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Tracking sanctions-busting ships on the high seas

For a long time, being out at sea meant being out of sight and out of reach.

And all kinds of shenanigans went on as a result - countries secretly selling oil and other goods to countries they're not supposed to under international sanctions rules, for example, not to mention piracy and kidnapping.

The problem is that captains can easily switch off the current way of tracking ships, called the Automatic Identification System (AIS), hiding their location.

But now thousands of surveillance satellites have been launched into space, and artificial intelligence (AI) is being applied to the images they take.

There's no longer anywhere for such ships to hide.

Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, says his firm's satellite imagery analysis has identified Iranian tankers moving in and out of port, despite US sanctions restricting much of the country's oil exports.

He's watched North Korea - which is limited by international rules to 500,000 barrels of refined oil every year - taking delivery of fuel via ship-to-ship transfers on the open ocean.

Media captionNorth Korea has been called out for evading UN sanctions

Turning off the AIS transponders that broadcast a ship's position, course and speed, is no longer a guarantee of anonymity.

His firm can even ascertain what cargo a ship is carrying - and how much - just by looking at its shadow on the water, says Mr Madani.

The fuller the vessel is, the lower it sits in the water, and this affects the size of the shadow depending on the sun's position at the time.

"There are some other indicators we don't want to mention - we have our own methods," he adds mysteriously.

Planet Labs - a private space firm that just launched 300 satellites into orbit, the largest such fleet ever deployed commercially - offers ship tracking as a service to clients such as TankerTrackers.

As well as spotting nefarious maritime activities, these spies in the sky can give us a snapshot of the global economy.

Image captionSatellites can spot tankers undergoing - sometimes illegal - ship-to-ship fuel transfers

For example, Mr Madani has witnessed huge numbers of tankers sailing from the US to China suddenly stop mid-ocean, as trade tensions between the two countries peaked.

And now that Saudi Arabia, along with its Opec allies, has agreed to cut oil production in a bid to boost prices - much to President Trump's annoyance - traders can see if it is keeping its promise simply by monitoring the number of tankers leaving its ports.

In a bygone era, traders would have to have waited weeks to confirm that deliveries were falling.

Satellite tracking is giving traders near real-time data on where oil supplies are located, how much there is, and how long it will take to arrive. This means they can respond much more quickly to sudden shifts in price and demand.

Image captionA satellite snaps a tanker that has turned off its AIS tracking system off the coast of Egypt

Say a big winter storm hits the US east coast and the price of oil spikes as a result. Fuel tankers already en route to Europe, say, will sometimes "reverse course and head back across the Atlantic on the basis of the price", explains Michelle Wiese Bockmann, an independent shipping analyst.

Their cargoes will have been re-sold while in transit.

"When I first started tracking ships five years ago, it was by no means as evolved as it is now," says Ms Bockmann.

Vortexa is one of a new breed of companies applying AI to all this satellite and market data to monitor global energy markets.

Fabio Kuhn, co-founder and chief executive, shows me a live map plotting the location of thousands of tanker ships across the globe.

Image captionThere can be more than 5,000 tankers plying the world's oceans at any one time

Click on one and you see details of what it's carrying and where it's headed. There are also separate screens showing, for instance, all of the known diesel shipments heading towards the UK right now - useful to know if you expect cold weather to hit in the coming weeks.

"A company like ours could not have existed before 2015," he tells me. "There was not enough data for us to understand what is inside the tankers."

  • Even though Vortexa can't be certain of the cargo in every case, having so much data on ships and port activity means it can make automated guesses.

"It feels as if vessel-tracking has become a much more prominent element of the global commodity market," says Matthew Smith at ship-tracking firm ClipperData, "simply because it's giving greater transparency into what's happening."

His firm has mapped "every single dock in every single port" worldwide, and has logged every publicly available record of what cargoes have been loaded there. This means that if a ship with unknown cargo uses one of these docks, his team can make a good guess as to what it's carrying.

And as the ebb and flow of commodities trading affects the wider global economy, financial traders at big banks and hedge funds also want to keep an eye on shipping activity, says Mr Smith.

As ever, knowledge is power, and increasingly sophisticated satellites and data analysis are helping to deliver both.

For a long time, being out at sea meant being out of sight and out of reach.

And all kinds of shenanigans went on as a result - countries secretly selling oil and other goods to countries they're not supposed to under international sanctions rules, for example, not to mention piracy and kidnapping.

The problem is that captains can easily switch off the current way of tracking ships, called the Automatic Identification System (AIS), hiding their location.

But now thousands of surveillance satellites have been launched into space, and artificial intelligence (AI) is being applied to the images they take.

There's no longer anywhere for such ships to hide.

Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, says his firm's satellite imagery analysis has identified Iranian tankers moving in and out of port, despite US sanctions restricting much of the country's oil exports.

He's watched North Korea - which is limited by international rules to 500,000 barrels of refined oil every year - taking delivery of fuel via ship-to-ship transfers on the open ocean.
Media captionNorth Korea has been called out for evading UN sanctions
Turning off the AIS transponders that broadcast a ship's position, course and speed, is no longer a guarantee of anonymity.

His firm can even ascertain what cargo a ship is carrying - and how much - just by looking at its shadow on the water, says Mr Madani.

The fuller the vessel is, the lower it sits in the water, and this affects the size of the shadow depending on the sun's position at the time.

"There are some other indicators we don't want to mention - we have our own methods," he adds mysteriously.

Planet Labs - a private space firm that just launched 300 satellites into orbit, the largest such fleet ever deployed commercially - offers ship tracking as a service to clients such as TankerTrackers.

As well as spotting nefarious maritime activities, these spies in the sky can give us a snapshot of the global economy.
Satellites can spot tankers undergoing - sometimes illegal - ship-to-ship fuel transfers
For example, Mr Madani has witnessed huge numbers of tankers sailing from the US to China suddenly stop mid-ocean, as trade tensions between the two countries peaked.

And now that Saudi Arabia, along with its Opec allies, has agreed to cut oil production in a bid to boost prices - much to President Trump's annoyance - traders can see if it is keeping its promise simply by monitoring the number of tankers leaving its ports.

In a bygone era, traders would have to have waited weeks to confirm that deliveries were falling.

Satellite tracking is giving traders near real-time data on where oil supplies are located, how much there is, and how long it will take to arrive. This means they can respond much more quickly to sudden shifts in price and demand.
A satellite snaps a tanker that has turned off its AIS tracking system off the coast of Egypt
Say a big winter storm hits the US east coast and the price of oil spikes as a result. Fuel tankers already en route to Europe, say, will sometimes "reverse course and head back across the Atlantic on the basis of the price", explains Michelle Wiese Bockmann, an independent shipping analyst.

Their cargoes will have been re-sold while in transit.

"When I first started tracking ships five years ago, it was by no means as evolved as it is now," says Ms Bockmann.

Vortexa is one of a new breed of companies applying AI to all this satellite and market data to monitor global energy markets.

Fabio Kuhn, co-founder and chief executive, shows me a live map plotting the location of thousands of tanker ships across the globe.
There can be more than 5,000 tankers plying the world's oceans at any one time
Click on one and you see details of what it's carrying and where it's headed. There are also separate screens showing, for instance, all of the known diesel shipments heading towards the UK right now - useful to know if you expect cold weather to hit in the coming weeks.

"A company like ours could not have existed before 2015," he tells me. "There was not enough data for us to understand what is inside the tankers."

More Technology of Business

Meet the data guardians taking on the tech giants
Could dancing pandas persuade you to buy new sports shoes?
Why your new heart could be made in space one day
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The once homeless man bringing web access to the Bronx
Even though Vortexa can't be certain of the cargo in every case, having so much data on ships and port activity means it can make automated guesses.

"It feels as if vessel-tracking has become a much more prominent element of the global commodity market," says Matthew Smith at ship-tracking firm ClipperData, "simply because it's giving greater transparency into what's happening."

His firm has mapped "every single dock in every single port" worldwide, and has logged every publicly available record of what cargoes have been loaded there. This means that if a ship with unknown cargo uses one of these docks, his team can make a good guess as to what it's carrying.

And as the ebb and flow of commodities trading affects the wider global economy, financial traders at big banks and hedge funds also wan

For a long time, being out at sea meant being out of sight and out of reach.

And all kinds of shenanigans went on as a result - countries secretly selling oil and other goods to countries they're not supposed to under international sanctions rules, for example, not to mention piracy and kidnapping.

The problem is that captains can easily switch off the current way of tracking ships, called the Automatic Identification System (AIS), hiding their location.

But now thousands of surveillance satellites have been launched into space, and artificial intelligence (AI) is being applied to the images they take.

There's no longer anywhere for such ships to hide.

Samir Madani, co-founder of TankerTrackers.com, says his firm's satellite imagery analysis has identified Iranian tankers moving in and out of port, despite US sanctions restricting much of the country's oil exports.

He's watched North Korea - which is limited by international rules to 500,000 barrels of refined oil every year - taking delivery of fuel via ship-to-ship transfers on the open ocean.


Media captionNorth Korea has been called out for evading UN sanctions
Turning off the AIS transponders that broadcast a ship's position, course and speed, is no longer a guarantee of anonymity.

His firm can even ascertain what cargo a ship is carrying - and how much - just by looking at its shadow on the water, says Mr Madani.

The fuller the vessel is, the lower it sits in the water, and this affects the size of the shadow depending on the sun's position at the time.

"There are some other indicators we don't want to mention - we have our own methods," he adds mysteriously.

Planet Labs - a private space firm that just launched 300 satellites into orbit, the largest such fleet ever deployed commercially - offers ship tracking as a service to clients such as TankerTrackers.

As well as spotting nefarious maritime activities, these spies in the sky can give us a snapshot of the global economy.
Satellites can spot tankers undergoing - sometimes illegal - ship-to-ship fuel transfers
For example, Mr Madani has witnessed huge numbers of tankers sailing from the US to China suddenly stop mid-ocean, as trade tensions between the two countries peaked.

And now that Saudi Arabia, along with its Opec allies, has agreed to cut oil production in a bid to boost prices - much to President Trump's annoyance - traders can see if it is keeping its promise simply by monitoring the number of tankers leaving its ports.

In a bygone era, traders would have to have waited weeks to confirm that deliveries were falling.

Satellite tracking is giving traders near real-time data on where oil supplies are located, how much there is, and how long it will take to arrive. This means they can respond much more quickly to sudden shifts in price and demand.
A satellite snaps a tanker that has turned off its AIS tracking system off the coast of Egypt
Say a big winter storm hits the US east coast and the price of oil spikes as a result. Fuel tankers already en route to Europe, say, will sometimes "reverse course and head back across the Atlantic on the basis of the price", explains Michelle Wiese Bockmann, an independent shipping analyst.

Their cargoes will have been re-sold while in transit.

"When I first started tracking ships five years ago, it was by no means as evolved as it is now," says Ms Bockmann.

Vortexa is one of a new breed of companies applying AI to all this satellite and market data to monitor global energy markets.

Fabio Kuhn, co-founder and chief executive, shows me a live map plotting the location of thousands of tanker ships across the globe.
There can be more than 5,000 tankers plying the world's oceans at any one time
Click on one and you see details of what it's carrying and where it's headed. There are also separate screens showing, for instance, all of the known diesel shipments heading towards the UK right now - useful to know if you expect cold weather to hit in the coming weeks.

"A company like ours could not have existed before 2015," he tells me. "There was not enough data for us to understand what is inside the tankers."

More Technology of Business

Meet the data guardians taking on the tech giants
Could dancing pandas persuade you to buy new sports shoes?
Why your new heart could be made in space one day
Designing the cities of the future
The once homeless man bringing web access to the Bronx
Even though Vortexa can't be certain of the cargo in every case, having so much data on ships and port activity means it can make automated guesses.

"It feels as if vessel-tracking has become a much more prominent element of the global commodity market," says Matthew Smith at ship-tracking firm ClipperData, "simply because it's giving greater transparency into what's happening."

His firm has mapped "every single dock in every single port" worldwide, and has logged every publicly available record of what cargoes have been loaded there. This means that if a ship with unknown cargo uses one of these docks, his team can make a good guess as to what it's carrying.

And as the ebb and flow of commodities trading affects the wider global economy, financial traders at big banks and hedge funds also want to keep an eye on shipping activity, says Mr Smith.

As ever, knowledge is power, and increasingly sophisticated satellites and data analysis are helping to deliver both.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47046979

t to keep an eye on shipping activity, says Mr Smith.

As ever, knowledge is power, and increasingly sophisticated satellites and data analysis are helping to deliver both.

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 17:04

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Did wine cause a full-sacle revolution in armenia

Born late-December 2012, In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. The cosy interior brims with hand-picked bottles; pungent cured meats and cheeses fill the deli counter; and passionate staff deliver a wealth of knowledge with every glass.(Credit: age fotostock/Alamy)

This scene would be familiar to most oenophiles, and is repeated in cities across the globe. So to understand the significance of this particular bar, some wider context about this corner of the Caucasus is needed.

In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan.

Armenia claims an enviable history. What are believed to be the oldest known traces of winemaking in the world have been found in the country’s south, at the 6,100-year-old Areni-1 archaeological site. Christianity first blossomed here. Literary, artistic, culinary and musical traditions pre-date many ancient civilisations. But modern times have been defined by struggle.

Ottoman occupation in the early-20th Century turned from oppression to mass killings, decimating the population and significantly shrinking borders in the process. Soviet rule, beginning in 1922, restricted opportunities and options – and independence in 1991 resulted in kleptocratic decisions where industrial assets were stripped with little investment to plug the gaps.

Additionally, territorial disputes became numerous. Borders with neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed, and swathes of land have been annexed. Successive autocratic regimes over the last three decades had given rise to endemic corruption, stunting the economy and limiting social mobility. An enormous diaspora now remains overseas, and on home turf, one third of the population is currently impoverished with 16% unemployed. Those with a job earn an average of £270 per month.

What are believed to be the world's oldest known traces of winemaking have been found at Armenia’s 6,100-year-old Areni-1 archaeological site.

All of which makes Armenia an unlikely candidate for The Economist magazine’s 2018 Country of the Year. That is until you look at the events of spring 2018, when the Velvet Revolution swept through towns and cities after former president Serzh Sargsyan tried to extend his decade in power.

The public, weary after years of administrative criminality, had finally had enough. Young activists mobilised, using social media to organise large-scale protests, bringing major roads and public realms to a standstill. Within weeks, the ruling Republican Party stepped down. Not a single shot was fired.

Elections in December 2018 then saw reformist acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who was a key figure in the revolution, claim 70.4% of the vote. Many now believe major improvements are possible after seeing barriers between political class and population removed. As a symbolic gesture, the gates to the National Assembly and the prime minister and president’s offices were opened to the public in October to convey new governmental transparency.

In spring 2018, young activists organised wide-scale protests across Armenia against political corruption.

However, some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were inadvertently sowed in the intimate interiors that define many of Armenia’s new specialist drinking dens that stand on Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’ thanks to the sheer number of establishments that have opened since In Vino arrived. A huge financial risk at that time – with some doubting such a small bar could turn a profit – six years on, In Vino is a firm fixture in the capital's nightlife scene.

The area caters to a new generation of drinkers, who prefer quality wines (domestic and imported), craft beers and spirits with traceable origins over the mass-produced vodka popularised during Soviet times – and a staple of more traditional haunts popular with the now-deposed political class. With the old regime disinterested, establishments such as In Vino became breeding grounds for progressive ideas. Frustrations, resentments and hopes were shared across tables, eventually boiling over into direct action.

“Wine created places where people would come and share ideas without feeling encroached by the presence of the ruling class,” said Vahe Baloulian, one of In Vino’s owners. “[In Vino] became one of those places where similar types of people would gather and exchange ideas. It didn’t happen because they started drinking wine, but wine usually attracts people who are better educated, more forward-looking.”

Some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were sowed in the wine bars along Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’.

Wine Street's dominant demographic – largely young, educated and employed but tired of the corruption in parliament – would not only support the revolution, but go on to produce the government of today.

“Right now, a lot of the people who are involved in the parliament are just like us, people who used to come to our wine bar regularly,” said Mariam Saghatelyan, one of Baloulian’s partners at In Vino. “They might not be very experienced in the field, they might not know that much about politics, but at least they have the same interests as me, and if I am against something they want to change, I can voice my opinion. I’m not afraid of them anymore.”

Wine created places where people would come and share ideas without feeling encroached by the presence of the ruling class

While these new wine bars and ideas might be progressive in today’s Armenia, gathering and exchanging thoughts over wine is firmly rooted in the country’s cultural heritage.

“Even if you read stories or historical points about our ancestors – my grandfather, their grandfathers – how they would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage,” Saghatelyan said.

Just as wine has been brought back to the fore by Armenians keen to see one of the country's oldest traditions thrive, the slow, relaxed atmosphere we associate with drinking reds, whites and roses has restored that tradition of addressing the day’s issues over a fine vintage.

“The whole wine itself is a story – the winemaker, where it was made, the history of the winery. People started to discuss things around the wine, then the next day you could see them coming together as a group,” Saghatelyan said. “A lot of problems were discussed, because wine makes conversations flow.”

Mariam Saghatelyan: “How [our ancestors] would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage”.

Domestic wine production has re-emerged in tandem with these new perspectives. Under the Soviet Union, Armenia was instructed to focus on brandies. Many of the red grape vines used to produce wines were removed to increase capacity for the white varieties brandy requires. Other red vineyards simply fell into disrepair as demand declined.

In the years after Soviet authority ended, however, a thirst to resurrect the lost wine industry grew alongside newfound freedoms promoting the recognition and celebration of Armenia's traditions that had been suppressed under communism. Output of Armenian wine has since exploded, as In Vino’s success demonstrates. When it opened, there were just 10 native varieties on sale; that number now stands at 85, with reds such as Areni and Kakhet and Voskehat whites particularly popular in the shop.

“Armenian winemakers of the recent generations showed that it’s possible to make good wine in Armenia. Because before that people were going for sweet wines which was all sugar and juice or foreign wines,” Baloulian explained. “So a lot of things like this made people believe what they were told was impossible was possible.”

After Soviet authority ended in Armenia, a thirst to resurrect the country’s lost wine industry grew.

It may sound tenuous to suggest a link between that newfound belief in quality winemaking and the realisation that other forms of positive change could also happen. But there are parallels. Armenia’s new producers approach winemaking with hopes of competing globally. Meanwhile, the revolution began with demands for better prospects from a population tired of an economy that could not function properly on the international stage.

“Winemaking is not a new thing here, but the approach and the philosophy is,” explained Varuzhan Mouradian, who heads up the Van Ardi winery, one of Armenia’s growing number of award-winning, modern vineyards. “I think the consumer should follow and trace the wine back to starting from that bud break. She or he needs to feel that sun, and see how deep the roots went, how they were fighting the stones to collect different minerals.”

“The contrast compared to 15 years ago, or during Soviet times, was that wine was just considered an alcoholic beverage and produced as such,” said his daughter, Ani Mouradian, who explained how the last six years have been crucial to cementing the reputation of Armenian wine on the world circuit as producers started appearing at foreign trade shows. And confidence in the wine industry is growing.

There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination.

The Van Ardi winery is building accommodation overlooking the vines, scheduled for completion in 2020. Elsewhere, in the most prominent wine region of Vayots Dzor, the country’s first wine route has been established. There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination, like neighbouring Georgia, bolstering a small but economically significant tourism economy in the coming years.

Whether Armenian wine really started the revolution is a matter of opinion, but its impact on a country in the throes of being reborn seems undeniable.

Born late-December 2012, In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. The cosy interior brims with hand-picked bottles; pungent cured meats and cheeses fill the deli counter; and passionate staff deliver a wealth of knowledge with every glass.

This scene would be familiar to most oenophiles, and is repeated in cities across the globe. So to understand the significance of this particular bar, some wider context about this corner of the Caucasus is needed.

In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan (Credit: Credit: age fotostock/Alamy)
In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in A

Born late-December 2012, In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. The cosy interior brims with hand-picked bottles; pungent cured meats and cheeses fill the deli counter; and passionate staff deliver a wealth of knowledge with every glass.

This scene would be familiar to most oenophiles, and is repeated in cities across the globe. So to understand the significance of this particular bar, some wider context about this corner of the Caucasus is needed.

In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan (Credit: Credit: age fotostock/Alamy)
In Vino was the first specialist wine bar and shop to open in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan (Credit: age fotostock/Alamy)
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Armenia claims an enviable history. What are believed to be the oldest known traces of winemaking in the world have been found in the country’s south, at the 6,100-year-old Areni-1 archaeological site. Christianity first blossomed here. Literary, artistic, culinary and musical traditions pre-date many ancient civilisations. But modern times have been defined by struggle.

Ottoman occupation in the early-20th Century turned from oppression to mass killings, decimating the population and significantly shrinking borders in the process. Soviet rule, beginning in 1922, restricted opportunities and options – and independence in 1991 resulted in kleptocratic decisions where industrial assets were stripped with little investment to plug the gaps.

Additionally, territorial disputes became numerous. Borders with neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed, and swathes of land have been annexed. Successive autocratic regimes over the last three decades had given rise to endemic corruption, stunting the economy and limiting social mobility. An enormous diaspora now remains overseas, and on home turf, one third of the population is currently impoverished with 16% unemployed. Those with a job earn an average of £270 per month.

What are believed to be the world's oldest known traces of winemaking have been found in Armenia (Credit: Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
What are believed to be the world's oldest known traces of winemaking have been found at Armenia’s 6,100-year-old Areni-1 archaeological site (Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
All of which makes Armenia an unlikely candidate for The Economist magazine’s 2018 Country of the Year. That is until you look at the events of spring 2018, when the Velvet Revolution swept through towns and cities after former president Serzh Sargsyan tried to extend his decade in power.

The public, weary after years of administrative criminality, had finally had enough. Young activists mobilised, using social media to organise large-scale protests, bringing major roads and public realms to a standstill. Within weeks, the ruling Republican Party stepped down. Not a single shot was fired.

Elections in December 2018 then saw reformist acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who was a key figure in the revolution, claim 70.4% of the vote. Many now believe major improvements are possible after seeing barriers between political class and population removed. As a symbolic gesture, the gates to the National Assembly and the prime minister and president’s offices were opened to the public in October to convey new governmental transparency.

In spring 2018, young activists organised wide-scale protests across Armenia against political corruption (Credit: Credit: Artyom Geodakyan/Getty Images)
In spring 2018, young activists organised wide-scale protests across Armenia against political corruption (Credit: Artyom Geodakyan/Getty Images)
However, some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were inadvertently sowed in the intimate interiors that define many of Armenia’s new specialist drinking dens that stand on Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’ thanks to the sheer number of establishments that have opened since In Vino arrived. A huge financial risk at that time – with some doubting such a small bar could turn a profit – six years on, In Vino is a firm fixture in the capital's nightlife scene.

The area caters to a new generation of drinkers, who prefer quality wines (domestic and imported), craft beers and spirits with traceable origins over the mass-produced vodka popularised during Soviet times – and a staple of more traditional haunts popular with the now-deposed political class. With the old regime disinterested, establishments such as In Vino became breeding grounds for progressive ideas. Frustrations, resentments and hopes were shared across tables, eventually boiling over into direct action.

“Wine created places where people would come and share ideas without feeling encroached by the presence of the ruling class,” said Vahe Baloulian, one of In Vino’s owners. “[In Vino] became one of those places where similar types of people would gather and exchange ideas. It didn’t happen because they started drinking wine, but wine usually attracts people who are better educated, more forward-looking.”

Some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were sowed in the wine bars along Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’ (Credit: Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
Some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were sowed in the wine bars along Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’ (Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
Wine Street's dominant demographic – largely young, educated and employed but tired of the corruption in parliament – would not only support the revolution, but go on to produce the government of today.

“Right now, a lot of the people who are involved in the parliament are just like us, people who used to come to our wine bar regularly,” said Mariam Saghatelyan, one of Baloulian’s partners at In Vino. “They might not be very experienced in the field, they might not know that much about politics, but at least they have the same interests as me, and if I am against something they want to change, I can voice my opinion. I’m not afraid of them anymore.”

Wine created places where people would come and share ideas without feeling encroached by the presence of the ruling class

While these new wine bars and ideas might be progressive in today’s Armenia, gathering and exchanging thoughts over wine is firmly rooted in the country’s cultural heritage.

“Even if you read stories or historical points about our ancestors – my grandfather, their grandfathers – how they would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage,” Saghatelyan said.

Just as wine has been brought back to the fore by Armenians keen to see one of the country's oldest traditions thrive, the slow, relaxed atmosphere we associate with drinking reds, whites and roses has restored that tradition of addressing the day’s issues over a fine vintage.

“The whole wine itself is a story – the winemaker, where it was made, the history of the winery. People started to discuss things around the wine, then the next day you could see them coming together as a group,” Saghatelyan said. “A lot of problems were discussed, because wine makes conversations flow.”

Mariam Saghatelyan: “How [our ancestors] would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage” (Credit: Credit: In Vino)
Mariam Saghatelyan: “How [our ancestors] would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage” (Credit: In Vino)
Domestic wine production has re-emerged in tandem with these new perspectives. Under the Soviet Union, Armenia was instructed to focus on brandies. Many of the red grape vines used to produce wines were removed to increase capacity for the white varieties brandy requires. Other red vineyards simply fell into disrepair as demand declined.

In the years after Soviet authority ended, however, a thirst to resurrect the lost wine industry grew alongside newfound freedoms promoting the recognition and celebration of Armenia's traditions that had been suppressed under communism. Output of Armenian wine has since exploded, as In Vino’s success demonstrates. When it opened, there were just 10 native varieties on sale; that number now stands at 85, with reds such as Areni and Kakhet and Voskehat whites particularly popular in the shop.

“Armenian winemakers of the recent generations showed that it’s possible to make good wine in Armenia. Because before that people were going for sweet wines which was all sugar and juice or foreign wines,” Baloulian explained. “So a lot of things like this made people believe what they were told was impossible was possible.”

After Soviet authority ended in Armenia, a thirst to resurrect the country’s lost wine industry grew (Credit: Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
After Soviet authority ended in Armenia, a thirst to resurrect the country’s lost wine industry grew (Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
It may sound tenuous to suggest a link between that newfound belief in quality winemaking and the realisation that other forms of positive change could also happen. But there are parallels. Armenia’s new producers approach winemaking with hopes of competing globally. Meanwhile, the revolution began with demands for better prospects from a population tired of an economy that could not function properly on the international stage.

“Winemaking is not a new thing here, but the approach and the philosophy is,” explained Varuzhan Mouradian, who heads up the Van Ardi winery, one of Armenia’s growing number of award-winning, modern vineyards. “I think the consumer should follow and trace the wine back to starting from that bud break. She or he needs to feel that sun, and see how deep the roots went, how they were fighting the stones to collect different minerals.”

“The contrast compared to 15 years ago, or during Soviet times, was that wine was just considered an alcoholic beverage and produced as such,” said his daughter, Ani Mouradian, who explained how the last six years have been crucial to cementing the reputation of Armenian wine on the world circuit as producers started appearing at foreign trade shows. And confidence in the wine industry is growing.

There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination (Credit: Credit: Paul Carstairs/Alamy)
There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination (Credit: Paul Carstairs/Alamy)
The Van Ardi winery is building accommodation overlooking the vines, scheduled for completion in 2020. Elsewhere, in the most prominent wine region of Vayots Dzor, the country’s first wine route has been established. There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination, like neighbouring Georgia, bolstering a small but economically significant tourism economy in the coming years.

Whether Armenian wine really started the revolution is a matter of opinion, but its impact on a country in the throes of being reborn seems undeniable.

rmenia’s capital, Yerevan (Credit: age fotostock/Alamy)
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Armenia claims an enviable history. What are believed to be the oldest known traces of winemaking in the world have been found in the country’s south, at the 6,100-year-old Areni-1 archaeological site. Christianity first blossomed here. Literary, artistic, culinary and musical traditions pre-date many ancient civilisations. But modern times have been defined by struggle.

Ottoman occupation in the early-20th Century turned from oppression to mass killings, decimating the population and significantly shrinking borders in the process. Soviet rule, beginning in 1922, restricted opportunities and options – and independence in 1991 resulted in kleptocratic decisions where industrial assets were stripped with little investment to plug the gaps.

Additionally, territorial disputes became numerous. Borders with neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed, and swathes of land have been annexed. Successive autocratic regimes over the last three decades had given rise to endemic corruption, stunting the economy and limiting social mobility. An enormous diaspora now remains overseas, and on home turf, one third of the population is currently impoverished with 16% unemployed. Those with a job earn an average of £270 per month.

What are believed to be the world's oldest known traces of winemaking have been found in Armenia (Credit: Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
What are believed to be the world's oldest known traces of winemaking have been found at Armenia’s 6,100-year-old Areni-1 archaeological site (Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
All of which makes Armenia an unlikely candidate for The Economist magazine’s 2018 Country of the Year. That is until you look at the events of spring 2018, when the Velvet Revolution swept through towns and cities after former president Serzh Sargsyan tried to extend his decade in power.

The public, weary after years of administrative criminality, had finally had enough. Young activists mobilised, using social media to organise large-scale protests, bringing major roads and public realms to a standstill. Within weeks, the ruling Republican Party stepped down. Not a single shot was fired.

Elections in December 2018 then saw reformist acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who was a key figure in the revolution, claim 70.4% of the vote. Many now believe major improvements are possible after seeing barriers between political class and population removed. As a symbolic gesture, the gates to the National Assembly and the prime minister and president’s offices were opened to the public in October to convey new governmental transparency.

In spring 2018, young activists organised wide-scale protests across Armenia against political corruption (Credit: Credit: Artyom Geodakyan/Getty Images)
In spring 2018, young activists organised wide-scale protests across Armenia against political corruption (Credit: Artyom Geodakyan/Getty Images)
However, some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were inadvertently sowed in the intimate interiors that define many of Armenia’s new specialist drinking dens that stand on Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’ thanks to the sheer number of establishments that have opened since In Vino arrived. A huge financial risk at that time – with some doubting such a small bar could turn a profit – six years on, In Vino is a firm fixture in the capital's nightlife scene.

The area caters to a new generation of drinkers, who prefer quality wines (domestic and imported), craft beers and spirits with traceable origins over the mass-produced vodka popularised during Soviet times – and a staple of more traditional haunts popular with the now-deposed political class. With the old regime disinterested, establishments such as In Vino became breeding grounds for progressive ideas. Frustrations, resentments and hopes were shared across tables, eventually boiling over into direct action.

“Wine created places where people would come and share ideas without feeling encroached by the presence of the ruling class,” said Vahe Baloulian, one of In Vino’s owners. “[In Vino] became one of those places where similar types of people would gather and exchange ideas. It didn’t happen because they started drinking wine, but wine usually attracts people who are better educated, more forward-looking.”

Some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were sowed in the wine bars along Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’ (Credit: Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
Some Yerevan locals believe the seeds of change were sowed in the wine bars along Saryan Street, now dubbed ‘Wine Street’ (Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
Wine Street's dominant demographic – largely young, educated and employed but tired of the corruption in parliament – would not only support the revolution, but go on to produce the government of today.

“Right now, a lot of the people who are involved in the parliament are just like us, people who used to come to our wine bar regularly,” said Mariam Saghatelyan, one of Baloulian’s partners at In Vino. “They might not be very experienced in the field, they might not know that much about politics, but at least they have the same interests as me, and if I am against something they want to change, I can voice my opinion. I’m not afraid of them anymore.”

Wine created places where people would come and share ideas without feeling encroached by the presence of the ruling class

While these new wine bars and ideas might be progressive in today’s Armenia, gathering and exchanging thoughts over wine is firmly rooted in the country’s cultural heritage.

“Even if you read stories or historical points about our ancestors – my grandfather, their grandfathers – how they would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage,” Saghatelyan said.

Just as wine has been brought back to the fore by Armenians keen to see one of the country's oldest traditions thrive, the slow, relaxed atmosphere we associate with drinking reds, whites and roses has restored that tradition of addressing the day’s issues over a fine vintage.

“The whole wine itself is a story – the winemaker, where it was made, the history of the winery. People started to discuss things around the wine, then the next day you could see them coming together as a group,” Saghatelyan said. “A lot of problems were discussed, because wine makes conversations flow.”

Mariam Saghatelyan: “How [our ancestors] would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage” (Credit: Credit: In Vino)
Mariam Saghatelyan: “How [our ancestors] would resolve different issues was always around a table with an alcoholic beverage” (Credit: In Vino)
Domestic wine production has re-emerged in tandem with these new perspectives. Under the Soviet Union, Armenia was instructed to focus on brandies. Many of the red grape vines used to produce wines were removed to increase capacity for the white varieties brandy requires. Other red vineyards simply fell into disrepair as demand declined.

In the years after Soviet authority ended, however, a thirst to resurrect the lost wine industry grew alongside newfound freedoms promoting the recognition and celebration of Armenia's traditions that had been suppressed under communism. Output of Armenian wine has since exploded, as In Vino’s success demonstrates. When it opened, there were just 10 native varieties on sale; that number now stands at 85, with reds such as Areni and Kakhet and Voskehat whites particularly popular in the shop.

“Armenian winemakers of the recent generations showed that it’s possible to make good wine in Armenia. Because before that people were going for sweet wines which was all sugar and juice or foreign wines,” Baloulian explained. “So a lot of things like this made people believe what they were told was impossible was possible.”

After Soviet authority ended in Armenia, a thirst to resurrect the country’s lost wine industry grew (Credit: Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
After Soviet authority ended in Armenia, a thirst to resurrect the country’s lost wine industry grew (Credit: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt)
It may sound tenuous to suggest a link between that newfound belief in quality winemaking and the realisation that other forms of positive change could also happen. But there are parallels. Armenia’s new producers approach winemaking with hopes of competing globally. Meanwhile, the revolution began with demands for better prospects from a population tired of an economy that could not function properly on the international stage.

“Winemaking is not a new thing here, but the approach and the philosophy is,” explained Varuzhan Mouradian, who heads up the Van Ardi winery, one of Armenia’s growing number of award-winning, modern vineyards. “I think the consumer should follow and trace the wine back to starting from that bud break. She or he needs to feel that sun, and see how deep the roots went, how they were fighting the stones to collect different minerals.”

“The contrast compared to 15 years ago, or during Soviet times, was that wine was just considered an alcoholic beverage and produced as such,” said his daughter, Ani Mouradian, who explained how the last six years have been crucial to cementing the reputation of Armenian wine on the world circuit as producers started appearing at foreign trade shows. And confidence in the wine industry is growing.

There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination (Credit: Credit: Paul Carstairs/Alamy)
There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination (Credit: Paul Carstairs/Alamy)
The Van Ardi winery is building accommodation overlooking the vines, scheduled for completion in 2020. Elsewhere, in the most prominent wine region of Vayots Dzor, the country’s first wine route has been established. There’s hope that Armenia could become the next emergent wine destination, like neighbouring Georgia, bolstering a small but economically significant tourism economy in the coming years.

Whether Armenian wine really started the revolution is a matter of opinion, but its impact on a country in the throes of being reborn seems undeniable.

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20190129-did-wine-cause-a-full-scale-revolution-in-armenia

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 16:54

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A141 March car crash leaves two cars in flames

Two motorists were seriously injured when their cars crashed and burst into flames.

The head-on collision happened on the A141 near March, in Cambridgeshire, at about 06:00 GMT.

Police arrested one of the drivers on suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs.

Both cars were destroyed in the fire and the road was closed for more than two hours, but has since reopened.

?

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-47087924

 

 

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 10:26

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Januhairy: What I learned when I stopped shaving

Women all over the world put down their razors and wax strips to grow out their bod?y hair for Januhairy. While some were praised for helping to promote body confidence, others were branded disgusting. This is what four participants took from the experience.

'Telling people seemed intimidating'

Image captionSonia Thakurdesai feels more comfortable in her own skin after taking part

Sonia Thakurdesai was "quite hesitant" about announcing her decision to grow her body hair.

"I remember seeing a lot of tweets around the time Januhairy was getting popular, from both men and women, bashing it [and] saying it's disgusting.

"Despite being happy to take part, the task of posting on social media and telling people seemed intimidating.

"Body hair has always been something I have felt self-conscious about. I always felt people would see me as dirty or gross if I did open up about it."

The 19-year-old, from Heckmondwike in West Yorkshire, said despite the negativity and initial fears, the campaign has improved her confidence.

"It has opened up the topic for discussion - women across the world are sharing their experiences and it is challenging those who feel they have to remove their body hair to think why that is.

"It has made me feel more comfortable in my own skin and accept my body in its natural fuzzy form."

'I'm not doing it for approval'

Image captionSabine Fisher said that her body hair is beautiful

Sabine Fisher was shocked when those close to her expressed disgust at her participation in Januhairy.

"I have had a couple of people tell me its 'disgusting' and 'unnatural', which made me feel hurt and confused as they were close friends, but now I'm OK with people not liking it.

"I'm not doing it for them or their approval - I'm doing it for me."

The 18-year-old from Rotorua in New Zealand said some cultures had been "brainwashed" into thinking body hair is "wrong and weird".

"I think body hair is so beautiful, but when people see my armpit hair they won't make eye contact with me, or they stare at it.

"I don't know if it will be a thing I continue to do forever, but for now it feels good and right.

"My beauty and self worth have nothing to do my body hair - or what other people think about it."

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'I felt feminine'

Image captionCrystal Marchand, 32, said one interaction caused her to shave off her hair

Crystal Marchand is transgender and decided to grow out her body hair for the first time since her transition last year.

"I was called horrible names. I was cursed at in public. Some stared, others wouldn't look at me."

One abusive interaction, halfway through the month, caused her to shave off her facial hair.

But in spite of the negative reaction, the 32-year-old from Montreal in Canada said she learned more about herself through the process.

"There is some danger in pushing the boundaries and that risk worried some of my loved ones.

"But I discovered I could feel feminine despite all my body hair, which has troubled me since its arrival.

"Other people's perceptions of my gender are not as important to me as my own self-awareness, self-acceptance, and my ability to love and express myself freely."

'Less of a monster'

Image captionLaura Jackson has received many messages of support

Laura Jackson never expected Januhairy to blow up like it did. The 21-year-old campaign founder had one simple aim - to encourage women to embrace their body hair while raising money for charity.

She said one woman, who has a beard caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thanked her for making her feel like "less of a monster".

"I couldn't believe someone could say that about themselves," the Exeter University student said. "It made me tear up a little."

Laura also described how a 13-year-old with excess body hair on her arms and legs contacted her to say the campaign had made cry and helped her realise she is "not alone".

"It gives me a lot more con?https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-47001598Image copyrightLAURA JACKSONfidence in humanity and the changes this generation can bring to the world.

"But it's not just about me. Women have been inspiring other women with their stories.

"This needed to happen, and I'm just grateful to be a part of it."

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-47001598

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 10:22

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Marie Colvin: Syrian government found liable for US reporter's death

A US court has found Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government liable for the death of American war correspondent Marie Colvin in February 2012.

Colvin, 56, died in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik, 28, when the building they were in was shelled.

US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said it was an "extrajudicial killing".

She also ordered Damascus to pay $302.5m (£231m) in damages for an "unconscionable crime".

It is the first time Mr Assad's government is held to account for a war crime and sets a legal precedent, the BBC's Barbara Plett Usher in Washington reports.

The civil lawsuit was filed by Colvin's family in 2016. The Syrian government was not involved in defending the case.

Colvin worked for the Sunday Times, covering the Syrian civil war that began in 2011.

What did the court rule?

The US District Court for the District of Columbia found that the Syrian military and intelligence tracked the broadcasts of the journalists covering the siege of Homs, and then targeted the media centre in a barrage of artillery fire.

Judge Jackson said this was part of the regime's long standing policy of violence against the media.

Image captionFrench photographer Remi Ochlik also died in the shelling

Colvin "was specifically targeted because of her profession, for the purpose of silencing those reporting on the growing opposition movement in the country," the judge ruled.

"[The] murder of journalists acting in their professional capacity could have a chilling effect on reporting such events worldwide."

In addition, the Syrian government was ordered to pay $2.5m in compensation to Colvin's sister, Cathleen, and $11,836 in funeral expenses.

What about the Syrian government's response?

Damascus is yet to publicly comment on the ruling.

In a 2016 interview with NBC News, President Assad said: "It's a war and she [Colvin] came illegally to Syria.

"She worked with the terrorists, and because she came illegally, she's been responsible of everything that befall on her."

Experts predict that Colvin's family is likely to face a lengthy battle to recover any of the damages awarded.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47082088

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 09:57

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The plane journey that set Iran's revolution in motion

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sat in the first-class compartment of the chartered Boeing 747, looking out through the window at the country he had had to leave 15 years before.

I stood over him, with my cameraman beside me, and asked how he felt now that his exile was over. No answer.

An American correspondent repeated the question. "Hichi," replied Khomeini. "Nothing".

The supporters of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been forced into exile a few days earlier, were scandalised by this lack of feeling.

But what he meant was that his return was not a matter for human emotions; the will of God was all that counted.

When I interviewed him the previous month at his place of exile outside Paris, Neauphle-le-Château, Khomeini had shown implacable determination.

"The monarchy will be eradicated," he assured me. "There are aspects of life under the present corrupt form of government in Iran which will have to be changed... Drugs such as alcoholic beverages will be prohibited."

"We are hostile to foreign governments which have forced the shah on Iran."

It is still like that, even today.

Image captionJohn Simpson was on board the plane that transported Khomeini from Paris to Tehran

At first, it had seemed impossible that the Islamic Republic could endure, but now it has lasted 40 years.

At election after election Iranians turn out in their millions to vote for candidates who, though they have been carefully selected, represent the liberal and conservative tendencies in politics; and the liberal candidates usually get a majority.

But once they are in power they find they cannot change anything.

Under Iran's constitution, the conservative forces - the clergy, the Revolutionary Guards, and so on - have a controlling interest, whoever wins the popular vote.

Image captionKhomeini was welcomed by a crowd of supporters at Tehran's airport

The supreme leader ranks above the elected president, and the conservatives are prepared to fight to keep their power.

Immediately after the 2009 presidential vote, the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner even though the liberal candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, had probably got a majority.

There were angry demonstrations for days on end, and it looked briefly as though a new revolution might be starting. But the conservatives hunted the demonstrators off the streets with great brutality.

The Islamic Revolution was back in power.

Image captionThe disputed presidential election in 2009 triggered the biggest protests since the revolution

More than 90% of Iran's Muslims are Shia, and back in 1979 the ousting of the shah by Shia Islamist revolutionaries shocked and electrified the Islamic world.

Shia in countries like Lebanon and parts of the Gulf stopped accepting that they were at the bottom of the social and political pile, and demanded more say.

Sunnis in the region were deeply worried, yet they too were fascinated by the overthrow of a leader backed by the West.

The Americans were humiliated, and no-one in the Middle East would forget it.

Between 1980 and 1988 Iran was caught up in a savage war against Iraq, and it was obsessed with the need to survive.

But after 2003, when the US invaded Iraq and destroyed the power of the minority Sunnis there, Iraq's Shia majority began to dominate the country with the strong support of Iran.

Iran became a regional superpower - courtesy of President George W Bush. The irony could scarcely have been greater.

Nowadays, Israel and US President Donald Trump's administration see Iran as a major threat.

The UK and the European Union see things differently.

They accept that Iran is difficult and confrontational, but they think it is still willing to follow the lines of the agreement which former US President Barack Obama, with strong European support, reached with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Today, Iran is a lot more easy-going than most outsiders imagine.

The rules about women's dress are sometimes enforced harshly, but the Islamic Republic has never clamped down on women's rights in the way you see routinely in Saudi Arabia.

Iranian women run businesses, own property, drive cars and play an important part in politics.

Image captionIran has imposed a compulsory dress code on women since the revolution

The present government is probably more liberal than any other since the revolution.

Ayatollah Khomeini probably would not have approved, but this approach has helped to protect the Islamic Republic over the years.

As far back as 1986, when I was first allowed back after the revolution, I worked out a formula to express what I felt about the new Iran: it was stable, but not permanent.

That still seems to be the case.

There is a lot of anger about corruption, but not as much as there was under the shah.

Iran seems mostly relaxed, because there is no serious threat to the system. But it is hard to think that the strange balancing act between a weak liberal government, elected with mass support, and a tough and determined conservative core, can carry on forever.

Image captionPresident Hassan Rouhani stressed his allegiance to Khomeini's ideals during a recent visit to his mausoleum

The ferocity which Khomeini, vengeful and unsentimental, brought back from exile with him on his Boeing 747, has eased a lot. But it is still there.

And until there is some basic compromise between liberals and conservatives about the way the country should be run, Khomeini's revolution will always feel unfinished.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47043561

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 09:53

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Polar vortex claims eight lives as US cold snap continues

Media captionChicago is using fire to melt snow on the railway and keep the trains running

At least eight people have died in one of the worst cold snaps to hit the US Midwest in decades.

An Iowa student found dead outside a college building is among the victims.

Hospitals have been treating patients reporting frostbite as life across a swathe of the country grinds to a halt.

Ninety million people - a third of the US - have seen temperatures of -17C (0F) or below. Some 250 million Americans overall have experienced the "polar vortex" conditions.

However southern states such as Florida have escaped the brutal chill.

How did the fatalities occur?

  • University of Iowa student Gerald Belz, 18, was found unresponsive behind a campus building before dawn on Wednesday and later died in hospital. Officials said weather was a factor. His father told local news channel KCRG that Gerald was a "mama's boy with a tough exterior".
  • A 70-year-old man in Detroit, Michigan, was found dead in front of a neighbour's home on Wednesday
  • Another Michigan man in his 70s was found frozen to death in his neighbourhood. Officials said he was "inadequately dressed for the weather" and was probably disoriented
  • On Tuesday, 55-year-old Charley Lampley froze to death in a garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, having "apparently collapsed after shovelling snow", according to a medical examiner
  • An 82-year-old man in Pekin, Illinois, died from hypothermia after apparently falling outside his home on Tuesday
  • A 75-year-old man was fatally struck by a snow plough near Chicago on Monday. The driver has since been placed on paid leave pending an investigation, according to WGN9 News
  • In northern Indiana, a young couple died after a collision on icy roads

What's the forecast?

Thursday could see America's third largest city of Chicago breaking its 1985 record low of -32C (-25F), according to meteorologists. The city has already passed the record low for 31 January.

The National Weather Service (NWS) announced Rockford, Illinois, west of Chicago, broke its all-time low record of -32C (-27F) when temperatures dipped to -34C (-30F) on Thursday morning.

Cities across Iowa have also broken temperature records.

Cotton, Minnesota, was the coldest place in the US on Thursday, however, with a low of -48C (-56F) based on preliminary data.

The chill is drifting eastward on Thursday, bringing sub-zero temperatures to north-eastern cities such as Boston.Areas downwind of the Great Lakes are expected to be buried by intense "snow lakes" into Thursday night.

The region near Buffalo, New York, should see the heaviest snowfall. Snow could fall at rates of 3in-5in (7cm-12cm) per hour.

The icy cold is expected to loosen its grip on Friday.

Media captionSo what actually is a polar vortex...?

With wind chill factored in, the Midwest and Great Lakes have felt temperatures closer to -40C (-40F) and -53C (-63F), which is enough to cause frostbite in under five minutes.

But by the end of the weekend, Chicago could see temperatures as high as 10C (50F).

"It's going to be at least a 60-degree swing for Chicago," David Hamrick, a National Weather Service forecaster, told Reuters news agency.

The Wind Chill City

Analysis by Chris Buckler, BBC News, Chicago

On the icy streets of Chicago they are used to bitter winters but this was too cold even for some people who live here.

Rush hour hasn't existed in this normally bustling city for the last couple of days as many have chosen to stay at home rather than brave such extreme elements.

Those who did go to work arrived bundled up in layer after layer of clothing. Anything exposed - like eyebrows and lashes - were covered in frost.

"They've frozen shut a couple of times", one man told me about his watering eyes.

 

The Windy City could be renamed the Wind Chill City given the number of warnings there have been this week.

Below several skyscrapers there are still signs pointing out the dangers of falling ice.

You could argue that a slight thaw has begun given that cracks have started to appear on what was a solid sheet of ice covering the Chicago river.

But temperatures are expected to remain below freezing until Saturday at the earliest.

Media captionMuch of Chicago River has frozen over

How is the cold snap affecting daily life?

The Arctic weather could cost the US billions of dollars. In 2014, a similar polar freeze cost the country an estimated $5bn (£3.8bn), CBS News reported.

In Minnesota, residents have been asked by natural gas company Xcel Energy to reduce their home thermostats to 17C (63F) in order to help the company handle heating demands.

Michigan residents have had similar requests from their utility companies as providers struggle to keep the states warm.

Native American tribes in the northern Midwest states have been helping their members obtain heating supplies during the chill as many live in poor-quality housing, the Associated Press reported.

Detroit has had more than two dozen water mains freeze over this week. A city spokesman told the Associated Press the pipes were installed up to 1.8m below the frost line, but with such drastically low temperatures, the ground has still frozen through.

Media captionHow to keep warm? Tips from cold countries

The US Postal Service has suspended all mail deliveries for the second day to parts of six states.

More than 2,300 flights have been cancelled and another 3,500 delayed due to the polar vortex.

As ice and snow continue to build up, roads have become increasingly dangerous across the northern US. In Illinois, police said they had assisted more than 1,300 motorists and received 460 calls in eight hours - 10 times the norm.

One woman in the state was caught speeding at 115mph (185km/h) on a snowy road with a 35mph (56km/h) speed limit.

At least two people were critically injured in a 27-car pile-up on icy roads in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.

Twenty-one vehicles, including a lorry, were involved in a pile-up in Buffalo, New York, during a snowstorm on Wednesday. Officials have not released details on any injuries, WKBW News reported.

It is reported that the lorry should not have been on the road at the time, due to a weather-related ban.

Image captionA sole individual walks down State Street in Madison, Wisconsin

In Minnesota, prison visits were cancelled over the cold, according to the New York Times.

How cold is Chicago?

The Illinois city became a frozen ghost town after temperatures fell to -30C (-22F), colder than parts of Antarctica.

A Good Samaritan paid for 70 homeless Chicagoans to stay in a hotel as temperatures dropped.

Salvation Army spokeswoman Jacqueline Rachev told the Washington Post: "It's a deadly situation for anyone. We're thrilled that someone was in a position to be able to do this."

Most of the thousands of cancelled flights this week were coming out of Chicago's airports - O'Hare International is ranked as one of the top 10 busiest airports in the world.

Amtrak also cancelled all trains into Chicago on Wednesday, affecting 55 trains, and said most would be cancelled on Thursday as well.

As the Midwestern city is one of the company's hubs, train services nationwide could be impacted.

The chill was even too much for Chicago's Disney on Ice show, which cancelled its Wednesday performance.

More than 600 local schools have shut, keeping 360,000 students at home.

What about Canada?

Most of Canada was under some sort of weather warning - from extreme cold in the Prairies, Quebec and Ontario to heavy snows in Alberta and Nova Scotia.

Most of the thousands of cancelled flights this week were coming out of Chicago's airports - O'Hare International is ranked as one of the top 10 busiest airports in the world.

Amtrak also cancelled all trains into Chicago on Wednesday, affecting 55 trains, and said most would be cancelled on Thursday as well.

As the Midwestern city is one of the company's hubs, train services nationwide could be impacted.

The chill was even too much for Chicago's Disney on Ice show, which cancelled its Wednesday performance.

More than 600 local schools have shut, keeping 360,000 students at home.

What about Canada?
Most of Canada was under some sort of weather warning - from extreme cold in the Prairies, Quebec and Ontario to heavy snows in Alberta and Nova Scotia.

In Toronto, where winters tend to be milder compared to cities such as Montreal and Ottawa, temperatures had plummeted to -18C (0F). Icy roads and several transit delays made for a hellish commute for the city's residents.

Environment Canada issued extreme cold warnings for most parts of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, urging residents to limit their exposure to cold and keep pets indoors.

Advocates expressed concern for homeless people living in cities hit by the extreme temperatures.

In Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, temperatures were -40C (-40F), with wind chill factors making it feel like -50C (-58F).

"If you don't get it in December, you will get it in January or February or March. What do you expect? It's 'Winterpeg'," Caroline Rodriguez told CBC.

In Calgary, Alberta, temperatures were a relatively balmy -3C (27F), but were expected to plummet overnight and through the weekend.

In parts of rural northern Alberta, 15in of snow were expected to fall.

In Toronto, where winters tend to be milder compared to cities such as Montreal and Ottawa, temperatures had plummeted to -18C (0F). Icy roads and several transit delays made for a hellish commute for the city's residents.

Environment Canada issued extreme cold warnings for most parts of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, urging residents to limit their exposure to cold and keep pets indoors.

Advocates expressed concern for homeless people living in cities hit by the extreme temperatures.

In Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, temperatures were -40C (-40F), with wind chill factors making it feel like -50C (-58F).

"If you don't get it in December, you will get it in January or February or March. What do you expect? It's 'Winterpeg'," Caroline Rodriguez told CBC.

In Calgary, Alberta, temperatures were a relatively balmy -3C (27F), but were expected to plummet overnight and through the weekend.

In parts of rural northern Alberta, 15in of snow were expected to fall.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47075143

 

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 09:40

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Trump to NYT: Wall talks a 'waste of time'

US President Donald Trump has dismissed the federal investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 election and talks about a proposed border wall.

His lawyers had been reassured he was not a target in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, he said.

Talks in Congress about wall funding - the issue behind the recent government shutdown - were a "waste of time".

Mr Trump was interviewed by the New York Times, a paper he repeatedly described as "failing" in the past.

The paper's interview with Mr Trump came after he contacted its publisher, AG Sulzberger.

Mr Sulzberger asked the president to stop his attacks on the media last year, saying they could "lead to violence" against journalists.

The interview with Mr Trump covered a wide range of topics:

1) The border wall

"I'll continue to build the wall, and we'll get the wall finished," the president said, dismissing the talks between congressional Republicans and Democrats over the impasse and implying he could declare a national emergency to ensure the barrier is built.

Tapping into emergency presidential powers could enable Mr Trump to bypass Congress and access the money and resources needed to complete the project.

Critics have said the situation at the border does not constitute a true emergency and invoking one would be an abuse of power.

Mr Trump has sought $5.7 billion (£4.4bn) for a wall on the southern border. The Democrats refuse to provide it, arguing it is immoral and ineffective.

The divide led to the longest government shutdown in US history, which will resume on 15 February if no budget can be agreed.?

Mr Trump slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the interview over the border wall.

"I've actually always gotten along with her, but now I don't think I will any more," he said. "I think she's doing a tremendous disservice to the country."

Ms Pelosi told reporters on Thursday there would be no money for a wall in planned border security legislation.

2) The Russia inquiry

Speaking to two New York Times reporters in the Oval Office, the president said he had received assurances from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

"Rod told me I'm not a target of the investigation," Mr Trump said. He then suggested that he may not have spoken to him in person, adding: "The lawyers ask him. They say: 'He's not a target of the investigation'."?

It is not clear when Mr Rosenstein made the comments attributed to him by Mr Trump. Mr Rosenstein oversaw Mr Mueller's investigation until last November, when the president transferred control to acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker.

Mr Rosenstein and Mr Mueller have not said whether Mr Trump is a target in the investigation.

Some reports have suggested that the term "target" would not be used for Mr Trump because sitting presidents are immune from prosecution.

Mr Mueller's investigation is still ongoing and it is unclear when he will submit his findings to the attorney general.

The president also insisted he "never did" speak to his long-time associate Roger Stone about stolen Democratic emails published by Wikileaks in 2016.

Mr Stone has been charged with seven counts in the Mueller inquiry related to the emails - charges he denies.

President Trump did however attack the FBI raid on Mr Stone's home, calling it "a very sad thing for this country".

"I like Roger, he's a character," Mr Trump said.

3) Trump's Moscow project

The president said his lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been "wrong" to say that talks over a project to construct a Trump building in Moscow had continued up to the 2016 US election.

Mr Giuliani had already rowed back on the comments, saying that he had been mistaken.

Mr Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress at least three times about the project - including telling Congress that the project was dissolved in January 2016.

In fact, negotiations continued through June 2016, when Mr Trump was already the Republican presidential nominee.

?Last month Mr Mueller's office disputed a claim in a Buzzfeed report that said Mr Trump had told Cohen to lie to Congress about when the Moscow project had ended.

The Buzzfeed report also said Mr Trump had allegedly encouraged Cohen to plan a trip to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during the election campaign.

Mr Trump told the New York Times his last conversation about the project had been in "early to middle" 2016. He said Cohen might have been involved with the project "a little bit longer than that".

"I was running for president; I was doing really well. The last thing I cared about was building a building," he added.

4) His political future

"I love this job," Mr Trump insisted, dismissing talk he might not run for re-election in 2020.

He did however tell the paper he had lost "massive amounts of money" working as president.

He also spoke of Democratic candidates in next year's vote.

California Senator Kamala Harris has had "the best opening so far", he said. She announced her plan to run for president last month.

But another possible candidate, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, had been "hurt badly" by Mr Trump's mockery of her claims to Native American heritage, he said.

Last year Mr Trump described her as a "fake Pocahontas" and challenged her to take a DNA test.

Mr Sulzberger asked the president to stop his attacks on the media last year, saying they could "lead to violence" against journalists.

The interview with Mr Trump covered a wide range of topics:

1) The border wall
"I'll continue to build the wall, and we'll get the wall finished," the president said, dismissing the talks between congressional Republicans and Democrats over the impasse and implying he could declare a national emergency to ensure the barrier is built.

Tapping into emergency presidential powers could enable Mr Trump to bypass Congress and access the money and resources needed to complete the? project.

Critics have said the situation at the border does not constitute a true emergency and invoking one would be an abuse of power.

Mr Trump has sought $5.7 billion (£4.4bn) for a wall on the southern border. The Democrats refuse to provide it, arguing it is immoral and ineffective.

The divide led to the longest government shutdown in US history, which will resume on 15 February if no budget can be agreed.
Media captionFive questions about Trump's border wall
Mr Trump slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the interview over the border wall.

"I've actually always gotten along with her, but now I don't think I will any more," he said. "I think she's doing a tremendous disservice to the country."

Ms Pelosi told reporters on Thursday there would be no money for a wall in planned border security legislation.

2) The Russia inquiry
Speaking to two New York Times?? reporters in the Oval Office, the president said he had received assurances from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

"Rod told me I'm not a target of the investigation," Mr Trump said. He then suggested that he may not have spoken to him in person, adding: "The lawyers ask him. They say: 'He's not a target of the investigation'."

It is not clear when Mr Rosenstein made the comments attributed to him by Mr Trump. Mr Rosenstein oversaw Mr Mueller's investigation until last N?ovember, when the president transferred control to acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker.

Mr Rosenstein and Mr Mueller have not said whether Mr Trump is a target in the investigation.

Some reports have suggested that the term "target" would not be used for Mr Trump because sitting presidents are immune from prosecution.

Mr Mueller's investigation is still ongoing and it is unclear when he will submit his findings to the attorney general.
Rod Rosenstein previously oversaw Robert Mueller's investigation
The president also insisted he "never did" speak to his long-time associate Roger Stone about stolen Democratic emails published by Wikileaks in 2016.

Mr Stone has been charged with seven counts in the Mueller inquiry related to the emails - charges he denies.

Defiant Trump ally rejects Russia charges
Stone - a political agitator and Nixon fan
President Trump did however attack the FBI raid on Mr Stone's home, calling it "a very sad thing for this country".

?"I like Roger, he's a character," Mr Trump said.

3) Trump's Moscow project
The president said his lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been "wrong" to say that talks over a project to construct a Trump building in Moscow had continued up to the 2016 US election.

Mr Giuliani had already rowed back on the comments, saying that he had been mistaken.

Mr Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress at least three times about the project - including telling Congress that the project was dissolved in January 2016.

In fact, negotiations continued through June 2016, when Mr Trump was already the Republican presidential nominee.

Last month Mr Mueller's office disputed a claim in a Buzzfeed report that said Mr Trump had told Cohen to lie to Congress about when the Moscow project had ended.

The Buzzfeed report also said Mr Trump had allegedly encouraged Cohen to plan a trip to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during the election campaign.

Trump's tower in Moscow that never was
Mr Trump told the New York Times h?is last conversation about the project had been in "early to middle" 2016. He said Cohen might have been involved with the project "a little bit longer than that".

"I was running for president; I was doing really well. The last thing I cared about was building a building," he added.

4) His political future
"I love this job," Mr Trump insisted, dismissing talk he might not run for re-election in 2020.

He did however tell the paper he had lost "massive amounts of money" working as president.

He also spoke of Democratic candidates in next year's vote.

Which Democrats are running in 2020?
The US state looking to take down Trump
California Senator Kamala Harris has had "the best opening so far", he said. She announced her plan to run for president last month.

But another possible candidate, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, had been "hurt badly" by Mr Trump's mockery of her claims to Native American heritage, he said.

Last year Mr Trump described her as a "fake Pocahontas" and challenged her to take a DNA test.

She did and the subsequent DNA report concluded that "the vast majority" of Ms Warren's ancestry was European, but "the results strongly" supported a Native American ancestor.

"I may be wrong, but I think that was a big part of her credibility and now all of a sudden it's gone," Mr Trump told the New York Times.

She did and the subsequent DNA report concluded that "the vast majority" of Ms Warren's ancestry was European, but "the results strongly" supported a Native American ancestor.

"I may be wrong, but I think that was a big part of her credibility and now all of a sudden it's gone," Mr Trump told the New York Times.

?https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47082865

ruby Posted on February 01, 2019 09:26

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Hakeem Al-Araibi: Bahraini footballer's wife pleads for his release

Imagine if going to school meant swimming and wading through water and mangroves, your school books tied up in a plastic bag over your head.

All the while, you're struggling to keep your face above water and fighting against the current.

For some children in the Philippines, this is a daily routine - but a charity is trying to make it easier for them to get their education by providing communities with boats.

The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation started out as a small idea on social media yet over the years has become a countrywide charity helping school children in need.

The first community where the charity got involved was one of fishermen and seaweed farmers living in stilted houses in the sea off the coast of Zamboanga City, a poor region of Mindanao in the south.

Image captionMany communities don't have spare boats for the children

The children had to wade as far as one kilometre through water just to get to school. If the tide was high, the wading became swimming.

"That's dangerous and unsafe even if they are good swimmers," says the charity's founder Jay Jaboneta. And many of the children are not.

Yet with all the community's boats used for fishing, there's often been no other choice.

The children had to bundle their books and uniforms in plastic bags to keep them dry as they make their long and arduous way to school.

"I didn't know about this situation - when I found out I was shocked and posted about it on Facebook," said Mr Jaboneta, who grew up nearby.

Things then started snowballing when many of his friends responded - and some began pledging money to help the situation.

Image captionA few hundred dollars are often enough to help

Today, the foundation is active all across the Philippines, primarily funding school boats - all painted in bright yellow corresponding to the colour of the country's school buses.

A small boat costs about $200 (£150) and will fit around six to eight children, who will have to row it themselves.

The bigger boats, some of which even have an engine, are steered by an older student, parent or teacher.

Boats, dormitories, a mobile classroom

As the charity has grown over the years, they have also taken on some other projects to help poor or remote communities accessing education.

"The problems that such communities face are very different from case to case," explains Mr Jaboneta.

In some projects they've built dormitories for children who otherwise would have to walk for hours to get to school.

One of the latest projects is a large boat equipped with education material so that it can be taken to remote communities by a teacher and serve as a mobile classroom.

Image captionThe boats are yellow to correspond to the country's school buses

Overall, the charity has worked with almost 200 communities since 2010, the founder explains.

"Usually we work with the community leaders or the local schools," says Mr Jaboneta.

"Once we have funded a boat they can then take over the project and operate things themselves."

Donations for the work come mostly from the Philippines, he explains. An exception was 2013, after the country had been battered by deadly typhoon Haiyan - in the wake of this and the global headlines that came with it, there were also some donations from abroad.

But usually, the money comes from locals who want to help making a difference.

 Image captionMost of the small boats have to be rowed by the pupils themselves

Given the project was kick-started on Facebook, it's often praised as an example of what an impact social media can have in stories like this.

And while Mr Jaboneta agrees that his posts at the very beginning were crucial to getting things going, he cautions that there remains a huge offline element to it.

He and co-founder Anton Lim have to call donors, sit down with them, go out and co-ordinate things with the local community leaders - it remains a lot of work, which is still entirely done by volunteers.

"I never imagined that a boat could be something so important, that it could make such a difference," Mr Jaboneta saying, summing up his experience of the past years.

"The Philippines is an archipelago of around 7,000 islands so there are boats everywhere - some estimates say it's about a million across the country. And so you can easily make the mistake of taking them for granted."

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47024828

ruby Posted on January 30, 2019 13:17

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Call for action on Glasgow Airport transport links

Glasgow Airport bosses have called for urgent action to improve transport links with the city centre.

Managing director Mark Johnston said the airport was the only one of its size in Europe reliant on road access amid worsening congestion on the M8.

He is due to meet Scotland's transport secretary this week to press for progress on the issue.

It comes as a new report said the airport contributed £1.44bn to the economy and supported 30,000 jobs.

The airport consultancy firm York Aviation also said the airport handled £3.5bn in global imports and exports in 2017 and that passenger numbers were projected to almost double from 9.7 million to 17 million a year.

'Something needs to happen'

However, bosses warned that improved transport links were crucial to its future success.

The most recent plans to connect Glasgow Airport to the rail network faltered in 2017 amid concern about their economic impact to existing infrastructure.

But Mr Johnston told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We're the only airport in Europe that has road as its only means of access.

"The recent studies have shown that the congestion is only increasing on the M8. We have the funding available through the City Deal, so I think there's a genuine acceptance that something needs to happen."

Mr Johnston said he was due to attend a meeting later this week with Transport Secretary Michael Matheson and local council leaders.

He added: "There's an acceptance now that something needs to happen. As I say, we're the only airport now without some kind of connectivity like that. We want to grow, we have plans for growth, the M8 is becoming more congested so we need action."

Image captionEmirates will begin operating its A380 service from April

The report said Glasgow Airport's contribution to the economy could rise to £2.57bn by 2040 and that it had the potential to support 43,000 jobs by 2040.

'Knock-on effect'

As part of the investment into facilities, £8m is currently being invested to upgrade the airport ahead of Emirates operating a Dubai service - on the world's largest commercial aircraft, the A380 - from April.

A new advanced manufacturing innovation district by the airport is also estimated to create up to 10,000 additional jobs.

Two tenants have already been confirmed in the £56m medical manufacturing innovation centre and the £65m national manufacturing institute for Scotland.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, also MSP for Renfrewshire North and West where the airport is based, said: "Renfrewshire benefits hugely from having Glasgow Airport on our doorstep, forming a vital part of our local community.

"The economic growth and jobs the airport brings to the local area, and to the wider west of Scotland region, is massive and has had a huge positive knock-on effect throughout Renfrewshire and the surrounding areas."

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-47054170

ruby Posted on January 30, 2019 11:46

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Week ahead at Holyrood: Will the budget pass?

A key moment of the parliamentary year comes around again this week - but will the budget pass?

MSPs will debate the Budget Bill on Thursday afternoon.

But as things stand, it seems unlikely the Scottish government will garner enough backing to see it go through.

The Scottish Greens - thought to be the most likely partners - have said they will not support the government unless changes to local government taxes are made.

Of course this leaves three other parties it could strike a deal with.

But the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems seem unlikely partners this year (though it is worth noting that all three having backed SNP budgets in the past).

There is the possibility of abstentions, which could mean the Budget Bill passes at this stage to allow talks to continue.

All this means that we are in for a fairly unusual week.

So what about the rest of this week?

Tuesday - St John's children's ward

Image captionThe children's ward at St John's stopped taking new in-patients at night in 2017

MSPs will be updated on the situation at St John's Hospital's children's ward on Tuesday afternoon.

Paediatric services at the West Lothian hospital have not been running 24 hours since June 2017 due to staff shortages.

In a statement in September, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the ward would not fully re-open until there were safe levels of staffing, but she insisted there had been "encouraging progress".

After that, MSPs are to debate the Scottish government's draft social isolation and loneliness strategy, published in December.

The two-year strategy, backed by £1m, is to ensure the problem is treated as a public health issue.

That evening's member's debate will be led by Tory MSP Graham Simpson, who will call for progress in ensuring housing meets the needs of older people so they can remain at home for longer.

In the morning, the health committee will begin stage two consideration of the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill.

The proposed legislation seeks to place an existing workforce planning tool onto a statutory footing.

Concerns were expressed throughout the stage one debate about safe staffing levels, ensuring the right balance of skills and how it will impact the care sector.

Wednesday - Education focus

The afternoon offering at Holyrood will focus on two debates led by the Scottish Conservatives: the first will be on education and the second on crime.

Then SNP MSP Gail Ross will celebrate the Equally Safe at Work pilot, a new scheme designed to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The education committee continues its inquiry into the Scottish national standardised assessments in the morning, this time hearing from Upstart Scotland - the organisation behind the campaign to end P1 tests.

Education Secretary John Swinney announced an independent review into the assessments in October following concerns they were not in line with play-based learning.

Mr Swinney has suggested the assessments should be "reformed not abolished", but he also accepted the review "might" recommend that they be scrapped altogether.

Standardised assessments were introduced in 2017 in a bid to gather more data about the stages children have reached in their learning, with literacy and numeracy tests carried out at P1, P4, P7 and S3 level.

Thursday - Women in STEM

Following FMQs at noon, Labour MSP Iain Gray will urge the Scottish government to reflect on the numbers of women studying STEM subjects.

It follows a report which said the proportion for female STEM students had seen "at best, incremental improvement, and, at worst, further decline".

Then onto the Budget Bill debate after lunch.

While full committee listings are yet to be published, one of interest is the Social Security Committee as it discusses the draft social security charter with cabinet secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

The charter forms a central tenet of the Social Security (Scotland) Act and seeks to set out the core principles of Scotland's new social security system.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-47028458

ruby Posted on January 30, 2019 11:27

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Empire's Jussie Smollett: Stars show support after attack

Hollywood stars are showing their support for Jussie Smollett after he was attacked.

Police in the US say they're investigating it as a suspected homophobic and racist attack after "two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs".

The Empire actor needed hospital treatment after the men punched him in the face, poured a chemical substance on him and tied a rope around his neck.

Oscar winner Viola Davis and supermodel Naomi Campbell are among those sharing their support.

Naomi Campbell, who starred in the first two seasons of the musical show about a hip-hop mogul whose sons and ex-wife fight over his business, said that one of the most beautiful things to happen to her when working on Empire was meeting Jussie Smollett.

Alongside a picture of the two of them, she called on the Mayor of Chicago to catch the "despicable people" who have committed this "act of hate".

Oscar winner Viola Davis shared a photo of Jussie on her Instagram page.

Jussie, who plays Jamal Lyon, in Empire, came out on US TV show Ellen in 2015.

It's after he faced scrutiny in his personal life when his character on the show came out as being gay.

At the time he told Ellen "there is, without a doubt, no closet that I've ever been in and I just wanted to make that clear".

The TV host tweeted her support for him and his family.

Jussie's co-star, Grace Byers, is among those expressing their horror at the attack.

"This despicable act only shamefully reveals how deeply the diseases of hatred, inequality, racism and discrimination continue to course through our country's veins," she said.

Singer and actress Janelle Monae also shared a photo of herself with Jussie.

"It is still a risk daily to be a BLACK, OUT and PROUD human being," she wrote.

Jada Pinkett Smith also posted a news report about the attack.

End of Instagram post by jadapinkettsmith

Some media reports say that the actor had bleach poured on him but that's not been confirmed yet.

According to the American website TMZ, Jussie has now been discharged from hospital

https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-47053406

ruby Posted on January 30, 2019 09:53

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North Korea nuclear: US intelligence report says regime to keep weapons

North Korea is unlikely to fully give up its nuclear weapons, a US intelligence report says, despite the hopes of the Trump administration.

The Worldwide Threat Assessment report also says Iran is not making nuclear weapons, but that cyber threats from China and Russia are a growing concern.

Both countries may be seeking to influence the 2020 election, it says.

National intelligence director Dan Coats and other intelligence chiefs presented it the Senate on Tuesday.

North Korea remains "unlikely to give up" its weapon stockpiles and production abilities while it tries to negotiate "partial denuclearization steps to obtain key US and international concessions", the report says.

Having nuclear weapons is seen as "critical to regime survival", it reads.President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un met in Singapore last June to discuss denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

They signed an agreement pledging to "work toward complete denuclearisation" but there was no agreed pathway and little progress has been made since then on the issue.North Korea has always insisted it will not unilaterally give up its nuclear arsenal unless the US removes its own nuclear threat.

The White House has said they will meet for a second time in February, but no date or location has yet been confirmed.

Image captionNotrh Korea's Kim Yong-chol (left) travelled to the US for talks in December

The new US report highlights a growing threat from China and Russia, which are "more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s".

Both countries have sophisticated "cyber espionage" capabilities, which they may try to use to influence the 2020 US presidential election.

The report also says Iran is not currently making nuclear weapons, although it says the country's "regional ambitions and improved military capabilities" will probably threaten US interests in the future.

President Trump withdrew the US in 2018 from a landmark deal on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, and has imposed stricter sanctions to try to thwart its actions.

At the Senate hearing CIA director Gina Haspel said Iran was "technically... in compliance" with the 2015 nuclear deal, despite the US withdrawal.

Image captionPresident Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the report stresses that the so-called Islamic State group (IS) is not yet defeated, despite the Trump administration's claims to the contrary.

While the group will probably not aim to take new territory, the report assesses IS will try to "exploit Sunni grievances, societal instability, and stretched security forces to regain territory in Iraq and Syria in the long term".

President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from Syria shocked allies at home and abroad. Mr Trump said the group had been defeated.

The administration has since agreed to slow down the withdrawal.

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan however told reporters on Tuesday that IS is close to losing its remaining territory in Syria.

"I'd say 99.5% plus of the IS-controlled territory has been returned to the Syrians. Within a couple of weeks, it'll be 100%," he is quoted as saying.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47051606

ruby Posted on January 30, 2019 09:43

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8 questions to ask before having sex with him

To avoid sleeping with a total jerk (or a great guy before you're ready), file these questions to ask a guy before having sex in your "to-do-before-bed" checklist

Despite what movies tell us, there's no hard and fast rule about when you should have sex with your new guy for the first time. Maybe it's five minutes after you meet him, or maybe it's after marriage—no judgment!

But no matter how long you wait, there are some questions you need to ask both your partner and yourself before you get in bed. Some are obvious—almost everybody knows to ask about STIs and birth control, and it makes sense to have a conversation about where the relationship is going. But other questions aren't as straightforward. For example, how do you ask a guy you've just met whether he's an arrogant jerk who's selfish in bed? Easy: You don't. But that doesn't mean you can't figure it out with a few less direct questions. We talked to the experts, including a former CIA officer, to figure out what answers you need before you get intimate with him—and what the right questions are to see the red flags.

HAVE YOU BEEN TESTED?

 

 

STIs are serious business, and that means that you can't gloss over the topic just because it doesn't match the mood, says human sexuality researcher Nicole Prause, Ph.D. "Data shows that when people say 'I'm clean,' what they really mean is that they haven't seen any active growths," Prause says. "And when they say they've 'tested clean,' they're usually only talking about HIV. So the sex questions need to get pretty explicit!" The easiest way to make this conversation less awkward is to get tested yourself. "The most common reason people don't bring up STIs with a potential partner is because they haven't been tested," says Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., associate professor at Indiana University and author of the newly released book The Coregasm Workout. "They know the question is going to get turned back on them. Get tested yourself, and the conversation will be much easier." (Asking about test history is one of the 7 Conversations You Must Have for a Healthy Sex Life.)

 

ARE YOU MARRIED?

 

 

Even if this is just a casual relationship, you want to know if he's seeing other women. And you should, says Herbenick, because—jealousy aside—it's important to know what kind of situation you might be getting yourself into. Most of us assume if a guy is dating he isn't betrothed, but, well, we've all heard the stories. Sure, a married guy probably isn't going to come right out and admit it, but by asking him directly, you'll put him on the spot enough that he won't be able to lie smoothly, either. Ask this question in a joking manner, and then you can use it as a stepping stone to say, "No, but seriously, are you seeing other women?" (Not convinced? According to this Infidelity Survey, cheating is way more common among married couples than you might think.)

DO YOU LIKE YOUR JOB?

 

 

What do you do? Do you enjoy it? What's a typical workday like? Do you like your coworkers?

Don't ask him these questions all at once—you're not interrogating him, after all. But asking four or five specific questions about one topic is an easy way to spot a liar, according to retired CIA covert operations officer B.D. Foley, author of CIA Street Smarts for Women. "In the CIA, we try to have a cover story that will survive three questions," Foley explains. "After three questions, it becomes difficult to maintain the cover, so we then try to redirect the conversation. This is what a liar will probably do." You don't need to catch him in a fabrication to figure out if he's a liar, just pay attention to whether he starts being evasive when the line of questioning goes too deep. And remember: If he's lying about something as trivial as his job (even if it's just to impress you), he's probably lying about other things too.

NICE CAR! IS THAT WHAT YOU USE TO PICK UP CHICKS?

 

Flattery is everything—when you're trying to out arrogance, Foley says. Figure out if he has an ego by, ironically, stroking it. "This is called a 'flattery ploy,'" Foley says. "A normal, humble guy will take compliments graciously, or even be embarrassed. But someone who is arrogant will use your words as a jumping off point to brag about themselves or their exploits." If he takes every compliment you give him and follows it with a 10-minute speech about how amazing he is, he's probably not the kind of guy you want to sleep with (read: selfish, and potentially selfish in bed).

ARE YOU FRIENDS WITH YOUR EX?

 

The way he talks about past relationships can be revealing, says New York-based psychologist Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. "If he's respectful when talking about an ex-lover, that's a good sign that he'll be respectful of you," he explains. It can be a little awkward to bluntly ask a guy to reveal his relationship history, so lead in to the question with some (inoffensive) info about your past relationships. "At the CIA, we call this 'give to get,'" Foley says. "When you give some information about yourself, the other person will feel compelled to respond in kind." (Then again, Here's Why You Shouldn't Be Friends with Your Ex.)

 

BAD HAIR DAY, HUH?

 

Safety is important, especially when you're getting intimate with a new partner. But if you've just met him, you probably haven't had the chance to see his true colors. The most important to suss out is any anger or control issues, both of which can be problematic even if you never plan on seeing him again. To determine whether he's a regular guy or a possible serial killer, Foley suggests using a "mild provocation" ploy. Here's how it works: Provoke him by gently teasing him about something he's clearly proud of, like his new car or his nicely-groomed beard. "People with violent tendencies are often unable to resist a poke like this," Foley says. "They'll become irritated or even angry. It's better to see this behavior come out in a bar, when you're surrounded by people, than in the bedroom." Just remember to keep it light. You're not actually trying to offend him (and some guys are really sensitive about their hair!).

WHAT ARE MY EXPECTATIONS?

 

Before you sleep with him, it's important to ask yourself what you want in both the sexual encounter and the relationship. Strong emotions often come when your expectations are violated, like when you unexpectedly win an award and are ecstatic, or dramatically saddened by an abrupt death, says Prause. Because you tend to romanticize sex before it happens, your expectations are high. That can be problematic if you're not prepared to deal with the fallout. It doesn't matter if you're looking for a one-night stand or a long-term relationship (or something in between), just be honest and realistic about what you expect to happen the morning after (and what scenario you're okay with), she says.

AM I OKAY NEVER SEEING HIM AGAIN?

Sometimes it's difficult to be honest with yourself about whether you can handle a casual relationship, so Herbenick suggests considering the worst-case scenario. "If your answer is yes, then go for it," Herbenick says. "But if it's no, you may want to wait until it is yes, or until you're both ready for a more serious relationship." (In the meantime, he's not the only one with some sex ed homework! Brush up on the 

https://www.theindependentghana.com/en/lifestyle/29373-8-questions-to-ask-before-having-sex-with-him.html

sarah Posted on January 30, 2019 09:40

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Chocolate is better than cough syrup for curing your cough, doctor reveals

When we have a hacking cough, lots of us will reach for the cough syrup to soothe symptoms.

But it turns out you might be better of indulging in a bar of Dairy Milk, as a doctor has said chocolate is better for cough and respiratory problems than standard medicine.

 

According to Professor Alyn Morice, head of cardiovascular and respiratory studies at the University of Hull and founding member of the International Society for the Study of Cough says, "chocolate can calm coughs".

Read: How to cut back on drinking alcohol

The doctor even added that the supporting evidence is "actually as solid as a bar of Fruit and Nut". It's the perfect excuse.

 

Writing for MailOnline, Alyn, who has spent years researching the cough, said researchers have just seen the results of a recent study of over-the-counter medicine.

 

"This proves that a new medicine which contains cocoa is better than a standard linctus."


Medicine containing chocolate could be the answer, according to Prof Alyn Morice

The study of 163 people revealed that the patients taking chocolate-based medicine saw significant improvements in two days.

 So it's not quite as good as simply munching on some Maltesers and feeling better, unfortunatley.

Nevertheless, this isn't the first study that suggests chocolate can calm coughs.

Researchers at Imperial College in London found that theobromine, an alkaloid in cocoa, is better at suppressing the urge to cough than codeine - and ingredient often used in cough medicines.

 Read: Did you know VAGINA can be steamed? Watch it all here

So how can chocolate actually help with a cough?

Well according to Professor Alyn Morice, it's down to chocolate's "demulcent properties" - in other words, it's sticky which means it forms a coating on the throat's nerve endings, suppressing the urge to cough.

"This demulcent effect explains why honey and lemon and other sugary syrups can help, but I think there is something more going on with chocolate," Alyn added.

The cough expert reckons sucking on a piece of chocolate could provide some relief, but it's best when working with other ingredients in the medicine.

It's definitely worth a try though...

https://www.theindependentghana.com/en/lifestyle/29286-chocolate-is-better-than-cough-syrup-for-curing-your-cough-doctor-reveals.html

sarah Posted on January 30, 2019 09:35

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These 5 stress-relieving strategies work for even the busiest entrepreneurs

For entrepreneurs, stress is a double-edged sword. On one hand, a moderate amount of stress can boost productivity, creativity and performance. Research shows that a moderate deadline, as opposed to one that’s extremely tight, can boost creativity.

On the other hand, many entrepreneurs are facing an overwhelming amount of stress, which can hinder performance. Entrepreneurs, compared to the typical population, have higher rates of stress, worry, depression and addiction. With stress, like exercise, the key is to maintain just enough to stimulate the system, without overloading oneself or doing damage.

    Unfortunately, some entrepreneurs think relieving stress means giving up meaningful work or engaging in time-consuming stress management techniques. Fortunately, there are a few evidence-based methods that can rapidly reduce stress and increase resilience in just minutes a day. By incorporating these practices into your daily life, you’ll watch stress levels plummet and your performance soar.

Strategy 1: Box breathing.

It’s hard to imagine more stressful work than being a Navy SEAL. To equip SEAL trainees with a way of quickly entering into a calm, energized and focused state, former Navy SEAL Mark Divine of SEALFIT teaches the box breathing method.

Research supports that slow, diaphragmatic breathing reduces the stress hormone cortisol, while also improving attention.

Here are the steps for box breathing:

  1. Inhale for four seconds
  2. Hold your breath for 4 seconds (without clamping your mouth or nose shut)
  3. Exhale for four seconds
  4. Hold for four seconds without air in the lungs
  5. Repeat steps 1-4

This activity can be done for as little as 5 minutes to enter into a calm and focused state.

Strategy 2: Yawning.

According to neuroscience researcher and author Mark Waldman, repeatedly yawning for one minute is one of the fastest ways to reduce neurological stress and anxiety. Yawning can also enhance alertness.

While it may seem unusual, a quick test will prove how quickly your mind can calm after engaging in conscious yawning. To do this, simply force yourself to yawn several times. You may notice that you begin to stimulate a real yawn. Repeat this for up to 60 seconds and note the relaxed and alert state your mind enters. This can be done any time during the day to quickly calm your mind.

Strategy 3: 5-minute walks.

Exercise has long been a powerful stress buster. But fitting exercise into a busy day can be challenging for some entrepreneurs. Research in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity has shown that taking a 5-minute walk every hour can be just as beneficial as a 30-minute walk at the start of the day. In fact, the frequent walking group showed an improved mood, whereas the 30-minute walking group didn’t.

Entrepreneurs can incorporate frequent walks by:

  • Walking during phone calls
  • Holding walking meetings
  • Using treadmill desks
  • Walking outside for a break
  • Using smartphone dictation or recording software to walk and speak notes

Strategy 4: Gratitude.

Positive psychology research shows that gratitude has numerous benefits for improving mood, relieving depression, boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure. While there are a few instances where gratitude hasn’t been shown to make a positive difference, for many entrepreneurs, gratitude can be an easy and time-efficient way to fight off stress and improve their mood.

A simple gratitude practice can include taking several minutes to write down reflections in a gratitude journal as well as conveying gratitude to those at work. As a bonus, taking the time to express gratitude to those in your network (e.g., writing thank you cards) can be an excellent way of sparking conversations that could lead to business growth.

Strategy 5: Saying no.

Entrepreneurs are often willing to take on challenges and risks that others won’t. While this personality trait can help blaze new trails, it can also potentially lead to burnout.

Whether it’s website design work or doing the laundry, many entrepreneurs are taught the benefit of outsourcing tasks that are outside their wheelhouse. What can be more challenging, however, is saying “no” to potential opportunities because of the stress they might add. This could also mean saying “no” to a client who requests too much.

 

The key here is a mindset shift. If you resent taking on work and it stresses you out, it could not only negatively affect you, but could also negatively affect those working with you -- including your clients. Sometimes the best thing you can do for others is to let them work with someone who has the mental and physical capacity to better serve them.

Putting it all together.

Each of these strategies only takes a few minutes to implement, making them almost effortless. The key is remembering to do them. It’s recommended to first start with one or two of these strategies and create an “If-When-Then” plan.

For instance, “When it’s the top of the hour, then I will yawn for 60 seconds.” “If someone calls me, then I will get up and walk while taking the phone call.” “When I pack up my belongings at the end of the day, then I will recite to myself three things I’m grateful for.”

Write down your plan and read it at the start of each day until it becomes a habit. Apply any one of these simple strategies today to enjoy a renewed sense of well-being and newfound peace of mind. 

https://www.theindependentghana.com/en/lifestyle/28759-these-5-stress-relieving-strategies-work-for-even-the-busiest-entrepreneurs.html

sarah Posted on January 30, 2019 09:31

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7 things that might happen if you stop wearing makeup

You Might Be Insecure (At First)

We know what you might be thinking: Will you look tired? Or less attractive? Will your coworkers and friends mumble on the side? Chances are no—no one will notice. And though you might feel a little self-conscious initially, those fears will be eased when you realize you suddenly have an extra half hour to spare in the mornings.

You Might Become Less Stressed

Let's be real: Maintaining a beauty routine can be a hassle. Is your foundation even? Are your lashes clumpy? Has your liner smudged? Not wearing makeup will alleviate you from these little anxieties and free up more of your mind for important tasks, like taking the time to stretch and meditate—or, ya know, searching for the best doughnuts in every single state.

Your Skin Might Clear Up

Between the foundation and concealer and blush and contouring, there are so many layers of product on your face. And if we're being really honest with ourselves, we're probably not removing it all correctly at the end of the day—which means it's left in our pores. Give your skin a break from it all and you might find yourself with clearer skin in a couple days.

You Might Look Younger

Especially if you tend to be heavy handed with your makeup normally. That smattering of freckles across your nose and the rosiness in your cheeks that you're always trying to tone down—those traits actually make you look more naturally youthful.

You Might Get More Invested In Your Skincare

Hey, if you're going to go barefaced, you want your skin to look as good as possible (not broken out and blotchy). So slap on the serums and masks and the all-important SPF and your skin will thank you now...and later.

And You Might Appreciate Your Hair More

6 OF 7

ALL PHOTOS

Just because you're forgoing makeup doesn't mean that you're giving up on your appearance entirely. Use a few of those newly reclaimed minutes to smooth down any frizz—or finally try out that pretty braid you never had time for before.

PHOTO: MANE ADDICTS

You Might Realize That You Don't Need Makeup (Or That You Just Need Less)

 

Once you go without makeup for a while, putting it back on can feel foreign. And heavy. Instead of covering your entire face in foundation, you might find yourself just dabbing on a little concealer. Or perhaps instead of doing a full-on smoky eye, you'll go for a light coat of mascara instead. No matter what, you'll have gained a fresh perspective.

https://www.theindependentghana.com/en/lifestyle/29390-7-things-that-might-happen-if-you-stop-wearing-makeup.html

sarah Posted on January 30, 2019 09:24

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Kevin and Julia Garratt on their experience as detainees in China

Canadian couple Kevin and Julia Garratt were detained in China in 2014 and accused of spying. Amid an escalating feud between Canada and China and allegations of retaliatory detentions, the pair tells the BBC about what it was like - and how they ever made it home.

Kevin Garratt remembers well the night he and Julia were arrested in north-eastern China.

He recalls being pulled away from his wife as they walked through a restaurant's downstairs lobby, and pushed into the back of a black sedan filled with burly officers.

He thought the whole thing was some terrible mistake.

Julia, forced into a separate sedan, found herself shaking in fear and shock at the sudden turn of events, and the drive in the darkness.

She thought: "This is going to be my last night.

"I don't think I've ever felt that level of fear and panic before. And also just sad for my family and my children, because there was no warning, there would be no chance to say goodbye."

The Garratts had lived in China since 1984, and from 2008 operated a coffee house popular with Western expats and tourists in Dandong, a city on the North Korean border, while continuing to carry out Christian aid wo

Image captionThe couple lived in Dandong, at the main China-North Korea border

But unbeknownst to either of them, early in 2014 and thousands of miles away, American authorities were launching a crackdown on Chinese cyber-espionage. One of the men in their sights was Su Bin, a Chinese resident working in Canada.

That June, Canadian authorities picked up Su, accused of stealing data about military projects and selling it to China, for extradition to the US.

While China has denied it, Canadian officials and observers believed the Garratts' arrest was a tit-for-tat detention and an attempt to pressure Canada for Su's release.

Canada's ambassador in Beijing at the time, Guy Saint-Jacques, describes them as "a couple of Canadian missionaries who had been in China 30 years doing good work".

He tells the BBC their arrest "was the first case where we saw a clear retaliation for something that had happened in Canada".

When he met counterparts at the foreign ministry about the case, Saint-Jacques recalls: "They never said directly 'let's do a swap.' But it was very clear what they wanted."

On the night of the Garratts' arrest - the beginning of months of detention for the pair - they had been invited for dinner by a friend of a friend, who told the couple they wanted to talk about their daughter going to study in Canada.

But something about the dinner felt strange.

"It didn't seem genuine, and the daughter never came," Kevin says.

Julia says it was only later they realised the whole evening had been a set-up for their arrest.

"It was very carefully thought through and planned in advance. We had no idea," she says.

Parts of the couple's story could be pulled directly from today's headlines.

Image captionMeng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver last December

In December, Chinese telecoms executive Meng Wanzhou, 46, was detained in Vancouver for allegedly breaking US sanctions against Iran.

This week, the US filed charges against Huawei and Meng, and the US is seeking her extradition. Both Huawei and Meng have rejected the allegations.

Following Meng's arrest came threats of "grave consequences" from China if the tech heiress and chief finance officer at Huawei, China's largest private company, was not released.

In mid-December, two Canadian men - former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor - were held in China on accusations of harming national security.

Like in the Garratts' case, their detention is seen by many China analysts as a reprisal.

Image captionMichael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig have been put under "compulsory measures"

The Garratts' experience in detention parallels what Canadian officials and others have suggested that Kovrig and Spavor are living through - daily interrogations, being kept in a room with lights on day and night.

"I don't know what they did or didn't do, but I know what they're going through right now," says Julia.

The Garratts say they were never physically harmed but were watched by guards around the clock, and had to request the most basic necessities when they needed them.

"You want a drink of water, they have to go get it for it. Brush your teeth, they get it for you. It's really meant to frighten and control you," says Kevin.Julia says the first few nights, she put a blanket over her eyes to block the light, but the guard pulled it down.

"I thought: 'That's a rule, I can't cover my face to sleep in the dark, they need the lights shining in my face.' They had very strict protocol."

They also experienced daily interrogations for up to six hours.

Tit for tat arrests

  • About 200 Canadians held in China
  • The cases of Michael Spavor, Michael Kovrig and Robert Lloyd Schellenberg could be linked to China's displeasure at arrest of Meng Wanzhou
  • Kovrig, a diplomat on leave, and Spavor, a businessman with close ties to North Korea, are accused of engaging in activities that harm China's national security
  • Schellenberg was convicted last year on drug smuggling charges and given a death sentence in January
  • Canada has accused China of "acting arbitrarily" in his sentencing
  • The country updated its travel advisory to China following Schellenberg sentencing, urging caution due to risk of "arbitrary enforcement of local law"

Their interrogators had a decade of details about their time in China and their travels, and asked over and over about the minutia of their activities - the why, the when, and the where. Whom they met.

"They would ask the same questions two month later and compare the answers," says Julia. "It's very, very gruelling."

Image captionKevin Garratt is reunited with his wife Julia in Vancouver

Some four years later, they have documented their experience in a book, Two Tears on the Window, published in November.

Devout Christians, they say prayer and the support of both their close family and the wider church community helped them through their time in detention.

"I had the sense that my peace cannot be stolen from me, my true freedom cannot be stolen from me. And I think there was great comfort in that," says Julia.

She was released on bail in February 2015, pending trial. In January 2016, still in detention, Kevin was charged with stealing state secrets.

A month later, Su waived extradition and headed to the US, where in March he pleaded guilty to hacking into major US defence contractors, stealing sensitive military data and sending it to China.

Saint-Jacques says that Chinese officials seemed taken by surprise by Su's decision to cut a deal with American officials.

Image captionJustin Trudeau raised the Garratt case with Chinese officials in August 2016

He believes that turn of events, combined with a visit to China by Justin Trudeau, during which the newly elected PM raised Kevin's case, were instrumental in securing Kevin's release.

He was deported to Canada in September 2016 after 775 days in detention, and reunited with Julia, who had left the country earlier that year.

Meanwhile, Meng's case continues to strain China's ties with Canada and the US.

Chinese officials have called her arrest a "serious mistake", accusing Canada of double standards and "Western egotism and white supremacy".

She is out on bail and under house arrest in Vancouver, where she owns property. She is next due in court on 6 March, but the case could possibly drag on for years.

It also comes amid growing scrutiny in Western countries over Huawei, which is a world leader in telecoms infrastructure, in particular the next generation of mobile phone networks, known as 5G.

Concern about the security of the company's technology has been growing, particularly in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Germany, which fear its products could be used for spying, an allegation which Huawei denies.

Amid the diplomatic dispute, Canada has worked to rally international allies to its corner.

Earlier this month, over 140 diplomats - including Saint-Jacques - and academics signed an open letter to President Xi Jinping calling for the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Canada also fired ambassador John McCallum on Sunday following controversial comments he made about Meng's extradition case.

For the Garratts, despite the international significance of cases such as theirs, it's important to remember that individuals and their families have got caught up in the dispute.

"The human cost is huge. That's the largest cost that's paid by the individuals that are directly implicated, unjustly implicated by these big things," she says.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46981048

ruby Posted on January 30, 2019 09:12

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US firms seek changes to UK standards on beef and drugs

US lobby groups for agriculture and pharmaceutical firms want UK standards to be changed to match those of the US in post-Brexit trade deals.

They want the sale of growth hormone-fed beef, currently banned in the UK and EU, to be allowed in the UK.

The groups are also seeking changes to the NHS drugs approval process to allow it to buy a wider range of US drugs.

They are also asking US officials - who will hold a hearing later - to seek lower tariffs on agricultural goods.

The lobby groups say any deal should move away from EU standards, including rules governing genetically modified crops, antibiotics in meats, and pesticides, such as glyphosate.

If this does not happen, they say they will not back a US-UK trade deal.

Technology groups are also setting out their wishlists for any pact. Companies in this sector are against the UK's proposed digital tax.

The UK government has promised to look at ways of taxing US technology giants, such as Amazon and Google, who critics say do not pay their fair share of tax in the UK and therefore operate at an unfair advantage to physical companies.

'Once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity

The lobby groups' priorities were outlined in more than 130 comments submitted to the office of the US Trade Representative.

The office solicited the feedback to help develop US goals as it prepares to start trade talks with the UK after Brexit.

US companies - especially in the agricultural sector - said they hoped the UK would prove more flexible than the EU.

UK negotiations could represent "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", the National Grain and Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association wrote.

The groups said a new deal could create a trans-Atlantic market "that can act as a bastion against the EU's precautionary advances and its ongoing aggressive attempts to spread its influence around the globe".

Image captionUS agricultural groups have long complained about EU rules

Here is a summary of goals for key sectors:

Agriculture

US business groups from the agricultural sector have been among the most vocal, amounting to nearly a third of all comments.

The groups, which as well as meat, drug and technology firms include producers of olive oil, wine, nuts, fruit, and dairy products, say they want to see the UK reduce tariffs on food products., They also want to limit geographic labelling rules, such as those that bar US companies from using terms such as Prosecco.

The Animal Health Institute, which produces animal antibiotics, was among the groups that said it would not support any deal that did not address demands by the US agricultural sector.

"We have noted with concern statements by certain UK officials indicating a desire to exclude the agricultural sector from the negotiation and an intention of maintaining regulatory harmonization with the European Union," it said.

"Should the UK adopt such policies, we see little basis for the negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement."

Health

The pharmaceutical industry is also gearing up for negotiations to start.

PhRMA, which represents drug makers in the US such as AbbVie Merck and Novartis, said it wanted a deal to address the barriers to access it currently faces in the UK, pointing to items such as government price controls.

It heavily criticised the current NHS drug approval system, pointing to the cap on the price of drugs as too restrictive, and highlighting insufficient healthcare budgets and "rigid" national processes.

The organisation, as well as some other groups, are also hoping to secure patent protections for certain types of drugs for at least 12 years, among other demands.

Technology

There is also widespread support to push the UK raise the amount that triggers customs duties from £135 closer to the US level of $800 - more than £600.

Such a move would make it easier for small businesses to export to the UK, companies - including the e-commerce site Etsy - said.

Many of the demands in the tech sector also surfaced during negotiations of the trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47036119

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 12:08

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Norwegian Air seeks cash injection

Norwegian Air wants to raise 3bn Norwegian kroner (£268m) through a rights issue to improve its finances.

The news comes as the company announced that its preliminary earnings for 2018 showed an operating loss of roughly 3.8bn kroner.

The budget carrier said it was not in talks with any potential buyers after British Airways owner IAG abandoned its plans to buy it last week.

In early trading on Tuesday, the company's shares plunged by 16%.

Billionaire John Fredriksen and the airline's chief executive Bjorn Kjos and chairman Bjorn Kise have all agreed to underwrite the issue.

Mr Kjos explained that the airline was going to change its strategic focus from growth to making cost savings.

"We will now get in place a strengthened balance sheet that supports the further development of the company," he said.

In a statement, the airline added that this would "increase its competitiveness and stand-alone financial strength".

The carrier confirmed that flights were unaffected by the news.

A rights issue happens when existing shareholders of a company are offered the chance to buy new shares at a special price.

Analysis

by business correspondent Theo Leggett

Norwegian is in a race against time. The company is nothing if not ambitious - and it has certainly made an impact in Europe's cut-throat aviation market. But it needs to become consistently profitable, before the money runs out.

Norwegian's chief executive, Bjorn Kjos, has overseen a major expansion of the airline over the past five years, doubling the size of its fleet and expanding its route network dramatically. But his biggest gambit has been a major play into the low-cost long-haul market.

Cheap transatlantic travel is not a new idea: Freddie Laker tried it in the 1970s. But it was only with the development of highly fuel-efficient aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner - which Norwegian is using - and the Airbus A350 that the idea really took off. Now others are following Norwegian's example.

But all of this has come at a price. Norwegian has debts of $3.5bn and expects to rack up a sizeable loss for 2018. Problems with engines on its shiny new Dreamliners clearly haven't helped either.

Small wonder Mr Kjos now says the carrier will focus on cost-cutting and profitability, rather than growth. His airline has shaken up the market - now it needs to show it can consistently make money from it as well.

Last year, Norwegian Air launched the first-ever budget flight from London to South America

Fares on the 14-hour trip to Buenos Aires started from £259 one-way.

The company started as a small regional airline flying between Bergen and Trondheim in 1993.

Image captionBjorn Kjos is a former paratrooper and pilot

Mr Kjos turned it into Scandinavia's largest airline and the third-biggest budget carrier in Europe.

Norwegian's price strategy has been based on flying a young fleet of aircraft such as Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which burn less fuel per passenger compared with other long-haul aircraft.

These offer passengers a more upmarket experience than they may have come to expect from a budget airline, with modern interiors and the benefit of free wi-fi on all routes in the future.

It flies from Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh airports to more than 150 destinations across Europe and worldwide including Boston, Dubai and San Francisco.

But in the second quarter of last year, the Civil Aviation Authority's most recent data, Norwegian was the airline with the most complaints from UK passengers, of those still in business.

It received 526 complaints per million travellers carried in that three-month period to June 2018, ahead of TAP Portugal, with 430, and Ryanair, with 319.

Small Planet Airlines, which had its licence suspended by the CAA in November after filing for insolvency the previous month, had received 27,998 complaints per million customers in the same period.

Budget airlines have had differing fortunes in recent months.

In November, EasyJet announced a 41% rise in pre-tax profits to £578m for the year to 30 September.

And earlier this month, it said that it expected its full-year profits to meet City forecasts.

However, Ryanair cut its profit forecast, blaming lower-than-expected air fares.

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47039303

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 12:04

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Luke Jobson: Five arrested on suspicion of manslaughter

Five people have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after a man seen being chased was found dead in a river.

Luke Jobson, 22, went missing after his family said he was "chased by five lads" outside a pub in Yarm in Teesside early on Sunday.

Police said the group came forward following appeals for information after he disappeared on a night out.

Officers confirmed a body recovered in a river on Monday was Mr Jobson's.

A Cleveland Police statement added: "Our thoughts are with Luke's family and friends at this very difficult time and specially trained officers will continue to support them."

On Monday, the force said it was believed Mr Jobson had been involved in an altercation outside The Keys pub.

Image captionMany people gathered in an effort to help the search for Mr Jobson

It has appealed for anyone with dashcam footage to contact them.

He was last seen near Yarm School at about 02:15 GMT.

Mr Jobson's family had appealed for help tracing him and a Facebook post was shared more than 60,000 times.

About 100 people turned out to aid the search but were warned by police to stay away from the area around the school in order to allow specially-trained officers to do their work.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-tees-47041232

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:59

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Jack Shepherd: Speedboat death 'not a crime' in Georgia

Speedboat killer Jack Shepherd's lawyer in Georgia says she will fight attempts to extradite him back to the UK.

In July, Shepherd, 31, was found guilty of the manslaughter by gross negligence of Charlotte Brown, but failed to attend his trial.

Shepherd surrendered himself to police in Tbilisi last week after spending ten months on the run.

Mariam Kublashvili says the charge he was convicted of does not apply under Georgian law.

She added that Shepherd "preferred" to serve his sentence in Georgia.

He was convicted in his absence at the Old Bailey and sentenced to six years after Ms Brown died when the pair were thrown overboard in December 2015.

Image captionThe speedboat which crashed on the Thames was shown to jurors at the Old Bailey during Jack Shepherd's trial

In an interview with the BBC, Mrs Kublashvili said: "What happened, in the river of Thames, is not a crime by Georgian law.

"If their behaviour which the person made or did not make, is not in Georgian law a crime, the person must be not extradited.

"He prefers to serve his sentence in Georgia. For him it is better to stay here if it is possible."

Media captionCharlotte Brown’s father Graham told BBC Radio 5 Live he felt an “overwhelming sense of emotion” following the arrest

On Monday, Shepherd's British lawyer, Rich Egan, received a Nazi death threat amidst torrents of abuse.

Ms Brown, 24, had been on a date with Shepherd on the River Thames when the crash happened.They were thrown from the boat when it hit branches in the water near Wandsworth Bridge at about midnight.

Shepherd was found clinging to the hull and Ms Brown, from Clacton in Essex, was pulled from the water unconscious and unresponsive.

After handing himself into police, Shepherd appeared in court in Tbilisi and was jailed for three months while UK authorities begin the extradition process.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-47039077

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:57

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A photographer's Trans-Siberian World Cup journey

Disgraced publicist Max Clifford had complained about unheated prison cells and cold showers "every day" before his death, an inquest has heard.

Clifford, 74, was serving eight years for sex offences when he collapsed at HMP Littlehey in Cambridgeshire.

The PR guru's daughter Louise told a hearing conditions at the prison "had an influence on his deterioration".

Cambridgeshire assistant coroner Simon Milburn said a cardiologist would be asked to consider if this was the case.

'Fading fast'

Clifford died of congestive heart failure on 10 December 2017, two days after his collapse, the hearing at Huntingdon Law Courts was told.

Letters to the prison governor from her father's doctor and barrister received "no response" while her father "was fading fast", Ms Clifford said.

The pre-inquest review hearing was told consultant cardiologist Prof Jon Townend had provided an expert review of Clifford's heart failure.

This confirmed he had cardiac AL amyloidosis, a "rare", serious condition caused by a build-up of abnormal proteins in organs and tissues.

A date for the full inquest has yet to be set.

Image captionClifford's daughter Louise had supported her father through his trial

During his 50-year career as a publicist, Clifford looked after press and publicity for a mix of clients including Marlon Brando, Marvin Gaye, Muhammad Ali and Jade Goody.

In 2014, he was investigated as part of Operation Yewtree, and eventually jailed after being convicted of eight indecent assaults on women and young girls.

Clifford continued to protest his innocence, and an appeal against his sentence was due in 2018.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-46989850

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:54

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Michael Jackson doc Leaving Neverland is 'disturbing and devastating'

Michael Jackson gave a young boy jewellery in exchange for sexual acts, according to new documentary Leaving Neverland.

The "devasting and disturbing" film has been shown at The Sundance Film festival in Utah, America.

It focuses on two men who claim Michael Jackson had abused them as children.

His estate deny the claims saying it's "an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in" on the singer, who died in 2009.

USA Today reporter Patrick Ryan was at the world premiere on Friday.

Wade Robson and James Safechuck say they were aged seven and 10 when the singer befriended them and their families.

Now in their 30s, they claim they were sexually abused by Michael Jackson.

He always denied the allegations when he was alive.

Police raided his Neverland Ranch in California in 2003 while investigating claims he had molested a 13-year-old boy.

The case went to trial and Wade Robson was a main witness for him. He said under oath that the singer never abused him and Michael Jackson was acquitted of all charges in 2005.

Image captionWade Robson used to perform alongside Michael Jackson when he was a child

Since then Wade Robson has become a father and in an interview he said after two nervous breakdowns he finally revealed to his therapist the dark secret he'd been hiding.

"It was just pain and disgust and anger, the idea something like that could happen to my son."

In 2013 he filed a lawsuit against Michael Jackson's estate claiming he had been sexually abused by the singer, but a judge ruled he'd waited too long to seek legal action.

'Credible filmmaking'

The two-part film is directed by Dan Reed and the synopsis reads: "Through gut-wrenching interviews with the now-adult men and their families, Leaving Neverland crafts a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception."

Image captionBritish filmmaker Dan Reed also made Terror in Mumbai and The Paedophile Hunter

Reporter Adam B Vary watched it and posted afterwards: "A deeply emotional Wade Robson and James Safechuck receive a standing ovation after the screening of Leaving Neverland. There will be a lot to say later, but I can say this: This is a thorough, devastating, deeply credible piece of filmmaking."

Kenneth Turan, the LA Times film critic posted: "A #sundancefilmfestival first: introducing the screening of the disturbing "Leaving Neverland" Michael Jackson documentary, fest topper John Cooper announced "there will be health care professionals" in the Egyptian Theater lobby if needed. This is one intense film."

And film critic for US Weekly Mara Reinstein put: "Shaking. Wow. We were all wrong when we cheered for Michael Jackson."

Image captionFans turned the entrance to Neverland into a shrine after the singer died

Because of Wade Robson and James Safechuck's previous support of Michael Jackson and claims that he never molested them, his fans have asked the festival to pull it, while his own estate has hit back at the project in a statement: "The film takes uncorroborated allegations that supposedly happened 20 years ago and treats them as fact.

"The two accusers testified under oath that these events never occurred. They have provided no independent evidence and absolutely no proof in support of their accusations, which means the entire film hinges solely on the word of two perjurers."

They go on to say that because the filmmaker purposefully decided not to interview anyone else other than the two men and their families he "neglected fact checking so he could craft a narrative so blatantly one-sided that viewers never get anything close to a balanced portrait."

The documentary will be shown on Channel 4 in Spring 2019.

Michael Jackson always denied any abuse allegations while he was alive.

He died on 25 June 2009 aged 50 after receiving a lethal dose of the anaesthetic propofol.

https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-47013732

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:51

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‘Welcome to my high-fashion, trash shopping mall’

Anna Bergstrom had a dilemma. She loved the glitzy world of high fashion, but had also come to feel that it was unsustainable and bad for the planet. She's now found peace of mind by running a stylish shopping mall in Sweden, where everything is second-hand.

"Do you notice the smell?" Anna Bergstrom says, as she surveys her mall from the mezzanine level. "It smells nice here, doesn't it?"

It's very important to Anna that this place is enticing, because she feels it is making a statement. Everything for sale here, in 14 specialist shops covering everything from clothes to DIY tools, is recycled.

She is usually turned off by the smell of second-hand stores, she explains, even though she adores vintage fashion.

For most people flea-markets and charity shops carry a stigma, she thinks - a mark left by countless bad experiences. Too often they are worthy but depressing, Anna says. Her mission is to bring second-hand shopping into the mainstream.

The mall itself is spacious and appealing, almost Ikea-like. An art installation - a tree and circular bench all fashioned from recycled materials - greets customers at the entrance.

There is even a coffee shop and gift-wrapping service.

The mall is called ReTuna. "Tuna" because that's the nickname for the city where it is based - Eskilstuna, an hour's train journey west of Stockholm - and "Re" because the goods on sale have been recycled or repurposed.

It was set up by Eskilstuna's local government in 2015, in a warehouse which used to house trucks for a logistics company.

The shops inside it are run as businesses rather than charities, and each pays a combined charge of rent and business rates.

Anna Bergstrom's business mantra which she repeats to each shopkeeper is, "Do it like Hugo Boss." She wants the mall to stand toe-to-toe with a regular, commercial, glitzy mall.

There is a sports shop stuffed with skis and (slightly scuffed) sledges, a kids' shop bursting with toys (a little faded), a bookshop, a DIY store, a homeware specialist, even a pet accessory shop.

As well as "pre-loved" items for sale, there are also many that have been upcycled. These are unwanted items that have been taken apart and turned into new objects.

In a store that specialises in handmade household ornaments, Bergstrom is keen to show off a nice example of this, from one of her star tenants.

Shopkeeper Maria Larsson proudly shows off her best-selling product - a container that resembles the body of a pine cone. Each segment of its skin has been cut from leather jackets - upcycling in action.

However, Maria confesses to being a little worried. She is struggling to keep up with customer demand for this design because she can't get enough jackets.

This makes more sense once you understand ReTuna's location.

It's right next to Eskilstuna's recycling centre, which is also run by the municipality.

A steady stream of cars passes through it, bringing cardboard, mattresses and other typical unwanted household items.

But many of these cars go past the metal skips and then head down a ramp to a road that runs right next to the mall.

Here locals drop off their unwanted household things if there is a possibility they can be resold or upcycled.

In a vast area beneath the mall, a small army of workers in fluorescent jackets sifts through the donations, carrying them to designated zones.

Every day the shopkeepers can come down and inspect what has arrived: kids' toys, household appliances, gardening equipment… perhaps even a leather jacket. This is what they call their "treasure", says Anna. Their business rent gives them privileged access to it.

Shopkeepers sometimes hang around the basement to look at what is coming in to their zones. Anna calls these people "peekers" and gives them a telling-off, because they are meant to wait for set times to inspect their assigned stock.

Many of the shopkeepers will come to informal arrangements with one another. So if the clothes shop knows that Larsson wants leather jackets for upcycling, they will pass on any that are too damaged to be re-sold.

Any items that are unwanted by all the shopkeepers go to the recycling centre next door.

"You see," says Anna, "this is why I sometimes joke that this is the 'high fashion trash shopping mall'."

She thinks her passion for ethical, sustainable shopping goes back to her upbringing with her hippie parents.

She was born in a commune, though her family moved out to the countryside to pursue a simple life when she was three years old.

Her parents rejected consumerism in all its forms and tried to protect her from it.

She wasn't allowed Barbie dolls or any toys at all at Christmas, she recalls.

But as she grew up she reacted against this.

"Everyone has to be their own punk revolution," she says cryptically.

In fact she ended up forging a career in the temples of modern consumerism: shopping centres. She began by setting up retail shops, then ran two commercial malls in the Stockholm area.

It was only when she had children - four daughters - that she began to have doubts. She took about a year's maternity leave for each child, which gave her time to reflect. Perhaps maternal instinct revived in her some of the values instilled by her parents, she thinks.

As her daughters grew, so too did her doubts about the world she'd brought them into, and its throwaway culture.

She watched them become seduced, as teenagers, by a modern kind of consumerism - their lives became shaped by big brands, promoted by influencers on social media, says Anna. They became governed by whatever the Kardashians were doing on reality TV or Instagram, she says in a tone of dismay - before breaking into a smile.

In desperation she tried cutting her daughters' pocket money so they couldn't buy the latest clothes, but offered to pay for second-hand ones instead - with limited success.

She realised she had to do something more, so the opportunity for a job at the ReTuna mall three years ago, as its first manager, came at the perfect time for her.

Find out more

"I realised that I needed to become a role model for my children, doing something good for the planet," says Anna.

She calls the mall "my baby", and wants it to be a place her teenage children are proud to visit.

And they do visit. Though she hasn't persuaded them to tag it as a location on an Instagram post yet - she's working on that.

Anna's bigger hope is that what works for her family can work for Swedish society as a whole.

Swedes love the concept of living sustainably and doing things for the planet, but there is a "gap" when it comes to action, she says.

Anna thinks her mall can bridge this gap.

And there is evidence this may be happening. Sales are slowly rising year-on-year. Since opening, the mall has sold £2.8m worth of products and last year it attracted 700 visitors per day.

"If you can have a trendy, fashionable way to do sustainable living," says Anna, "I think mainstream customers can follow that - in high heels."

You may also be interested in:

Steven Mulgrove peers across the street into the window of Poundworld. "Store closing", the posters read, "Save up to 50%." Mulgrove, 24, used to work inside, at the beleaguered chain's branch in Blyth, Northumberland. He spent 10 months unloading delivery trucks, stacking shelves and - his least favourite duty - scanning customers' £1 dog treats and multi-packs of Heinz spaghetti hoops.

https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47001188

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:19

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Venezuela crisis: Why the military is backing Maduro

With Venezuela in economic and political crisis, more than 20 countries have recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, including the US.

To add to President Nicolás Maduro's woes, a top military representative to the US,Col José Luis Silva, defected on Sunday and called on other officers to do the same.

But if Mr Maduro's hold on power is slipping, why has Venezuela's powerful military not stepped in to give him the final push? The BBC looks at some of the reasons.

Picked for the job

When Mr Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chávez, came to power he purged the military to ensure its senior figures were aligned with his left-wing ideals, analysts say.

The former paratrooper cut a military figure and commanded loyalty. In return he rewarded officers with positions of power.

Image captionHugo Chávez was often pictured in the red beret of his parachute regiment

"Previously the military had been more or less confined to barracks, but Chávez let them out and gave them access to cabinet posts, to control of banks and other financial services," Phil Gunson, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, told the BBC.

Mr Maduro, a former bus driver with no previous military links, has continued the trend. The armed forces have played a key role in supporting his government, with many officers holding posts as ministers or other influential positions.

Key sectors now in the hands of senior officers include the crucial food distribution services, run by Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, and the state-owned oil and gas company PDVSA, which has Maj Gen Manuel Quevedo, head of the national guard, as its president.

Over the years the military has been allowed to become corrupt, Mr Gunson says.

Human right violations

If holding lucrative positions is one incentive for members of the armed forces to keep Mr Maduro in power, the fear of being held to account could be another.

"Parts of the military, particularly the senior officers, would like this to continue because they are making money out of it but also because they are so compromised," said Mr Gunson.

"If your officer corps is corrupt and your intelligence people are keeping abreast of who is stealing what then you build up big files on each individual which makes it very difficult for them to change sides."

The UN has accused Venezuelan security forces of carrying out hundreds of arbitrary killings under the guise of fighting crime and some officers are accused of serious humans rights violations.

"They are fearful that if the government fell they could spend the rest of their lives in jail," said Mr Gunson.

Brian Fonseca, a defence and security expert at Florida International University, says President Maduro has effectively tied the survival of his government to the military leadership by allowing them to participate in corruption.

"What is emerging now is Maduro is attempting to demonstrate some degree of strength and control in order to reinforce, within the military, that he is in a stable position. Whether that is true or not, we don't know," he told the BBC.

In late January, opposition groups arrived at military barracks to hand troops leaflets promising them amnesty if they backed Juan Guaidó.

Image copyrightEPA

Image captionOpposition supporters arrived at military sites to try to persuade soldiers to support Juan Guaidó

Image captionNational Guard officers made a show of burning the amnesty offer

"It was an opposition-led grassroots campaign to try to appeal to mid-level and junior military service members," Mr Fonseca said.

"The military in turn were burning the pamphlets that they were being given. It was being blasted all over social media as a means of trying to reinforce that the military is cohesive and aligned behind Maduro."

Soon after, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters in Washington that rank and file members of Venezuela's armed forces were "looking for ways" to support Mr Guaidó, the elected leader of the opposition-held National Assembly.

He said the US was "aware of significant contacts" between military officers and supporters of the assembly.

The offer of amnesty may entice some among the armed forces to switch sides, but others may not be persuaded, Mr Fonseca added.

"The military leadership has a lot to lose. Even with provision of amnesty, that doesn't necessarily guarantee amnesty. There have been cases in the past when amnesty was overturned a generation or two later," he said.

"There is no guarantee that those who have committed repression, corruption or drug trafficking would be off the hook if the opposition comes to power."

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-47036129

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:12

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Cancer cliches to avoid: I'm not 'brave'

Fighter, warrior, hero - some of the terms you might see used to describe people with cancer.

But according to a new survey, for some with the illness the words are seen as inappropriate rather than uplifting.

The UK poll by Macmillan Cancer Support of 2,000 people who have or had cancer found "cancer-stricken" and "victim" were also among the least-liked terms.

The charity said it showed how "divisive" simple descriptions of cancer can be.

Calling a person's cancer diagnosis a "war" or a "battle" and saying they had "lost their battle" or "lost their fight" when they died, were other unpopular descriptions, according to the poll carried out by YouGov.

Articles in the media and posts on social networks were found to be the worst offenders for using such language.

The survey found a preference for factual words to describe people with cancer, their diagnosis, and when someone with the illness dies.

'I'm not inspirational'

Mandy Mahoney, 47, has incurable metastatic breast cancer.

The outreach support worker, from London, was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and it has since returned five times.

She said: "I think cancer-speak can be quite negatively loaded - the brave, fighter, warrior and survivor standard descriptors put an awful lot of pressure on the newly diagnosed."

Mandy said she also objected to describing people as "losing their battle" with cancer.

"That confers that you didn't fight or gave up," she said.

Instead, she prefers "clear, factual language" and describes herself simply as "living with incurable cancer".

"I'm not brave or inspirational, I'm just trying to live the life I have left well," she added.

However, Craig Toley, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016 and is now in remission, said he thought some of the more positive terms could be empowering.

The 31-year-old, who is a powerlifter in his spare time, says: "Language like 'fight', 'struggle', 'warrior' and 'battle' will be interpreted differently by different people.

"Personally, I found those words helped empower me a lot and made me think of my cancer as a challenge I needed to fight."Everyone likes the story of a fighter."

'Divisive words'

Karen Roberts, chief nursing officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "These results show just how divisive and 'Marmite' simple words and descriptions can be.

"Cancer throws all kinds of things your way, and struggling to find the words, and the emotional turmoil caused when our friends and family don't get it 'right' only makes lives feel even more upended.

"By drawing attention to this we want to encourage more people to talk about the words they prefer to hear, and stop the damage that can be caused to people's wellbeing and relationships."

Mandy said it was not necessary for people to "swallow a textbook and come up with all of the key phrases" to talk to someone with cancer, and it is fine to not always know what to say.

"If you tell me it's awkward and you don't know what to say I will find a way to make that right for you, and actually on some occasions I might say 'we don't have to talk about it'.

"But just be real."

Macmillan Cancer Support has launched a campaign to highlight the challenges posed by a cancer diagnosis and the support available.

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47002578

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:08

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New York abortion law: Why are so many people talking about it?

On the 46th anniversary of the landmark US ruling that made abortion legal, New York state signed into law a new abortion rights bill. Why is it so controversial?

The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) has been seen by some as a necessary move to safeguard abortion rights should the Supreme Court overturn the ruling, known as Roe v Wade.

And it comes at a time when states such as Mississippi, Iowa and Ohio are rolling back abortion provisions.

While others see it as an "extreme" and "inhumane" expansion of abortion access.

The act removes the need for a doctor to perform some abortions and takes abortion out of the criminal code, making it a public health issue.

However, the most controversial aspect of the RHA is the provision allowing abortions after 24 weeks in cases where there is an "absence of foetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or health".

The RHA has caused an intense and heated debate about how abortion is regulated in New York, with impassioned arguments made on each side.

We heard some of those views.

'Devastating'

In 2016, Erika Christensen was pregnant and living in New York with her husband. The couple were thrilled.

However, at 31 weeks, she found out that her pregnancy was "nonviable", meaning that the baby would not survive outside the womb.

Ms Christensen told the BBC that she "didn't know about the law" banning abortion in New York beyond 24 weeks.

"We wanted to end the suffering of this child. It was a simple choice."

After doing some research she realised she would have to leave the state to terminate her pregnancy.

She borrowed $10,000 (£7,600) from her mum, and flew halfway across the country to have an abortion in Colorado.

"I know I am lucky. I am middle-class and have access to those kinds of resources. But it was still really devastating.

"The laws of New York made the grieving process so much harder," Ms Christensen said. "There is an inherent shame in having to leave your state to do this. It made a bad situation so much worse."

Since then, she has campaigned for New York to change its laws on abortion.

She hopes that the RHA will help women in a similar situation to her "work through their grief without having to fight the system".

"These women should be able to focus on healing."

'Time to double down'

Christina Fadden, chair of the pro-life organisation New York State Right to Life, told the BBC she was "extremely saddened" by the RHA being signed into law.

Ms Fadden said it was "horrific" that "there is now no protection for unborn children in the state of New York".

She disputes the assertion that the RHA is a necessary update the the state's law, and suggests that allowing abortions beyond 24 weeks is "inhumane".

'A non-factor to the law'

While much of the discussion surrounding the RHA focuses on the 24-week provision, the removal of abortion from the criminal code is also controversial.

Pro-choice campaigners maintain that abortion is a healthcare issue, while opponents to the RHA say that it removes protection for pregnant victims of domestic abuse.

Livia Abreu was violently attacked by her boyfriend when she was 26 weeks pregnant. She was stabbed multiple times and lost her unborn baby.

Ms Abreu released a statement saying the RHA would decriminalise "abortion as a product of an assault on a pregnant female".

Her former partner is facing charges of abortion in the first and second degree, as well as attempted murder and assault.

"The passing of RHA will likely exonerate him from those charges," she wrote. "Which will in turn lessen his sentence now that a judge has decided the case is going to trial and the new law will take effect prior to that date.

"Let that sink in. He will likely be convicted of the crimes he committed against me, but the loss of my daughter will be a non-factor to the law because she wasn't 'born and alive'.

"To clarify, I am neither pro-choice nor pro-life, I am very much neutral, because most things are never simply black or white."

Supporters of the RHA suggest that there are existing laws to punish domestic abuse, and the issue should be separated from abortion.

'Groundhog day'

Merle Hoffman, who founded the Choices Women's Medical Centre in New York in 1970, welcomes the change in the law, but feels it is "overdue".

"I have been working in this field for 48 years. It feels like I've been living in Groundhog day."

She told the BBC that her clinic has been unable to help women in "sad and difficult situations" because they were more than 24 weeks pregnant.

Ms Hoffman notes that many of the women who seek late-term abortions either didn't know they were pregnant for a long time, or experience complications in an originally wanted pregnancy.

"We have to get funding from various sources - often personally contributing money - to help these women access abortions services out of state."

Ms Hoffman describes New York in the early 1970s as an "oasis" for women seeking abortions before Roe v Wade, and sees a parallel with the state's decision to implement the RHA.

"I can see there being a sort of 'underground railroad' of women who will come to New York now. It is another access point on the east coast."

Ms Hoffman, is also keen to point out that only around 1% abortions in the US happen after 21 weeks.

'Options not restrictions'

Kaitlyn Marchesano, often answers the phone to women seeking financial help to terminate a pregnancy.

She works for the New York Abortion Access Funds, which supports women who are unable to pay for an abortion.

"Hearing a voice on the other end of the line going through this awful experience is challenging," reflects Ms Marchesano. "The difficulty they face is heart-breaking."

Ms Marchesano says she finds it "incredibly frustrating" that it is so difficult for women to access abortion later in their pregnancy.

While abortion is covered by the Medicaid health programme in New York, she says women "hit a funding wall" beyond 24 weeks.

"Women take on a considerable financial burden when they have to travel out of state. The cost of travel, child care, lost wages, accommodation add up on top of the cost of the procedure."

"The human body doesn't follow a legal timeline. People need options not restrictions."

'Grizzly and gruesome'

Cardinal Timothy Dolan leads the archdioceses of New York and has been a vocal opponent to the RHA.

Speaking to Fox News, Cardinal Dolan said the new law was "ghoulish, grizzly and gruesome", and "not good for our country".

New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who is a Catholic, has come under fire after signing the law, and some have called for him to be excommunicated..

Image captionCardinal Timothy Dolan speaking in New York in 2018

Cardinal Dolan said he gets "wheelbarrows full of letters every day" asking him to take firm action against the governor, but he said it "would be counterproductive".

"It would give ammo to our enemies who would say this is an internal Catholic disciplinary matter."

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46994583

ruby Posted on January 29, 2019 11:03

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Woman without womb allegedly gives birth to healthy quadruplets

God’s way is different from that of human beings or how else will one describe the alleged birth of these quadruplets? As reported by a Facebook page Zambian Accurate Information, a woman who had been termed barren for 14 years allegedly gave birth to four healthy babies at once. To make matter worse for the woman, she had her uterus removed eight years ago after she was reportedly diagnosed with multiple fibroid. As it is common in a typical African marriage without a child, the woman was said to have become object of mockery of the people for her barrenness and also said to be hated by her husband’s relatives. And when it was time for God to prove himself, she was said to have been delivered of two sons and two daughters all at once with the four babies said to be in good health without surgery. 

https://yen.com.gh/121620-woman-womb-allegedly-birth-healthy-quadruplets.html#121620

 

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 15:55

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Basketball: Coach Neo Beng Siang's pep talk works wonders as Slingers douse Saigon Heat to end losing run

SINGAPORE - Within the first eight minutes of their Asean Basketball League (ABL) game against Saigon Heat on Sunday (Jan 27), the Singapore Slingers had built up a 25-2 lead at the OCBC Arena, and they possibly thought they already had the win in the bag.

At half-time, there was still no indication of a slip-up as they maintained the wide gap at 51-29 with stifling defence and clinical finishing - centre John Fields led the way with seven of his eight field-goal attempts in the first two periods.

Then, almost inexplicably, as Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang put it, an "unacceptable disaster" struck in the next quarter as previously telepathic teammates turned into stunned strangers.

Passes went astray, screens were not set up, and they even managed to get into each other's way while running into positions as the Heat went on a 33-10 run to take a 62-61 lead.

The Heat's imports Trevon Hughes, Murphy Burnatowski and Kyle Barone contributed 26 points in that run.

But, unlike previous late collapses, at least there were 10 more minutes for Neo to rally his troops.

And the Slingers arose from their slumber to win 87-80 to improve their win-loss record to 8-6 and climb to fourth in the 10-team ABL, behind Alab Pilipinas (10-2), Heat and Formosa Dreamers (both 10-5).

Neo said: "Instead of pushing the ball up the court quickly, we were walking. So we didn't get what we wanted in offence, and then everyone stopped playing defence.

"I told them we needed to increase our tempo, win it for the fans and stop our run of two defeats (against Mono Vampire and CLS Knights Indonesia)."

Xavier Alexander (25 points) continued his tantalising duel with Heat guard Hughes (24 points) - both were called for a technical foul at half-time for a scuffle - in the final quarter, but it was the Slingers swingman who was better supported by teammates at the end.

Fellow Americans Fields (20 points and 21 rebounds) and Jerran Young (21 points) recorded big numbers, but the likes of veteran guard Desmond Oh (10 points) and power forward Delvin Goh (11 points and 10 rebounds) also stepped up.

Young said: "Adversity is part of basketball. We can't get too big on our ups and too low with our downs.

"We continued to communicate, kept our poise, played good defence and tried to execute our plays. Eventually, the game went our way because we stayed aggressive."

The Slingers will take on the Knights on Sunday (Feb 3) at the OCBC Arena.

They will again face their former player Wong Wei Long, who scored 18 points, including three treys that gave him the all-time ABL record of 215 three-pointers in the Indonesian side's 89-74 win on Jan 20.

https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/basketball/basketball-coach-neo-beng-siangs-pep-talk-works-wonders-as-slingers-douse-saigon

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 12:30

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Golf: Justin Rose wins at Torrey Pines, just weeks after switching clubmaker

SDAN DIEGO (REUTERS) - World No. 1 Justin Rose described his victory as a "win-and-a-half" after carding a three-under 69 to beat Adam Scott by two shots at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego on Sunday (Jan 27).

The Englishman's latest victory was his 10th on the United States PGA Tour, matching the tally of Spaniard Sergio Garcia and giving him one more than Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.

Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy (14) is the only European player with more wins on the Tour since 1945.

"Double digits sounds really cool. Winning is never easy," Rose told Golf Channel. "When you've beat a class field on a great venue, that satisfies you as a player. It's a win-and-a-half mentally."

He teed off with a three-shot lead but found himself just one clear after three early bogeys.

"The first six holes anything that could go wrong did go wrong," he said.

"In the past, I might have got a little rattled, a little shaken by that start but I didn't today.

"Had a bit of a gut-check time on the seventh hole but I'd been playing so well all week. Went about my business and it really started to turn around."

He re-established a buffer with three birdies in four holes, and held off a late rally by Australian Scott, who finished with four straight birdies for a 68.

It could have been a special back nine for Scott, who failed to convert great birdie chances on the 11th, 12th and 13th.

"I might have been able to make it interesting at the end," said Scott, who also missed a tiny putt from inside two feet at the fifth.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (67) and American Talor Gooch (68) tied for third, five strokes behind Rose.

Tiger Woods (67) tied for 20th at 10-under in his first start of the year.

"I wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be (at start of the week) but each and every day I got a little better. Figured a few things out with the driver which was great," he said.

Rose's win came in his second tournament with new clubs after he switched equipment companies to join Japanese clubmaker Honma at the beginning of the year.

Changing can be a risky move for top players, but Rose, who had been with TaylorMade since he turned pro in 1999, seems to have adapted quickly.

"I'm really happy I challenged the status quo and changed everything up in the search trying to get better," he said.

"I can't believe how well I've driven the ball this week on a tough test. The off-season was short and sharp and I didn't quite know exactly how I was going to come out.

"It's awesome to play this well this week."

https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/golf/golf-justin-rose-wins-at-torrey-pines-just-weeks-after-switching-clubmaker

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 09:06

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Tennis: New world No. 1 Osaka eyes winning Wimbledon and French Open to complete 'Naomi Slam'

Naomi Osaka speaking to the media while holding the championship trophy at Brighton Beach in Melbourne on Jan 27, 2019, a day after she won the Australian Open.PHOTO: AFP

PUBLISHED

JAN 27, 2019, 7:08 PM SGT

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MELBOURNE - Naomi Osaka cringed when asked in an interview on Australian television if she was ready to become the face of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

"Yikes," the newly-minted Australian Open women's champion said, wincing. "Hopefully, for their sake, they don't do that."

The 21-year-old Japanese is shy and reserved but certainly not short on confidence.

 

When the new world rankings come out today, the reigning US Open champion will become the first Asian singles player, male or female, to reach No. 1.

On Sunday (Jan 27), she laughed off suggestions that her meteoric rise had put her under pressure, saying that she was not satisfied with back-to-back majors and hoped to complete a "Naomi Slam" after her success at Melbourne Park.

"The way the tennis world is, there's always the next tournament, the next Slam, and we all just want to keep training hard and winning more," Osaka told reporters as she posed with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup at the Brighton Beach in Melbourne. "So I'm not really sure if I'm satisfied."

Osaka became the first woman to win successive majors since Serena Williams in 2015 and the youngest since Martina Hingis in 1998.

Williams went on to complete her second "Serena Slam" - holding all four majors in the same 12 month period - and Osaka was excited about the prospect of claiming the French Open and Wimbledon to emulate her idol's feat.

"I'm not going to lie and say that thought hasn't crossed my mind," Osaka said. "For me, I just have to take it one tournament at a time, especially Indian Wells is coming up and I won that tournament last year. I feel like I have to think about that."

While her maiden Grand Slam was marred by losing finalist Williams' tirade at the umpire and boos from the Flushing Meadows crowd, Osaka was allowing her follow-up success in Melbourne to soak in.

"It means a lot. I think moments like this are what you train for as a little kid to play the Grand Slams," she said. "To win another one is definitely a dream come true."

Osaka was unfazed by the attention she was receiving, saying she was in the spotlight even when her ranking was languishing in the 70s. She said it was misleading to view her rise as an overnight success.

"I guess looking from the outside, from you guys' view, it does," Osaka said. "For me, every practice and every match that I've played, it feels like the year is short and long at the same time.

"I'm aware of all the work that I put in. I know all the sacrifices that every player does to stay at this level. In my opinion, it didn't feel fast. It felt kind of long."

Osaka added that she had learnt about resilience at the Australian Open after completing three three-set matches on her way to the title, likening herself to "a robot" in the final set against Petra Kvitova.

Quizzed about off-court pressure that accompany life as a tennis superstar, Osaka said she preferred to concentrate on her game.

"I feel like I'm going with the flow. That's sort of been my motto my whole life," she said.

https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/tennis/tennis-new-world-no-1-osaka-eyes-winning-wimbledon-and-french-open-to-complete-naomi

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 09:03

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Malaysia stripped of right to host world para swimming championships after Israeli ban

LONDON/KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP) - The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on Sunday (Jan 27) stripped Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 world para swimming championships after the country banned Israeli athletes from participating.

The championships, a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, had been scheduled for Kuching between July 29 and Aug 4.

The IPC said a new venue would be sought for the same dates, although there might have to be some flexibility in the light of the circumstances.

"All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination," said IPC president Andrew Parsons in a statement after a meeting of the IPC governing board in London.

"When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new Championships host."

Malaysia is one of several Muslim states that have no formal diplomatic ties with Israel. It is forbidden to enter the country on an Israeli passport.

The country announced this month that it would bar Israelis from any event held in the South-east Asia nation to stand in solidarity with Palestine.

Israel had condemned the ban as 'shameful' and said the decision was inspired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's "rabid anti-Semitism".

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"This is a victory of values over hatred and bigotry, a strong statement in favour of freedom and equality. Thank you @Paralympics for your brave decision," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon on Twitter.

Malaysia said in response to the IPC's decision that it "prioritises human rights".

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said if hosting an international sporting event is more important than standing up for Palestinians, that means Malaysia has truly lost its moral compass.

"We would like to kindly remind the IPC that even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that the (Israeli prime minister Benjamin) Netanyahu government is an active perpetrator of war crimes," Syed Saddiq said in a press statement.

"As the leader of Israel, he represents the collective will of the Israeli government. The Israeli state is the locus of their collective moral actions.

"Malaysia stands firmly with our decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise."

Mahathir, 93, has for decades been accused of anti-Semitism for his attacks against Jews. In a BBC interview last October, he described Jews as "hook-nosed" and blamed them for the troubles in the Middle East.

The Palestinian cause has widespread support in Malaysia and thousands took to the streets in protest when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. 

Malaysia has prevented Israeli athletes from competing in a sports event before. Two Israeli windsurfers had to pull out of a competition on the island of Langkawi after they were refused visas in 2015. 

Kuala Lumpur also refused to host a conference for world football’s governing body FIFA in 2017 as an Israeli delegation was due to attend. 

Some 600 swimmers from 60 countries had been expected to compete in the para championships in the eastern state of Sarawak, with more than 160 titles to be won.

The IPC said all potential replacement hosts were asked to express an interest by Feb 11.

"The Paralympic Movement has, and always will be, motivated by a desire to drive inclusion, not exclusion," said Parsons in the statement.

"Regardless of the countries involved in this matter, the IPC would take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries."

He said that when Malaysia was awarded the championships in 2017, the IPC had been given assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate with their safety assured.

"Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas," said Parsons.

"Politics and sport are never a good mix and we are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia."

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysia-stripped-of-right-to-host-world-para-swimming-championships-after-israeli-ban

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 09:00

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Football: Spurs stunned by Palace as FA Cup holders Chelsea ease past Wednesday

Tottenham Hotspur's Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez (third from left) and Crystal Palace's Zaire-born Belgian striker Christian Benteke (third from right) jump to head the ball during the English FA Cup fourth round football match at Selhurst Park in south London on Jan 27, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

PUBLISHED

JAN 28, 2019, 3:35 AM SGT

UPDATED

10 HOURS AGO

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LONDON (AFP) – Tottenham Hotspur suffered their second defeat in English knockout football in a matter of days as they lost 2-0 to Crystal Palace in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday (Jan 27). 

Connor Wickham gave the unfancied Eagles, 29 points adrift of Spurs in the Premier League, a ninth-minute lead before a penalty by former Tottenham winger Andros Townsend made it 2-0. 

Spurs’ Kieran Trippier missed with a penalty before half-time as Tottenham suffered more spot-kick woe following Thursday’s shoot-out defeat by Chelsea, another of their London rivals, in a League Cup semi-final. 

FA Cup-holders Chelsea had no such problems later on Sunday as they marked Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain’s club debut with a 3-0 win at home to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.  Willian scored twice either side of a goal from highly-rated English teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi, linked with a transfer window move to German giants Bayern Munich. 

There was no goal for Higuain, signed on loan until the end of the season from Juventus on Wednesday.  But Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea’s assistant manager and himself a former Blues striker, told the BBC: “We are pleased with Gonzalo Higuain’s performance, he was trying to find the space and get on the ball. 

“It wasn’t easy as they had a lot of players round him.”

Earlier, Tottenham’s reverse left Mauricio Pochettino still searching for his first trophy as their manager since the Argentinian joined from Southampton in 2014, with Spurs’ last piece of silverware the 2008 League Cup. 

Spurs were without injured England stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli, while the in-form Son Heung-Min had still to return from international duty with South Korea at the Asia Cup. 

Pochettino, however, decided to omit Christian Eriksen, with the influential playmaker not even among Spurs’ substitutes at Selhurst Park.  For all they are third in the Premier League, Spurs are nine points adrift of leaders Liverpool. 

‘SO PAINFUL’

The Champions League is now Tottenham’s only realistic hope of a trophy this season, with Pochettino’s men playing Borussia Dortmund in the last 16.  “It was so painful to lose the game like this,” Pochettino told BT Sport. 

“We have to look forward to the Premier League and Champions League. We cannot complain and just try in the two competitions to give our best.”

It took Palace a mere nine minutes to open the scoring, Wickham following up after a Jeff Schlupp shot was blocked by Spurs goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.  Palace doubled their lead when Townsend slammed a home a penalty after Spurs’ Kyle Walker-Peters handled a cross into the box. 

But at the other end, after Patrick van Aanholt brought down Juan Foyth, Trippier blasted a penalty well wide of the post.  

Chelsea did not have things all their own way against second-tier Wednesday, who thought they had been awarded a penalty in the 22nd minute.  Joey Pelupessy tried to meet Steven Fletcher’s pass, with Ethan Ampadu sliding in to win the ball before being kicked by the Wednesday midfielder. 

Referee Andre Marriner awarded a penalty but this was overturned by VAR, being trialled in some English cup fixtures this season. 

“It’s crazy,” said Owls’ caretaker boss Steve Agnew, holding the fort ahead of Steve Bruce’s imminent arrival.  “Obviously the VAR decisions are correct but what baffled me was surely it’s a corner if it came off their player. The referee gave a drop ball. And a minute later they have a penalty.”

Wednesday’s woe was compounded soon afterwards when Willian scored from the spot after Sam Hutchinson trod on Cesar Azpilicueta inside the box.  VAR was called into action again but this time Marriner’s decision was upheld and Willian, after appearing to offer the spot-kick to Higuain, made no mistake.  

Chelsea had to wait until midway through the second half for Hudson-Odoi to make it 2-0 before Willian, playing a neat one-two with Olivier Giroud, completed the scoring seven minutes from time.

http://www.straitstimes.com/sport/football/football-stumbling-spurs-knocked-out-of-fa-cup-by-palace

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 08:57

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Today in Pictures, Jan 17, 2019

A veterinarian examines a Sumatran Orangutan rescued in South Aceh, Indonesia, a Sehuencas water frog rediscovered in the wild in Bolivia, and other pictures from around the world in Today in Pictures.

A veterinarian examines a Sumatran Orangutan rescued from a plantation in South Aceh, Indonesia, Jan 14, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

A horseman jumps over a bonfire in the village of San Bartolome de Pinares in the province of Avila in central Spain, during the opening of the traditional religious festival "Luminarias" in honour of San Antonio Abad (Saint Anthony), patron saint of animals, on Jan 16, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

Handout picture released by the Global Wildlife Conservation taken on Dec 13, 2018 showing Julliet, a Sehuencas water frog rediscovered in the wild in Bolivia, seen here during her quarantine as she acclimates to her new environment at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Cochabamba, Bolivia. On a recent expedition to a Bolivian cloud forest, Global Wildlife Conservation and the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny rediscovered the Sehuencas water frog in the wild, including Juliet, who will play a critical role in saving her species from extinction. Juliet will be introduced to Romeo, previously the last-known Sehuencas Water Frog, who has lived at the museum for the last 10 years. No frogs of this species have been seen in the wild during that time, until now. PHOTO: AFP

A model presents a creation by designer Walter Van Beirendonck as part of his Fall/Winter 2019-2020 collection show during Men's Fashion Week in Paris, France, Jan 16, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki against Sweden's Johanna Larsson during the second round of tennis at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia on Jan 16, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indian participants try to control a bull at the annual bull taming event 'Jallikattu' in Palamedu village on the outskirts of Madurai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on Jan 16, 2019. Dozens of young men were injured on the first day of a traditional bull-wrestling festival in southern India that has attracted the ire of animal activists, officials said.PHOTO: AFP

An onlooker watches a large, circular ice floe in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine, U.S., Jan 16, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

Anti-government protesters hold up their phones and candles and hold a banner in Cyrillic writing that reads 'Still there is more of us' as they arrive at the end of their silent march in memory of Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic in Belgrade on Jan 16, 2019. A year after Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was slain in a drive-by shooting in Kosovo, his unsolved murder continues to haunt this tense and crime-ridden corner of Europe, where the main suspect is still on the run. The 64-year-old was struck down by six bullets in January 2018 outside his party headquarters in the Kosovo city of Mitrovica.

http://www.straitstimes.com/multimedia/photos/today-in-pictures-jan-17-2018-0

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 08:51

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Today in Pictures, Jan 16, 2018

Women are evacuated from an upscale hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, Naga Sadhus or Hindu holy men taking a dip in India, and other pictures from around the world in Today in Pictures.

Women are evacuated out of the scene as security officers search for attackers during an ongoing gunfire and explosions in Nairobi, Kenya, on Jan 15, 2019. According to reports, a large explosion and sustained gunfire sent workers fleeing for their lives at an upscale hotel and office complex in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A worker applies a patina on "The Actor" statuette during a media event on the production of the statuettes for the 25th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at American Fine Arts Foundry in Burbank, California, US, Jan 15, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

Naga Sadhus or Hindu holy men leave after taking a dip during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) during "Kumbh Mela" or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, India, Jan 15, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

Honda's Chilean biker Jose Ignacio Florimo Cornejo competes during the Stage 8 of the Dakar 2019 between San Juan de Marcona and Pisco, Peru, on Jan 15, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

A view shows the settlements of Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sertar County of Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan, China, on Jan 15, 2019.PHOTO: DPA

A man poses for photographs as a view of Seoul shrouded by heavy smog is seen in the background in Seoul, South Korea, Jan 15, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

A veterinarian checks an African lion cub at the University in Wroclaw, Poland, Jan 15, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

A reveler jumps over an open fire during the traditional mask burning on the second day of a carnival procession through the village of Vevcani, on Jan 14, 2019. The Vevcani Carnival is said to be 1.400 years old and is held every year on the eve of the feast of Saint Basil, which also marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Julian calendar, observed by the Macedonian Orthodox Church. PHOTO: AFP

https://www.straitstimes.com/multimedia/photos/today-in-pictures-jan-16-2018-0

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 08:49

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In Pictures: Hundreds missing as dam in Brazil collapses

At least 34 were killed and hundreds more feared dead after a dam collapsed at a mine in south-east Brazil last Friday (Jan 25).

Firefighters participate in the effort to rescue victims of a dam break at a mine belonging to the company Vale, in Brumadinho, Brazil, on Jan 27, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Residents stand on a bridge over flood waters after a dam burst in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais state, on Jan 27, 2019.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Firefighters search for bodies in the region of Corrego do Feijao in Brumadinho, Brazil, on Jan 27, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Firefighters search for bodies in the region of Corrego do Feijao in Brumadinho, Brazil, on Jan 27, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Firefighters search for bodies in the region of Corrego do Feijao in Brumadinho, Brazil, on Jan 27, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

A rescue team member reacts upon returning from the mission in Brumadinho, on Jan 27, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

Members of a rescue team carry a body recovered after a dam collapsed in Brumadinho, on Jan 27, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

A man observes the damage to his house after the breaking of a dam in Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A fish is encased in mud after a dam burst in Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

People wait for information about their relatives in front of the Crisis Command Centre organised by the Minas Gerais government in the town of Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

A river of mud and waste is created by a dam spill in Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

People wait for information about their family members in front of the Crisis Command Centre organised by the Minas Gerais government in the town of Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

People from the community of Parque da Cachoeira navigate over debris after the collapse of a dam near the town of Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Mud and waste caused by a dam spill in Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A chicken covered with mud is seen after a dam burst in Brumadinho, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

A person cleans a puppy covered in mud after the collapse of the Feijao dam which released a wave of red iron ore waste on Jan 25, 2019.PHOTO: DPA

Damage caused by the breakage of a dam in Brumadinho, on Jan 25, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

https://www.straitstimes.com/multimedia/photos/in-pictures-hundreds-missing-as-dam-in-brazil-collapses

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 08:47

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White House promises 'significant response' to any Venezuela violence

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - White House national security adviser John Bolton warned on Sunday (Jan 27) against violence or intimidation of American diplomats in Venezuela or opposition leader Juan Guaido, saying such action would trigger a response from the United States.

"Any violence and intimidation against US diplomatic personnel, Venezuela's democratic leader, Juan Guiado (sic), or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response," Mr Bolton said in a Twitter post, also noting Cuba's support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro's paramilitary forces.

Mr Maduro oversaw a display of the army's Russian hardware on Sunday, with anti-aircraft flak and tank rounds pounding a hillside to show military force and loyalty in the face of an international ultimatum for new elections.

     

The 56-year-old is confronting an unprecedented challenge to his authority after Mr Guaido declared himself interim president, citing a fraudulent election. Mr Guaido has won wide international support and offers amnesty to soldiers who join him.

On Sunday, Israel and Australia joined the countries backing the 35-year-old leader, and US President Donald Trump's administration said it had accepted Venezuelan opposition figure Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the country's diplomatic representative in the United States.

Early on Sunday, alongside Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, Mr Maduro watched a platoon of soldiers release volleys of rocket-propelled grenades, machine-gun anti-aircraft fire and tank rounds at hillside targets, the Russian ordnance kicking up clouds of dust at the Fort of Paramacay, an armoured vehicle base.

Mr Maduro said the display showed the world he had the backing of the military and that Venezuela's armed forces were ready to defend the country. He said Mr Guaido is taking part in a coup directed by Mr Trump's hardline policy advisers, who include Cold War veterans Bolton and Elliott Abrams.

Nobody respects the weak, cowards, traitors. In this world, what's respected is the brave, the courageous, power," Mr Maduro said.

"Nobody should even think of stepping on this sacred soil. Venezuela wants peace," he said. "To guarantee peace, we have to be prepared."

From Feb 10 to 15, the military is planning larger exercises that he described as the "most important in the history of Venezuela".

The show of force was accompanied by a government publicity campaign online based on the slogan "Always Loyal, Never A Traitor", and followed a high-profile defection by the country's top military diplomat in the US last Saturday.

The Fort of Paramacay, about two hours west of the capital, Caracas, was itself the site of an uprising in 2017, when about 20 soldiers and armed civilians attacked the base. The leader of the attack, which was quickly subdued, said he was calling for a transitional government.

Mr Maduro on Sunday denounced an alleged conspiracy aimed at spreading rebellion in the army, saying thousands of messages were being sent to soldiers every day over WhatsApp and other social media platforms from neighbouring Colombia. He later jogged with soldiers and boarded an amphibious vehicle at a navy base.

Mr Guaido also sent a message to the military on Sunday, asking for support and ordering it not to repress civilians during an event in which supporters handed out copies of a proposed amnesty for people accused of crimes in the Maduro government.

"I order you not to shoot," he said. "I order you not to repress the people."

At a United Nations Security Council debate last Saturday, Russia and China strongly backed Mr Maduro and rejected calls by the US, Canada, Latin American nations and European powers for early elections.

Both Russia and China are major creditors of Venezuela. Since the government of Mr Maduro's late mentor Hugo Chavez, the Opec (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) nation has invested heavily in Russian weaponry, including Sukhoi fighter jets and heavy armour.

The strategic alliance was in evidence last year, when two Russian nuclear-capable bombers landed in Venezuela. Reuters reported last Friday that private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia flew into Venezuela to beef up security for Mr Maduro.

In an interview that aired on Sunday, Mr Maduro rejected a European ultimatum to call elections within eight days and said Mr Guaido violated the Constitution by declaring himself interim leader. He said European nations should leave Venezuela, if they so wanted.

"Fortunately, we don't depend on Europe. And those arrogant, overbearing attitudes, looking down on us, because we are 'sudacas', inferior to them," he told CNN Turk.

"The leaders of Europe are sycophants, kneeling behind the policies of Donald Trump," he said, adding he was open to dialogue and that meeting Mr Trump was improbable but not impossible.

Washington urged the world last Saturday to "pick a side" on Venezuela and financially disconnect from Mr Maduro's government.

Venezuela has sunk into turmoil under Mr Maduro, with food shortages and protests amid an economic and political crisis that has led millions to leave the country and with inflation seen rising to 10 million per cent this year.

Britain, Germany, France and Spain all said they would recognise Mr Guaido if Mr Maduro failed to call new elections within eight days, an ultimatum Russia said was "absurd" and the Venezuelan foreign minister called "childlike".

The US, Canada, most Latin American nations and many European states said Mr Maduro stole his second-term election win last May. The former union leader cruised to victory after blocking main opposition candidates from running. Turnout was low.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan voiced his support for Mr Maduro in a phone call on Thursday.

http://www.straitstimes.com/world/united-states/white-house-promises-significant-response-to-any-venezuela-violence

sarah Posted on January 28, 2019 08:42

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Flesh-eating bacteria found among latest group of migrants at New Mexico border

 

Over 300 Immigrants Surrendered to El Paso Border Patrol Monday morning. El Paso Times.

EL PASO, Texas – A flesh-eating bacteria was found on a migrant taken into custody this week in New Mexico.

A man detained with a group of more than 300 immigrants Thursday near Antelope Wells notified an agent while being processed at the Border Patrol’s Lordsburg Station that he had a growing rash on his leg and needed medical attention, officials said.

The man was taken to a hospital for treatment.

He was diagnosed by hospital staff with a flesh-eating bacteria. The man will "require additional and more extensive treatment," officials said.

The group of 306 migrants, mostly from Central American countries, were taken into custody about 12:15 a.m. Thursday by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry, officials said.

A group of about 306 migrants, mostly from Central American countries, were taken in custody Thursday by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry. (Photo: Courtesy U.S. Border Patrol)

The group was made up of families and unaccompanied children, the Border Patrol said.

Some of the children were in need of immediate medical assistance and were taken to local hospitals for treatment.

The majority of the group was taken to the Border Patrol’s Lordsburg Station.

The Border Patrol said this is the 26th group of more than 100 migrants taken into custody since the fiscal year began.

A group of about 306 migrants, mostly from Central American countries, were taken in custody Thursday by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the Antelope Wells Port of Entry. (Photo: Courtesy U.S. Border Patrol)

Antelope Wells is the same location where a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, crossed the border with her father and was detained by Border Patrol before the girl died on Dec. 8 at an El Paso hospital.

Antelope Wells is about a 90-minute drive to the Lordsburg Border Patrol Station, which covers the western New Mexico region.

The Border Patrol has said that smuggling groups transport groups to the border and then tell the migrants to cross and surrender to agents in the desolate desert region.

Follow Aaron Martinez on Twitter: @AMartinez31 

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/01/25/border-patrol-group-migrants-flesh-eating-bacteria-antelope-wells-new-mexico-nm/2683963002/

sarah Posted on January 26, 2019 10:11

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'Biggest wimp ever to serve as president': Conservatives bash Trump on ending shutdown without border money

WASHINGTON – While many applauded an end to the 35-day government shutdown, some conservatives saw something else: President Donald Trump's defeat. 

Trump announced on Friday a deal to reopen the government for three weeks, allowing some 800,000 federal employees to start receiving pay and giving time for lawmakers to negotiate funding for a wall along the southern border. 

What was absent in the deal was any additional money for border security or a wall, Trump's signature campaign promise and what led to the shuttering of the federal government for 35 days. 

Conservatives took notice. Many weren't pleased and didn't mince their words. 

"Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States," hardline Republican Ann Coulter wrote on Twitter. 

"I'm disgusted. There's no other way to put it," Mike Cernovich, a conservative blogger, said in a video after Trump's announcement. 

"I don't like to be lied to," Cernovich added. "Just say I'm not going to build the wall. I'm a coward. I don't have what it takes."

Trump's decision to reopen the government echoed what Democrats had been demanding for weeks: reopen the government then negotiate over a border wall. 

Fact-checkFive things from Trump's Friday speech explained 

The president said he wouldn't sign a bill that didn't include funding for the wall and for weeks dug his heels in, even saying at one point that the shutdown could last months or even years until border security was addressed. 

Trump's decision on Friday to reopen the government gave Democrats a victory lap. The hashtag #TrumpCaved became the top trend on Twitter. 

The president, however, insisted reopening the government was not a "concession" but a temporary measure to allow the 800,000 federal workers, who weren't being paid, some relief. 

"I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall. This was in no way a concession," Trump said in a tweet Friday evening. "It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!"

While some of Trump's base was dismayed by his decision, others held out hope that a bigger plan was underway. 

"President Trump loses this round," actor and conservative James Woods posted on Twitter. "So be it. Let’s be gracious and extend congratulations to #NancyPelosi and #ChuckSchumer."

He added: "It is now crystal clear, however, that the #Democrats own our open borders policy. Any consequences are theirs alone."

Others sought to stick up for Trump and mend divisions among Republicans who attacked his decision, including some who appeared to turn on him. 

"Don’t waver in your support of @realDonaldTrump - he is fighting , ALONE , daily to protect our country and to fulfill the promises from the campaign," tweeted Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative campus group Turning Point USA. "I’m so sick of people from our side finding every excuse to attack the greatest president of our lifetime We must have his back." 

It's not entirely clear what could happen if a deal isn't stuck by Feb. 15 when funding again will run out. 

The federal government could once again shutdown or the president could elect to use executive authority to redirect money for his border wall, something he's hinted at for weeks. 

In his speech Friday, he appeared to point out that was still an option. 

"As everyone knows, I have a very powerful alternative, but I didn't want to use it at this time," Trump said. "Hopefully it will be unnecessary."

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/01/25/conservatives-bash-trump-reopening-government-without-border-funds/2682535002/

sarah Posted on January 26, 2019 10:06

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Appiah: Ghana doors still open to new Barcelona signing Boateng

The Black Star coach says he will hand the 31-year-old a recall for national duty on one condition

Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah maintains the national team remains open to welcome back new Barcelona acquisition Kevin-Prince Boateng, who has been away from the Black Stars since 2014.

The attacker is still under an indefinite suspension for ‘verbal insults’ targeted at the coach during the Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

The 31-year-old, together with Sulley Muntari, was sent away from camp ahead of the final group game against Portugal, and according to the Ghana Football Association, only an official apology could see his return for national duty.

Discussions about a possible Ghana comeback for Boateng has resurfaced following his sensational transfer to Barcelona on Monday.

“Kevin-Prince Boateng is a Ghanaian and currently he is playing very well," Appiah told Asempa FM.

"If you look at our striking options, we have always relied on [Asamoah] Gyan, so it's about time we all checked and got at least four strikers that we can always rely on.

“Kevin is one of the good strikers as I have said, but in Brazil, he and Sulley were suspended by the FA for their unruly behaviours.

"I think Sulley has written a letter to apologise and looking at how Kevin is playing now, if he should write a letter to apologise, I will invite him because it is about the country [and] not about any individual.”

Born to a German mother and a Ghanaian father in Berlin, Boateng switched international allegiance to represent the Black Stars at senior stage in 2010 after representing the European nation at youth level.

The 2014 World Cup aside, the former AC Milan star represented Ghana at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

He has 15 caps and two goals for the four-time African champions.

Should Boateng apologise in time, he could gatecrash Ghana's squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in June/July.

http://www.goal.com/en-gh/news/appiah-ghana-doors-still-open-to-new-barcelona-signing/1quqykdejetal1it5tp2b6uvpn

sarah Posted on January 25, 2019 15:24

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Brexit: UK trade 'difficult if Irish border unresolved'

The UK will find it "very difficult" to do trade deals after Brexit if it has not resolved the Irish border issue, the Irish prime minister has said.

Leo Varadkar said that by contrast Ireland would continue to benefit from the EU's trade deals.

He said: "In a no-deal scenario, the UK won't have any trade deals with anyone.

"I think it will be very difficult for them to conclude any trade deals with the question of the Irish border unresolved."

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Varadkar said the solution to the border was to ratify the deal agreed between the UK and the EU.

He again said that if the UK leaves without a deal the EU and Ireland would still want an agreement with similar provisions as the Irish border backstop.

The backstop is effectively an insurance policy to avoid a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, if no other solution can be found through a wider trade deal with the EU.

"I think we would end up in a situation where EU and Ireland and the UK would have to come together and in order to honour our commitment to the people of Ireland that there be no hard border, we would have to agree on full alignment on customs and regulations," said Mr Varadkar.

"So after a period of chaos, we would perhaps end up where we are now, with a very similar deal."

No plan for border posts

In Dublin, the head of the Republic of Ireland's tax authority said that officials are not planning for customs posts along the Irish border.

But Niall Cody, the Revenue Commissioners' chairman, said there would have to be intensive consultations with the European Commission to decide what would happen.

Speaking to the Irish parliament's finance committee, he said the authority was recruiting more staff due to the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

"We are on track to have over 400 additional staff in place by the end of March," he said.

"We have reassigned serving staff, are preparing for any necessary further redeployments on a temporary basis, and will have the balancing complement of additional staff recruited by the end of 2019."

Mr Cody indicated that a lot of customs work would be done online with officials making occasional visits to businesses and factories.

He said he disagreed with Brexiteers who have claimed that there will be no dramatic change to the border if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

There would be "significant cost implications" for businesses, particularly in the agriculture sector, he added.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-46990269

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 15:37

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Venezuela crisis: Who is parliament leader Juan Guaidó?

"I swear to formally assume the national executive powers as acting president," Juan Guaidó told cheering crowds of protesters on Wednesday.

Minutes later, US President Donald Trump recognised the 35-year-old as the country's interim leader.

He declared President Nicolás Maduro's government "illegitimate" and encouraged other countries to back the opposition politician.

But who is Juan Guaidó?

His election as leader of the opposition-held National Assembly has re-energised opposition to Mr Maduro in a country crippled by a severe economic crisis.

But he was relatively unknown until picked as the head of the legislative body just three weeks ago.

Mr Guaidó was born one of seven children in the port city of La Guaira in the state of Vargas.

He was 15 years old when Nicolás Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chávez, came to power in 1999.

That same year heavy rains caused flash floods which swept through La Guaira, killing tens of thousands of people and destroying large swathes of the city.

Mr Guaidó and his family survived the Vargas tragedy, although people close to him reportedly say the government's ineffective response to the tragedy drove him into politics.

He studied industrial engineering at university, before completing graduate degrees at George Washington University in the US capital and Venezuelan private business school Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración.

As a student, Mr Guaidó protested against what he saw as Mr Chavez's efforts to control the media when he did not renew the license of independent broadcaster Radio Caracas Television.

Mr Guaidó was a founding member of centrist political party Popular Will in 2009, along with key opposition leader Leopoldo López.

Mr López, now under house arrest, reportedly acted as a mentor to him.

The pair speak several times a day, according to Bloomberg, despite Mr López's detention.

Mr Guaidó was elected to the National Assembly in 2011 and became a representative for his home state in 2016.

Opposition parties picked him to lead the body as a compromise candidate, and he took up his post on 5 January.

His youth and his background - Vargas is one of Venezuela's poorest states - means the government has struggled to paint him as a member of the country's elite.

State security forces arrested Mr Guaidó just days after his election, with video on Twitter allegedly showing men dragging him from a car.

But he was released from detention hours later and travelled to a rally as scheduled.

Mr Guaidó has called on the army to withdraw their support for Mr Maduro, promising an amnesty for those soldiers who do so.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-46985389

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 15:11

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Oscars 2019: Bulger mother calls on director to drop out of awards

The mother of murdered toddler James Bulger has said the director of a film about the boys who killed her son should withdraw from the Oscars race.

Vincent Lambe's Detainment is nominated for best live action short film.

Mrs Fergus told ITV's This Morning: "He should remove it from the Oscars, he's nominated himself... remove it from the public domain - withdraw yourself."

Lambe said in a statement: "The film was never intended to bring any further anguish to the family of James Bulger.

"We never intended any disrespect by not consulting them. While it is a painfully difficult case to understand, I believe we have a responsibility to try and make sense of what happened.

"Critics have specifically commended the film for being responsible and respectful to the victim."

Detainment recreates the moments before and after 10-year-olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables took James from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, in 1993, as well as their police interviews using the original transcripts.

Last month, Mrs Fergus told ITV's Loose Women she was asking people to boycott the film "because I just don't think it should have been made in the first place, especially without James's parents being consulted".

Irish director Lambe has previously apologised for not making Mrs Fergus aware of it soon enough and "for any upset the film may have caused".

Police detective's criticisms

Mrs Fergus told This Morning the film was just "reliving the nightmare" for her.

"I tried to put it behind me, I've got through all these years, to see that still [image] of him being led to his death by those two... And now it's being shown again?"

The detective who brought James Bulger's killers to justice has also said Lambe made a "grave mistake" in putting the film forward for an Oscar and called on him to show "decency" by withdrawing it.

Albert Kirby said the film misrepresents the investigation into the toddler's death.

Describing Detainment as "insensitive", he said the film depicted "an awful lot of aggression" during police interviews.

He told the BBC: "The actual events he puts in the film are accurate. You cannot fault that about it, but to my mind that's irrelevant. It's the whole context of it.

"The building they used, it looked like some disused warehouse, whereas we went to inordinate lengths to make sure where they were was comfortable. It was closed for prisoners.

"They had drinks, they had crisps...You had solicitors, a social worker with them and the parents. It was all very convivial."

The retired detective superintendent also said scenes on a railway line, where James's body was found, were "dealt with so insensitively".

He added: "It's causing so much unnecessary upset."

Film regulation 'needed'

The BBC has contacted Lambe for comment.

Mrs Fergus told This Morning there should be regulation on dramatisations, saying: "If it's a documentary the families should be contacted beforehand.

"He's even said that he never got in contact because 'he knows I'd say no'.

"How does he know I'd say no? He's never met me, he doesn't know me. I wouldn't have said 'no' straight away. I'd have said, 'show me or tell me what your plans are and we'll take it from there'.

"No, I wouldn't have agreed with the way he's done it but I would have told him to do it a different way."

Mrs Fergus's husband Stuart also questioned the duty of care to the child actors in the film, saying: "It's bad enough for them to have to go through the lines. I'm hoping for the two children, the actors, that there's a duty of care for them, the scenes they had to re-enact were quite horrific."

He added: "The child that's playing James is in tears, sobbing, what have they had to do to make that child cry, I don't know.

"Whatever they've done to that child, that child's thinking what have they done wrong?"

Petition against film

Presenter Phillip Schofield suggested a duty of care may have been taken during the film, adding: "Child actors are notoriously brilliant, possibly they're young, good actors; they've cried because they're told to cry."

Mr Fergus said he had seen the film but his wife had not.

More than 100,000 people have now signed a petition set up before the nominations were announced on Tuesday, asking the Oscars to disqualify the 30-minute film.

Mrs Fergus has been a vocal campaigner over the years, pressing for longer sentences her son's murderers, who were sentenced to a minimum of eight years, and publishing her recent book, I Let Him Go.

In a statement released after Mrs Fergus first spoke about the film, Lambe said: "I have enormous sympathy for the Bulger family and I am extremely sorry for any upset the film may have caused them. With hindsight, I am sorry I didn't make Mrs Fergus aware of the film."

He added: "The film was not made for financial gain and nobody involved in the making of the film intends to profit from it."

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-46984472

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 15:05

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Cinema ticket prices drop, but West End theatre costs keep rising

Cinema price wars and the golden age of TV have meant the average cost of going to see a film in the UK has dropped for the first time in 17 years.

The average ticket price dropped from £7.49 in 2017 to £7.22 last year thanks to what the UK Cinema Association described as "tactical discounting".

But figures from the theatre industry showed West End prices are continuing to go in the other direction.

There, the average ticket cost £49.25 in 2018 - up from £46.71 in 2017.

That has been driven by the success of hit shows like Hamilton, and means the cost of a West End ticket has gone up by 30% since 2012.

Both the theatre and cinema industries have released figures showing rising attendances, with 177 million cinema tickets sold - the highest for 48 years - and 34 million theatre tickets purchased.

Last year, 10 movies made more than £30m at the UK box office, compared with six the previous year.

The biggest hits of 2018 were Avengers: Infinity War, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Incredibles 2, Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody.

The average price drop is partly down to the popularity of deals like Cineworld Unlimited and Meerkat Movies, as well as the fact cinemas have to tempt viewers away from their TV sets, according to Screen International's senior reporter Tom Grater.

Cinemas also cut prices in some towns and cities where multiplexes are competing with each other and with booming boutique chains like Picturehouse, Everyman and Curzon.

Grater said: "They have rapidly expanded in the last few years, so traditional exhibitors like Odeon and Cineworld have to figure out how to deal with that competition because in towns where previously there might have only been one multiplex, there might also be a swanky new indie cinema as well.

"But I think the key concern is more them competing against things like Netflix and the fact you can get really quality entertainment at home these days, so they need to slightly reshape their models."

But prices aren't dropping across the board - Odeon came in for criticism for charging up to £40 at its refurbished flagship venue in Leicester Square.

In theatres, 15.5 million tickets were sold in the West End and a further 18.8 million were sold elsewhere around the country, according to the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre.

SOLT president Kenny Wax said: "Increasingly, people seem to want to invest in high quality cultural experiences, and the West End is benefiting from this trend."

The rise in the average price was "largely driven by a small number of hugely popular hit shows", he said.

He added that the cost of staging a live show and running a theatre were considerably higher than those for a cinema, and pointed to a survey by The Stage that showed that the average bottom price ticket was down 10% on the previous year.

Outside the West End, the average ticket price in 2018 rose to £27.10 - up 8% compared with 2017.

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-46978915

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 15:00

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Oscars 2019: Five female-directed films that were missed

The Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, and there was a strong showing for films with women in lead roles.

Both of this year's most-nominated films - Roma and The Favourite - have female leads.

But it was a different story in the best director category, where all the nominees were men.

"It was an anticipated takeaway from this year's Oscar nominations announcement, but that doesn't make it any less unfortunate," wrote Kristopher Tapley in Variety.

The lack of women nominated for best director is "immensely disappointing", Liz Tucker, chair of Women in Film and Television UK, tells BBC News.

"It just shows how much work we still have to do, and it's heartbreaking really that some extraordinary work has been overlooked yet again by the Academy."

In the 91-year history of the Academy Awards, only five women have ever been nominated for best director.

After this year's nominations, some argued that female directors should be recognised - but only on merit, rather than for the sake of balance.

"Can we stop focusing on gender and focus on talent instead?" replied one Twitter user on Tuesday after the United Nations Women group drew attention to the disparity.

"To include a woman just to fill a female quota is sexist and an insult to all women. So what if there were only men nominated? Their movies were simply better; that's it. Stop interpreting everything as sexist/racist."

But Tucker argues: "It seems difficult to believe that, on merit, only five women have ever been in that best director category.

"We're not asking for special favours here... One's not disputing the [best picture nominees] are all great films, but are they the best films?

"My favourite film of the year was Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and I'm not saying that because it's got a female director. I only discovered that after I watched it."

So why do so few women get nominated in the best director category?

In Variety, Tapley suggested films directed by women don't get the same promotional push from studios during awards season.

Tucker adds: "How people get nominated is a deeply political process, the amount of money behind campaigns... and it can still be a bit of an old boys' network."

And there is the fact that so few films are directed by women in the first place.

Just four of the top 100 films at the US box office last year had female directors - A Wrinkle In Time (Ava DuVernay), The Spy Who Dumped Me (Susanna Fogel), I Feel Pretty (Abby Kohn) and Blockers (Kay Cannon).

That's fewer than in 2017, when women directed 8% of the top 100 films.

"I think there's still a sense that women are a safe pair of hands, but if you want to get that glittery stardust, you need to go to a male director," Tucker says.

1. Debra Granik (Leave No Trace)

Previously nominated for co-writing the screenplay for her 2010 feature Winter's Bone, Granik could potentially have been recognised again for Leave No Trace.

The film, about an Iraq war veteran (Ben Foster) determined to live "off the grid" with his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie), proved popular with critics and currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Granik did not want for high-profile supporters either. Jane Campion, one of only five women to ever be nominated for the best director Oscar, said last month that "she should be part of the best director Oscar conversation".

Traditionally, though, titles that launch at the Sundance Film Festival - as Leave No Trace did a year ago - tend to be forgotten by Academy members by the time they come to fill out their ballots.

2. Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Another woman who would not have looked out of place on this year's best director shortlist is Heller, the driving force behind darkly comic forgery drama Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The 39-year-old Californian former actress made an eye-catching directorial debut in 2015 with coming-of-age drama The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?, her second feature, has three nominations in all - one for adapted screenplay, in which Heller did not have a hand, and another two for stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant.

Yet Heller is unlikely to be ignored by the Academy for long. Her next film, a biopic of children's TV host Fred Rogers starring two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, is already shaping up to be one of 2020's leading awards contenders.

3. Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here)

Scottish film-maker Ramsay is up for a Bafta next month for You Were Never Really Here, a grim and violent thriller about another war veteran, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who tracks down missing girls.

She is also in line for a best director prize at the Independent Spirit Awards, where her competition includes another two women - Tamara Jenkins and the aforementioned Debra Granik.

As accomplished as You Were Never Really Here is, however, it may have simply proved too dark for Oscar voters.

The film was Ramsay's first project since Jane Got a Gun, a western starring Natalie Portman which she walked away from a day before shooting started.

4) Josie Rourke (Mary Queen of Scots)

With two leading ladies boasting four past Oscar nominations between them, lavish production values and a pair of iconic queens at its centre, Mary Queen of Scots seemed to be destined for multiple Oscar nominations.

Yet its only citations are in the costume design and make-up and hairstyling categories, with Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie both left out of the actress and supporting actress line-ups.

Given Mary Queen of Scots is Josie Rourke's film directing debut, it would have perhaps been optimistic to expect her to get a best director nomination right out of the gate.

As The Favourite's 10 nominations show, though, Academy members are partial to heightened royal melodrama - something that might have worked more in Rourke's favour had she had the genre to herself this year.

5) Chloe Zhao (The Rider)

An outside bet for a best director nomination might have been 36-year-old Zhao, whose second feature The Rider has been quietly winning admirers since it made its debut at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

The film arrived in US cinemas in April and went on to win best feature at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, one of the first ceremonies of the awards "season".

Beautifully photographed and boldly impressionistic, The Rider tells of a young cowboy, played by real-life rodeo rider Brady Jandreau, struggling to recover from a serious brain injury.

Zhao might have not landed an Oscar nod, but she shouldn't be too down-hearted. Her next project is The Eternals, a superhero ensemble adventure for Marvel Studios.

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-46971919

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 14:51

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India satellite: Student-made Kalamsat V2 to be put in orbit

India is due to launch what it says is the world's lightest satellite ever to be put into orbit.

Weighing only 1.26kg (2.6lb), the Kalamsat-V2 has been made by students belonging to a space education firm.

It will help ham radio operators and "inspire schoolchildren to become the scientists and engineers of the future", India's space agency says.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will launch the satellite from its Sriharikota space centre.

Isro chief K Sivan has claimed that "Kalamsat is the lightest satellite to be ever built and launched into orbit".

It is equipped to serve as a communications satellite for ham radio transmission, a form of wireless communication used by amateurs for non-commercial activities.

An even lighter satellite, weighing 64 grams and built by the same group of students, was launched on a four-hour mission for a sub-orbital flight from a Nasa facility in the US in June 2017. Sub-orbital spaceflights technically enter space, but don't get into orbit.

Kalamsat-V2 was made by students belonging to Space Kidz India, a Chennai-based space education firm. So far nine satellites made by Indian students have found a place on space rockets.

In a first, the Indian space agency is also going to reuse a stage of the rocket that will be used to launch the satellite.

Traditionally, rockets are expendable. Their various segments are discarded during an ascent. Fuel is also removed.

They end up as space debris - there are millions of discarded pieces of metal and other materials orbiting the Earth, ranging from defunct satellites to old rocket segments to accidentally dropped astronaut tools. Collisions can cause a great deal of damage, and generate even more pieces of debris.

The satellite is being launched by Isro's reliable Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) - a four-stage rocket that on this launch weighs about 260 tonnes.

Its first three segments usually drop back to Earth; its fourth and final stage uses liquid propellants, and can be stopped and restarted several times to get a spacecraft into just the right orbit.

The fourth stage can take the the satellite in Thursday's launch to a height of 277km (172 miles) above earth.

But Isro is giving new capability to the last stage so that it can remain active in space for up to a year.

"Why waste such a valuable resource? We decided to convert [the fourth stage] into an experimental orbital platform to conduct small experiments in space," says Mr Sivan. The PSLV rocket costs upwards of $28m (£21m).

The experimental orbital platform will help researchers carry out experiments in a near zero-gravity environment.

Innovative move

So in this mission, the last stage of the rocket will be "moved to a higher circular orbit" from where the Kalamsat-V2 is expected to beam down its signals.

"This is the first time Isro is conducting such an experiment to reclaim a dead rocket stage and to keep it alive," Mr Sivan said.

In this new approach, researchers can simply bring in their payloads or experiments which will then be plugged into the equipment bay especially made in the spent rocket.

Isro is the not the first space agency to try this "waste to wealth innovation".

Jean Yves-LeGall, president of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the French space agency, says they have used it "but did not find it a cost effective way to conduct experiments in space".

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46956595

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 14:38

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Fireworks display of Ashbourne man's ashes refused by council

A man who wanted to "go out with a bang" by having his ashes shot into the sky in a fireworks display has had his wish rejected by councillors.

Mick Finnikin, 68, of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, who died of a heart attack last year, told friends of his wishes after previous health scares.

Carolyn Brown spent nearly a year organising the fireworks display.

But Derbyshire Dales Council said she could not hold it after concerns about Mr Finnikin's ashes landing in gardens.

Miss Brown, Mr Finnikin's friend of 40 years, said: "His greatest wish was to go out with a bang in a rocket over Ashbourne."

She had planned to use about 30 rockets, each containing a teaspoon of ash, in an eight-minute display on a council-owned playing field on 6 February.

"He had lived in Ashbourne all his life," she said.

"He was one of those local characters who would walk down the street and half the street would stop and talk to him.

"He had a larger than life and wicked sense of humour. On his travels, he even married a tree in India."

Miss Brown said she was now "desperately looking for alternative places" but felt "ever so upset" with the decision.

She added she did not believe the ash would have landed in people's gardens.

Tom Donnelly, who represents Ashbourne South, was one of the councillors who objected.

He said some residents had said they did not want the "fall-out" from the fireworks on their properties.

He said he had known Mr Finnikin "very well".

"It is nothing personal," he said. "If we were to allow it, I am worried we would set a precedent."

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-derbyshire-46977941

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 14:33

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Lisa Skidmore: Probation worker sacked after rape murder

A probation worker has been sacked for gross misconduct after a convicted sex offender raped and murdered a woman, the BBC has been told.

Leroy Campbell, 57, raped and strangled Lisa Skidmore, attempted to murder her elderly mother and then set fire to a property in Wolverhampton in 2016.

It is understood another probation worker involved with Campbell has been demoted to an administrative role.

Both were suspended in September after a damning watchdog review.

The review into Ms Skidmore's murder found the probation service should have acted to protect the public from Campbell, who was released from prison four months before the attack and had told probation workers he was thinking of raping again.

He killed Ms Skidmore just weeks after those conversations, the review found.

Between that review and December, a supervisor who worked with Campbell was sacked for gross misconduct and a probation officer found guilty of serious misconduct was demoted to an administrative role.

A report published on Thursday found more need to be done to protect the public from sex offenders.

Inspectors for the prison and probation services found the public were not sufficiently protected and much of the work in custody to address sexual reoffending was said to be "poor".

Ms Skidmore's sister Alison told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that his lack of rehabilitation was "unbelievable".

"When Mr Campbell was released from prison he only had a strict curfew for a week," she said.

"Really, that curfew just for a week was unbelievable, and then he was reduced down to nothing.

"Any rehabilitation he should have had, he never had in prison. The government aren't supporting the criminals out in the community at all because they don't have the resources."

The government has promised to tackle the "very serious" concerns raised in the report.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-birmingham-46989024

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 14:29

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Police car deaths: Woman third to die in 24 hours

A woman has died after being hit by a police car - the third death involving police vehicles in England in a 24-hour period.

The pedestrian was struck by a marked force car as it responded to an emergency call in Warwickshire at about midday on Wednesday.

Police confirmed she had died on Wednesday night.

On Tuesday two women were killed within 15 minutes of each other during police operations in London and the Midlands.

In Bearwood, near Birmingham, off-duty PCSO Holly Burke, 28, was struck by a car being pursued by police at about 23:30 GMT.

At 23:45 GMT there was a crash in Walthamstow in which a 26-year-old refugee from Eritrea died when she was hit by a 999 response car.

The three deaths followed another in Oadby, Leicester on Saturday when a man was hit by a car which had earlier failed to stop for police.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has opened a investigations into all four deaths.

The woman killed in Wednesday's crash on Coventry Road in Bedworth, Warwickshire, has yet to be named.

Assistant Chief Constable Alex Franklin-Smith, from the Warwickshire force, said: "Our thoughts are with the woman's family at this very difficult time."

Police are trying to trace the London victim's next of kin who are thought to live outside the UK.

The 26-year-old, a pedestrian, was pronounced dead at the scene on Forest Road, Walthamstow.

Gilbert James, 44, a Forest Road resident, said he "heard a loud bang and police sirens".

When he went outside to investigate the noise, he saw a "person lying on the floor" and a police car windscreen "completely smashed".

Off-duty PCSO Ms Burke also died at the scene on Lordswood Road, Bearwood.

She was in a car struck by a vehicle that, according to West Midlands Police, had been involved in a pursuit by officers.

A 42-year-old man has appeared in court charged with causing death by dangerous driving.

Ch Supt Kenny Bell, from the West Midlands force for which Ms Burke served, said it was "a desperately sad time for everyone who knew Holly".

There were 29 police-related fatalities on the roads in 2017-18, of which 17 were "pursuit-related", according to IOPC. Eight involved police vehicles responding to emergency calls.

Five deaths involved police vehicles hitting pedestrians while responding to an emergency call and one pedestrian death related to a pursuit.

In the previous year, 2016-17, there were 32 fatalities on the roads involving the police. Of those, 28 related to pursuits and none involved police responding to emergency calls.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-46982306

ruby Posted on January 24, 2019 14:20

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