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US Supreme Court rules inmate has 'no right to painless death'

The US Supreme Court has ruled that a convicted murderer on death row in Missouri has no right to a "painless death".

The ruling clears the way for the execution of Russell Bucklew, who asked for gas rather than lethal injection, citing an unusual medical condition.

Bucklew, 50, argued the state's preferred method amounts to legally banned "cruel and unusual punishment".

The 5-4 ruling split along the court's ideological lines.

Bucklew was sentenced to death in 1996 for rape, murder and kidnapping in an attack against his ex-girlfriend and her new partner and six-year-old son.

In recent court filings, Bucklew argued that his congenital condition, cavernous hemangioma, might cause him excessive pain if he is put to death by lethal injection.

The condition causes blood-filled tumours in his throat, neck and face, which he said could rupture during his execution causing him extreme pain and suffocation.

According to Bucklew, he would feel excessive pain if the state executioner is allowed to use the state's preferred method of a single drug, pentobarbital, applied by needle.

But the Supreme Court's conservative justices said on Monday they considered the legal effort to be a stalling tactic.

They said it was up to the prisoner to prove that another method of execution would "reduce a substantial risk of severe pain", but he had not done so.

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that Bucklew had been on death row for more than 20 years.

"The eighth amendment [to the US constitution] forbids 'cruel and unusual' methods of capital punishment but does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death," wrote Justice Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017.

He continued: "As originally understood, the eighth amendment tolerated methods of execution, like hanging, that involved a significant risk of pain, while forbidding as cruel only those methods that intensified the death sentence by 'superadding' terror, pain or disgrace."

Liberals on the court, including Justice Stephen Breyer, argued that Bucklew's condition should have allowed for him to be put to death by nitrogen gas, a method allowed in three states.

"There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a separate opinion, adding that secrecy in the death penalty process has recently yielded different results in two similar cases.

In one case in Alabama, a Muslim man was forbidden from having an imam with him during his execution, but the court halted a similar sentence after an appeal by a Buddhist who wanted his spiritual adviser present when he was put to death.

In Justice Gorsuch's majority opinion in the Bucklew case, he referred to those two cases, saying the inmate in Alabama had been given ample time to voice his complaint, but chose to do so only 15 days before he was scheduled to die.


ruby Posted on April 02, 2019 12:34

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Joe Biden: Second woman accuses ex-VP of unwanted touching

A second woman has accused former US Vice-President Joe Biden of inappropriate touching, as the leading Democrat mulls a White House bid.

Amy Lappos said Mr Biden had touched her face with both hands and rubbed noses with her a decade ago.

The allegation comes after another women, Lucy Flores, said Mr Biden kissed her on the back of her head at a campaign event.

Mr Biden has said he did not believe he has ever acted inappropriately.

The former Delaware senator, who served as Barack Obama's vice-president in 2009-17, is seen as a possible frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr Biden and the former president were famed for their strong friendship. They were often seen playing golf and attending sports games together. Mr Biden even said that Mr Obama offered him financial help when his son was ill.

For his vice president's birthday in 2017, Mr Obama posted a photo of the two of them on twitter and said Mr Biden was his "brother and the best vice president anybody could have".

Ms Lappos, a 43-year-old former aide to a Democratic congressman, said Mr Biden touched her inappropriately at a fundraiser in a private home in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2009.

She told the Hartford Courant the then vice-president entered the kitchen to thank a group of aides, before wrapping both hands around Ms Lappos' face and pulling her in to rub noses with her.

Ms Lappos called on Mr Biden not to run for the White House, saying: "Uninvited affection is not okay. Objectifying women is not okay."

Ms Flores' allegations first appeared on Friday in an article she wrote for The Cut magazine.

Ms Flores was running as the Democratic candidate for Nevada's lieutenant governor in 2014 when Mr Biden flew in to support her bid.

As she prepared to go on stage, Ms Flores say Mr Biden placed two hands on her shoulders from behind, smelled her hair then planted "a big slow kiss on the back of my head".

Asked about the new allegation, a spokesman for Mr Biden referred reporters to a statement he issued on Sunday.

"In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once - never - did I believe I acted inappropriately," it read.

"But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will," he added.

On Monday a spokesman also accused "right wing trolls" of presenting harmless images of Mr Biden interacting with women as evidence of inappropriate touching.

A number of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have backed Ms Flores.

Senator Elizabeth Warren said Mr Biden "needs to give an answer", and Senator Amy Klobuchar said that in politics "people raise issues and they have to address them".

Some supporters though have defended him. Cynthia Hogan, a former aide to the vice-president, told the New York Times that Mr Biden "treated us with respect and insisted that others do the same".

An ally of Mr Biden told CNN he was not reconsidering a run for the White House following the allegations but stressed he was yet to make a decision.

ruby Posted on April 02, 2019 12:14

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Uncovering Nazi massacre of Jews on Belarus building site

Slowly, gently even, young soldiers scrape away the dirt of decades from human bones. Tangled with the remains are shreds of cloth and the soles of shoes.

They're uncovering a little-known chapter of the Holocaust on a construction site in western Belarus.

The mass grave was discovered as building work began on an elite apartment block.

Since then, specially trained soldiers have unearthed the remains of more than 1,000 Jews, killed when the city of Brest was occupied by Nazi Germany.

"There are clear bullet holes in the skulls," says Dmitry Kaminsky.

His military team usually searches for the bones of Soviet soldiers. Here they have removed the small skulls of teenagers instead, and a female skeleton with the remains of a baby, as if she'd been cradling it.

Before World War Two, almost half the 50,000-strong population of Brest were Jews.

Up to 5,000 men were executed shortly after the German invasion in June 1941.

Those left were later crammed into a ghetto: several blocks of the city centre surrounded by barbed wire.

In October 1942, the order came to wipe them out.

They were herded on to freight trains and driven over 100km (62 miles) to a forest.

At Bronnaya Gora, thousands were led to the edge of a vast pit and shot.

It's thought the grave discovered within the old ghetto includes those who managed to hide at first, only to be rooted out.

"When my parents returned, the city was half empty," Mikhail Kaplan says, flicking through black and white snapshots at his kitchen table.

His mother and father only escaped the massacre because they were away when the Germans overran Brest. Mikhail's photographs are of aunts, uncles and cousins who were all killed.

"My father never spoke about what happened, it was too painful. But my grandmother cried all the time remembering Lizochka, Lizochka," he recalls, reaching for a photograph picture of his Aunt Liza dressed up for a night out with friends.

After the war, though, Mikhail says the Jewish massacre was not commemorated.

"Everyone knew what had happened, but no-one spoke of it officially," he says. "The Germans destroyed us, deliberately. The Soviets just stayed silent."

Even now, the only Holocaust museum in Brest is a room in a basement, curated and run by the small Jewish community that settled in the city after its liberation.

The displays include the miracle stories of the handful of ghetto survivors who hid beneath false floors or behind walls in their houses for months.

There's also a city register kept by the Germans. On 15 October 1942 it records 17,893 Jews in Brest. The next day, that figure is scratched out.

"That's how we know when the ghetto was liquidated," community leader Efim Basin explains.

He had suspected that workers would find some bodies at the construction site, but never so many.

"This only underlines how little we know about our history," he adds.

Efim has been exploring the archives over the years, working to correct that. But witness testimonies are limited. And the fate of the Jews in Belarus has always been merged with the catastrophic losses suffered overall under occupation.

"Officials would repeat the mantra 'Never forget!' about the dead, but the Jewish part was hushed up," Efim recalls. "War memorials were all dedicated to 'Soviet citizens'," he says, calling that part anti-Semitism, part the Soviet stress on "one nation".

"But that was very offensive. The Jews were not killed for resisting the Nazis. They were killed because they were Jews."

Touring the city on foot, Efim points out the many traces of Jewish life at its heart.

They include the main synagogue, with a cylindrical cinema built on top of it in the Soviet years. The original marble walls are still intact inside, too solid to destroy.

The Jewish cemetery, partly demolished by the Nazis, was then finished off by the USSR. The graves were heaped with soil and a sports stadium was installed on top.

The only Holocaust memorial in the city centre was put up by the Jewish community itself and the diaspora.

So they're pushing for a new, official monument now at the execution site. The proposals so far, though, include planting some trees in what will eventually become the garden of the luxury flats.

"Some people say they're building on bones, but that isn't true," Alla Kondak, of the city's culture department insists. "We will only stop [excavation] work once all the remains have been recovered."

Those bones will be reinterred at the city cemetery, along with soil from the site, and Ms Kondak sees no need for more.

"There are graves everywhere here! The Germans shot and buried people on the spot," she argues.

But it seems few locals are aware of the specific fate of the Jews.

"We didn't learn anything at school about the Brest ghetto," two women in their twenties admit sheepishly. "I don't think anyone our age really knows."

"I know nothing about the ghetto or the grave," an older lady says, close to the excavation site, and hurries on.

But as another day's digging there draws to a close, the soldiers emerge from the pit balancing more muddy crates full of bones.

It's a history that becomes harder to ignore, with every fragment recovered from the ground.



ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 10:55

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Dubstep artist Skrillex could protect against mosquito bites

The sun is shining on your skin, there's a breeze in your hair and someone has just handed you a coconut with a straw sticking out of it. This is living.

But just as you start to relax you find yourself clawing at your own skin, scratching at the mosquito bites that have developed on your body over the past few days.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

According to a recent scientific study, the way to avoid mosquito bites is to listen to electronic music - specifically dubstep, specifically by US artist Skrillex.

Sound is "crucial for reproduction, survival, and population maintenance of many animals," says a team of international scientists specialising in mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.

They subjected adults of the species Aedes aegypti, known as the yellow fever mosquito, to electronic music to see whether it could work as a repellent.

Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites, a track by Skrillex which features on his Grammy-award winning album of the same name, was chosen because of its mix of very high and very low frequencies.

"In insects, low-frequency vibrations facilitate sexual interactions, whereas noise disrupts the perception of signals from conspecifics [members of the same species] and hosts," the scientists said.

And the results, which were published in the journal Acta Tropica, were good news for us and for Skrillex.

Female adult mosquitoes were "entertained" by the track and attacked hosts later and less often than those in a dubstep-free environment.

Scientists said "the occurrence of blood feeding activity was lower when music was being played".

The scientists also found that mosquitoes exposed to the song had sex "far less often" than mosquitoes without music.

"The observation that such music can delay host attack, reduce blood feeding, and disrupt mating provides new avenues for the development of music-based personal protective and control measures against Aedes-borne diseases."

So, the next time you're at your wit's end on holiday, scratching up your arms and legs, you know what to hook up to the wireless speaker.

ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 10:34

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Tania Mallet: Goldfinger actress dies aged 77

Actress Tania Mallet, who played Bond girl Tilly Masterson in Goldfinger, has died aged 77.

Mallet, a cousin of Dame Helen Mirren, starred alongside Sean Connery in the 1964 spy film.

The Blackpool-born actress had been working as a model when she was cast by producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. But it proved to be her only Hollywood role.

Her death was announced via the official 007 Twitter account.

The role ultimately saw her slain on screen by the steel-rimmed hat of Goldfinger's henchman Oddjob, despite Bond's best efforts to save her.

Her appearance reportedly followed a failed audition to land the role of lead Bond girl Tatiana Romanova in 1963's From Russia with Love.

Mallet was related to Dame Helen through her mother, whose younger brother was Dame Helen's father.

Dame Helen's 2007 memoir In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures described Mallet as a "loyal and generous person" who helped pay for for her brothers' education with her income as a model.

ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 10:26

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Nipsey Hussle: Tributes to rapper shot dead in Los Angeles

Artists including Drake, Rihanna and J Cole have paid tribute to Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle, who has been shot dead in Los Angeles.

The 33-year-old was gunned down outside his clothing shop.

Drake described him as "a man of respect and a don", while Rihanna wrote on Twitter: "This doesn't make any sense! My spirit is shaken by this!"

Two other people were wounded in the shooting outside Marathon Clothing in south Los Angeles.

Lt Chris Ramierez of the Los Angeles Police Department told media at the scene of the shooting that they were looking for a black male suspect.

Nipsey Hussle's debut album Victory Lap received a nomination for best rap album at this year's Grammy Awards, where he was nominated against Cardi B, Mac Miller, Pusha T and Travis Scott.

Writing on Instagram, Pusha called him a "rare breed" adding: "Sad to see you go Nip, I'm only finding peace in knowing you are blessed... I was honoured to share in such an amazing year with you musically.

"I would gauge everyone's music credibility based on if they mentioned you."

Drake, who won a Grammy on the same night and recorded the 2009 track Killer Nipsey Hussle, also took to Instagram to pay tribute.

"My whole energy is just at a low right now hearing this," he wrote. "We just linked for the first time in years and said we were gonna do a new song this summer cause it had been too long.

"You were having the best run and I was so happy watching from distance fam nobody ever talks down on your name you were a real one to your people and to the rest of us."

Other to pay tribute included rapper J. Cole and producer and artist Pharrell Williams.

Los Angeles Clippers basketball player Montrezl Harrell wrote his own tribute on his trainers to the rapper.

Nipsey Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Davidson Asghedom, grew up in south Los Angeles and was a member of the Rollin' 60s street gang when he was a teenager.

He later became a community organiser, and was involved with the Destination Crenshaw arts project.

"I grew up in gang culture," he told the Los Angeles Times in a 2018 interview. "We dealt with death, with murder. It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little bit immune to it."

Earlier on Sunday, he had tweeted: "Having strong enemies is a blessing."

ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 10:03

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Dismay after Trump moves to cut aid to Central America

US opposition politicians and aid agencies have questioned a decision by President Donald Trump to cut off aid to three Central American states.

Mr Trump ordered the suspension of aid payments to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to push their governments to stop migration into the US.

Critics say the decision will hurt programmes that already aim to persuade people to stay at home.

Congress may seek to stop the aid being redirected elsewhere.

US officials say the immigration system at the border with Mexico is already at breaking point yet the administration wants to increase the number of asylum seekers sent back over the border fivefold - from 60 a day to 300.

There has been a huge increase in asylum seekers fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The three nations are where most of the migrants on the US southern border come from.

President Trump has also said he is likely to close the border if Mexico does not do more to stop migrants crossing.

"We are carrying out the President's direction and ending FY [fiscal year] 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle," a state department spokesperson was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency, declining to give further details.

According to the Washington Post, at stake is nearly $500m (£383m) in 2018 funds plus millions more left over from the previous fiscal year. A Reuters source put the overall figure at about $700m.

In 2017, Guatemala received over $248m while Honduras received $175m and El Salvador $115m.

"I've ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and El Salvador," Mr Trump told reporters on Friday.

"No money goes there anymore... We were paying them tremendous amounts of money and we're not paying them any more because they haven't done a thing for us."

Aid advocates argue that the best way to stem migration from the region is to stimulate economic development and reduce violence there, and that it is too early to judge the impact of the aid, which was boosted in 2016 under President Barack Obama.

Cutting off aid is "shooting yourself in the foot", Adriana Beltrán, director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America human rights research group, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

"There are long-term challenges that are going to need a long-term sustainable solution," she added.

"You can have a discussion as to how we can ensure that the aid is effective, that assistance is not going to supporting corrupt governments."

A group of House Democrats visiting El Salvador condemned Mr Trump's move in a joint statement, saying that Mr Trump's approach was "entirely counterproductive".

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the "reckless announcement".

The state department said it would "engage Congress in the process", suggesting that lawmakers would need to approve the cuts.

However, according to congressional staffers quoted by the Washington Post, the US president has "some wiggle room to reprogram funds".

Adam Isaacson, a senior official at the Washington Office on Latin America, said presidents had previously shied away from reprogramming money because it irritated lawmakers who could retaliate by declining to fund key administration projects.




ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 09:51

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Is our growing obsession with true crime a problem?

I put my hands up and admit it - I'm an addict.

For reasons even I don't understand, crime documentaries have become my default way to unwind.

If I have friends over, I might make an embarrassed joke about my streaming suggestions - but the evidence suggests I'm not alone.

The genre's growth is inescapable. Almost every week there seems to be a new documentary released and not without controversy.

Some warn we risk glamorising notorious killers and erasing their victims with the coverage. Others have accused programme makers of being selective with evidence.

So is our fascination with true crime problematic? I spoke to victims and the communities directly affected to try and find out.

Kathy Kleiner was only 20 years old when she was attacked by Ted Bundy.

He beat her in bed with a piece of wood in the Chi Omega house at Florida State University in 1978.

Before entering her room, Bundy had murdered two of her sorority sisters as they slept.

Kathy was left with a shattered jaw and severe facial injuries. Her mouth had to be wired shut, forcing her to leave college.

Now 61, Kathy says she hadn't spoken about the experience much until US media recently tracked her down.

This year marks 30 years since Ted Bundy's execution. You can probably tell because the serial killer seems to be everywhere in 2019.

In February it was reported that Netflix had paid millions to secure US rights to a new movie starring heartthrob actor Zac Efron as Bundy.

The announcement came as the trailer caused uproar online, with some accusing it of sexualising the killer.

Netflix, who had also just released a series focusing on interviews with Bundy, even weighed in on social media.

I ask Kathy, as one of a handful of survivors, what it was like to be continually reminded of Bundy in popular culture.

"I did not ask to be put on the journey with him in his life - with his killing and his abuse," she says in a phone interview from New Orleans, where she now lives.

But for her, knowledge has meant power.

"I read every book and saw everything I could read and see about him," she says, while acknowledging others may have coped differently.

Efron has adopted Bundy's curls and signature smile for the role - and bears an uncanny resemblance to the killer.

"When Hollywood makes a movie they want it to sell, they want people to see it," Kathy says about his slick portrayal.

"Bundy showed them what he wanted them to see - he was always in control… Zac Efron - he's playing a part - he's an actor. He's doing this the way he was, the way they perceived Bundy."

Kathy says she attempted to contact the studio when she heard about the production, but assumes the email was lost among general enquiries.

She admits that she can't imagine watching as a relative of one of the 30 women and girls he is known to have killed.

"To me they're the heroes during this, having to endure this publicity," she says.

She hopes the movie reflects the victims more than the trailer alludes.

"I don't know how far they dive into the victims," Kathy says. "So without seeing it and if they don't do the victims right - then maybe I'll be pissed."

Wisconsin has the unenviable reputation of being home to some of America's most notorious ever crimes.

Manitowoc County sits on the state's eastern shore. It houses 80,000 residents but is famous around the world for just one - Steven Avery.

A Netflix series charting Avery's wrongful conviction on sexual assault charges and re-incarceration for murder became a sensation on its December 2015 debut.

Hundreds of thousands of people have since signed petitions demanding his and his nephew's acquittal. A second series has already been released and legal appeals are ongoing.

I travel to Manitowoc at the start of March, when a hangover from an unusually cold winter means snow is still deep on the ground.

Before travelling I try to reach out to local officials - but there seems to be an understandable reluctance to speak to yet another journalist coming to town.

The international spotlight has brought uncomfortable attention to the county and its city namesake.

Now, tourists drive over to the Avery family's Salvage Yard to take selfies. A firefighter tells me the local police have been forced to moderate Facebook comments because of abuse. I'm told threats have forced other officials off social media altogether.

One Manitowoc resident determined not to stay silent is Jason Prigge.

As a businessman working around the country, he says the final straw came when a client introduced himself and asked: "Well, did he do it?" in reference to Avery.

Since then, he and his wife Tina have made it their mission to change the outside world's perspective of Manitowoc. They set up an online web series, The Coolest Coast, to showcase positive aspects of the community like local businesses.

Tina describes the Avery case as a "freak anomaly" and like others I spoke to, points out the Avery property is actually miles outside the city of Manitowoc.

"Reporters come in or somebody from Hollywood comes in to make a show and they get to leave without delving in and really learning who this community is or what it has to offer," Tina says. "To them it's just a name, it's just a story."

"Imagine if you have a bunch of TV crews park outside of your house and they look at your house and they judge you because of one cracked window," Jason says about the negative attention.

"They never talk to people that live in the house, but they just look at the house from the outside."

The couple show me around the area, keen to show it off.

In the cold weather, much of the river is still frozen and has a sparkly glaze. The city's skyline is dominated by industry and a historic courthouse I recognise from the show, but is otherwise full of quaint local businesses like coffee shops and boutiques. It's a postcard image I didn't expect.

They urge people like me not to judge the county and all of its residents from the documentary.

"The cameras and reporters leave but what they've left here is a stain which we're trying to scrub," Jason says of the lasting damage.

Eighty miles south of Manitowoc is Milwaukee - a city known best for its beer and baseball.

But it is also a destination high on the list for America's biggest true crime fanatics.

The Cream City Cannibal tour takes visitors around Walker's Point - the area where serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer lured some of his victims from gay bars.

Its website boasts the tour is "so gruesome that it was banned from Groupon twice".

When it launched, local media covered a protest by victim's families. Critics said it was too soon because the crimes were still in living memory for many.

The tour leaves from Shakers - a bar in the centre of the old gay district. Once owned by the Capone family as a speakeasy and brothel, the location has a dark history of its own.

Current boss Robert Weiss bought it in the 1980s and runs a number of ghost tours from the venue. He says he got the idea for a Dahmer tour when people he met travelling made reference to the killer after he introduced himself as a Milwaukee-native.

Bob also knew the crime well because local police frequented the bar and Dahmer even visited himself.

"I served him drinks for five or six months as he periodically came in," Bob tells me.

About 12 people take the tour on the Saturday night I attend. The weather is freezing cold and it rains and snows throughout.

Those attending are mostly true crime super-fans, but also include a family and a couple celebrating their anniversary.

Our guide talks us through the serial killer's upbringing, alcoholism and journey towards violence.

Dahmer, who admitted killing 17 boys and men, is considered one of the most heinous criminals in US history.

His murders and cannibalism are described in grisly detail by our guide, who points out infamous locations along our walk.

The information is disturbing, but not worse than what you may hear on any Dahmer documentary.

Bob insists the tour has historical and educational value, but I notice his bar also sells T-shirts, which feels at odds with that.

"Of the thousands of shirts that we have sold with that likeness on, have we had anyone complain? We have not," Bob says.

He rejects the assertion they are incendiary, and insists they only started making them because of unprecedented customer demand.

"I think if you are talking about things that are in poor taste, there's any number of other things that would go above and behind what the shirt is," he says, pointing to people who buy morbid artefacts like Charles Manson's artwork.

He also says that he rejected other bad-taste merchandise options, like cannibal-themed food.

Those attending the tour reject the assertion that it's in bad taste or comes too soon.

"I've always grown up knowing about it," says one tour-goer named Alex who is in his 20s. "I think it's just part of our history and rather than hide it and keep it in the background, I think it's important for people to know about it so they can try and avoid it in the future."

Another, Melissa from Illinois, had already been on the tour before.

"I don't think it's disrespectful to the families," she says. "I think it's more of a way of remembering the victims instead of them being forgotten."

She, like me, admits watching a lot of true crime. She believes the addictive nature of streaming services is behind the boom in their popularity.

Deborah Allen has seen a "huge jump" in audience interest over the last few years.

She is vice-president of programming at Jupiter Entertainment - one of the biggest producers of true crime television in the US.

The company started making murder shows back in 1998, despite initial hesitancy from TV channels.

"It used to be that the networks saw true crime shows as their dirty little secret," she says.

In the last decade a number of dedicated 24-hour crime channels have sprung up in the UK and US.

High-budget series may have gone mainstream but there is still a mass of other content made to fill these network schedules too.

The demand means Jupiter now makes about 200 hours of crime shows a year - fuelled by researchers who comb through news stories from around the country.

Deborah says they only cover cases that have been resolved in court, and thinks many viewers take comfort in seeing justice served.

She also says their company listens to victims' families if they object to a case being covered.

But the recent public distress from the mother of James Bulger about a film made about her son's murder shows the family's view does not always prevail.

It's a similar story behind other popular shows too.

The McCann family did not contribute to a new series about their daughter's disappearance and Theresa Halbach's family have never taken part in Making a Murderer.

The loved ones of 1999 murder victim Hae Min Lee said the attention from Serial "reopened old wounds" for their family. Despite this, HBO have adapted that case into a new documentary series - The Case Against Adnan Syed - which follows on from where the record-breaking podcast took off.

Serial, like many other popular true crime series, focuses on casting doubt on a conviction.

This format has an obvious draw for any audience - allowing them to play detective for themselves.

Some programme makers, including from HBO's The Jinx, have even uncovered new evidence that prosecutors say have helped with cases.

True crime's growing popularity means big business in other areas too. There's now young YouTube influencers covering stories and in the UK, a new glossy monthly crime magazine was recently announced.

In the US, thousands attend CrimeCon every year - an event where fans pay hundreds to see experts and presenters from their favourite series.

A reporter from the New York Post pointed out most of last year's attendees were female - and Bob in Milwaukee has found the same with his Dahmer tour. He describes his average customer as college-educated women aged 25-37.

So why is it that we are so intrigued - is it pure morbid curiosity?

British psychologist Emma Kenny, who regularly features in crime documentaries, agrees that we have a natural tendency to be voyeurs and be attracted to darker things.

This, of course, is nothing new and can be seen throughout human history.

She points to crime's prevalence in other forms of entertainment too - including the dramas we watch and the books we read.

Emma says that watching crime shows can trigger chemical reactions in our bodies while we watch, while also affirming our moral views about right and wrong.

She says an interest in the genre is nothing bad but warns people, including myself, about watching too much.

"I think that for anybody who's watching this kind of stuff you really need to know why you're watching it, I think. Because you don't want to desensitize yourself too much," she tells me.

"Life is best spent around good people doing good things, exposing yourself to the best things in the world that you can expose yourself to… we should never be desensitized to the horror."

ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 09:43

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EasyJet warns of 'weak' summer sales amid Brexit uncertainty

EasyJet has warned that customer demand for ticket sales for the next six months - which includes the peak summer season - is unexpectedly weak.

The airline blamed uncertainty over the global economy and Brexit for the slowdown in forward bookings.

As a result, EasyJet said it was now more cautious over its outlook for the second half of its financial year.

The airline has already said it expects to make a loss of around £275m for the first half of the year.

EasyJet's shares fell almost 8% in early trading following the release of its trading update, which had originally been due for release on Friday.

"We are seeing softness in both the UK and Europe, which we believe comes from macroeconomic uncertainty and many unanswered questions surrounding Brexit which are together driving weaker customer demand," said chief executive Johan Lundgren.

Despite its caution, EasyJet said revenue per seat - a key measure for airlines - would be slightly higher in the second half of the year, while cost per seat would remain flat.

Mr Lundgren said the airline was "operationally well prepared for Brexit", adding that "whatever happens, we'll be flying as usual".

It has established EasyJet Europe, with headquarters in Vienna, which will enable EasyJet to continue to operate flights both across the EU and domestically within EU countries regardless of the Brexit outcome.

Hargreaves Lansdown analyst George Salmon said the airline was being affected by issues out of its control.

"Higher fuel costs are hitting profits and with Brexit potentially impacting travel regulations and currency markets, customers are understandably waiting for more certainty before booking trips away.

"The group reckons demand will pick up later in the year, but a more pragmatic observer would say it's difficult to put a timeframe on when Westminster and the EU 27 will solve the Brexit puzzle."

EasyJet's warning comes amid a tough time for the airline industry, with a combination of factors such as higher fuel bills and excess capacity in the sector contributing to its problems.

Last week, Iceland's Wow Air collapsed.

Earlier this year, Germany's Germania filed for bankruptcy, and UK regional airline Flybmi stopped flying in February.

The UK's struggling Flybe was taken over earlier this month for just one penny a share.

Even giant budget airline Ryanair reported its first quarterly loss since March 2014 last month.


ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 09:31

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Ethiopian Airlines crash: 'Pitch up, pitch up!'

Details have begun to emerge of the final moments of an Ethiopian Airlines flight which crashed three weeks ago.

An anti-stalling system on the plane, a Boeing 737 Max, has been blamed for the disaster which killed all 157 people on board.

Soon after take-off - and just 450ft (137m) above the ground - the aircraft's nose began to pitch down.

One pilot, according to the Wall Street Journal, said to the other "pitch up, pitch up!" before their radio died.

The plane crashed only six minutes into its flight.The Wall Street Journal - which says it's spoken to people close to the ongoing investigation - says the information it has "paints a picture of a catastrophic failure that quickly overwhelmed the flight crew".

Leaks this week from the crash investigation in Ethiopia and in the US suggest an automatic anti-stall system was activated at the time of the disaster.

The Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight-control feature was also implicated in a fatal crash involving a Lion Air flight in Indonesia last October.

The Boeing 737 Max went down shortly after take-off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

An investigation of the Lion Air flight suggested the anti-stall system malfunctioned, and forced the plane's nose down more than 20 times before it crashed into the sea.

The Ethiopian authorities have already said there are "clear similarities" between the Lion Air incident and the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

The airline and authorities have refused to comment on leaks from the investigation.

Concerns about the Boeing 737 Max have led to a worldwide grounding of the plane.

Boeing has redesigned the software so that it will disable MCAS if it receives conflicting data from its sensors.

As part of the upgrade, Boeing will install an extra warning system on all 737 Max aircraft, which was previously an optional safety feature.

Neither of the two planes that were involved in the fatal crashes carried the alert systems, which are designed to warn pilots when sensors produce contradictory readings.

The aircraft update is designed to ensure the MCAS will no longer repeatedly make corrections when a pilot tries to regain control.

Boeing is also revising pilot training to provide "enhanced understanding of the 737 MAX" flight system and crew procedures.

Earlier this week, Boeing said that the upgrades were not an admission that the system had caused the crashes.

Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the accidents, but a preliminary report from Ethiopian authorities is expected within days.

Boeing has tried to restore its battered reputation, while continuing to insist the 737 Max is safe.

ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 09:28

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Letter from Africa: 'We're not cleaners' - sexism amid Sudan protests

In our series of letters from African journalists, Zeinab Mohammed Salih considers why female protesters are angry with their male counterparts.

The anti-government protests in Sudan are unwavering despite a state of emergency imposed in February.

This is largely thanks to the efforts of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has been organising the demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir's nearly 30-year rule.

The body represents health workers, lawyers and teachers, amongst others - though some would argue, not women - even though it is estimated that more than 70% of the protesters who have been out on the streets since December are female.

The SPA got itself into hot water when it suggested that instead of a day of scheduled protests on Saturday 9 March, people come out instead to clean the streets.

The streets of the capital, Khartoum, are particularly mucky - and it was felt that a good tidy up would restore a sense of pride in the city.

Since the protests began, the SPA has been particularly praised for the beautiful language used in its statements calling for action.

However, in this instance it struck the wrong tone - urging women in particular to come out for the task because they "cared more about cleaning".

The message was met with outrage by many female protesters - and sparked a debate on social media about the sexism of the uprising.

A day later, the SPA, which has female spokesperson, issued a contrite apology.

These protests began in reaction to a hike in bread prices - and then mushroomed into the most serious challenge to Mr Bashir's hold on power since an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Likewise, the street-cleaning faux pas began as anger about the sexist attitudes of male protesters and has mushroomed into anger about how women are treated in Sudanese society.

On social media, comments such as "even women have protested" have been a particular point of contention.

Protesting women are not a new phenomenon in Sudan. In 1946, 10 years before independence, the country's first female doctor, Khalida Zahir, took to the streets against British rule and was arrested and flogged.

Another sore point is the recent use of the word "Kandaka" to describe a female protester.

Kandaka was the word used to refers to queens in the ancient Kush kingdom that ruled Sudan thousands of years ago.

The literal translation from Arabic of the controversial SPA statement read: "When is the cleaning day? On Saturday Kandaka - yes we mean you, because you care more about it."

The dislike for the term hinges on the fact that female protesters don't see themselves as above others - they are the people, taking the same risks as everyone else.

The irony of the word also angers others as they say there is no gender equality in the mainly Muslim country where female genital mutilation is still practised - almost 90% of Sudanese women have been cut.

Women from all backgrounds and ages have been protesting - some on the frontline, others standing in front of their houses sheltering those who flee live ammunition or tear gas.

They have also been serving protesters with food and drinks.

have also been circulating on social media of prominent men who support the government and have criticised the demonstrations, mocking them by feminising their faces on Photoshop. The implication is that they are cowards.

This has led a group of feminists to launch a campaign called "Waqto wa naso", meaning "The time has come", calling for such sexist attitudes to be denounced.

According to the No To Women Oppression group, between 40,000 and 50,000 women are arrested and flogged each year by the police for flouting the country's Public Order Act introduced by Mr Bashir's government.

The law regulates what women can wear - they can, for example, be flogged for wearing clothes such as trousers that are considered indecent or simply for being out with men who are not their relatives.

Interestingly, earlier this month a court overturned flogging sentences for nine women accused of taking part in protests.

And the clean-up day in Khartoum did take place - with both men and women taking part.

These could perhaps be seen as signs of changing times for women in Sudan.

ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 09:21

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Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan as his party loses capital

The party of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost control of the capital, Ankara, in local elections in a setback to his 16 years in power.

The opposition is also ahead in the contest for mayor of the largest city, Istanbul, the election commission says.

Nationally, the president's AKP-led alliance has won more than 51% of the vote in the municipal elections.

The vote, see as a verdict on Mr Erdogan's rule, has been taking place during an economic downturn.

The currency, the lira, has been losing value recently and the economy went into recession in the last three months of 2018.

The president had previously said the poll was about the "survival" of the country and his party.

Commenting on the results in a speech on Sunday, he said: "If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them."

More than 57 million people in the country were registered to vote for mayors and councillors. State-run Anadolu news agency said turnout was high at just under 85%.

The secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavas won in Ankara.

Istanbul has been in the hands of parties linked to Mr Erdogan since 1994 when he was elected the city's mayor.

The election commission said the CHP's Ekrem Imamoglu was leading there by only 28,000 votes, but added that the results of more than 80 ballot boxes were being challenged.

Both CHP and Mr Erdogan's AKP - or Justice and Development Party - had been claiming victory in the city.

The AKP had been saying its candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, was ahead by 4,000 votes. Ruling party officials said they would challenge thousands of ballots in Istanbul and Ankara.

The CHP also said it had held Izmir, Turkey's third largest city.

"The people have voted in favour of democracy. They have chosen democracy," CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

In his speech on Sunday, Mr Erdogan vowed to focus his leadership on the Turkish economy ahead of national elections scheduled to take place in 2023.

Prominent journalist Rusen Cakir said the vote was "as historic as that of 1994", referring to the year Mr Erdogan was elected mayor of Istanbul.

"It is a declaration that a page that was opened 25 years ago is being turned," he said.

President Erdogan had painted this election as a matter of survival. He's now been dealt an agonising blow.

For the first time in a quarter of a century, his party has lost Turkey's capital Ankara.

And in the economic powerhouse of Istanbul, there's a hair's breadth between the governing AK Party and the opposition.

As the official tally showed fewer than 3,000 votes between them in this city of 18 million, both said they'd won.

But then the count stopped, with more than 1% of ballot boxes still unopened: a tactic, says the opposition, to steal victory.

This could be a watershed moment for Turkey's powerful, polarising president: when an opposition long seen as moribund finally feels he's beatable.

This was the first municipal vote since Mr Erdogan assumed sweeping executive powers through last year's presidential election.

The AKP, with its roots in political Islam, has won every election since coming to power in 2002.

With most media either pro-government or controlled by Mr Erdogan's supporters, critics believe opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage.

The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said the elections were unfair and refused to put forward candidates in several cities.

Some of its leaders have been jailed on terrorism charges, accusations they reject.

Mr Erdogan's rallies dominated TV coverage. At one on Saturday, the president sought to reassure voters and the party's usually conservative supporters that everything was under control.

"I am the boss of the economy right now as president of this country," he said, also blaming the West and particularly the US for its financial turbulence.

The president was criticised for repeatedly showing footage from the recent terrorism attack in New Zealand, in which a self-declared white supremacist live-streamed himself killing 50 people at two Christchurch mosques.

ruby Posted on April 01, 2019 09:13

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‘Long-term security risks’ from Huawei

The Chinese company Huawei has been strongly criticised in a report by the body overseeing the security of its products in UK telecoms.

The report, issued by the National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of GCHQ, says it can provide "only limited assurance that the long-term security risks can be managed in the Huawei equipment currently deployed in the UK".

The report reflects what are said to be deep frustrations at the failure of the company to address previously identified problems.

Huawei supplies telecoms for telecoms companies operating in the UK and this report comes ahead of a decision by the UK over whether to allow the company to build next generation 5G networks.

The US has been campaigning for it to be excluded on the basis the company poses a national security risk.

There is no allegation in the latest report that the company is deliberately introducing backdoors or working to carry out any kind of espionage on behalf of the Chinese state.

Rather, the accusation is that poor practices by the company create vulnerabilities that in turn pose security risks.

The report describes "significant technical issues in Huawei's engineering processes".

It also says Huawei's approach to software development brings "significantly increased risk to UK operators".

Officials say the rigorous system of oversight means those risks can be mitigated and managed.

But the report also warns that the current arrangement "can only provide limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei's involvement in the UK's critical networks can be sufficiently mitigated long-term".

Huawei's kit is often cheaper than that of rivals but with that come concerns that the business model driving its fast growth can lead to sloppiness in its work.

And because the company offers different products to different customers, it has been hard for security officials to be able to confirm that the equipment is all secured to the same standard.

Since 2010, after Huawei partnered first with BT and then other telecoms providers to supply equipment in the UK's telecoms infrastructure, the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), known as "the cell", has been examining the hardware and software deployed.

In 2014, a board, chaired by National Cyber Security Centre head Ciaran Martin, was set up to oversee its work.

Other government representatives as well as individuals from Huawei and companies that use Huawei equipment also sit on the oversight board.

Concerns were raised in last year's annual report but this year its report is highly critical of the failure of the company to address these.

Huawei has said it will invest significant sums in dealing with the problems in the next three to five years but it is understood that so far officials have not seen what they consider to be a credible plan to do so.

"No material progress has been made by Huawei in the remediation of the issues reported last year," the report says.

This raises concerns for the future, according to the oversight board.

"It will be difficult to appropriately risk manage future products in the context of UK deployments, until Huawei's software engineering and cyber-security processes are remediated," it says.

"The oversight board currently had not seen anything to give it confidence in Huawei's ability to bring about change via its transformation programme."

The report stresses that the decision over Huawei's role in 5G will come after a wider review by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

But its warnings raise serious questions as to whether a company whose work on existing systems has proved so problematic should be allowed to play a major role in building the next generation of systems on which significant parts of our daily life will eventually depend.

In response, a Huawei representative said it understood the concerns over its software engineering capability and took them "very seriously".

They added:

  • the company's board had resolved to invest $2bn to improve its capabilities and a high level plan had been developed
  • Huawei would continue to work with UK operators and the National Cyber Security Centre to meet their requirements.

ruby Posted on March 29, 2019 12:41

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Tom Hiddleston: Why China loves the 'creepy' Centrum ad

Creepy, uncomfortable and downright weird are just some things an advertisement starring Tom Hiddleston has been called, but none of that will matter as it's found success with its intended audience - Chinese women, as the BBC's Yvette Tan explains.

Imagine waking up in the morning, walking down to your stylish kitchen and finding actor Tom Hiddleston making breakfast for you.

It's a fantasy vitamin company Centrum is cashing in on for its new Chinese advertisement.

It may have been widely mocked in the Western media, but the made-for-mobile ad has been remarkably well-received in China.

'I'm his wife'

The minute-long video filmed in vertical format was posted from Hiddleston's official Weibo account on Wednesday.

It's filmed from the perspective of Hiddleston's partner sitting at the table while he, decked in an apron, makes a healthy breakfast for her. He then says in Chinese ??????, which can be translated as "here's your Centrum", or "don't forget your Centrum".

The Avengers' star has more than 600,000 followers on the popular Chinese social media platform, which is not a huge amount given some Chinese stars have Weibo fan counts in the millions.

But the video went viral anyway and had been watched more than 2.5 million times by Friday.

The Chinese word for #Centrum soon began trending - with over 32 million users interacting with the hashtag.

Many expressed their glee at finding themselves the object of Hiddleston's affections, with one fan posting a quote which said: "I'm not his fan. I'm his wife."

"Look at the money I spent because of you, husband," another posted, alongside a receipt that showed she had spent 148 yuan (£16 ;$22) on Centrum.

Fantasy and reality

This was clearly an ad made for a very particular market, experts say. For many of his Chinese fans, waking up to a suited Hiddleston is a fantasy come to life, so the point-of-view format is a clever trick.

"Many female fans often consider their idol their imaginary boyfriend or husband," Professor Zhang Kuangjie of the Nanyang Technological University told the BBC.

"This ad appeals exactly to those fans' fantasies. The fact that he speaks very good Chinese [in the ad] further adds to [his] likeability."

Prof Zhang adds that the fact the video is vertical - a format made for mobile phone screens - could "make the fans feel like they are having a virtual chat with the celebrity", creating a more intimate experience.

There's also the novelty of being served breakfast by a Western man, says Tay Guan Hin, founder of ad agency the TGH Collective.

"For a Chinese woman to be served by a man is not common in Asia, let alone a Caucasian man, so that's something that adds to that [fantasy] element," he said.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer, which own Centrum, would not name the ad agency in China that made the film, but told the BBC it was made to "maximise Centrum's international appeal amongst the digital-savvy generation in China".

So there is a more practical reason for the vertical format than just intimacy.

"In a mobile-savvy country like China where there are close to 900 million mobile internet subscribers, having the ad executed in a mobile-first channel makes perfect sense," Rezwana Manjur, Editor of Marketing Magazine, told the BBC.

"The medium [sometimes takes] a back-seat or becomes an after-thought. Centrum in this aspect, puts the consumer's content consumption [habits] at the forefront."

And though some Western viewers have called Hiddleston a sell-out, Charlotte McEleny, Asia-Pacific publisher at marketing news platform The Drum, says using celebrities in adverts is "basically a necessity in China".

"Hiddleston has become a big name in China due to his Marvel association... he's a great choice," said Ms McEleny.

'A bit voyeuristic'

The ad has of course been spotted outside of China though, and ironically drew criticism for the exact same reasons it gained praise in its intended market.

"Because this vertical format forces you to be in the point of view of that woman, it feels a lot more intimate and immersive. So for some Western audiences, it might feel like it's a bit voyeuristic," said Mr Tay.

And for some people, it was a little too close for comfort.

"Forming a support group for the victims of Tom Hiddleston's Centrum commercial," said one user on Twitter.

"The ad is utterly terrifying. Watch it if only to feel like you've woken up in your own home invasion nightmare," said another.

But Charlotte McEleny from The Drum said the ad could teach brands a thing or two about China.

"Rather than calling this out for being weird or creepy, Western businesses should probably be taking notes on how to build stories into new formats."

ruby Posted on March 29, 2019 12:24

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Slovakia election: Liberal Caputova bucks Europe's populist trend

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," read a recent post on Zuzana Caputova's Facebook page, as she appealed to Slovakia's 4.4 million registered voters to back her in this weekend's presidential race.

This political newcomer and front-runner has framed the contest as a battle between good and evil - and if she wins she will become the country's first female president.

That famous quote might sound overblown for a largely ceremonial position with almost no executive power.

But one year after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, a killing that led to the fall of Slovakia's pugnacious Prime Minister Robert Fico, the election is being seen as a litmus test of how far Slovak society has changed.

"If Caputova wins on Saturday, which is very likely, it could start a far-reaching political and generational change in Slovak politics after the long rule of Fico's populist Smer party," said analyst Milan Nic, a senior fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin.

"Victory for Caputova would present a different face of Central and Eastern Europe, showing there's an alternative to illiberal forces and centralised political control developed in Hungary and Poland.

"The Caputova scenario would also mean big encouragement for the opposition in Poland, which is trying to combine forces against the ruling Law and Justice party in the European parliament elections in May."

Zuzana Caputova might have two decades of experience as a lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner, but her experience of government or diplomacy is dwarfed by that of her challenger Maros Sefcovic.

Formerly head of Slovakia's mission to the European Union, he is now one of the six vice-presidents of the European Commission.

But his presidential bid has been hampered by his association with Robert Fico and the Smer party that nominated him (although he is not a party member).

Regularly at pains to distance himself from the former prime minister, Mr Sefcovic is still tarnished with the brush of a discredited political establishment.

The 52-year-old diplomat is a graduate of the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations, and applied to join the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in May 1989 - six months before the fall of the regime.

In terms of perceptions, he is truly the political "old" to Zuzana Caputova's "new".

"She is credible, independent from the establishment, and represents positive change. In a way she's shaping up to be the Slovak Macron," explained Milan Nic.

"Electing a divorced single mother and civic activist from outside the political establishment as head of state would be a huge turning point, not just for Slovakia, but for the broader region as well," he went on.

Certainly the 45-year-old divorced mother-of-two is seen as closer to "ordinary" voters than the men in suits who have dominated Slovak politics, even though her liberal views on such issues as LGBT rights are likely to alienate her from some voters in this conservative and largely Catholic country.

But perhaps the decisive factor in these elections will be the disgust and anger still felt at Kuciak's murder - an act that Zuzana Caputova says prompted her to enter politics.

There is even a connection with the man who Slovak prosecutors believe ordered the killing, Marian Kocner. During her 14-year legal battle over an illegal landfill site in her home town of Pezinok, she crossed swords with Mr Kocner, who was representing the firm trying to expand the site.

A wealthy businessman with connections to many Slovak politicians including Robert Fico, Mr Kocner is now in custody awaiting trial for murder.

"If she wins, it will be proof that the majority of people in Slovakia care about their country and are fed up with the corrupt and criminal system of Mr Fico," said Matus Kostolny, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Dennik N.

"Ten years ago, a liberal woman [Prime Minister Iveta Radicova] was not able to persuade enough people of her policies. But Slovakia has changed."

ruby Posted on March 29, 2019 12:20

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Saravana Bhavan: India 'dosa king' life sentence upheld

The owner of Saravana Bhavan - a global Indian restaurant chain - has had a murder conviction against him upheld by the Supreme Court.

P Rajagopal, 71, was convicted for ordering the murder of one of his employees in order to marry his wife.

A local court sentenced Rajagopal and five others to life in prison in 2009. The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal against that verdict.

Saravana Bhavan has 80 outlets across the world and employs thousands.

A New York Times report from 2014 said Rajagopal was determined to marry the wife of an employee based on the advice of an astrologer.

In 2001, when her husband went missing, she filed a police complaint against Rajagopal. His body was found in a forest and police confirmed that he had been strangled to death.

The owner was once again embroiled in scandal in 2003 for attempting to bribe the woman and intimidating her family, which included assaulting her brother.

A local court first convicted Rajagopal in 2004 and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. This was increased to life in prison by the Madras high court in Chennai.

While hearing an appeal against the verdict in 2009, the Supreme Court granted bail to Rajagopal after his lawyer argued that he needed medical treatment. At that point, he had served only 11 months of his sentence.

The Supreme Court ruling on Friday means that he will be headed back to jail.

ruby Posted on March 29, 2019 12:10

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India's 'last electrified village' Leisang still fighting darkness

As India enters full election mode, political leaders are criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, addressing rallies. The high-decibel campaigns have lots of sound and fury, but rarely address the issues that actually affect millions of people. The BBC's Geeta Pandey is travelling across India to report on some of them.

The tiny village of Leisang in the north-eastern state of Manipur made global news last year when it became the "last Indian village to be electrified".

For decades, political parties have been promising bijli (electricity) - along with sadak and pani (road and water) - in their election manifestos.

So in April 2018, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted saying "Leisang had been powered and empowered", it seemed that the government had addressed at least one of these three issues.

But when I visited there last week, I found the power supply erratic and the villagers neither "powered" nor "empowered".

Home to 13 families - or 70 members - of the Kuki hill tribe, Leisang is just over 80km (50 miles) from Imphal, the capital of Manipur.

There's no school or health facility in Leisang and though residents here have voter ID cards, they are too few to carry any political heft.

Village chief Tongsat Haokip says all the other villages in their neighbourhood got power in 2017, but when they enquired, they were told they were "not in the plan".

"But no-one ever gave us a reason, so we petitioned the top electricity official in Kangpokpi. He said, 'You're top of our list for next year.' He told us to be patient."

In early April last year, there was sudden activity in the village. First some officials came for an inspection and then over two weeks, poles, cables, wires, electrical accessories and a transformer were brought up. Finally, the villagers were told that they would be "connected to the grid" between 5-6pm on 27 April.

Lamneithan Lotjem was among "the 20-30 people", including women and children, who had gathered at the village chief's house for the event. Tea was prepared, the switch was flicked on, and all eyes were on the bulb hanging from the front porch.

Ms Lotjem was positioned right under the bulb when it suddenly came on.

"We all clapped, jumped up and down with joy. I was shouting, 'Light avatai, light ahungtai (Light is shining, light has come)'. Everyone was cheering. Some people were dancing," she says with an embarrassed laugh.

That night, no-one in the village slept. They all gathered in the only house with a TV set and watched through the night. The villagers were euphoric.

"It was almost like they were reborn," says Nehkam Doungul, Mr Haokip's uncle.

In the days that followed, many families bought TV sets and many women dreamed of buying washing machines and rice cookers.

But the euphoria was short-lived.

It's been a year since that day and the villagers tell me that on a good day, they get power for five to six hours. A fault, however small, takes a minimum of three days to attend to and last year, on one occasion, Leisang was plunged back into darkness for three whole months.

Senior power department official in Manipur H Shantikumar Singh admits that the village once lost power for three months because they could not get there to fix it. "It's remote and difficult to reach, especially if there are landslides on the way," he says. But he denies that the village receives only six hours of power and insists that there is enough power to supply everyone in the state.

Yet on the day I visit, there is no power in the village. It comes an hour later, but the supply is off again in 15 minutes.

Ms Lotjem, who works in the fields from 8am to 4pm on most days, says when there's power in the evening, she finishes off the housework and watches TV. "But it's impossible to plan because the supply is so erratic."

Mr Doungul says rain and high wind always result in power outages and the villagers now joke that "the light goes off even if a dog pees on the pole".

Power came to Leising as part of PM Modi's pledge in August 2015 to electrify every single village within 1,000 days.

In summer 2014 when Mr Modi came to power, 97.5% of India's nearly 600,000 villages were already electrified, says Abhishek Jain of the Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

A village is deemed electrified if 10% of its households, and shared facilities like the school, health centre and community hall, are connected to the grid, he says. By that definition, officials claim that India is fully electrified.

But, Mr Jain says, a connection does not mean an assured supply of electricity and that's where the major problem lies.

"The government is now promising 24x7 supply to every citizen by end of March, but that is a really distant dream," he says.

For instance, in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the rural population gets power for less than 12 hours a day even though some of the villages were connected to the grid more than two decades back. The situation in some southern states and the eastern states of West Bengal and Orissa is better, but the heart of India - Uttar Pradesh and Bihar - remains largely in darkness.

In July last year when Mr Modi interacted via a video link with people from villages that were electrified during his tenure in the past four years, Mr Doungal, who represented Leisang, told him that "we didn't even think in our dreams that we'd get power in our lifetime".

"The prime minister said if you face any problems, do let me know. But before I could share our problems with him, they cut us off and he moved on to speak to other people.

"If only we could tell him about our problems, I'm sure he would address them," he tells me, rather regretfully.

I ask him what he would have told the prime minister if he had a chance?

His list is long: "The nearest primary school is 1.5km away and as there's no transport, the children have to walk. There's no street light in the village. My nephew (the village chief)'s wife died in childbirth because she couldn't get to the hospital in time. When her labour pains started, four men took turns to carry her on their backs to the road so she could be taken to hospital. They lost so much precious time. If the road was good, she and her baby could have been saved," he says.

Adds village secretary Komlun Khongsai: "We are the forgotten people of India. Electricity is the first thing we got from the government."

After living in the dark for so long, the villagers had hoped that development would follow electricity to their village.

Mr Doungal says that since theirs is the last village to be electrified in India, "it means Leisang is special" and must be treated as such. He points to a nearby security force camp that has 24x7 power and asks, "Why can't we be connected to the same line?"

But Leisang's hope for round the clock electricity supply seems like a dream that's not within reach, at least in the short term.

Two days after my return from Manipur, as I sit down to write this piece at home in the capital Delhi, the power goes off. It's 11 am, and when I call the supplier BSES to check, I'm told the power outage is do some maintenance work and that the supply will be restored at 3pm. This is a four-hour unannounced outage. And let me tell you, it's not that uncommon.

ruby Posted on March 29, 2019 12:07

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World first as living HIV patient donates kidney in US

In a world first, US doctors have transplanted a kidney from one HIV-positive patient to another.

The operation took place at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, with both patients said to be doing well.

"This is the first time someone living with HIV has been allowed to donate a kidney, ever, in the world," Dr Dorry Segev said in a release.

It was previously thought that HIV carried too great a risk factor for kidney disease in the donor.

But new types of anti-retroviral drugs used to treat the disease are seen as safe for the kidney.

Dr Christine Durand, associate professor of medicine and oncology at Johns Hopkins, said that the operation "challenges ... the public to see HIV differently", while also advancing medicine.

The patients were "incredibly grateful for this gift and now we just monitor for the long term outcomes," Dr Durand said.

The operation was performed on Monday. Donor Nina Martinez, 35, from Atlanta, told reporters she was "feeling good".

She was inspired to donate her kidney by an episode of "Grey's Anatomy," she said, adding that she was excited to be part of a medical first.

"I knew that I was the one that they had been waiting for," she said. "For anyone considering embarking on this journey, it's doable.

"I've just showed you how and I'm very excited to see who the first follow-on might be."

The recipient chose to remain anonymous but was doing "beautifully", Dr Durand said.

The breakthrough followed another significant development in HIV treatment. In only the second case of its kind, a UK patient's HIV became "undetectable" after a stem cell transplant earlier this month.

There were about 37 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2017, and the World Health Organization still ranks HIV as "one of the world's most serious public health challenges".

ruby Posted on March 29, 2019 11:43

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Seven ways the world is not designed for women

When a last-minute spacesuit switch saw the cancellation of Nasa's all-female space walk, it sparked bigger conversations about how women navigate a world appeared to be designed for men.

Caroline Criado Perez, a journalist and the author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, told the BBC she was totally unsurprised by the spacesuit debacle.

"This is just what happens over and over when it comes to what we design," she says. "We are so used to thinking of men as the default and women as the sort of niche - a variety of man."

Ms Criado Perez began researching gender bias after discovering that medical data around heart attacks was based on male symptoms, causing clinicians to miss heart attack cases in women since those symptoms were considered atypical.

"It's the same thinking that leads Nasa to put two larges as the average, when it's the average for men, actually."

From police stab vests that don't account for breasts, to safety goggles too large for women's faces, to boots that don't fit women's feet, Ms Criado Perez says the list is endless.

"The average woman is an outlier."

Here is a look at seven of those ways the way the world is not designed for women.

1. Spacesuits

Nasa saw immediate outrage on Twitter when they announced the all-female spacewalk would be cancelled over a medium-sized spacesuit.

The agency clarified that astronaut Anne McClain had belatedly realised the medium size fit her better than the large she had been using, and so, for safety reasons, she was pulled from the walk.

There are two medium-sized suits on the International Space Station, but only one had been properly configured for a spacewalk, and getting the spare up to standard would have taken hours.

Ms Criado Perez says it's still telling that the sizes available were medium, large, and extra-large only.

Notably, Nasa had to nix their small sized suits in the 1990s due to budget cuts, NPR reported. That meant one-third of the women at the time were unable to fit into any spacesuits.

2. Military equipment

In 2016, the US military began to recruit women for combat roles in previously male-only units in the Army, Marine Corps and Navy SEALs - but much of the armour was still designed for men.

The Army added eight smaller sizes to accommodate women that year, but other gear like shoes and helmets were not fully addressed.

Democratic Congresswoman Niki Tsongas at the time called out the military's unresponsiveness to the needs of female service members, citing the "alarming" disadvantages for women, including being unable to properly fire a weapon, reported.

Several women told Buzzfeed News this year that during their service, they had been forced to adapt body armour to fit them, even if that meant removing protective side panels or putting pieces of foam under straps to reposition gear and ensure their organs were protected.

Last year, the Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Joseph Dunford said they would work on speeding up the process of getting armour fitted for women, but the rollout of new gear remains incomplete.

"Women went through Iraq and Afghanistan - up to 2018 - in equipment designed for men," says Alex Elias, a scholar focusing on women in the military.

But even before these relatively new roles opened up, women in the military were forced to deal with dangerously improper attire. During World War Two, Ms Elias says, women were never expected to be in non-office roles, so the military failed to prepare uniforms for other jobs, like mechanics.

3. Car crash dummies

The US government did not adequately test the impact of a crash on a belt-restrained female dummy until 2012. Dummies for decades had been based on the average, 50th percentile male body.

According to a 2011 University of Virginia Center for Applied Biomechanics study, that meant female drivers involved in crashes had a 47% greater chance of serious injury than their male counterparts, and a 71% higher chance of a moderate injury.

Ms Criado Perez notes that even now, this female dummy is often just a scaled down version of a male dummy, which does not provide accurate information about how a crash impacts a woman.

It's a similar story in the European Union.

"In the EU, out of the five regulatory tests that there are, only one specifies that you must use that [female] dummy and it's only in the passenger seat."

She says it's clear the industry is aware they must address the issue of women - but "they haven't done it in any sensible way that accounts for the fact that women are 50% of the population".

4. Smartphones

From apps to the actual size, there are a number of design features that have made some women say smartphones have been designed with only men in mind.

Women's hands are, on average, around an inch smaller than men's - which can make the industry's ever-increasing screen sizes problematic to use.

Texting one-handed on a 4.7-inch (12cm) or bigger iPhone can be difficult to impossible for many women (and small-handed men).

Ms Criado Perez also pointed out that the health app and Siri were also unintentionally biased against women.

In 2016, Apple fixed a glitch that had Siri sending abortion seekers to adoption centres instead - five years after the issue was raised.

"The comprehensive health app on the iPhone that didn't have a period tracker; the way Siri could find a Viagra supplier but not an abortion provider - that's what happens when you don't include women in the decision making process," Ms Criado Perez says.

"It's not a conspiracy. I don't think for a moment the designers of Apple wanted to screw women over - I think they didn't know."

5. Sports attire

When US basketball superstar Stephen Curry designed a new line of shoes for kids last year, only boys sizes were offered.

A nine-year-old girl named Riley eventually wrote Mr Curry a letter asking why that was the case.

"I know you support girl athletes because you have two daughters," she added. "I hope you can work with Under Armor to change this because girls want to rock the Curry 5's too."

Mr Curry thanked her and explained that the smaller sizes had all been labelled as "boys" on the website.

As of March 2019, boys still have more apparel options in the Under Armor Curry line, but most of the shoes are available for both genders.

6. Science gear

Biologist Jessica Mounts, executive director of the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, told the BBC's Chris Bell that most of the equipment she has used was designed for men.

"The problems caused aren't simply an annoyance - they all go back to personal safety," she says. "Clothing that is too loose gets caught in moving equipment. Boots that are too big mean tripping and falling."

"The alternatives that are 'designed for women' are frequently more expensive, have smaller pockets, are still ill-fitting."

7. Office space

These design flaws aren't just about something worn or handled - even environments can be biased towards men's preferences.

The formula for standard US office temperatures was developed in the 1960s, based on the metabolic rate of an average 40-year-old man weighing 154 pounds (70kg).

A 2015 study published in the journal Nature found that a female metabolic rate can be up to 35% lower than the male rate used in those calculations - which amounts to, on average, a five degree temperature preference difference.

Last year, Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon brought the issue to headlines ahead of a primary debate with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, when her team called his frigid temperature demands sexist.

Historian Shirley Wajda says: "For all the corporate talk about teamwork, it's hard to feel part of a team when you are placed in an inhospitable physical environment."

She added that popular mesh office chairs exacerbate chilly conditions, while other seating fads like barstool-height chairs can be difficult for women in dresses or skirts to sit in comfortably.

Ms Wajda says when it comes to "gender-biased design and equipment, historians haven't paid as much attention", and trends towards standardisation for efficiency's sake lead to "a 'one size fits all' sort of world".

For Ms Criado Perez, since publishing her book, it's been gratifying to see an increased awareness of these issues - and, she adds, even the initial backlash about the Nasa spacesuits would never have happened a decade ago.

"But it makes me so angry to think of all these women, living their lives, thinking there's something wrong with them - that they're too small or don't fit or whatever it is."

"It's just that we haven't built anything for women."

ruby Posted on March 29, 2019 11:23

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Mosul ferry sinking: Iraq orders arrest of ex-governor

An Iraqi court has issued a warrant for the arrest on corruption charges of the former governor of Nineveh province after a deadly ferry sinking in Mosul.

Parliament voted on Sunday to sack Nawfal al-Akoub as a consequence of last week's accident in the River Tigris that killed almost 100 people.

On Wednesday, Nineveh's investigations court said he and several other officials were suspected of misusing their powers and wasting public money.

Mr Akoub has so far not commented.

The ferry accident sparked protests by Mosul residents, who blamed negligence by the local authorities and demanded those responsible be held to account.

The ferry was transporting families to a tourist area on Umm Rabaen island in the Tigris on Thursday when it started to take on water and then overturned.

Those on board were thrown into the river, which was swollen by heavy rainfall, and then dragged swiftly downstream by the strong current.

The head of Mosul's Civil Defence Authority said the ferry was loaded to five times its capacity and most of the dead were women and children who could not swim.

Mr Akoub visited the scene of the tragedy on Friday to commiserate with the victims' relatives.

But when people gathered there saw his car, they shouted "thief, thief, thief", a video of the incident showed.

Mr Akoub gestured to his chauffeur to drive off, which prompted people to start throwing rocks at the car. The vehicle hit several people while attempting to leave, injuring at least one of the victims' relatives.

Two days later, the governor and his two deputies were sacked by parliament at the request of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. In a letter to MPs, he accused Mr Akoub of negligence and dereliction of duty, and said there was evidence he was misusing funds and abusing his power.

At a weekly media briefing on Tuesday, Mr Abdul Mahdi blamed the ferry sinking on "greed and negligence" and said he would work to implement health and safety regulations, according to the Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

"What would it have cost the investors if he had given each individual on the ferry a lifejacket? We would have saved most of the victims," he was quoted as saying.

"We will strike powerfully with the fist of justice, and we won't allow for such things to be repeated," he added.

Mosul is slowly recovering from the war against the jihadist group, Islamic State, which seized the city in 2014 and was driven out three years later after a fierce battle that left large areas in ruins and killed thousands of civilians.

ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 18:04

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Saudi women's rights activists temporarily released

Saudi Arabia has temporarily released three female activists facing charges related to human rights work and contacting foreigners.

Two sources told Reuters that three women had been released, and more would be freed on Sunday.

Amnesty International and UK-based Saudi rights organisation, ALQST, named the women as Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef and Roqaya al-Mohareb.

Saudi state media said the releases were only provisional.

The three women are among 11 women on trial after being charged under the country's cyber-crimes law, which can carry a sentence of up to five years in jail.

Lynn Maalouf from Amnesty welcomed the releases but said it should not be on a temporary basis.

"They have been locked up, separated from their loved ones, subjected to torture and threats for simply peacefully calling for women's rights and expressing their views," she said.

"Amnesty International calls on the Saudi authorities to drop all the charges against them and the other women's human rights defenders, who all must be released immediately and unconditionally."

The detentions began last May, shortly before a ban on women driving was lifted.

At the time, the public prosecutor's office said they were suspected of harming national interests and "offering support to hostile elements abroad". Some of the activists were later released.

Four of the women have alleged they were tortured whilst in detention, while the brother of one jailed activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, recently told CNN his sister had described being regularly whipped, beaten, electrocuted and sexually abused in a basement she called the "palace of terror".

Ms al-Hathloul's admission that she once applied for a job at the UN is being used as part of the kingdom's case against her, CNN reported.

Also among the detained women is the Saudi-American human rights campaigner Samar Badawi, sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi.

Ms Badawi, who was given the US International Women of Courage Award in 2012, is known for challenging Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system.

Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam" online in 2014. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and has become a Canadian citizen.

Scrutiny of human rights in Saudi Arabia has intensified since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

On Thursday the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard said that the kingdom's secretive hearings for 11 suspects accused in Mr Khashoggi's murder fell short of international standards, Reuters reported.

ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 17:57

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Can you stop your parents sharing photos of you online?

Love it or hate it, parents have made their way on to social media, and seem to be there to stay.

It's a great way of staying in touch - and it's always amusing watching your parents attempt to take selfies or use emojis.

But if they share photos of you online without your permission - and have no understanding of privacy settings - have they crossed the line?

And - if you want to - how do you convince them to take the photos down?

"Sharenting" - the act of parents sharing news and pictures of their kids online - is in the news after Gwyneth Paltrow posted a picture of her and her 14-year-old daughter Apple Martin skiing.

More than 150,000 people liked the picture, but Apple wasn't so impressed, writing (from her private Instagram account): "Mom we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent."

Paltrow replied: "You can't even see your face!"

Many of Paltrow's fans have argued that, as the mother, she had every right to share pictures of her daughter - but others say children deserve a right to privacy too.

Ironically, children aren't technically allowed to register with most social media services until they are 13 anyway - which means some rule-abiding teenagers get a shock when they finally get online.

Konrad Iturbe, a 19-year-old software developer in Spain, says he had a "big awakening" when he realised his parents had been posting photos of him online.

"My mother had Instagram before I even had a phone - so I wasn't aware that photos of me had been published," he told the BBC.

"I really don't like photos of me online anyway - I don't even post photos of myself on my Instagram account - so when I followed my mother and saw them on her profile, I told her to 'take this down, I've not given you permission'."

Konrad says his mother understood his concerns and acted quickly to deal with the issue - as he says all parents should.

He says discovering the pictures it felt like a "breach of privacy". It particularly bothered him because there were photos of him as a young child, and his mother's Instagram account was open to the public.

"I didn't want photos of my youth shared, it's a very intimate thing," he says, adding that he is also worried about "facial recognition algorithms" and people being able to "start tracing me when I'm older".

Sonia Bokhari, a 14-year-old in the US, had a similar experience when she first joined Twitter and Facebook.

Writing in Fast Company magazine, she says: "When I saw the pictures that she [her mother] had been posting on Facebook for years, I felt utterly embarrassed, and deeply betrayed.

"There, for anyone to see on her public Facebook account, were all of the embarrassing moments from my childhood: the letter I wrote to the tooth fairy when I was five years old, pictures of me crying when I was a toddler, and even vacation pictures of me when I was 12 and 13 that I had no knowledge of."

Not everyone minds "sharenting", however. Charlotte Christy, a 23-year-old studying in London, says she personally thinks it's "quite normal".

She was 13 when her mum started uploading photos of her on Facebook. "She would tag me and it would be on my news feed so everyone could see it. I thought it was embarrassing, but I wasn't upset to the point of asking her to remove it."

"I feel like we live in a society where everyone wants their photos to be really flattering - but if my mum posts an unflattering photo of me it doesn't really bother me."

"I think I share photos of my mum just as much as she shares photos of me - I think it's a natural thing to share and I don't see why she should ask for my permission - she's my mum."

For Sarah (not her real name), a 29-year-old health professional in Hong Kong, the most worrying thing was the privacy implications.

"When I was 21, my mum tagged

Andra Siibak, a professor in media studies at the University of Tartu in Estonia, has conducted several studies into "sharenting".

In one study involving Estonian children aged nine to 13, she found that children liked "parents sharing positive things about them", but that "there were big discrepancies between what children and parents considered to be nice photos".

"Children were not in favour of parents sharing unflattering visuals of them - for example, if their hair was messed up or they were wearing a dress they didn't actually like."

"In many contexts the parents would not consider those things to be a big problem, but for the pre-teens this could affect their self-image" or potentially lead to cyber-bullying.

Another potential risk from "sharenting" is "digital kidnapping", Prof Siibak says, where strangers take publicly available photos of children, and use them for fraudulent or sexual purposes.

me on Facebook, and I saw that she'd posted a bunch of photos of me - from when I was a baby to me in my 20s," she told the BBC.

"Her settings were public, so I just found it very unsafe. I didn't want my baby photos leaked to everyone, and I knew that with Google, you can search for someone's name using their photos. And by her contributing more photos of me online, technology companies have more data on how I look."

Prof Siibak says many parents feel that, as the adult, they are responsible for their child's wellbeing, and don't need their child's permission as long as they believe the photos are not doing any harm.

However, she argues that parents should "absolutely" take their children's privacy concerns more seriously.

"Just having a simple discussion that involves children on what kind of photos they like, and if it's ok to upload them, helps build a better parent-child relationship."

Parents often set strict internet usage rules for their children to protect their privacy, but the "rules only seem applicable to children, and not adults in the family".

Both Konrad and Sarah say their parents initially dismissed their concerns - partly due to a lack of understanding about internet privacy.

"At first my mum laughed and said, 'nobody's going to see it - it's just for friends', even though her Instagram profile was open to everyone," says Konrad. Eventually, after he explained his privacy concerns to her, she understood, and now asks his permission before posting.

Meanwhile, Sarah says when she told her mum to change her privacy settings, her mum was "quite offended at first".

"She said she was proud of me and wanted to share things about me online... when I tried to explain [my privacy concerns] she didn't understand and said 'everything is being monitored online anyway'."

"I don't think many parents understand cyber security quite as well as we would, because their generation was born without the internet."

Eventually, Sarah says her mother did agree to change her privacy settings to "friends only", although "she's got more than 1,000 Facebook friends and most of them she doesn't actually know - so in a way that's still quite public!"

"After she tagged me, I also started getting friend requests from her friends as well. I immediately declined."

"Thank God she doesn't know how to use Instagram yet."

It's complicated - especially as there's no way of physically or legally stopping them from posting. Often it comes down to persuasion - or compromise.

Konrad suggests appealing to their empathy in ways they can understand.

"I'd say - how would you feel if my grandparents posted pictures of you doing embarrassing things on the front of a newspaper? Back in the day, pictures disappeared, but now everything is online and it stays forever."

Meanwhile, Sarah says: "I found it better to stick to the facts and not get emotional about it.

"When I used emotions - telling my mum I looked horrible in the baby photos, or that I felt the photos were indecent because I wasn't fully clothed - she'd say, 'but people will just find it cute'.

"Whereas if I explained the facts about internet security, and how we didn't know what people would do with those photos, my mum agreed to be more careful."

Her mum still posts photos without her permission, but Sarah sees her mum's improved privacy settings as a reasonable compromise - and she's also found her own workaround.

"Basically, I've changed my own privacy settings so my friends can't see the photos my mum has tagged me in."

She also acknowledges that, for many parents, sharing photos of their children is a way of "expressing their love".

"It's a way for them to show how much they miss their kids [if they don't live together] - that's one of the main reasons why I decided not to completely stop her."


ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 17:53

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One small step for man, but women still have to leap

Nasa has cancelled plans for its first all-female spacewalk this Friday, citing a lack of available spacesuits in the right size.

There are not enough suits configured on the International Space Station for both Christina Koch and Anne McClain to go out at the same time, so male astronaut Nick Hague will replace Lt Col McClain.

Last week, Lt Col McClain went on a spacewalk with Col Hague and learned that a medium-sized spacesuit fitted her best.

However, Nasa said in a statement: "Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday 29 March, Koch will wear it."

For many women working in science, a choice between using equipment designed for men or missing out altogether is all too familiar.

Jessica Mounts is a biologist. For more than a decade she worked in freshwater fisheries science for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. She is now the executive director of the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams.

She noted Nasa's missed milestone with disappointment, but she was not necessarily surprised.

"Representation matters everywhere," she told the BBC.

"The first female spacewalk was both historically significant and inspiring to young girls, like my 10-year-old niece, who dreams of eventually going to space.

"If we can't provide women the equipment they need to do their jobs as astronauts, scientists or first responders, how can we expect to make progress towards equal representation?

"How can women represent a full range of career choices to the next generation of young girls, when we're held back by something as simple as equipment and clothing that fits?"

Jessica's work means she is frequently in rivers or lakes, in all weathers, to monitor and evaluate fish populations. She has often been, she says, "the only woman on the boat".

"Most of the equipment I've used has been designed for men. The problems caused aren't simply an annoyance - they all go back to personal safety.

"Clothing that is too loose gets caught in moving equipment. Boots that are too big mean tripping and falling.

"The alternatives that are 'designed for women' are frequently more expensive, have smaller pockets, are still ill-fitting and most likely have just been copies of the male version with a little pink added to the trim."

Jessica shared her frustrations on Twitter and she was far from alone in her experiences.

There was the biostatistician with a PhD in quantitative genetics, who could not find safety goggles that fit properly when working in the lab with chemicals.

Jessica was also tweeted by a biologist who could not get the steel toe-capped boots she needed for field work outside, and a neuroscientist who said she "passed out from overheating" because the only surgical gowns available for teaching were in "six-foot tall man" sizes and had to be wrapped around her three times.

And it is not only the scientific world where women must frequently make do. Caroline Criado Perez is a feminist, journalist and author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.

"We don't collect data on women and therefore we don't design things for women," she told the BBC's Jeremy Vine show on Wednesday.

"We think of male bodies and typical male life patterns as the default for humans overall, and so women are disadvantaged as a result.

"Spacesuits are the tip of the iceberg. When you look at personal protective equipment - stab vests, safety goggles, safety boots, all those kinds of clothes and tools that people are supposed to use to protect themselves at work, a lot of the time they don't fit women."

Jessica says things are improving, but the pace of change is slow.

"As more women enter the field, things have improved marginally.

"Waders made in women's sizes are now available and there are some designs of personal flotation devices made to accommodate breasts. That said, we have a long way to go.

"Historically, science and similar fields have been dominated by men and the systemic culture of our society continues to support that narrative.

"When only men are allowed to work, the only equipment available is made for them. When women want to work, the equipment isn't there and is a tangible symbol of the greater issue of systemic sexism in a society designed, in general, by and for men."

ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 17:48

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'I had my misgivings about going abroad for surgery'

When Melissa Moore travelled from the US to Costa Rica for knee replacement surgery she decided to keep it a secret.

"I didn't tell my friends and family because I didn't want them to say 'are you crazy?'," says the 53-year-old.

"Of course I also had my own misgivings about travelling to Central America and having major surgery."

Melissa, from the town of Brandon in Mississippi, is one of a growing number of people around the world who are going abroad for cheaper or quicker medical treatment.

While many Americans do so because they don't have health insurance - official figures show that more than 28 million do not -

She says that her knee operation in Clinica Biblica, Costa Rica's largest private hospital, cost $12,200 (£9,200), compared with around $44,000 in the US.

Patients Beyond Borders, a publisher of guidebooks for "medical tourists" estimates that more than 20 million people will travel to another country for medical treatment this year, up 25% from 16 million last year.

Meanwhile, a 2016 report by payments giant Visa estimated that the medical tourism industry was worth $50bn a year, and continuing to grow.

Yet before people in the UK feel relieved about having the National Health Service, with its free at the point of delivery service, more and more Britons are also going abroad for treatment.

This is more often so they can avoid waiting lists, get cosmetic surgery that is not covered by the NHS, or for dental work due to a lack of NHS dentists.

Medigo, a German-based medical travel company says that queries from UK residents jumped 53% last year. Official figures from the UK's Office of National Statistics also show that a rising number of people are going abroad for treatment.

others like Melissa go overseas because their basic cover means that they have to pay a sizeable chunk of any treatment bill.

She says that her knee operation in Clinica Biblica, Costa Rica's largest private hospital, cost $12,200 (£9,200), compared with around $44,000 in the US.

Patients Beyond Borders, a publisher of guidebooks for "medical tourists" estimates that more than 20 million people will travel to another country for medical treatment this year, up 25% from 16 million last year.

Meanwhile, a 2016 report by payments giant Visa estimated that the medical tourism industry was worth $50bn a year, and continuing to grow.

Yet before people in the UK feel relieved about having the National Health Service, with its free at the point of delivery service, more and more Britons are also going abroad for treatment.

This is more often so they can avoid waiting lists, get cosmetic surgery that is not covered by the NHS, or for dental work due to a lack of NHS dentists.

Medigo, a German-based medical travel company says that queries from UK residents jumped 53% last year. Official figures from the UK's Office of National Statistics also show that a rising number of people are going abroad for treatment.

One British person who recently travelled abroad for surgery was Amanda Wells, from the Scottish town of Dalkeith, near Edinburgh.

The 46-year-old travelled to Poland last year - via Medigo - to have a painful bunion removed from her left foot, because she didn't want to wait the nine months that her GP estimated it would take her to get the operation on the NHS.

She says she was able to get the work done in Poland for £3,000, half the amount she was quoted by a private surgeon in the UK. Amanda Wells went to Poland for a foot operation

"I did my research regarding waiting times to meet with a [NHS] surgeon, and I discovered that my GP was being optimistic," she says.

"The facilities were excellent in Poland. The surgeon was fantastic and I saw him for three follow-ups before I went home."

Another Briton who went abroad for treatment last year was Lincoln Summers, of Woking, south west of London. He went to a dentist in Hungary.

"I looked like a mobster after one of my front teeth broke off," says the 54-year-old.

Lincoln says he got an implant fitted in Budapest for £800 compared with the £2,500 he was quoted by a private UK dentist.

"It was not what I expected at all [in Hungary], it was a state-of-the-art dentist," he adds.

While both Lincoln, Amanda - and Melissa in the US - say they were very happy with the medical care they received, some experts urge medical tourists to be cautious. Especially if people are travelling to the developing world.

"People go abroad thinking they are going to get affordable care... and they get back to the States and end up having massive medical bills because they require treatment of infections, and they require additional surgery," says Prof Leigh Turner, from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

"If they have insurance, their insurance doesn't cover it. It ends being a costly experience."

Despite this risk, the number of Americans going abroad for medical treatment goes up every year. About 422,000 did so in 2017, according to the US National Travel and Tourism Office. That is up from 295,383 in 2000.

"The number of uninsured Americans began to climb again in 2017," says Prof Turner.

"And... it seems plausible that reductions in insurance coverage are pushing more Americans to search elsewhere for affordable medical care.

Josef Woodman, chief executive of Patients Without Borders, says that much of the growth in global health tourism is coming from people in the developing world.

"You have got literally hundreds of millions of people entering the middle class in China, in India, and in Indonesia," he says.

"The healthcare systems in these countries don't offer them what they need in terms of speciality, complex care."

Back in Mississippi, Melissa Moore is continuing to recover from her knee operation in Costa Rica earlier this year. She praises all the staff that treated her.

"I had a meltdown one day [at the hospital] because of the pain, and the feeling of helplessness," she says. "But the nurses and techs were so sweet and helped to calm me."

ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 17:40

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Why Erdogan's big Turkish ambitions could come tumbling down

The crater is the size of a football pitch, dug 50 metres (165ft) deep into the earth. Mounds of rock line the surface. The only life here is the seagulls drinking from pools of stagnant water.

It was supposed to be the site of Istanbul's gleaming new development: a grandiose mix of apartments, malls and spas in the district of Fikirtepe.

The promotional video from 2010 showed a symbol of Turkey's newfound wealth.

The houses of at least 15,000 people were demolished to make way for it. Many paid deposits to buy into the project.

But as financial problems hit, investors pulled out – and most of the planned buildings never materialised.

All that's left is a gaping hole of bankrupt companies and broken promises.

It is symptomatic of a wider economic slump that poses the gravest threat to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his 16 years in power.

Polls before this weekend's local elections suggest his governing AK Party could lose control of the capital, Ankara – and perhaps even Istanbul.

Zeynep Duzgunoldu, aged 60, welled up with tears as she pointed to where her old home used to stand beside a fresh fig tree.

"People used to call it 'the house with the beautiful kitchen'", she said, her voice cracking. "Now my rucksack is my home. I'm ashamed to ask my children for money."

Firdevs Uluocak's house is on the edge of the failed construction site and was destabilised by the digging.

There's one target for her anger: Turkey's builder-in-chief, President Erdogan.

"I feel hatred towards him", she said. "I always voted for him - but he's ruined his people."

Over the past 16 years, Mr Erdogan has championed construction as the engine of Turkey's growth.

His so-called "mega projects" - from airports to bridges to tunnels - have transformed the country's infrastructure.

And high-rise housing developments have changed city skylines, often to the horror of architects.

Construction moguls close to the president have won state tenders through political support.

The industry is mired in claims of corruption and cronyism.

But with inflation now at 20% and the Turkish lira having plunged by around a third, the cost of importing raw materials and servicing foreign loans has soared - and construction companies are failing.

Pana Yapi, the conglomerate running the Fikirtepe project, told the BBC "the whole country is going through an economic crisis", arguing that it too is a victim.

Cranes suspended in mid-air and half-built skyscrapers that now dot Istanbul are a sign of that crisis.

Turkey entered recession last year, shrinking 3% in the final quarter. Many fear there is worse to come.

"Turkey is heavily dependent on foreign-denominated debt and when that's harder to service, that's when you see the problems we're in", said Can Selcuki, general manager at Istanbul Economics Research.

"We could be on the brink of a major crash. We need high sums of foreign cash", he said, "and the most likely address for that is the International Monetary Fund".

President Erdogan has argued vociferously against an IMF loan, which would come with stringent conditions.

"But the cost of not finding the capital," argued Mr Selcuki, "might be increased bankruptcies and a downward spiral."

The economic downturn has prompted the president to turn the argument towards other issues.

He has shown the video of the New Zealand mosque attack in rallies to galvanise his conservative, pious voters, whom he needs to turn out.

As a quick fix for the cost of food – which has soared by a third – the government has bought up vegetables from farmers. It sells them directly to consumers in public stalls, bypassing the middle-men who have inflated prices and whom the president labels "food terrorists".

At one of these stalls in the Istanbul district of Aksaray, lines were long as people waited to buy tomatoes, aubergines and spinach at half the price of supermarkets.

"The queues aren't a sign of poverty but of opportunity," said shopper Omer Cakirca, lauding the project. "Everywhere is like this. If there is something on sale, everyone will go there."

But Esref Korkmaz disagrees: "I bought cucumbers and tomatoes today - but this is just an investment for the elections," he said. "They won't remain after April. I voted for the AKP before but not again because the economic situation is bad. I'll hold my nose and back the opposition this time."

The economy propelled Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power.

It could now be his undoing.

ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 17:35

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Sackler billions targeted in New York fraud lawsuit

The wealthy Sackler family is facing new charges it fraudulently transferred money from Purdue Pharma, the firm it owns that makes opioid painkillers.

In a lawsuit, New York's Attorney General said she will recover "billions of dollars" that were "fraudulently conveyed" from the firm to the dynasty.

Purdue is facing thousands of lawsuits over how it marketed OxyContin, but only a handful have named the Sacklers

Purdue and the Sacklers vigorously deny the allegations, a spokesman said.

A spokesperson for the Sackler family said: "Expanding this baseless lawsuit to include former directors of Purdue Pharma is a misguided attempt to place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis.

The family "strongly" denies the allegations and will "vigorously defend against them".

The lawsuit claims that money was transferred from Purdue Pharma to private or offshore accounts that are held by members of the Sacklers in order to protect the funds from litigation.

The Sackler family is worth $13bn according to Forbes magazine and have made millions of dollars worth of donations to the arts, education and science, mainly in the US and the UK.

Dame Theresa Sackler, who is named in the lawsuit, is a trustee of the V&A in London which has a courtyard named after the family.

However, the Sackler Trust has now suspended new charitable donations in the UK. It follows a decision by National Portrait Gallery to give up a grant from the Trust.

Other organisations have also shunned Sackler money, including the Tate.

The New York Attorney General Letitia James filed the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma last August, claiming that it oversold the benefits of OxyContin and failed to adequately address the potential risks of taking the drug, which include "serious abuse and death".

That lawsuit has now been amended to include the Sacklers, many of whom were directors of Purdue.

It has also been extended to trusts controlled by the Sackler family and other makers and distributors of opioid drugs.

These include Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Ms James claims that Purdue, the Sacklers and the other companies named in the lawsuit "are largely responsible for "creating the opioid epidemic that has ravaged New York".

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently said that the US opioid epidemic is now entering its third phase.

The first was started with opioid painkillers, the second was heroin which people moved to when they were unable to get more prescription medicine and the third is Fentanyl, a powerful opioid that has now entered the illegal drugs market.

According to CDC, more than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017, 68% of which involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

Purdue says that OxyContin represents less than 2% of total opioid prescriptions.

Earlier this week, Purdue Pharma reached a settlement with Oklahoma for $270m after the state claimed it and other companies - Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical - had used deceptive practices to sell opioids.

The deal was announced the day after Purdue Pharma failed to delay a trial over the claims made by Oklahoma state.

Johnson & Johnson and Teva were not involved in the settlement.

New York's Attorney General lawsuit names eight Sackler family members, all of whom are linked to Mortimer and Raymond Sackler who set up Purdue in the 1950s with their older brother Arthur.

After Arthur Sackler died, Mortimer and Raymond bought out his stake in the firm.

ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 17:24

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Wow Air failure: 'They gave us pizza - then cancelled our flight'

Dubliner Barrai Omuireagain is one of an estimated 10,000 people stranded by Thursday's collapse of Iceland's Wow Air.

He was due to board his flight from Detroit to Dublin at 7pm local time last night.

"Then it was delayed, then it was delayed every hour, and finally at 11pm on Wednesday I asked what happens if the company goes bust?

"She said it wouldn't happen and gave us a pizza, saying we're expecting a flight plan in the next 15 minutes.

"Next thing the PA said the flight was cancelled."

The family eventually spent the night in a hotel, and woke to find the airline had indeed stopped flying.

Wow Air, which also operated flights from UK airports Gatwick, Stansted and Edinburgh, had been in talks this week with bondholders about raising new money.

The past six months have seen talks about a potential sale of the carrier, first to Icelandair, then to US-based private equity firm Indigo Partners - which has stakes in several other airlines including Hungary's Wizz Air.

But on Thursday Wow's website said it had ceased operations and cancelled all flights. It added that passengers needing to travel should book with other airlines.

With Wow not flying, passengers are scrambling to find alternatives.

The travel editor of the Independent, Simon Calder, said that in these situations other airlines do tend to step in as they would not seek to make money out of "a bad situation". He said passengers should not spend "a fortune on alternative flights unless you are in a real hurry".

Norwegian said that repatriation fares would be available at a 25% discount, subject to availability, as long as passengers could show a valid Wow Air booking. These would be available until 8 April.

Three other airlines are offering rescue fares for Wow passengers - Icelandair, EasyJet and Wizz Air. More information is available on the webpage of the Icelandic Transport Authority, along with further information on passenger rights.

The Icelandic authorities said they would continue to monitor the availability of rescue fares for Wow passengers scheduled to travel over the next few days.

These airlines are not ideal for Barrai Omuireagain, who needs to get to Dublin. He is hoping Aer Lingus will be able to help fly him to Dublin, but currently he says flights for himself and his wife Katie, and children Chase, 16 and Maeve, 6 would cost £5,000 - more than double the normal fare.

He is also less eligible for help as he currently lives in Indiana, and therefore is not stranded. His holiday would have started in Ireland.

Another affected passenger was Aoife O'Dwyer, who was due to go on honeymoon to Iceland on Saturday with her wife, Jen.

In a tweet she said she was "devastated" that her "dream honeymoon trip" was postponed.

Wow's website, and that of the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), suggests a range of possible methods of redress.

It says passengers covered by various protected booking methods, including booking by credit card or through a European travel agent, should try to get their money back from them.

Otherwise it says they could be entitled to some compensation from Wow, "including in accordance with European regulation on Air Passenger Rights", or, in case of a bankruptcy, claims should be filed to the administrator or liquidator.

Wow was founded in 2011 by its chief executive, Skuli Mogensen. It started flights in 2012 and grew to employ 1,000 people, carrying 3.5 million passengers last year in its 11 aircraft.

It operated both short and long haul routes, flying to Copenhagen and Alicante in Europe and Washington and Boston in the US.

Aviation expert, Chris Tarry, from consultants Ctaira, said Wow was simply not able to make enough profit in a highly competitive market: "Wow faced stiff competition on the northern Europe to North America route, which is being served by rival low-cost operator, Norwegian. Wow offered low fares - but so did the rest of the pack. Even the traditional carriers were offering keen fares.

"Travelling with Wow also involved going via Iceland - attractive if you have the time and money to spare on that, but with others pricing fares keenly, something people were thinking wasn't worth their time."

The Associated Press reported that Mr Mogensen wrote a letter to employees on Thursday which said: "I will never forgive myself for not acting sooner.

"Wow was clearly an incredible airline and we were on the path to do amazing things again."

Rory Boland, the travel editor of Which?, said Wow had been selling flights right up until 07:00 on Thursday morning. "Passengers will quite rightly be appalled that Wow Air was still selling tickets right up to the moment it collapsed.

"You will need to check if you booked your flights as part of a package.

"If not, you may still be able to claim through your travel insurance or card issuer but it will depend on your circumstances."

The CAA said Wow air flights were unlikely to have been booked as part of a package.

Independent financial information business Defaqto warned that less than half (48%) of travel insurance policies offered cover for airline failure as standard, meaning that travellers could be left unprotected if the airline they have booked with gets into financial difficulty and they cannot travel.

A number of airlines have run into financial trouble recently, with factors such as higher fuel bills and excess capacity in the sector contributing to their problems.

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ruby Posted on March 28, 2019 17:13

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Cycling heaven: The African capital with 'no traffic'

Asmara only has about 500,000 inhabitants, which combined with low salaries, high import taxes and fuel shortages means the city has few vehicles. Those you do see often tend to be from a different age.

Roads are not only relatively empty of cars. Locals lament the departure of great numbers of young Eritreans who have left over the last 20 years because of hardships brought by regional conflicts and enforced national service under a government that brooks little dissent.

As a result of its circumstances, Asmara offers a very different landscape compared to many African cities congested with traffic. This, combined with the wonderful climate, makes it a dream for cyclists to get around. "Cycling is part of our culture," says a 25-year-old man.

Asmara's architecture is also admired and it was recently made a Unesco World Heritage Site for its striking art deco buildings, a legacy of the country's time as an Italian colony from 1897 until 1943.

Bike repair shops abound all over Asmara. Eritrea has a long history of self-reliance that began during its 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia, after which its international isolation has made importing bicycles and spare parts extremely expensive.

Eritreans ride bicycles of all kinds and colours: mountain-bikes, city bikes, racing bikes. Young and old, women and men, athletes and housewives - all seem to embrace the "bicicletta", the word for bicycle in the local language, Tigrinya, that is borrowed from Italian.

Those who rely on public transport have to endure long waits before jumping on an extremely crowded bus. "Buses are so old and so few," says Salam, a 30-year-old graduate. "Having a bicycle is life-saving here."

Environmental sustainability has long been promoted by the government. This has included limiting plastic production and usage, reforestation campaigns, safeguarding the country's green areas and distributing bikes imported from Dubai and China.

For many Eritreans money is tight, and even if vehicles are available, bicycles remain the most affordable mode of transport.

The recent peace deal with Ethiopia in July 2018 resulted in the border opening for the first time in 20 years. Now cheap Ethiopian merchandise is sold all over the country, lowering the cost of living.

A combination of conflict, diplomatic isolation and UN sanctions, lifted after nine years last November, means there are still shortages of many products. Lack of fuel has resulted in cars and buses often having to be parked up for a long time, leaving people few choices other than walking or pedalling to get around.

Cycling is the most popular sport among Eritreans. Introduced by the Italians, competitive cycling is a source of pride among the population. The Eritrean national team, which includes Mosana Debesay pictured below in Austria last September, is extremely successful in international races.

The recent rapprochement with Ethiopia has left many Eritreans hoping that the economy can develop faster, making everyday life in Asmara easier.

ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 15:48

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Jussie Smollett: Mayor says case makes Chicago look foolish

Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel says the sudden move to drop charges against actor Jussie Smollett over a hoax attack has made a fool of the city.

The state's attorney's office maintains Mr Smollett has not been exonerated, while Mr Smollett's lawyers say his record has been wiped clean.

"They better get their stories straight because this is actually making a fool of all of us," the mayor told ABC News.

Police maintain Mr Smollett staged a racist and homophobic attack.

Mr Smollett has insisted throughout that he is innocent of all these allegations.

Speaking on Good Morning America on Wednesday, Mr Emanuel pilloried the Empire actor, saying he "abused the city of Chicago".

"You have the state's attorney's office saying he's not exonerated, he actually did commit this hoax. He's saying he's innocent and his words aren't true."

Mr Emanuel says he wants the court records unsealed so that all the evidence gathered by Chicago Police could be seen.

He said he also wants prosecutors to explain why they made such a sudden reversal.

Illinois prosecutor Joe Magats made the decision to drop charges against the TV actor on Tuesday in a move that blindsided police - but he maintains that Mr Smollett is guilty.

"Our priority is violent crimes and the drivers of violence," Mr Magats told CBS News. "Jussie Smollett is neither one of those."

He added that community service and a fine is a common outcome for such a case. When asked if those penalties were sufficient for Mr Smollett, he said: "I feel that it is."

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney, told NBC News that prosecutors "did not exonerate Mr Smollett", but offered an agreement available "to any defendant with similar circumstances".

"The charges were dropped in return for Mr Smollett's agreement to do community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond to the City of Chicago.

"Without the completion of these terms, the charges would not have been dropped."

Police, however, have disagreed, with Supt Eddie Johnson saying if Mr Smollett "wanted to clear his name, the way to do that was in a court of law so that everyone could see the evidence".

ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 15:29

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Entebbe pilot Michel Bacos who stayed with hostages dies

Michel Bacos, the Air France captain hailed as a hero for refusing to abandon his passengers when Palestinian and German hijackers seized the plane in 1976, has died in France aged 95.

The plane, carrying some 260 people from Tel Aviv to Paris, had stopped off in Athens, where the hijackers got on board and demanded it change course.

The hostage drama ended six days later at Entebbe airport in Uganda, when Israeli commandos stormed the terminal.

Bacos died in the French city of Nice.

Awarded France's highest civilian accolade, the Légion d'Honneur, he told the BBC in 2016 that as captain "it would be impossible for me to leave my passengers, unimaginable".

The youngest of the Entebbe survivors, Benny Davidson, said Bacos was a role model and had taken a leading position on behalf of all of the hostages.

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi said: "Michel was a hero. By bravely refusing to give in to anti-Semitism and barbarity he brought honour to France."

After leaving Athens on 27 June 1976, the plane was seized by two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two Germans from guerrilla group Revolutionary Cells. They forced Bacos and his crew to fly to Benghazi in Libya.

After refuelling it flew on to Entebbe where the hijackers were joined by at least three more Palestinian militants and Ugandan troops. Uganda's leader, Idi Amin, was on the tarmac to welcome the hijackers. The hijackers demanded the release of 54 militants and a $5m ransom.

The passengers were eventually split up. The non-Israelis were flown to Paris while the 94 Israeli passengers were held hostage.

Alongside the hostages were the Air France crew of 12.

"I told my crew that we must stay until the end, because that was our tradition, so we cannot accept being freed. All my crew agreed without exception," Bacos told the BBC.

Benny Davidson described that moment as "the ultimate decision". "It was very brave to stay with us and tell all his crew 'I made this decision on my behalf and you can choose whatever you want'. All of his crew stayed with him to the last minute," he told the BBC.

"Whenever someone needed something, he took a leading position on behalf of the hostages and spoke to the terrorists or the Ugandan authorities."

Israeli commandos eventually stormed the terminal on 3 July. Two hostages were killed during the rescue, and Michel Bacos revealed that the hostage-takers opened fire on the group killing a third as the Israeli operation unfolded.

"I thought France would try to save us. There were French forces stationed in Africa, closer than Israel, but either way I knew someone would come rescue us," he said in a separate interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

Mr Davidson said the pilot's fearless attitude served as an inspiration to all the children caught up in the drama. "He set an example as a role model and how to behave even though all hell is breaking loose around you."

ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 13:36

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Ranking Roger: The Beat singer dies aged 56

Musicians have paid tribute to singer Roger Charlery, known as Ranking Roger, who has died at the age of 56.

The Birmingham-born star, best known as a vocalist with The Beat, died at home on Tuesday, surrounded by family, a statement on the band's website said.

Charlery had suffered a stroke last summer and was reported to have been diagnosed with two brain tumours and lung cancer in recent months.

Tweeting condolences, songwriter Billy Bragg wrote: "Rest easy, Rude Boy."

Singer Sting, who did many live performances and recordings with Charlery, posted a statement of tribute on Instagram.

End of Instagram post by theofficialsting

Charlery's manager Tarquin Gotch said: "We have lost a wonderfully talented artist and great friend.

"It has been an enormous honour and privilege for us all to have been a part of his life."

Neville Staple, formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three, sang with Charlery in the band Special Beat. He shared a tribute to his friend on Instagram.

Pauline Black, who fronted two-tone band The Selecter, posted a short excerpt from Hamlet, which read: "Goodnight sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Mike Mills, one of the founding members of REM, went on several tours with The Beat. He tweeted that Charlery had "brought a lot of joy into the world".

Meanwhile, Matt Hoy, a touring vocalist with UB40, wrote on Instagram: "Rest in Peace Ranking Roger, such sad news!! Lovely guy... Way [too] young!! Condolences to his family."

British reggae band The Skints posted a picture of vocalist Josh Waters Rudge with Charlery. They described him as "an original inspiration, a rebel to the very end and an absolute gentleman always".

As part of The Beat, Charlery spearheaded the two-tone movement with a distinctive vocal style influenced by the Jamaican rap technique of toasting.

The group enjoyed several top 10 hits, most famously Mirror in the Bathroom - the first digitally recorded single released in the UK.

Their 1980 cover of Andy Williams' Can't Get Used To Losing You was used as the main sample on Beyonce's 2016 hit Hold Up.

After the band broke up in 1983, Charlery went on to form supergroup General Public with members of Dexys Midnight Runners and The Specials.

The statement on The Beat's website said of the singer's ill-health: "He fought & fought & fought, Roger was a fighter."

It added: "Roger's family would like to thank everyone for their constant support during this tough time."

The website had recently announced that Charlery had completed his biography, which was expected to be published by early summer.

Charlery had released an album, Public Confidential, with the band as recently as January.

ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 11:42

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Cardi B explains why she 'drugged and robbed' men

Cardi B has defended herself after a video resurfaced of her saying she drugged and robbed men who wanted to have sex with her while she worked as a stripper before finding fame.

The rapper faced criticism after the three-year-old Instagram live video recirculated on social media.

"Whether or not they were poor choices at the time, I did what I had to do to survive," she wrote on Tuesday.

"I never claimed to be perfect or come from a perfect world."

The original video was made as her career was starting to take off and was her response to someone who said she didn't deserve success because she hadn't put in any work.

"Nothing was handed to me. Nothing," she said in the video, before going on to reveal that she would invite men to a hotel before drugging and robbing them.

In response to the furore, she wrote on Instagram that she had been talking "about things in my past right or wrong that I felt I needed to do to make a living".

She added: "I'm a part of a hip-hop culture where you can talk about where you come from, talk about the wrong things you had to do to get where you are."

The Grammy-winner also pointed out that there are rappers who "glorify murder, violence, drugs and robbing".

She wrote: "I never glorified the things I brought up in that live [video], I never even put those things in my music because I'm not proud of it and feel a responsibility not to glorify it.

"I made the choices that I did at the time because I had very limited options."

Cardi B ended the statement by explaining the men she referred to in the old video were men she dated or was involved with, and were "conscious, willing and aware".

Earlier in the week, the hashtag #SurvivingCardiB was trending - a reference to Surviving R Kelly, the documentary that highlighted the years of sexual allegations against the star.

Some users compared the rapper to disgraced comedian Bill Cosby, who was sentenced to jail in 2018 after being accused of drugging and assaulting women.Other users defended Cardi's transparency.

Earlier this year, the rapper made history when she became the first solo woman to win the Grammy Award for best rap album for her debut Invasion of Privacy.

ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 11:38

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New York county declares measles outbreak emergency

A county in New York state has declared a state of emergency following a severe outbreak of measles.

Rockland County, on the Hudson river north of New York City, has barred unvaccinated children from public spaces after 153 cases were confirmed.

Violating the order will be punishable by a fine of $500 (£378) and up to six months in prison.

The announcement follows other outbreaks of the disease in Washington, California, Texas and Illinois.

Vaccination rates have dropped steadily in the US with many parents objecting for philosophical or religious reasons, or because they believe misleading information that vaccines cause autism in children.

"We will not sit idly by while children in our community are at risk," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said.

"This is a public health crisis and it is time to sound the alarm."

The outbreak in Rockland County is largely concentrated in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the New York Times reported. It is believed it could have spread from other predominantly ultra-Orthodox areas around New York which have already seen outbreaks of measles.

Mr Day said health inspectors had encountered "resistance" from some local residents, which he branded "unacceptable and irresponsible".

"They've been told 'We're not discussing this, do not come back' when visiting the homes of infected individuals as part of their investigations," he said.

Dylan Skriloff, the editor of local newspaper the Rockland County Times, told the BBC the number of measles cases in the county had been increasing steadily in recent weeks.

"The first reports came six months ago, and each week we've had a new report with increased numbers," he said.

"It's become clear that it's not abating, and the authorities... don't want to accept [this reality] as the new normal."

Skriloff said that the authorities had been making "steady progress" in encouraging religious communities to immunise children but communication had broken down in the last month.

"The rate of immunisation in the religious communities, for young people, it's about 50%-60%, which is not nearly enough."

Officials said the order, which bans anyone under the age of 18 who has not been vaccinated from places such as schools, shopping centres, restaurants and places of worship, would come into effect at midnight on Wednesday and last 30 days.

Rockland County has a population of more than 300,000.

Both Europe and the US are dealing with outbreaks of measles, but why now?

Nothing has changed about the virus; the answer instead lies in human behaviour.

Myths about the vaccine causing autism have been debunked but are still affecting the number of children being immunised. And complacency from a generation of parents unfamiliar with the dangers of measles has also had an effect.

So with every year that goes by, the total number of unvaccinated people grows, often in pockets in some communities. It is like an ever-growing tinderbox just waiting for a spark.

Measles still runs rampant in many parts of the world - it kills around 90,000 people a year. All it takes is a bit of travel for measles to reach those vulnerable pockets and spread like wildfire.

Measles is a highly infectious disease and can cause serious health complications, including damage to the lungs and brain.

But despite the dangers, vaccination rates are declining in many countries.There have also been outbreaks of measles in Europe

In the UK, the government is seeking new legislation to force social media companies to remove content promoting false information about vaccines.

There were more than 82,500 cases in Europe in 2018 - the highest number in a decade and three times the total reported in 2017.

The World Health Organization has declared the anti-vaccine movement to be one of the top global health threats for 2019.

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ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 11:35

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Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal steps down amid crisis

The founder of cash-strapped Indian airline Jet Airways has stepped down as chairman of the company.

Naresh Goyal's resignation is likely to pave the way for potential investors to save India's oldest private carrier.

They were held back by Mr Goyal's reluctance to give up control of the company, reports say.

Jet's debt exceeds $1bn (£750m) and the airline has grounded some flights as it is struggling to pay employees, suppliers and leasing companies.

Within minutes of Monday's announcement, the company's stock jumped 12%.

In a stock market filing which also announced the resignation, the company said that banks would lend around $210m to keep it afloat until it starts to sell shares to new investors.

It also said that the banks would convert the debt they are owed to equity, reducing Mr Goyal's controlling stake in the company.

Mr Goyal and his family currently own 52% of the airline. It's unclear how much they will eventually retain but they will lose their majority stake to the banks.

In recent weeks, it had grounded more than two-thirds of the 119 aircraft in its fleet. Thousands of flights were cancelled, affecting passengers flying on both international and domestic routes.

A pilots' organisation had also warned that its members would stop flying for the carrier if their salaries were not paid by the end of March.


ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 11:28

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Nirav Modi: Billionaire's art auction raises $8m for tax collectors

An art collection owned by Indian billionaire and fraud suspect Nirav Modi has fetched $8m (£6m) at auction.

Punjab National Bank (PNB), India's second-largest state-run bank, says Mr Modi is one of the main suspects in a $2bn fraudulent scheme.

Since Mr Modi fled India in early 2018, authorities have seized assets, including lavish properties and some 170 pieces of art.

Mr Modi has denied wrongdoing. Police in London said he was arrested last Tuesday on the request of Indian authorities, who have asked for his extradition.

He has been remanded in custody until 29 March.

Mr Modi's case was thrust back into the limelight after The Telegraph newspaper found him living in a $10.5m London flat earlier this month.

Within days, officials confirmed that UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid had certified India's extradition request, initially made last August.

Who is Nirav Modi?

Mr Modi is one of India's richest men, worth an estimated $1.75bn, according to Forbes.

He was born into a diamond trading dynasty, but only launched his own eponymous brand back in 2010.

The brand grew quickly, and he soon had shops across India, as well as in New York, London and Hong Kong.

His diamond-encrusted designs were worn by stars including Kate Winslet, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Naomi Watts, while the Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra-Jonas appeared in advertisements for the brand.

The shops were raided and his assets frozen after the allegations emerged last year.

Fifty-five pieces of art were sold in Mumbai to raise money that Mr Modi, 48, allegedly owes Indian tax authorities.

The diamond trader is wanted for his alleged role in India's largest bank fraud, totalling some $2bn (£1.5bn).

Mr Modi, whose jewellery has been worn by celebrities such as of actress Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, was arrested in the UK last week.

He is being detained in the UK and could face extradition.

Indian authorities had hoped to recover $7.3m through the art sale but many of the pieces sold above their estimate.

Auctioneers said the sale was the first of its kind, as Indian tax authorities usually auction property, gold and luxury items rather than art.

An oil-canvas painting by Vasudeo S Gaitonde, one of India's most prominent abstract painters, sold for $3.7m.


ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 11:24

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UK man arrested fleeing Australia on jet ski, police say

A British man wanted on drugs charges has been arrested off a remote island in Australia while trying to flee the country on a jet ski, authorities say.

The 57-year-old was taken into custody on Saibai Island, just 4km (2.5 miles) south of Papua New Guinea, after travelling 150km from north Australia.

The man was found on mudflats and there were reports he had been carrying a crossbow and other supplies.

He is expected to be taken to Western Australia.

"This arrest sends a strong message to would-be fugitives - our reach across Australia is second to none," an Australian Federal Police spokesperson said.

Police said the man, who has not been officially named, had launched his jet ski on Monday from Punsand Bay in Queensland.

Mr O'Keeffe said the man was carrying a crossbow at the start of his long ocean journey, but said he did not have the weapon with him when he was arrested.

Torres Strait islanders reportedly helped police to track the man, calling in with updates as he passed or landed on their islands.

"It's a bit unusual to try and get from Pundsand Bay all the way to PNG. He stuck out like the proverbial," Mr O'Keeffe told the Guardian.

After his arrest, the man was transported by boat to Thursday Island.

He is expected to be extradited from Queensland to Western Australia.

Australian Border Force commander Jo Crooks said the saga should serve as a warning to anyone thinking they could flee from Australia through the Torres Strait.

"Anyone who thinks they can either enter or leave Australia through the region without detection should think again," she said.

An Australian Federal Police spokesperson said the arrest sent a strong message to would-be fugitives.

"Our reach across Australia is second to none and we will use all our contacts and relationships to find you and bring you before a court."

ruby Posted on March 27, 2019 09:19

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Pope's ring-kissing controversy not what it seems

How should you greet a pope? For centuries, it was Catholic tradition to kiss the papal foot. Nowadays, many faithful choose to bow and kiss the papal ring.

Conservative Catholics, who routinely accuse the current Pope of straying from church doctrine and tradition, now suspect that he has an end to ring-kissing in his sights.

They point to video taken on Monday in the Italian town of Loreto, which shows the Pope withdrawing his hand from Catholics trying to kiss his ring.

But the fuller picture is quite different.

The Pope's actions in the video are a short section of a much longer sequence.

Official Vatican TV footage shows that Francis stood in a receiving line for around 13 minutes and received (by my count) at least 113 monks, nuns, and parishioners - either individually or in pairs.

No one appeared to offer any instruction on how to greet him. During the first 10 minutes, 14 people shook Francis's hand without bowing down to kiss his ring.

In this time, 41 people bowed down towards Francis' hands, either making the symbolic gesture of kissing his ring, or actually kissing the ring itself.

The Pope did not protest.

Nine went even further. They bowed and kissed his ring, and then embraced him as well (one particularly devout monk outmatched everyone else by kissing both of the Pope's hands.)

After the first 10 minutes, the Pope's behaviour changed. The greeting line appeared to speed up.

During a 53-second period, Francis snapped his hand away from 19 people trying to bow and kiss his ring. One particularly unfortunate man ended up kissing his own hand after the pope suddenly withdrew from the greeting.

And this is the section which has been widely shared online.

It may be that the Pope was in a hurry to get to the end of the receiving line – and it's notable that, afterwards, he went onto spend more time greeting people, many in wheelchairs, at the front of the church.

Francis may not enjoy his ring being kissed, but it's inaccurate to say that he rejected all those that day who attempted the gesture.

The papal ring, worn on the third finger of the right hand, may be the most powerful symbol of a pontiff's authority.

As soon as a pope dies, the ring is immediately destroyed in order to indicate the end of his reign.

Kissing a papal ring is often freighted with centuries worth of political and religious significance.

ruby Posted on March 26, 2019 17:33

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Airbus secures multi-billion dollar jet order from China

Airbus has secured an order from China for 300 jets, in a deal estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

An agreement to purchase A320 and A350 XWB aircraft was signed during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Paris.

The order is part of a package of deals signed during Mr Xi's visit to Europe.

It comes as rival Boeing has grounded all of its 737 Max jets after two fatal crashes.

Airbus said in a statement it signed an agreement with China Aviation Supplies Holding Company covering the purchase by Chinese airlines of Airbus aircraft including 290 A320 planes, and ten A350 XWB jets.

The deal is worth an estimated 30bn euros ($34bn; £26bn), according to reports.

"We are honoured to support the growth of China's civil aviation with our leading aircraft families - single-aisle and wide-bodies," Airbus Commercial Aircraft President Guillaume Faury said in a statement.

Mr Faury is due to become Airbus's new chief executive in April.

"Our expanding footprint in China demonstrate our lasting confidence in the Chinese market and our long-term commitment to China and our partners."

The deal will likely be a blow for Boeing, under pressure after two fatal crashes involving its 737 Max 8 jets in five months.

Many countries banned the aircraft from their airspace after an Ethiopian Airlines crash earlier this month. Boeing later grounded its 737 Max fleet as investigations into the cause of the disaster continue.

Mr Xi kicked off his European tour last week in Italy, where it became the first developed economy to sign up to China's global Belt and Road Initiative.

ruby Posted on March 26, 2019 17:28

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Algeria army urges removal of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Algeria's army chief of staff has demanded President Abdelaziz Bouteflika be declared unfit to rule after weeks of protests against him.

Speaking on television, Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah said: "We must find a way out of this crisis immediately, within the constitutional framework."

The president has already agreed not to stand for a fifth term in upcoming elections, which have been delayed.

Demonstrators accuse the 82-year-old of a ploy to prolong his 20-year rule.

Talks have been set up to oversee the country's political transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections. But they do not yet have a date to start.

Protests against Mr Bouteflika began last month after the president, who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, said he planned to stand for another term.

But people have continued to march even after he agreed not to stand, instead demanding immediate change.

Lt Gen Gaed Salah - who is also deputy defence minister and seen as loyal to Mr Bouteflika - has previously said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, hinting at the armed forces' support for the demonstrators.

Lt Gen Gaed Salah said the constitution was "the only guarantee to preserve a stable political situation", and called for the use of Article 102, which allows the Constitutional Council to declare the position of president vacant if the leader is unfit to rule.

"This solution achieves consensus and must be accepted by all," he said to the applause of officers watching the speech.

Under the constitution, the head of the Senate, Abdelkhader Bansallah, would become the acting head of state until an election could be held.

Reports suggest the Constitutional Council is now holding a special meeting after the speech.

The dramatic intervention by the armed forces chief of staff is the latest development after weeks of sustained protest in Algeria.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced his resignation and was replaced by Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

The announcement by Algeria's army chief is symbolically significant. However, given the reality of President Bouteflika's health status, the constitutional impasse over an extension to his current mandate until elections are held, and the rallying calls by protestors who remain on Algeria's streets, the move is hardly unexpected.

Still, there will be questions over the army's chief's motivations. In recent years, it is the president's circle of political and army loyalists who appear to have spoken on his behalf as his absence peaked due to illness.

Lt Gen Ahmad Gaed Salah is viewed as fiercely loyal to Mr Bouteflika and a central "pillar" to the ruling powers of Algeria - so much so that on the weekend, a privately-owned local newspaper reported that he "must go" along with the president.

The country's Constitutional Council will need to back this latest call, and then ultimately it will be left to the parliament to officially decide the president's political fate.

A veteran of Algeria's war of independence, Mr Bouteflika's upper-class, Westernised style led him to be called "the dandy diplomat" in some quarters.

He came into office, backed by the army, after the 1990s civil war and was largely viewed as a unifier of the many factions underpinning Algerian politics.

Unlike some leaders in the region, his presidency survived the protests of the Arab Spring in 2011 - until now.

He does not travel around the country or abroad, except for medical treatment.

His aides represent him at events and read his messages to the public, and the announcement that he was not standing for a fifth presidential term was read on his behalf by a newsreader on national TV.

ruby Posted on March 26, 2019 17:22

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'My life savings have been wiped out'

"Basically it will mean that my son will not have money for his future".

The depressing reality for Amanda Cunningham, and thousands of others, is that a lifetime of savings have been mostly wiped out, almost overnight.

She is one of 11,605 people who invested a total of £236m with London Capital and Finance PLC (LCF).

It collapsed into administration in January following an investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) into misleading advertising.

"He [her son] suffers with autism, I don't even know if he'll be able to hold down a job. That money was there to give him the life he should have," Amanda says.

"I can't afford to keep him forever and if anything happens to me that money was there for his future".

She had spent decades saving up thousands of pounds.

"That money to me is lost, I can never see me being able to save that amount of money in my lifetime again.

"I won't be able to afford the extra help for my son.

"If anything happens to me and he has to go into assisted living then there's no money for that now."

The FCA, the UK's financial regulator, first raised questions about LCF's advertising, much of it done online and via social media, in December 2018.

LCF was offering rates of around 8% on three year mini-bonds, which are high-risk investments.

But investors say they believed they were putting their money into safe, secure fixed-rate ISAs, so the FCA ordered LCF to withdraw its marketing.

Following further investigation the FCA then froze LCF's assets later that month, then in late January the company collapsed into administration.

Many people who put money in to LCF were first-time investors - inheritance recipients, small business owners or newly retired.

The company's administrators, Smith and Williamson, has now published its proposals about what it thinks is the best way for investors to get as much of their money back as possible.

Finbarr O'Connell, one of the administrators, told BBC Radio 4's Money Box that he hopes to recover about 20% of the £236m that people had invested with the firm. However, he added that it would probably take at least two years before people saw any of that money.

"They [investors] thought this was a safe option, they were comfortable their capital was safe and they thought they would get a good rate of interest so they're completely devastated," he says.

"We have some real, but complex assets, to realise. They could take up to two years to turn into cash.

"The plan is that we continue in hot pursuit of the money and of the assets."

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which is also investigating LCF, says it has arrested four people, who have all been released pending further investigation.

The names of the people arrested have not been confirmed yet, which is standard practice for the SFO.

Questions are being asked in Parliament too about what the FCA knew - and when - about possible misleading marketing.

Nicky Morgan MP, chair of Parliament's Treasury Committee, has written to the FCA's chief executive asking what it knew about possible concerns over LCF's advertising and, crucially, when.

Several independent financial advisers have said they warned the FCA, some as far back as 2015, about what they felt were "misleading, inaccurate and not clear" adverts, often promoted on social media.

For its part the FCA has released a statement saying its immediate priority is to "investigate and assist in the recovery of any assets. We will then be looking into this matter carefully and will consider what lessons can be learned".

Andy Thomson, the chief executive of LCF, has not responded to requests for comment.

ruby Posted on March 26, 2019 16:09

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US-Mexico border wall: Pentagon authorises $1bn transfer

The Pentagon has authorised the transfer of $1bn (£758m) to army engineers for new wall construction along the US-Mexico border.

The funds are the first under the national emergency declared by President Donald Trump to bypass Congress and build the barrier he pledged during his election campaign.

Democrats have protested against the move.

The funds will be used to build about 57 miles (91km) of fencing.

President Trump has called the situation at the southern border a "crisis" and insists a physical barrier is needed to stop criminals crossing into the US. His critics say he has manufactured the border emergency.

A Pentagon statement said acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan had "authorised the commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing up to $1bn in support to the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol".

The statement cited a federal law that "gives the Department of Defence the authority to construct roads and fences and to install lighting to block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of federal law enforcement agencies".

As well the 18ft-high (5m) "pedestrian fencing", the funds will cover road improvements and new lights.

Democratic senators complained that the Pentagon had not sought permission from the appropriate committees before notifying Congress of the funds transfer.

ruby Posted on March 26, 2019 08:57

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Thailand election: Rival camps woo allies amid confusion over results

Two rival camps contesting Thailand's first election since the military coup in 2014 have both said they are trying to form a coalition government.

Early results give the pro-military Palang Pracha Rath Party (PPRP) a larger share of the popular vote.

At the same time, the main opposition Pheu Thai party currently has the biggest number of seats in parliament.

But there are growing complaints about irregularities during Sunday's poll and a vote count marred by confusion.

The Electoral Commission (EC) is also facing strong criticism for its decision to delay publishing the full results without providing any explanation.

Thailand's complicated electoral system allocates some parliamentary seats according to the number of votes received.

Critics say electoral law changes introduced by the military in 2017 are primarily designed to keep pro-military forces in power.

On Monday, the EC announced that Pheu Thai party, which is linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had won 138 seats in the 500-strong lower chamber of parliament.

The PPRP, which supports Thailand's current leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha, was in the second place with 96 seats.

Several other parties were getting between 30 and 39 seats each.

But the winners of 150 seats were still unclear, the EC said.

At the same time, the commission earlier said that with more than 90% of ballots counted, the PPRP had gained 7.6m of the popular vote. That is half a million more than Pheu Thai.

Amid confusion over a vote count, the EC was expected to clarify the preliminary results at a news conference on Monday.

But the EC instead again delayed announcing the preliminary figures. It also said there would be no official results until 9 May.

ruby Posted on March 25, 2019 15:35

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British no more: Why some UK citizens face Brexit dilemma

The number of UK citizens acquiring the nationality of another EU country has shot up since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

For many Britons living in Germany, France or Italy, dual nationality solves questions about freedom of movement to work in the EU, pensions and healthcare.

But a handful of EU countries, including Austria, do not generally allow dual citizenship.

That makes things complicated for people like British opera singer Stephen Chaundy, who has lived in Vienna with his family for many years, but often works in theatres and opera houses in Germany.

"Freedom of movement matters to me," he says.

"I know from colleagues and friends how difficult third-country [non-EU] nationals can have it, in terms of complications of sorting out visas and work permits... and I have already had the situation where a theatre in one European country has said they're unwilling to hear me," he adds.

Because of this, Stephen may not be British much longer.

"Depending on what happens, I am seriously considering having to give up being British and asking to become Austrian," he says.

Britons who live and work in Austria will be able to continue to do so after Brexit. But there are no guarantees for people like Stephen who rely on freedom of movement.

Jan Hillerman, the secretary of support group UK Citizens in Austria, says feelings about giving up British nationality in order to obtain an Austrian passport are very mixed.

"Some people have done that. Other people are very hesitant," she says.

"Some people think that this might be an easy way out of the whole Brexit dilemma – but in fact it isn't: it'll be costly and take a lot of time."

Jan says there have been attempts to lobby the Austrian government on the issue of dual nationality for British people after Brexit.

"But I gather that that came to naught and the Austrians have made pretty clear that that's not on the table," she says.

Austria does allow dual citizenship in a few exceptional cases, such as those who survived the Holocaust.

In the event of a disorderly Brexit, the Austrian government has said it will allow dual citizenship for around 25,000 Austrians living in Britain – but not for the 11,000 Britons living in Austria.

In general, the idea of dual nationality is frowned upon here - not least because of tensions with the Turkish minority in Austria.

The far-right Freedom Party - now the junior partner in Austria's coalition government - has been behind an investigation into whether some Turks in Austria have illegally maintained both Turkish and Austrian nationalities.

Political analyst Thomas Hofer says this colours the whole issue of dual nationality.

"There was a heated debate... saying that there are a lot of Turkish people (who are) Austrian citizens living here and voting in Turkey, especially for President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan," he says.

Since then, dual citizenship has become "a touchy issue".

"The government in the last couple of weeks and months did everything to be very harsh and very strict... the government said that it wanted to avoid this kind of double citizenship."

A spokesman for the Austrian government, Peter Launsky, acknowledged that Austria had "a more restrictive approach to dual citizenship".

But he said British citizens were welcome in Austria.

"It is very important to keep stressing that Austria does and will continue to receive British citizens with open arms, irrespective of the outcome of the Brexit process," he said.

"Any of the British citizens in Austria are extremely well qualified and make a very active and positive contribution to the Austrian labour market.

"And we are very appreciative of that fact... everything will be done to ensure as much continuity as possible, irrespective of the question of citizenship."

On stage Stephen Chaundy moves smoothly back and forth between the Viennese and English-speaking repertoire.

His latest role was as a Habsburg aristocrat, Count Tassilo - the lead in the classic Viennese operetta Graefin Mariza, at the Theatre Magdeburg in Germany. He is about to go to the Cologne Opera to play Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.

But in life it is not so simple.

"Although I've spent over a third of my life in Austria, I am a Londoner, an Englishman, a Brit – but I'm also European and a big, big part of me is, of course, deeply attached to Austria," he said.

"If Austria would permit dual nationality I would have taken it in a heartbeat. They are both parts of who I am. They're both parts of my adult life.

"They're both parts of my identity and it feels terribly unjust and unfair to have to be asked to choose."

ruby Posted on March 25, 2019 11:38

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'Muslims don't date, we marry'

The BBC's weekly The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to Shahzad Younas, founder and chief executive of Muslim dating website and app Muzmatch.

When Shahzad Younas took to the stage he was very nervous.

It was two years ago, and the then 32-year-old British entrepreneur was in San Francisco pitching London-based Muzmatch to a group of high profile potential investors.

He opened his address to the room by saying: "Muslims don't date, we marry."

ruby Posted on March 25, 2019 09:35

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Fake pathologist for Germanwings air crash victims on trial

A man faces four years in a Dutch jail after admitting forging qualifications that allowed him to build a career as a forensic pathologist for years.

Peter B, as he has been identified, examined victims of major disasters like the 2015 Germanwings air crash, which killed all 150 people on board.

The 58-year-old, nicknamed Dr Bones, worked for a specialist firm, the Dutch police and public health bodies.

He was caught after he was unable to take someone's blood pressure in 2016.

Prosecutors described him as a fantasist and are seeking a four-year jail term, with six months suspended.

The man's lawyer said such a sentence was too high, as nobody was hurt by his fraudulent actions.

Dutch media have compared him to Frank Abagnale, a former conman whose story was fictionalised in the film Catch Me If You Can.

The man told the court in Utrecht he had forged his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam and other diplomas and did not know what had compelled him to commit fraud.

A man faces four years in a Dutch jail after admitting forging qualifications that allowed him to build a career as a forensic pathologist for years.

Peter B, as he has been identified, examined victims of major disasters like the 2015 Germanwings air crash, which killed all 150 people on board.

The 58-year-old, nicknamed Dr Bones, worked for a specialist firm, the Dutch police and public health bodies.

He was caught after he was unable to take someone's blood pressure in 2016.

Prosecutors described him as a fantasist and are seeking a four-year jail term, with six months suspended.

The man's lawyer said such a sentence was too high, as nobody was hurt by his fraudulent actions.

Dutch media have compared him to Frank Abagnale, a former conman whose story was fictionalised in the film Catch Me If You Can.

The man told the court in Utrecht he had forged his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam and other diplomas and did not know what had compelled him to commit fraud.

Media captionThe BBC reported on the 2015 Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps

He was hired as a forensic pathologist for Kenyon International Emergency Services, a firm specialising in the repatriation and identification of victims in major disasters, and worked as a guest lecturer for a police academy.

A Dutch woman told the court Peter B had given her a lock of hair from her daughter, who died in the 2015 Germanwings crash in the French Alps.

She cried as she said she now doubted anything she had been told about her 20-year-old daughter's death.

Kenyon International, which worked on that accident, said the fake pathologist had not been to the crash site or directly involved in identifying bodies, the Guardian reported.

The Dutch National Professional Association of Autopsy Assistants, where Peter B became the chair, admitted naivety in hindsight.

"The point is that he really had knowledge of medical matters, he could talk to us about complex illnesses without any problems," a spokesman told the Guardian. "But to be honest, we should have been sharper."

The 58-year-old was trained as an autopsy assistant, someone who assists a pathologist in determining the cause of death.

BBC reported on the 2015 Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps

He was hired as a forensic pathologist for Kenyon International Emergency Services, a firm specialising in the repatriation and identification of victims in major disasters, and worked as a guest lecturer for a police academy.

A Dutch woman told the court Peter B had given her a lock of hair from her daughter, who died in the 2015 Germanwings crash in the French Alps.

She cried as she said she now doubted anything she had been told about her 20-year-old daughter's death.

Kenyon International, which worked on that accident, said the fake pathologist had not been to the crash site or directly involved in identifying bodies, the Guardian reported.

The Dutch National Professional Association of Autopsy Assistants, where Peter B became the chair, admitted naivety in hindsight.

"The point is that he really had knowledge of medical matters, he could talk to us about complex illnesses without any problems," a spokesman told the Guardian. "But to be honest, we should have been sharper."

The 58-year-old was trained as an autopsy assistant, someone who assists a pathologist in determining the cause of death.

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 15:44

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Dutch populist vote surge costs PM Rutte senate majority

The governing centre-right coalition in the Netherlands has lost its senate majority after a populist party surged in provincial elections.

The anti-immigration Forum for Democracy is set to win most votes and have as many seats in the upper house as Prime Minister Mark Rutte's party.

The election came two days after a suspected terror attack in Utrecht.

Addressing supporters, party leader Thierry Baudet bitterly criticised Mr Rutte's immigration policies.

"Successive Rutte governments have left our borders wide open, letting in hundreds of thousands of people with cultures completely different to ours," he told the cheering crowd.

Mr Baudet, who was criticised for continuing to campaign after Monday's shooting on a tram, said Dutch people were being "destroyed by the people who are supposed to be protecting us".

Analysts say he may team up with the anti-Islam Freedom Party, led by far-right politician Geert Wilders. Mr Wilders has seen his party's seats decline from nine to five.

With about 94% of the vote counted, Forum for Democracy is believed to have won the most votes. Forum for Democracy had no seats in the current 75-seat upper house. It is now set to have 12.

Mr Rutte will now need the support of other parties beyond his own coalition to pass legislation. The 38 seats previously held by his coalition will now fall to 31.

When I first met Thierry Baudet in 2014 he leapt into the passenger seat of my car and pontificated on the state of Dutch politics and why the Netherlands would be better off outside the EU.

Five years on, this self-proclaimed intellectual is considered one of the most influential politicians in the country.

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 15:40

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Christchurch shootings: Why Turkey's Erdogan uses attack video


Then stills of the manifesto posted by the gunman in New Zealand before his terror attack, highlighting and translating the sections targeting Turkey.

The video streamed live by the attacker comes next, shooting his way into a Christchurch mosque, before blurred images with the sound of automatic gunfire.

And then a cut to Turkey's opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, talking of "terrorism rooted in the Islamic world".

The crowd boos wildly, galvanised by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has now shown the footage during at least eight election rallies.

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 15:10

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US mum 'abused kids who performed on family YouTube channel'

A US mother whose seven adopted children regularly performed as superheroes on her family's YouTube channel has been charged with child abuse.

Machelle Hackney, from Arizona, and her two adult sons were arrested on Friday by local police.

Ms Hackney has denied abusing her children.

The adoptees regularly appeared on the popular Fantastic Adventures channel, dressed up as superheroes.

The channel has more than 700,000 subscribers and, in total, a quarter of a billion views.

With new videos uploaded about once a week, the Fantastic Adventures featured the children in fantastical situations, with animated effects representing their various superpowers.

The children, aged about six to 15 according to The Washington Post, have now been removed from Ms Hackney's care.

Police accuse Ms Hackney of starving, pepper-spraying, beating and isolating the children.

Authorities also allege that they were forced to take ice baths and at least one of the boys experienced physical abuse to his genitals.

One child was allegedly found in a cupboard when police arrived.

"Officers came in contact with the six other children, who appeared to be malnourished, due to their pale complexion, dark rings under their eyes, underweight, and they stated they were thirsty and hungry," police documents said.

Ms Hackney has been charged with seven counts of child abuse, five of unlawful imprisonment and two of child molestation, which she denies.

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 12:24

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Patrick Shanahan: Pentagon chief's ties to Boeing investigated

The Pentagon has launched an inquiry into acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan for alleged favouritism to his ex-employer, Boeing.

The Defence Department's inspector general will look into the matter following a complaint from a watchdog group.

Mr Shanahan is accused of frequently praising Boeing in meetings about government contracts and acquisitions.

Mr Shanahan, who denies any wrongdoing, spent 30 years at Boeing.

He rose through the ranks to become a senior executive at the world's biggest planemaker.

Last week Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Pentagon inspector general about Mr Shanahan.

The complaint said he had appeared to violate ethical rules by "promoting Boeing in the scope of his official duties... and disparaging the company's competitors to his subordinates".

Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said in a statement on Wednesday: "The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General has decided to investigate complaints we recently received that Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan allegedly took actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors."

Mr Shanahan said last week during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he would support an investigation by the inspector general.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, a member of the panel, said she had led calls for the inquiry.

She tweeted on Wednesday: "Government officials should work for the people - not big defence contractors."

The inquiry casts a shadow over Mr Shanahan as the White House considers whether to formally nominate him to fill the defence secretary post left vacant by Jim Mattis, who stepped down in December.

Boeing is already under pressure after the deadly crash of one of its 737 Max 8 passenger jets in Ethiopia last week.

The FBI is reported to be assisting the investigation into safety issues surrounding the Boeing airliner.

Another of the passenger planes crashed in Indonesia last October, also killing everyone on board.

According to the Seattle Times, the FBI is investigating the process that led to the aircraft getting its safety certification.

The US Department of Justice has refused to comment on claims that it has been looking at the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight of Boeing.


ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 12:02

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Trump: I didn't get a thank you for McCain funeral

US President Donald Trump has attacked the late Senator John McCain, complaining that he "didn't get a thank you" for his state funeral.

"We sent him on the way, but I wasn't a fan of John McCain," the president said during a visit to an Ohio tank factory.

Mr Trump has repeatedly assailed the late Arizona senator in recent days, reigniting a feud that dates back to before his presidency.

The Vietnam War veteran died of brain cancer last August at the age of 81.

During his visit on Wednesday to the tank factory in Lima, Ohio, the president renewed his assault on McCain.

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 11:59

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