.

Gen Joseph Votel, who runs US Central Command, has warned that, although the IS network is dispersed, pressure must be maintained or its components will have "the capability of coming back together if we don't".

IS was driven out of Raqqa, the de facto capital of its "caliphate", in October 2017

Estimates of the number of IS fighters who have dispersed across the Syria-Iraq arena range from 20,000 to 30,000, many of whom will be unwilling to return to their home countries for fear of prosecution.

There are also small concentrations of fanatical IS-linked militants in Libya, Egypt, West Africa, Afghanistan and the southern Philippines. Already in Iraq there is evidence of IS militants mounting increasingly bold attacks in the northern provinces.

So far, so grim. But let's have a look at what originally propelled IS to its early victories and lightning conquests in 2013/14 and assess whether it could do so again.

IS grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group formed from an alliance of convenience between disgruntled and out-of-work Iraqi military and intelligence officers with idealistic jihadists flooding in from around the Arab world and elsewhere.

Last September the BBC spoke to two British extremists who have lived and fought in Syria for years

The calling card of Al-Qaeda in Iraq was what it said was a religious duty by all Muslims to come and resist the US occupation of Iraq.

But then its brutality and intolerance (e.g. chopping off the fingers of anyone caught smoking cigarettes) so alienated the Iraqi tribes that they sided with the government and drove al-Qaeda out into the wilderness.

Iraq's Shia-led government then squandered this gain by embarking on a systematic programme of discrimination against Sunni Muslims.

By the summer of 2014 they felt so disenfranchised that IS (a Sunni extremist movement) was able to practically walk into Iraq's second city of Mosul unopposed.

Couple this with a weak, demoralised Iraqi military, whose senior officers deserted their own troops ahead of the IS advance, and you had all the ingredients of an IS takeover of a third of Iraq.

Next door in Syria, with the civil war still raging, there was enough chaos and confusion for IS - as the most ruthless and ideological of all insurgent groups - to carve out large areas of control.

So could this happen again? Yes, and no.

It is highly unlikely that a physical "caliphate" of any size would be allowed to be reconstituted. Yet many of the factors that fuelled IS's early success are still there.

Iraq is awash with sectarian Shia militias, some funded, trained and armed by Iran. There are disturbing reports of Sunni villagers being dragged from their homes and - in some cases - falsely accused of supporting IS.

In some places, Shia revenge squads stalk the streets at night with impunity.

Iraq desperately needs a national reconciliation process and inclusive government if it is to avoid a regenerated IS 2.0. Yet there is little sign of this happening in practice.

In Syria, the factor that sparked that country's catastrophic civil war now sits victorious in his palace in Damascus.

President Bashar al-Assad, saved from defeat by his Russian and Iranian allies, appears more secure than ever.

Most Syrians are now too exhausted to oppose him. But the atrocities committed by his regime, on an industrial scale, will continue to propel some towards armed resistance, and IS will be looking for ways back into the Syrian battle space.

Further afield and globally, wherever there is a perception of bad governance, of disenfranchisement, of religious persecution against Muslims or where large bodies of alienated young men feel their lives lack purpose, there will always be opportunities for recruiters to the "cult" of IS.

Its caliphate is over - its dangerously infectious ideology is not.

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 10:03

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Viewpoint: Should Britain apologise for Amritsar massacre?

Hundreds of Indians attending a public meeting were shot dead by British troops in the northern Indian city of Amritsar in 1919. Historian Kim Wagner sifts fact from fiction as the UK House of Lords prepares to debate the massacre, including if Britain should apologise.

On 13 April 1919, Sergeant WJ Anderson witnessed first-hand the brutal massacre of hundreds of Indian civilians at Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar city.

"When fire was opened the whole crowd seemed to sink to the ground, a whole flutter of white garments, with however a spreading out towards the main gateway, and some individuals could be seen climbing the high wall," Anderson later recalled.

"There was little movement, except for the climbers. The gateway would soon be jammed. I saw no sign of a rush towards the troops."

He had served as the bodyguard of Brigadier General RH Dyer, who had rushed to Amritsar a few days earlier to quell what he believed to be a major uprising.

The crowd of more than 20,000 people, however, were not armed rebels. They were local residents and villagers from the surrounding countryside who had come to listen to political speeches or simply to spend a few hours in the gardens.

The crowd comprised Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Most were men and young boys, including some infants; only a few women were present.

Brigadier General Dyer rushed to Amritsar to quell what he believed to be a major uprising

When Gen Dyer ordered his troops to cease firing, Jallianwala Bagh resembled a battlefield strewn with corpses. Between 500 and 600 people were killed, and probably three times as many wounded. The exact numbers will never be known for certain but the official death count, reached months later, was just 379.

In recent years, much of the public debate has focused on calls for a formal British apology - the demand has been led by, among others, Indian politician and author Shashi Tharoor.

Queen Elizabeth II visited the memorial at Jallianwala Bagh in 1997 and then Prime Minister David Cameron visited in 2013 - both showed their respect yet carefully avoided making an actual apology.

In December 2017, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, nevertheless urged the British government to make just such a gesture during his own visit to Amritsar.

"I am clear that the government should now apologise, especially as we reach the centenary of the massacre. This is about properly acknowledging what happened here and giving the people of Amritsar and India the closure they need through a formal apology," he said.

On his 2013 visit, Cameron avoided making an actual apology but said the massacre was "deeply shameful"

Exactly what happened at Jallianwala Bagh, however, remains unclear, and a century later, the actual circumstances of the massacre are still shrouded in myth and misconceptions.

There are, for instance, people, often with a nostalgic attachment to the Empire, who still insist that Gen Dyer only opened fire as a final resort when the crowd ignored his warning to disperse - even though the general himself was quite clear that he gave no such warning.

Similarly, the idea that the shooting was necessary and prevented much worse violence conveniently ignores the fact that Indian riots in April 1919 were in each and every case precipitated by British actions.Factual inaccuracies are also to be found at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial today. Among other things, a sign claims that 120 bodies of the victims of the massacre were recovered from what has become known as the Martyrs' Well. It's believed that many people jumped into the well to escape the bullets.

But there is no evidence for this story, which appears to be based on a mix-up with the infamous well at Kanpur city, where the bodies of British women and children were disposed after a massacre in 1857.

Visual depictions of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre also show machine guns being used, when the historical record is quite clear that the shooting was carried out by 50 Gurkha and Baluchi troops armed with rifles.

Gen Dyer also did not orchestrate the massacre, and deliberately trap the crowd inside the gardens, as some popular accounts have it.

The crowd were not armed rebels but local residents and villagers

In fact, it was British panic and misreading of the political turmoil in India that was at the root of the violence.

While Indian nationalists were looking forward to political reforms and greater self-determination after the end of World War One, the British were still haunted by the spectre of the 1857 "mutiny", an uprising that is often referred to as India's first war of independence.

So, when riots broke out in Amritsar on 10 April - and five Europeans and dozens of Indians were killed - the authorities responded with immediate and indiscriminate force. Three days later, Gen Dyer entered what he mistakenly perceived to be a war zone.

Where popular depictions show a peaceful crowd of locals quietly listening to a political speech, Gen Dyer instead perceived a defiant and murderous mob, which had only days before run rampant through Amritsar. When he ordered his troops to open fire, it was an act of fear, spurred on by a disastrously flawed threat assessment.

None of this exonerates Gen Dyer or detracts from the sheer brutality of the massacre - nor does it justify the subsequent torture and humiliation of Indians under martial law. The indisputable violence of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre hardly requires any embellishment. Nevertheless, facts matter if we are to pay our respect to those who died rather than simply perpetuate politically convenient fiction. And to understand is not the same as to condone.

There are bullet marks on a wall in the garden

Apologies and centenaries, which are essentially about the present rather than the past, are rarely conducive to an honest and nuanced reckoning with history.

An apology from a British government in the throes of Brexit, at the moment, seems highly unlikely. It it indeed doubtful whether an official acknowledgement of the massacre would be construed as more than an act of political expediency.

The question thus remains whether an apology without a genuine understanding of the past can ever provide the "closure" that so many seek.

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 09:45

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UK and French tourists missing in Australia beach search

A British man and a French man have gone missing while backpacking in Australia, sparking a police search.

The alarm was raised when passersby found items belonging to Hugo Palmer and Erwan Ferrieux, both 20, on a beach north of Sydney on Monday, authorities said.

Police searched the location, Shelly Beach, and discovered the pair's rental car nearby.

Other personal items, including travel documents, were found in the vehicle.

Police began ground and water searches on Monday, but they have not found any sign of the men.

The pair had arrived in the region on Sunday, said the local Port Macquarie News, which reported that Mr Palmer was from East Sussex.

Police Insp Michael Aldridge said that recent surf conditions had been rough.

"From the information that we have received, they were travelling down the east coast, stopping at various locations along the way," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

A British High Commission spokeswoman said: "Our staff are in contact with police in Australia and the UK following reports of a missing British man at Shelly Beach, New South Wales."

Police said they had contacted French consular officials.

Shelly Beach is a popular surfing and walking site in Port Macquarie, located about 380km (250 miles) north of Sydney.

ruby Posted on February 19, 2019 09:38

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Cheryl Grimmer: Murder charge in toddler's 1970 disappearance dropped

Australian prosecutors have dropped their case against a man who had been accused of murdering a UK-born toddler almost 50 years ago.

The disappearance of three-year-old Cheryl Grimmer from a New South Wales beach in 1970 is one of Australia's longest-running mysteries.

A man was arrested in 2017, and he later pleaded not guilty to murder.

On Friday, a judge ruled that a key part of the prosecution case could not be used as evidence in a trial.

It concerned statements made by the man during a police interview in 1971, when he was aged 17.

The Supreme Court of New South Wales found that the evidence could not be heard because the teenager had not had an adult representative present during the interview.

Justice Robert Allan Hulme said: "The Crown accepts that its case cannot succeed without it."

Cheryl went missing from a shower block on 12 January, 1970, in Wollongong, a city 70km (44 miles) south of Sydney, shortly after her family moved to Australia from Bristol.

It sparked a massive search at the time, but no trace of the girl was ever found.

Police conduct a search days after Cheryl's disappearance

On Friday Cheryl's brother, Ricki Nash, said the family was devastated by the latest development and felt let down by police.

"We're just a bit numb, a bit shocked… no words can describe how I feel at the moment," he said outside the court.

Over the years, the family had expressed frustration at the lack of progress in the case.

Another of her brothers, Stephen Grimmer, said in 2016: "My mum and dad have passed on now not knowing, and we want to know too before we pass on."

In explaining his decision, Justice Hulme acknowledged that the man had made a written statement and engaged in a "walk-through style interview" with police in 1971.

Unlike now, minors were not legally required to be accompanied by an adult when giving such statements.

Cheryl with her late father, Vince Grimmer

However, Justice Hulme ruled that the man's police interview "should be excluded on the basis of unfairness".

He also noted testimony from psychologists who had reviewed the case for the trial.

They found that the man had "low intellect" and would have been "more vulnerable to influence" at the time, the judge said.

The man's trial had been due to begin in May.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 15:59

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Facebook needs regulation as Zuckerberg 'fails' - UK MPs

Facebook needs far stricter regulation, with tough and urgent action necessary to end the spread of disinformation on its platform, MPs have said.

A Commons committee has concluded that the firm's founder Mark Zuckerberg failed to show "leadership or personal responsibility" over fake news.

Untrue stories from foreign powers were risking the UK's democracy, they said.

Facebook welcomed the digital select committee's report and said it would be open to "meaningful regulation".

MPs said that what was needed to deal with the proliferation of disinformation online and the misuse of personal data was a "radical shift in the balance of power between social media platforms and the people".

The inquiry into fake news, which lasted more than a year, was conducted by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, with much of the evidence focusing on the business practices of Facebook before and after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Cambridge Analytica was a political advertising firm that had access to the data of millions of users, some of which was allegedly used to psychologically profile US voters. The data was acquired via a personality quiz.

How such data, particularly in terms of political campaigning, was shared by Facebook was at the heart of the inquiry, alongside the effects of fake news.

"Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised 'dark adverts' from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day," concluded the report.

"The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights."

  • a compulsory code of ethics for tech companies, overseen by an independent regulator
  • the regulator to be given powers to launch legal action if companies breach the code
  • the government to reform current electoral laws and rules on overseas involvement in UK elections
  • social media companies to be forced to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation
  • tech companies operating in the UK to be taxed to help fund the work for the Information Commissioner's Office and any new regulator set up to oversee them.

In response, Facebook said: "We share the committee's concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.

"We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee's recommendation for electoral law reform. But we're not waiting. We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do."

MPs made no secret of the fact that they found it difficult dealing with Facebook during the inquiry and chair Damian Collins had strong words for the firm and its leader, Mr Zuckerberg.

"We believe that in its evidence to the committee, Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at time misleading answers to our questions," he said.

"These are issues that the major tech companies are well aware of, yet continually fail to address. The guiding principle of the 'move fast and break things' culture seems to be that it is better to apologise than ask permission."

Mark Zuckerberg addressed the US Congress but refused to travel to the UK to speak to MPs

MPs were particularly angry that Mr Zuckerberg did not come to the UK to answer questions in person.

"Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn't believe he is accountable to the UK Parliament, he is to billions of Facebook users across the world," said Mr Collins.

"Evidence uncovered by my committee shows he still has questions to answer yet he's continued to duck them, refusing to respond to our invitations directly or sending representatives who don't have the right information."

He also accused Facebook of "bullying" smaller tech firms and developers who rely on their platform to reach users.

The committee did not list specific examples of fake news. But it pointed to the government response to its interim report, which found at least 38 false narratives online after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury in March 2018.

The report also noted that disinformation was not just spread on Facebook but also on platforms such as Twitter.

And it found that, in the month following the publication of its interim report, 63% of the views to the online government response were from foreign internet protocol (IP) addresses, more than half of which were from Russia, highly unusual for a UK-based political inquiry.

MPs said current electoral regulations were "hopelessly out of date for the internet age" and needed urgent reform, so that the same principles of transparency of political communications that operate in the real world were applied online too.
The wide-ranging inquiry did not just look at fake news. It also examined how tech firms use data and data-targeting especially in political contexts, the use of political campaigning online and relationship between a complex network of firms including Canadian AIQ, Cambridge Analytica parent firm SCL and IT firm Six-Four-Three.

The committee called on the government to reveal how many investigations were currently being carried out into Russian interference in UK politics, particularly the EU referendum in 2016. They asked the government to launch an independent investigation into that.

In order to better regulate social media firms, the MPs suggested creating a new category of tech firm - one that was neither a platform nor a publisher but something in-between, which would tighten the legal liability for content identified as harmful.

Pressure is mounting on the tech giants to get to grips with the issue of fake news, and will add to calls from other ministers for regulation on the issue of harmful content, following the death of teenager Molly Russell.

Her father accused Facebook-owned Instagram of facilitating her death, by failing to remove images of self-harm.

And the Cairncross Review into the future of UK news recently recommended a regulator should oversee Google and Facebook to ensure their news content is trustworthy.

In her report, Dame Frances Cairncross said such sites should help users identify fake news and "nudge people towards news of high quality".

Facebook has repeatedly said it is committed to fighting fake news and works with more than 30 fact-checking organisation around the world.

Two of those agencies - Associated Press and Snopes - recently quit working with the social network.

The ease with which fake news can be created was illustrated recently by a team of researchers at OpenAi which showed a machine learning system produce coherent, but untrue articles, just by trawling through news site Reddit.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 15:53

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Saudi Arabia signs $20bn in deals with Pakistan


Saudi Arabia 'is Pakistan's friend in need'

Saudi Arabia has pledged investment deals worth $20bn (£15.5bn) with Pakistan which is seeking to bolster its fragile economy.

The deals include funding for an $8bn oil refinery in the city of Gwadar.

It comes as part of a high-profile Asian tour by the kingdom's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Pakistan is suffering a financial crisis. It has only $8bn left in foreign reserves and is looking to international backers for support.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has been seeking help from friendly countries in order to cut the size of the bailout package his country is likely to need from the International Monetary Fund, under very strict conditions.

The country is seeking its 13th bailout since the late 1980s and Saudi Arabia has already provided a $6bn loan.

Pakistan also said it would confer its highest civilian honour on the Saudi crown prince, the Order of Pakistan, a day after the investment deals were finalised.

The move is at odds with other countries who have condemned the Kingdom over its role in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan signed provisional agreements and memorandums of understanding in the energy, petrochemicals and mining sectors, according to reports.

Of the latest deals, Prince bin Salman said: "It's big for phase one, and definitely [our commercial relationship] will grow every month and every year, and it will be beneficial to both countries."

Pakistan is the first stop on an Asian tour by the crown prince, known as MBS. He is scheduled to be in India by Tuesday and will visit China on Thursday and Friday.

The prince is seeking to recast his international image in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi affair. The journalist was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

Against this backdrop, the current tour can be seen as a charm offensive by MBS, who is seeking to bolster relationships with dependable allies as he doles out cash, says the BBC's Abid Hussain.

While Pakistan stands to benefit from Saudi Arabia's largesse, the south Asian country is also important to the kingdom.

The two countries have a long-standing military relationship and the MBS visit comes at a time when geopolitics in the region are shifting - including concerns over the influence of Iran.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 15:49

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Jailed for stealing grapes: The motives of Japan's elderly inmates

Last month the BBC reported on the increase in the numbers of elderly Japanese being imprisoned. The biggest spike is among elderly women. One 68-year-old serving her fifth jail term - this time for stealing fruit - tells 100 Women why she did it.

I was jailed for the first time when I was 53 years old. I think I stole a bag. My prison term this time is two years. It's not that I'm shoplifting all the time - I steal when I feel cornered. The first time I did it because there were tensions at home. One of my children wasn't going to school and I was feeling annoyed.

Another time I was blackmailed by another prisoner who said she would tell everyone I had a criminal record unless I shoplifted again. I think she saw my address when I received letters. I didn't want her to tell everyone so I did it.

This time I shoplifted fruit because I have diabetes and I love sweet things, and I couldn't stop myself. The type of fruit I took [grapes] was something I couldn't afford to buy.

But I was also stressed because my son is living at home with us with his child after his marriage broke down, and hasn't got a job. I shoplifted after we argued. It's hard. He gets bored quickly and left his job. I told him we didn't need a lazy person in the house.


A cell at Tochigi Prison

My husband has visited me but my daughter gets angry and refuses to come.

There are many people here who committed crimes because they didn't get along with their children. They feel lonely. The children have their own life, and they have no time to care for their parents.

I don't want to shoplift again. I want to be strong, not to respond if threatened, and I will be patient about sweet things. I definitely don't want to come back here. I'm old, and it's hard to live here. I can't keep up with everything.

My husband says what's done is done. He says he's sorry that he didn't understand me. He was injured while I was in here so I want to take care of him when I return home. Young people are having a hard time in Japan but I hope they take care of their parents. Otherwise it will create loneliness.


I became a prison warden about 20 years ago. [After a career break] I came back here about five years ago, and my first impression was the increase of elderly prisoners. There were even several inmates I could recognise, and I thought: 'This person has become an old lady.'

For many inmates who have shoplifted, it was not that they didn't have any food to eat, but they wanted to save their money because the food was just there to take. I see the prisoners' profiles when they first join the prison workplace, and often they have stolen just one rice ball, or a few items of food which cost about 1,000 yen (£7).

Of course some inmates have had difficulty in making a living, but I got the impression from the profiles of others that they had the money to buy the thing but they thought it would be free if they stole it.

I talk to them and they know it was wrong but they say: 'I'm old and I don't have much money and worry about my life in old age.'

I'm in charge of a workplace that looks after repeat offenders, and they have been abandoned by their family. They are lonely and isolated. In prison they have food, clothing and shelter, and they might have an acquaintance or friend here. They feel more secure inside prison than outside in society.

In order to be sent to jail the easiest crime they can commit is stealing and shoplifting, and that is why we see an increase in those crimes.


Prison life: Slippers and bars to air bedding on

I used to be in charge of a workplace for first offenders. Some of the women I first met in that workplace are now in the repeat offenders section. I asked them why they came back so soon and they said: 'I was so lonely.'

When they got out of jail they said they would never want to come back but once they were out, because they had a criminal record and were older than 60, they didn't have many relatives to depend on, no friends, and wondered how they could live their lives. So they shoplifted again. I'm concerned that people like that will increase.

Once the prisoners have finished their term, they work with a welfare section at their local city hall and a welfare institution. We want to change their minds that going back to prison is the only way to survive.



ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 15:44

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Emiliano Sala: Cardiff footballer's funeral takes place

Mourners have been paying their final respects to Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala in his native Argentina.

The 28-year-old died when the plane he was in with pilot David Ibbotson crashed in the English Channel en route from Nantes to Cardiff on 21 January.

A wake was held at the club Sala played for as a youth in his hometown of Progreso before the funeral started later on Saturday.

Among those who attended was Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock.

"I would like to find a responsible person...someone who says to me: 'this happened'; but, well, it seems this was just an accident," said Sala's aunt Mirta Taffarel.

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock: "Sala was my player"

Sala was killed when a single-engine light aircraft, flown by pilot Mr Ibbotson, crashed near Alderney just two days after he became Cardiff City's record transfer.

His body, which was recovered from the wreckage following a privately-funded search last week, was repatriated to Argentina on Friday.

It was then driven from Buenos Aires to the Sante Fe province, where Sala grew up.

Mourners applauded in tribute as the footballer's coffin was carried in his hometown of Progreso

Outside the wake, fans draped a banner reading 'Emi, nunca caminaras solo' or 'Emi, You'll Never Walk Alone'.

"It's as if he was a member of my family," said a sobbing Lucia Torres, who lives nearby.

"It's something I can't understand nor accept because it hurts so much. The town has been in darkness since 21 January."

Emiliano Sala is known affectionately as Emi in his hometown

Sala's aunt Mirta Taffarel as she left the wake on Saturday morning

"He represented a lot for us," said Daniel Ribero, president of Sala's boyhood club San Martin de Progreso.

"We're a small village and Emi was a celebrity, the only player to turn professional."

Ahead of the service, the club posted a message on social media saying: "We are waiting for you ... like the first day you left but this time to stay with us forever. Eternally in our hearts."

Daniel Ribero, president of Sala's boyhood club San Martin de Progreso, said the footballer was a "celebrity" in the town

The wake got under way at the sports hall in San Martin de Progreso at 07:00 local time (10:00 GMT), and the funeral started at 14:00 (17:00 GMT).

As well as Cardiff's delegation of Warnock and chief executive Ken Choo, Sala's former club FC Nantes has been represented by defender Nicolas Pallois and its general secretary.

Warnock said: "He's my player. He signed for me I think he was going to be very instrumental in what we were looking to do and I feel it's the only good thing you can do.

"Family puts it in perspective. Family is so important, everything here today has shown how important it seems like the whole village has got together."

Mr Choo added: "We feel very sad and the whole club feels very sad."

"Today I think it's good for the family to have some closure."

Sala's mother Mercedes and sister Romina, who travelled to Europe after his disappearance, have returned to Progreso.

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock travelled to Argentina for the funeral

Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock is due to attend the funeral on Saturday

His father Horacio also attended the funeral.

Meanwhile, a campaign to raise funds to find the body of Mr Ibbotson has reached £240,000.

The family of the 59-year-old, who is feared dead, are hoping to raise £300,000.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:25

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Venezuela crisis: Guaidó sets up possible confrontation over US aid

Venezuela's self-declared interim leader has set up a confrontation over US aid by calling for Venezuelans to cross borders and bring it into the country next week.

Juan Guaidó wants a "humanitarian avalanche" and "caravans" to go to the borders to get the aid next Saturday.

President Nicolás Maduro says the aid is part of a US plot to disguise an invasion into Venezuela.

The US says Mr Guaidó requested aid because the country was in crisis.

USAID administrator Mark Green said children were going hungry, that nearly every hospital in Venezuela was experiencing medicine shortages and that three million people had left the country.

It remains unclear if the aid will be allowed to enter Venezuela.

US military planes have already delivered aid to the Colombian border town of Cucuta. Mr Guaidó said more aid distribution centres would be opened in the Brazilian border town of Roraima and in the Caribbean.

What is Guaidó planning?

Outlining his plans for 23 February, Mr Guaidó, who is leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, urged Venezuelans to mobilise en masse in all of the country's states.

He said aid would enter Venezuela by land and sea and also urged Venezuelans living abroad to demonstrate and for those in Colombia and Brazil to accompany the aid into Venezuela.

Venezuela's President Maduro to BBC: US aid trucks are a charade

In an earlier tweet he said 600,000 people had signed up as volunteers to help bring in the aid and appealed to the military - which has so far remained loyal to Mr Maduro - to "put itself on the side of the people" and let the aid in.

  • Mr Guaidó has also said that more aid will be flown to the Dutch territory of Curaçao early next week. The opposition says that if it gets in Venezuela it will be first distributed to infants and pregnant mothers living in extreme poverty.

What does Maduro say?

He has denied there is any crisis in Venezuela and has called the operation a US-orchestrated show.

On Friday he ordered the military to remain on high alert against what he described as US "war plans".

His Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez meanwhile alleged that the US aid was contaminated with carcinogens "to poison our population" and described it as a "biological weapon", Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported.

One road bridge between Venezuela and Colombia remains blocked on the Venezuelan side by shipping containers.

Why Venezuela matters to the US... and vice versa

What has led to this?

Mr Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, was re-elected to a second term last year. But the elections were controversial, with many opposition candidates barred from running or jailed. There were also allegations of vote-rigging.

The head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Mr Guaidó declared himself president on 23 January. He said the constitution allowed him to assume power temporarily when the president was deemed illegitimate.

The US, some Latin American countries and some European countries, including the UK, support his claim. Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey and others say Mr Maduro is the legitimate president.


ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:19

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In pictures: Haiti anti-government protests

Protesters are angry at soaring inflation and demand an independent investigation over claims that officials and former ministers misappropriated development funds from an oil deal signed between Caribbean countries and Venezuela, the PetroCaribe.

The alleged theft amounts to $2bn (£1.55bn), according to a court report.

The demonstrators have demanded the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, in power since 2017, who has also been accused of involvement in irregularities. But last week he rejected calls for his resignation, saying he would not leave the country in the "hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers".

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and 60% of the population live on less than $2 (£1.56) a day, according to the World Bank.

The Caribbean nation was devastated by a powerful earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people. Then in 2016, Hurricane Michael hit, killing some 3,000 people and badly damaging the country's infrastructure. Thousands of residents were displaced.

In an address on Saturday, Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant announced measures including a 30% reduction in government's expenses and the removal of privileges - such as allowances for petrol, and telephones and trips abroad - for government officials.

He also vowed to continue with the investigation into the alleged irregularities involving PetroCaribe funds.

Thousands have joined the demonstrations that have plunged Haiti into political crisis and paralysed everyday life in the largest towns. New protests were expected this week and Mr Céant warned of the risk of a humanitarian crisis.

"The population suffers a lot, because blocked roads can't deliver water to drink, food, gasoline. It's almost impossible to have electricity."

Since the protests broke out on 7 February, several foreign governments, including the US and Canada, have urged citizens to avoid travel to Haiti and ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel.

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:16

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Anorexia: Lara Rebecca's recovery watched online by millions


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

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

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

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

"It was a coping mechanism," she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She documented her weight loss with photographs.

Lara recorded her condition in photographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:13

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Tributes as Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn dies aged 84

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:05

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Meet Sydney - the teenage taxidermist


Sydney Langton said she would never condone killing animals for taxidermy

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

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

That's not the case with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to make precise incisions and use accurate sewing.

From there, I gradually expanded my repertoire.

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

A stuffed eagle owl, worth around £800

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At work: Sydney says each piece takes days to prepare

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

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

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

It is not simply about stuffing an animal.

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

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

Already I have some sold some pieces.

Sydney's Cabinet of Curiosities for her GCSE artwork

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 12:00

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Mountain lion in California tree 'rescued' by firefighters

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

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

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

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

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

Firefighters arrived within minutes to extract the animal

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 11:56

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


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

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

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

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

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

Does the reality at the border matter?

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

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

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

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

What is a national emergency?

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

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

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

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

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

'Haze of Democratic hypocrisy'

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

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

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

President Obama with the Libyan ambassador in 2011

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

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

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

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

Will court ignore precedent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where will the $8bn come from?

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

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

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

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

A different age

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

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

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

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

Strange bedfellows... John Adams and Benjamin Franklin

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

It is perhaps a lesson for our times.

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 11:50

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Greeks squeezed by foreign investors in Athens property boom

Geraldine Hynes is panicking about the future.

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

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

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

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

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

But this news is causing unease.

Street notices express some Athens residents' anger over high rents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 10:06

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Has Meghan's accent changed since marrying Prince Harry?

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

Now even her accent has become a topic of debate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Li Rui died in Beiijng on Saturday, aged 101.

An underground revolutionary

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

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

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

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

Their relationship didn't last long.

'Mao put no value on human life'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last idealist

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:48

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Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eissa Muhamad (C) spent seven years living in Israel

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

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

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

Food handouts

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

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

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

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

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

Many migrants who enter Israel illegally end up in detention centres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Asylum his only option'

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

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

The Eritrean runner fearing deportation from Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:41

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Pulwama attack: Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir gun battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadliest attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 09:38

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British IS schoolgirl 'wants to return home'

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

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

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

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

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

'It was like a normal life'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I don't regret coming here."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Scared this baby is going to get sick'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 14, 2019 10:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 18:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 15:22

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Spain budget failure puts snap election on the cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 15:08

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Maria Ressa: Head of Philippines news site Rappler arrested

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:34

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Thailand's Princess Ubolratana 'sad' about election fallout

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

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

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

King Vajiralongkorn had called her bid "extremely inappropriate".

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thai Raksa Chart's leader Preechaphol Pongpanit defended their nomination

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

The row over the princess has reignited old rivalries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:29

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

Meet the people who fought back against foreign plastic waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4,000 tonnes of waste sits in a single site

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

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

It's just metres away from a palm tree plantation

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

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

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

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

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

An abandoned recycling factory in Kuala Langat

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

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

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

But this is unlikely to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:18

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

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

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

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

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

'Obligation chocolate'

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

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

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

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

Not so sweet

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

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

But others are troubled by the custom.

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

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

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

Power dynamics

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan's sweet tooth

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 12:07

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Rich The Kid robbed at LA studio where Usher was recording

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Posing with cash'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:53

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

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

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

Here's how it unfolded in real time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:49

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:44

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El Chapo trial: Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán found guilty

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

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

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

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

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

He was extradited to the US in 2017.

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

What happened in court?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is El Chapo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was heard during the trial?

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

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

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

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

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

Another witness described seeing Guzmán murder at least three men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why was this trial significant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC crew mistaken for ritual killers in Malawi

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

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

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

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

Henry Mhango

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:55

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Why the attack on our cameraman was no surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:39

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Tanzania male MPs face circumcision call to stop HIV spread

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

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

Her suggestion divided opinion among her colleagues.

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

Around 5% of Tanzania's adult population is believed to have been infected by HIV - giving it the 13th highest rate of infection in the world, according to figures from 2016.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexual men contracting HIV by around 60%.

Several African countries that are fighting HIV epidemics have launched campaigns to encourage men to undergo the procedure, which involves surgically removing the foreskin from the penis.


Ms Ngonyani made the comments during a debate in parliament about how to curb the spread of HIV in the country.

Her suggestion was backed by MP Joseph Selasini.

In neighbouring Kenya, some top politicians voluntarily submitted to the procedure in 2008 as a way of encouraging men from their communities to do the same.

However, MP Joseph Kasheku opposed Ms Ngonyani's proposal, describing it as uncouth and invasive.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:34

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Newspaper headlines: Donald Tusk's Brexit 'hell' comments on front pages

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned Donald Tusk he'd get "terrible trouble in the British press" for saying there was "a special place in hell" for some Brexiteers.

And the papers have delivered.

"To hell with EU" is the Sun's message to the European Council president.

"We knew one of the EU's leaders is a staggering drunk - turns out the other is a staggering fool," says the paper in its editorial, which concludes that "these sneering, sniggering goons are exactly why we voted as we did on June the 23rd, 2016".

"Eurocrat from Hell" is how the Daily Mail describes Mr Tusk. "What a time to be indulging in gratuitous mud-slinging," says the paper, adding that "such incendiary language, at this crucial moment, risks sabotaging an 11th-hour deal over the Northern Ireland backstop".

Bob cartoon makes clear the Daily Telegraph's distain for Mr Tusk. It shows him being escorted down a staircase by the devil, who tells him: "Our deepest, foulest pit is reserved for smug little hypocrites."

The Times offers a more sympathetic interpretation of his remarks. This "spasm of frustration at the British political class" came from the heart, writes the paper's Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield.

Mr Tusk, he adds: "Speaks as the representative of 27 EU leaders...who knows the extent of deepening despair at the incoherence of British politics."

The Guardian takes a different approach, asking: "If he's right, who is most likely to end up roasting in the eternal fires?"

It goes on to rank the most likely candidates. Ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson gets the highest rating, for promising voters what the paper describes as "sunlit, unicorn-rich uplands" after Brexit.

Another whose chances are fancied is the former Brexit secretary David Davis, who it says "promised no downside" to leaving the EU.

The Daily Mirror dedicates seven pages to what it calls the "national scandal" of Britain's homeless.

Its reporters from across the UK have written moving accounts from people living on the streets. Among them is a woman from Northampton who says her unborn baby died because of the freezing conditions, and a builder from Cardiff who lost his job as a roofer when he broke his back.

In its editorial, the paper pins the blame for high levels of homelessness on "a government which has stopped caring". Communities Secretary James Brokenshire tells the paper that "ending homelessness in its entirety is his priority".

The "i" reports on a "smear test revolution" it says is set to save thousands of lives.

The paper says research suggests a new more accurate screening regime, being rolled out by the NHS, could cut the number of women being diagnosed with cervical cancer by a fifth.

The Daily Express explains that the new method - which involves testing for the human papilloma virus - was found to be 50% more effective at detecting abnormal cell growth then current methods.

Several papers report on the success of new, smaller portions of fish and chips - which have even been touted as a food of choice for dieters.

"Fish and chips can be enjoyed without your waistline taking a battering," reports the Daily Mail.

Researchers at Newcastle University found the new "Lite-Bite" boxes, which contained only around 600 calories, went down well with customers during trials in the north of England.

But the Sun isn't impressed. "Cod help us!" cries its headline... "now do-gooders are cutting our fish 'n chips".

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:30

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Libby Squire: New CCTV emerges of missing student

Libby Squire can be seen on CCTV walking towards the queue for the Welly Club music venue

New footage of missing student Libby Squire on the night of her disappearance has emerged.

The CCTV images show a woman, confirmed by police as the 21-year-old student, near the Welly Club music venue on 31 January at about 23:20 GMT.

Police are continuing to search an area close to the last known sighting of Libby, from High Wycombe.

A 24-year-old man arrested on suspicion of abduction remains a person of interest, police said.

The video, filmed by a camera on a lettings agency next door to the club, shows Libby in a black jacket and a black skirt.

The 21-year-old is believed to have taken a taxi from the nightclub after she was refused entry.

Police said she was dropped off near her home at about 23:30 and was then seen near a bench on Beverley Road about 10 minutes later.

One area of interest in the police search has been the Oak Road Playing Fields in the city, with officers retuning on Tuesday and using power tools to cut back undergrowth.

Humberside Police said hundreds of uniformed officers and around 50 detectives have been searching "around the clock" for Libby, with specialist search advisors, underwater officers, the fire service, police dogs, local businesses and the public also involved.

Police are continuing to search an area close to Oak Road Playing Fields in Hull

Humberside Police said: "Our priority remains to find Libby and support her family at this incredibly distressing time."

The force has posted letters to people living near to Raglan Street to ask if anyone heard "anything unusual" on the night of her disappearance.

Officers have been using rakes and power tools to search undergrowth

Police have carried out house-to-house inquiries in Hull, and a dog unit, police divers and helicopter have all been used as part of the search effort.

The force said it had "received hundreds of calls" and was pursuing a number of lines of inquiry.

On the night of her disappearance, detectives think she arrived at her student house at about 23:30 GMT, where her mobile phone was found.

They do not believe the University of Hull student entered the house and have said her phone "has not provided any further insight as to her movements that night".

She was spotted on CCTV 10 minutes later near a bench on Beverley Road, where it is thought a motorist stopped to offer her help.

She is believed to have been in the area for about 30 minutes.

Ms Squire, who is 5ft 7in tall with long dark brown hair, was wearing a black leather jacket, black long-sleeved top and a black denim skirt with lace when she was last seen.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:21

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