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Cameron Kasky: How being a student gun control activist took its toll

After surviving the Parkland school massacre in Florida in February 2018 Cameron Kasky helped lead a youth campaign for gun control. But the strain of his experiences - in the school, and in the media spotlight - left him anxious and depressed. A year later, writes the BBC's Tom Gillett, his focus is on dialogue with his former opponents.

On 14 February 2018 a former pupil entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. After six minutes and 20 seconds of carnage, three teachers and 14 of Cameron Kasky's fellow students lay dead.

The geography teacher Scott Biegel, whom Kasky had known well, died protecting his students from gunfire.

When the shooting broke out, Kasky had been rushing to pick up his younger brother from a special needs class. Hustled into the nearest classroom, the brothers spent the remainder of the attack hiding in the dark, not knowing if the door would be opened by the shooter or a rescuer.

There he stayed in touch with events outside via his mobile phone.

"I saw videos, when we were in the room, of people being killed. They were going round Snapchat," he says.

"It was very familiar to me. I grew up with these. I was born in 2000 - that was not long at all after Columbine," he says, referring to the Columbine school massacre the previous year, where 12 schoolchildren and a teacher were murdered by two teenage gunmen, who then killed themselves.

As Kasky was to tweet after the attack: "I am part of the Mass Shooting Generation, and it's an ugly club to be in."

It was the reaction of the teenage Parkland pupils immediately after the events of that day that made the response to this attack unique.

An outraged determination set in among Kasky and a small group of his friends.

"That day I said, 'We need to flip this narrative.' After all these shootings, you see such similar things. You see crying mothers talking about their children. You see people talking about how the shooter was just a nice boy - misunderstood. With only a few exceptions, so much of these shootings had the same exact response. A couple of lawmakers would get kids from the shooting to stand next to them, they'd sign some bill that did nothing and we'd be done. I said, 'We can't have Parkland be that city.'

"I wanted it to be that 20 years after the shooting when people thought of Parkland they didn't think of people crying, they thought of people in the worst possible situation standing up and standing for something that was bigger than them."

Starting the night of the attack, Kasky and a handful of his classmates took to social media, demanding stricter gun control laws and the right to be able to go to school without the fear of being killed. As they typed and posted, the hashtag #NeverAgain went viral.

"I found myself frantically Facebook posting. It was what I knew how to do," he says. "The next morning I was getting all these calls from reporters."

The same thing happened to his friends.

When people think of Parkland I want them to think about people standing up for something"

Cameron Kasky talks to Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk on BBC World Service radio on Wednesday 13 February and on BBC World News television on Thursday 14 February (click for transmission times)

As well as doing broadcast interviews, Kasky wrote online comment pieces and - a week after the attack - he took part in a televised town-hall event.

Standing in front of a large crowd of his peers and neighbours, he confronted Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio over the money he had received from the National Rifle Association. "Senator Rubio can you tell me right now that you would not accept a single NRA donation in the future?" he demanded.

The room exploded into chants and cheers. Kasky looked stunned and overwhelmed. He had just put one of the nation's most prominent politicians on the spot, live on national television.

As momentum gathered behind the young campaigners, Kasky co-founded the group March For Our Lives and set about organising a demonstration in the nation's capital.

Six weeks after the attack, on 24 March 2018, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington DC for the March For Our Lives protest. The Parkland students demanded a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and stricter background checks for those wishing to buy gu

The organisers estimated that 800,000 people attended the rally that day. Kasky's Twitter following rose to more than 400,000.

But while the students succeeded in attracting popular support and media attention, the concrete legislative steps that they demanded have not materialised.

In the month after the attack, Florida governor Rick Scott signed a bill that placed stricter age restrictions on gun purchases and provided funding for mental health services in the state.

On a federal level, the so called "bump stock" which enables a rifle to be fired more rapidly has been banned. But their other demands have been resisted.

As the first anniversary of the Parkland massacre approaches, Cameron is, despite this, sanguine about the movement's achievements.

"Whilst we haven't got all the legislative victories we want with gun control… at the end of the day, there is a victory in the sense that Parkland is not the city that you think of and you instantly think of people mourning and people running away from a problem," he says.

"I think when people hear of Parkland they think of something larger and stronger than the shooter."

But he is also critical of himself, and the decisions he made in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Activists Alex Wind, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg were pictured on the cover of Time magazine after the attack on their school

Sitting in the living room of his suburban home near Miami, Cameron says he now feels that he was too confrontational.

"I think it showed that sometimes how we feel about things can get in the way of our objective thinking," he says.

There is one statement he particularly regrets, a remark to Marco Rubio in the town hall debate:

"Senator Rubio, it's hard to look at you and not look down the barrel on an AR-15 and not look at…" and here he named the shooter - something that the young campaigners quickly decided they would not do, to deny him the fame, or infamy, he may have sought.

"I regretted saying the name of the shooter to Senator Rubio and telling him I can't look at him without seeing the shooter. That's not true," he says.

"In many ways my confrontation with Senator Rubio was very positive, in a sense that it reminded a lot of people my age that politicians are just like anybody else - they are not these deities that you need to look up to as if they are our supreme leaders.

"But going about it… I did it in such a vitriolic way that I don't find it to have been very meaningful and productive."

The activism that he and others threw themselves into in the days after the shooting was a way of dealing with the pain, he says, and the sense of helplessness. But the intense media spotlight also exacted a psychological toll.

"After the shooting, I found myself on television almost 24/7 for a month or two and I found myself sky-rocketed to this position where so many people were looking at what I had to say and were listening to me," he says.

"I think the concept that I could make gun control happen was seductive. And I started to see myself as the person that could make gun control happen. As if it was me. Not as if it was a large push for legislative change in this country. I had this messiah-like concept that I could do this. And I got so high off of that."

When all this was happening, Kasky was only 17, and he found it hard to deal with.

"I spent so long in front of cameras that I forgot how to be a person," he says.

"I spent so long feeling like I was an avatar. Feeling like my body was saying things and doing things - my mind was just cut off."

And eventually, he says, everything caught up with him - and it was compounded, he says, by the mistakes he felt he made along the way. He struggles with depression and anxiety, he says.

In the summer of 2018, Kasky embarked on a road trip to Texas where, in a change of direction, he actively sought the opinions of those who disagreed with him on gun control.

"There is so much more we can do if we all look at each other and say, 'Where can we agree?'"

"I think the more you think about how right you are and how wrong everybody else is, the less you'll learn. A lot of people in this country get stuck in bubbles - especially because of social media.

"I'm very pro gun control… and when I'm with other people who are pro gun control I start to think, 'If you don't think this you must be a really bad person.' And then I met these people and I said, 'These people are not bad people.'

"If I vilify half the people in this country where is that going to bring me? I think there is so much that we can do if we all look at each other and say, 'Where can we agree?' Because that's normally where the most progress is made."

Subsequently, last September, Kasky announced he was leaving the March For Our Lives group to focus on bipartisan dialogue.

He is currently applying for college and plans to revive a podcast series, Cameron Kasky Knows Nothing - "my journey towards understanding folks who disagree with me" as he put it in the trailer.

But what does he hope the legacy of the movement he co-founded will be?

"I think the thing that March For Our Lives did for this country was, we told a whole generation of kids, 'We need to start working together, we need to start thinking. And just because we are little, does not mean we are inadequate when it comes to being part of the conversation.'"

A photo of a student partying in blackface caused days of tension on the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. Protests erupted, the university authorities walked a tightrope defending free speech, and racist graffiti sprang up. Student journalist Megan Schellong was in the thick of it and tells the story.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:11

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Shoreham air crash trial: Pilot Andrew Hill 'negligent'

The standard of flying by the pilot of a jet which crashed during the Shoreham Air Show was "about as negligent as you can get", a court has heard.

Andrew Hill, 54, faces 11 counts of manslaughter after failing to pull out of a loop manoeuvre in August 2015.

Jurors previously heard the move was executed at too low an altitude.

Jonathon Whaley, an experienced air display pilot and evaluator, told the Old Bailey that was a "fundamental thing" and you "do not do it".

Prosecutor Tom Kark QC asked how far Mr Hill's flying fell below acceptable standards, assuming he was not suffering a physical impairment.

Mr Whaley replied: "He had all the training, all the knowledge to know that he hadn't achieved his gate height, and none of the parameters were correct to complete safely this manoeuvre.

"To me that is about as negligent as you can get in terms of flying."

Andrew Hill survived the crash but his barrister says his client does not remember what happened

Giving evidence, Mr Whaley said he did not permit looping manoeuvres in the Hawker Hunter he flies.

Defending Mr Hill, Karim Khalil QC asked: "It can be thought of as inherently dangerous?"

Mr Whaley agreed it could, but acknowledged the manoeuvre was authorised to be carried out in displays.

"The profession of aerobatic display does carry inherent dangers?" Mr Khalil asked.

"It does carry inherent dangers which is why the pilot has to be aware of them," Mr Whaley replied.

Mr Whaley was asked why he and other experts had said Mr Hill's display at the 2015 Shoreham Airshow contained "no difficult manoeuvres".

He answered: "I said it needed arguably more concentration, but I accept that if it's well flown then it's not a problem."

Mr Khalil asked him if Mr Hill may have become "fixated" on the road mid-stunt when he realised "things were not looking good".

"If you've got something like that in front of you I could imagine that becomes a focus of your concentration, not looking left or right," Mr Whaley replied.

"This is when it's becoming apparent that things aren't going well."

Emergency services on the A27 in the aftermath of the crash

After turning upside down, the Cold War-era jet fighter descended vertically towards the ground, the court heard.

Mr Hill tried to keep the plane in the air, but it came down on top of the busy A27 near Shoreham Airport.

Earlier the judge reminded the jury Mr Whaley was simply giving an opinion on the matter.

Mr Justice Edis said: "It will be up to you to decide to accept what the expert said, whether you prefer another expert, or you don't accept any of them.

"It's only an answer, not the answer."

Mr Hill, of Sandon in Hertfordshire, denies all charges.

Mr Khalil previously told the court that due to injuries sustained in the crash, Mr Hill cannot remember what happened.

He claims Mr Hill was affected by something like G-force, which reduces blood supply to the brain.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:50

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F-35 fighter jets to arrive at RAF Marham within weeks

The RAF's new F-35 Lightning II fighter jets will touch down at their new home in Norfolk next month, the defence secretary has announced.

Gavin Williamson said the aircraft - which cost almost £100m each - will arrive at RAF Marham after being tested and used for training in the US.

Four will cross the Atlantic in early June, with a total of nine based in the UK by the end of July, he said.

RAF Air Cmdr David Bradshaw called their arrival "hugely significant".

Gavin Williamson announced the arrival during a visit to RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire

The F-35 Lightning II fighters are considered the most advanced - and most costly - combat jets in the world.

They will replace the Tornado GR4s at RAF Marham, which will be taken out of service in 2019 after almost 40 years.

The Tornados are currently deployed on reconnaissance operations over northern Iraq and Syria.Mr Williamson revealed the news at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, on the 75th anniversary of the daring Dambusters raid carried out by the 617 Squadron.

The squadron has been reformed and will be the first to fly the state-of-the-art aircraft.

Four jets will arrive at RAF Marham in Norfolk after being tested and used for training in the US

Mr Williamson said they were "giving the modern 617 squadron the very best of technology, the very best and the most advanced aircraft in the whole world".

"If you think about what the Dambusters were doing 75 years ago they were using the very cutting-edge technology in order to be able do the job that they had been asked to do," he added.

Mr Williamson confirmed the new aircraft would not be deployed over Syria yet because "quite considerable resources" were already there.

Air Cmdr Bradshaw, Lightning Force commander, said RAF Marham was "ready enough" to accept the jets after a revamp, calling their arrival "hugely significant".

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:45

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RAF Tornado fighter jets to make final flypast

RAF Tornado jets will be marking their retirement with a final flypast, it has been confirmed.

People across Britain will get a chance to say farewell to the fighter jets when they make a series of flights on 19, 20 and 21 February.

The fleet, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, will be retired from service by the end of March.

Station Commander Group Capt Ian Townsend said it will be a "superb celebration" of the plane.

He also announced there would be a nine-plane formation flypast, taking off from RAF Marham on 28 February, which would fly over RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

The planes will fly over much of the country on three different routes for the farewell tour.

They will be spotted above about 35 military stations and landmarks including RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, RAF Valley on Anglesey in Wales and the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Timings have yet to be published, the RAF said in a social media post, which also lists all the locations.

Members of the final Tornado crew return home to RAF Marham for the final time from Cyprus

Eight Tornados, stationed at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and used in missions against the Islamic State group, returned to RAF Marham last week.

The fleet has been used by the RAF for 40 years and has taken part in combat since the first Gulf War.

It is being replaced by the RAF's F-35 Lightning II fighters and an upgraded Typhoon fleet.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:43

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Essex baby's spine 'repaired' in the womb

An unborn baby has had surgery on her spine while she was still in her mother's womb.

Bethan Simpson, 26, from Maldon, Essex, was told her unborn daughter Eloise had spina bifida at her 20-week scan.

Mrs Simpson has become one of the first mothers in the UK to undergo the pioneering "foetal repair" surgery.

During a four-hour operation her womb was opened and her baby's bottom exposed, allowing surgeons to "sew up" a tiny hole in her lower spine.

Mrs Simpson said she "couldn't justify terminating a child I could feel kicking".

The procedure has been deemed successful and the baby is now due in April.Mrs Simpson said she and husband Keiron were advised to terminate her pregnancy after the condition was diagnosed, but the decision to opt for foetal repair was a "no brainer".

"I'm being told she's paralysed, but she very much wasn't," Mrs Simpson said.

Mrs Simpson underwent surgery at 24 weeks to treat her unborn daughter's spina bifida

She was approved for surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital in December after a series of tests and scans, and described the ensuing weeks as a "rollercoaster".

The operation at 24 weeks involved opening her womb and lifting her baby into position to repair the hole, as well as repositioning the baby's spinal cord.

"I came out of surgery at one o'clock and could feel her moving that evening," Mrs Simpson said.

"It was reassuring to feel that first kick after the anaesthetic wore off. She's bigger now, of course, and her kicks are stronger."

Mrs Simpson said she remembered the surgeon telling her on the ward later: "I've held your baby."

Bethan and Keiron Simpson's daughter Eloise is due in April

Mrs Simpson is thought to be the fourth patient to undergo the surgery in the UK, with the procedure mostly carried out in Belgium and the United States.

From April, the procedure will be available on the NHS in England. Two-hundred babies are born with spina bifida in the UK every year.

Great Ormond Street Hospital's lead neurosurgeon, Dominic Thompson, described the operation on Mrs Simpson's baby as "an incredible journey".

"Until now, when people got this devastating news there were two options - continue with the pregnancy or termination. This now offers a third option," he said.

"It is not a cure. But there is quite clear evidence through critical trials that the outlook can be a lot better with surgery early on."

Mrs Simpson is the fourth patient to undergo the pioneering surgery

Gill Yaz, of the spina bifida charity Shine, said foetal medicine consultants recognised there were options available "rather than just termination".

"People need to be aware that this is not a cure, it may in some cases make no difference at all," she said.

"They need to go into this with their eyes wide open."

Mrs Simpson urged parents in her position to consider surgery and "give every option a go".

"There are unknowns - it's major surgery, and the biggest decision you'll make in your life," she said.

"But remember most children born with spina bifida today are walking and reaching normal milestones."

Spina bifida occurs in about four in 10,000 pregnancies

Spina bifida and foetal repair surgery

Spina bifida literally means 'split spine', and occurs when the spinal column and cord are not properly formed in pregnancy (before the sixth week) - leaving nerves exposed.

It occurs in around four in 10,000 pregnancies.

The cause is unknown, however mothers are encouraged to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of developing spina bifida in early pregnancy.

Babies born with the condition can become paralysed, suffer bladder and bowel problems - and it can affect brain development.

It is estimated that about 80% of mothers choose termination when spina bifida is diagnosed, although the condition varies in severity.

The delicate surgical procedure involves opening the uterus and closing the gap in the baby's back while they are still in the womb.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:40

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Man who used trolley to dump victim guilty of wounding

A man fractured his victim's skull before wheeling his "near-lifeless" body in a shopping trolley and dumping it in a park.

Ryan Smith, 24, punched Twaha Yahaya and sent him flying down a set of stairs in a "motiveless attack" on 8 August last year, police said.

The 27-year-old was in a coma for weeks after the assault in Northampton.

Smith, of no fixed abode, was found guilty of wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm.

Police said Smith took Mr Yahaya to Nursery Lane, next to Kingsthorpe Recreation Ground, and left him there.

Mr Yahaya has only recently been released from round-the-clock treatment at a brain rehabilitation unit, Northamptonshire Police said.

He has also been left with little movement in his left arm.

His mother said: "I wouldn't wish this to happen to anyone's son, daughter or relative."

Police said Mr Yahaya's near lifeless body was left near Kingsthorpe Recreation Ground

Det Insp James Larkin said: "Twaha was left with life-changing injuries as a result of a motiveless attack carried out with extreme violence before being cynically dumped into a trolley and left in a nearby park.

"I hope Twaha and his family will take some comfort from today's verdict and that he is able to continue the very long road to recovery which he has begun in the months since the attack."

Smith was remanded in custody to be sentenced on 18 February at Northampton Crown Court.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:36

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Venezuela crisis: Guaido vows to open aid routes with volunteers

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó

has vowed to open humanitarian aid routes into the country in defiance of the government.

Mr Guaidó, who has declared himself interim president, called on volunteers to help with distribution and said his plans would be ready next week.

Footage shows soldiers blocking a key bridge at the border with Colombia.

A government official called aid "a Trojan horse" and said the country had a duty to defend its borders."According to our constitution, we have the right and the duty to defend our borders peacefully," said Freddy Bernal.

He accused US president Donald Trump, who has endorsed the opposition leader, of just wanting to exploit Venezuelan oil.

Meanwhile an active Venezuelan army colonel said he had switched his allegiance to Mr Guaidó, and urged fellow soldiers to allow aid into the country.

In a video circulated on social media, Col Ruben Paz Jimenez said he was now backing Mr Guaidó and that 90% of the armed forces were unhappy with Mr Maduro's government.

The defection comes a week after Air Force Gen Francisco Yanez pledged his support for Mr Guaidó.

However, so far most of the armed forces appear to be still loyal to Mr Maduro.

Why is aid needed?

Millions of people have fled Venezuela as hyperinflation and other economic troubles render food and medicines scarce.

Since the outbreak of the current political crisis, Washington has announced sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry.

Venezuelan troops are guarding the border bridge in Tienditas

President Nicolás Maduro, who has the support of the army, has rejected letting foreign aid into the country.

Last week a tanker and cargo containers blocked the Tienditas International Bridge, which links Venezuela to its more stable neighbour to the west.

The blockages were still there on Friday, and many soldiers were seen standing guard.

Mr Guaidó does not control any territory in Venezuela so, instead, he is planning to set up collection centres in neighbouring countries to which Venezuelans have fled.

He said he wanted to set up an international coalition to gather aid at three points, and press Venezuela's army to let it into the country.

Food and medicine organised by the US federal government's USAID agency arrived on Thursday and have been stored at a warehouse on the Colombian side of the border.The agency has been bound up in international politics before - Russia expelled it in 2012, citing "attempts to influence political processes through grants); and Bolivia expelled it the year after, accusing it of seeking to "conspire against" the Bolivian people and government.

Both Russia and Bolivia are allies of President Maduro in the current crisis.

How far will Guaidó go?

Mr Guaidó has warned many Venezuelans are in danger of dying without international aid.

Speaking to AFP news agency, he said the groups he was putting together would "make a first entry attempt" at the blocked bridge when they had gathered enough supplies. He said he expected this to happen next week.It would be "almost wretched at this point of huge necessity" for the military to block any convoy entering, he said.

A number of Venezuelan leaders have also appealed to the military to allow aid lorries to cross into the country.

Asked whether he would authorise the intervention of foreign military forces, Mr Guaidó said: "We will do everything possible.

"This is obviously a very, very controversial subject, but making use of our sovereignty and, within our jurisdictions, we will do what is necessary."

What's the background to the crisis?

In January, Mr Maduro was sworn in for a second term following disputed elections which many opposition leaders did not contest because they were in jail or boycotting them.

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

Mr Guaidó, who is head of Venezuela's National Assembly, declared himself president on 23 January.

He says the constitution allows him to assume power temporarily when the president is deemed illegitimate. On Saturday he said protests would continue until his supporters had achieved "freedom".

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:31

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Ricardo Boechat: Brazil news anchor dies in helicopter crash

Ricardo Boechat, one of Brazil's best-known journalists, has been killed in a helicopter crash in São Paulo.

The aircraft carrying the 66-year-old news anchor hit a lorry on a ring road on Monday morning. The pilot is also thought to have died.

Tributes have been paid to Boechat, who was an award-winning radio and TV broadcaster with Bandeirantes, or Band.

Breaking the news live on TV, a colleague said it was "a very sad moment for Brazilian journalism".

Boechat had finished recording the popular morning radio show Café com Jornal just hours before the incident.

He was travelling from Campinas, near São Paulo, when the helicopter came down on the motorway at 12:14 local time (14:14 GMT).

The driver of the lorry was rescued by paramedics.

Writing on social media, fellow journalists described Boechat as "a journalist's journalist", praising his down-to-earth approach and "impactful" reporting.

nd "impactful" reporting.

Others said his death was not just a loss for Band, but for Brazilian journalism.

Band's radio network also tweeted the news, saying that staff felt "profound sadness".

A cherished colleague

Ricardo Boechat gained prominence by making extremely critical and ironic remarks about politicians, while using colloquial language and good humour - a rare stance in an environment still marked by formalities and a deference to the authorities.

After working for some of Brazil's main newspapers and winning several awards, he found his calling as a TV and radio presenter, where he won a large audience. He was cherished by his colleagues, having twice been voted Brazil's most admired journalist in surveys among the country's reporters.

In 2015, he engaged in a fierce debate with the powerful evangelical pastor, Silas Malafaia, one of the most influential religious leaders in the country and an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Boechat was also known for his tough stance on the Workers' Party (PT), after corruption scandals erupted in the governments of presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

Boechat started working as a journalist in the 1970s, beginning his career as a reporter in Rio de Janeiro for the newspaper Diario de Noticias.

Throughout his accomplished career he wrote for a number of well-known Brazilian newspapers, before joining Band as an anchor.



ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 13:26

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Liberia: Pres. Weah’s Motorcade Accident, Who Are Those Involved?

MONROVIA – What started as a trip to the 180th Convention of the Methodist Annual Conference in Gbarnga, Bong County resulted in a tragedy Sunday, killing two – Gabriel Wilson, who has been trumpeting the President’s horn since the reign of President William R. Tolbert and Victoria Wlue, a passenger in the vehicle carrying former Solicitor General, Micah Wilkins Wright. 

Victim Gabriel Wilson (Executive Horn)

Gabriel Wilson was popularly known as ‘Executive Horn’. Believed to be in his mid 60s, ‘Executive Horn’ brought uniqueness to the Liberian presidency. The traditional horn announced the arrival of the President in public gatherings. Depending on how it is blown, the horn signaled the President’s mood and it was also used to applaud the President when he speaks.

In an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica in 2017, Executive Horn said, “This horn has message, there is a way when I blow it, people from Maryland will know the mood of the occasion. If the president is speaking during a joyous occasion, my kinsmen will understand and when someone dies and I blow it, they will also understand it is a sorrowful period,” he told FrontPageAfrica.

He said none of his three sons were interested in taking after him, calling his craft ‘old fashioned’.

“They said it’s old fashioned yet, it is the old-fashioned job sending them to school and feeding them. Since my children do not want to learn the art, I am presently training a boy from my home to take after me,” he added.

Victim Victoria Wlue

Rev. Victoria G. Wlue was a passenger in the vehicle carrying former Solicitor General Wilkins Wright. She was an employee of the Ministry of Education serving as principal of Dusata public school in Paynesville. She was also a former teacher of the Firestone School System.

Tributes have been pouring in on her Facebook page since her demise.

C Wellington Morgan, a relative of the deceased posted to Facebook:

“Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord”…

Rest in perfect peace my dear sister, the late Rev. Victoria G. Wlue , (Mamie). We share one brother, your father’s son, and my mother’s son, Marcus Wlue. Because of him, you became my sister.

You met your untimely death on Sunday, January 10, when one of President Weah’s convoy cars collided with the vehicle in wish you were riding.

Death has physically separated You from us, but I know that you are alive with the Lord in glory. Sleep in peace my dear sister, until we meet again on that great getting up morning.

I know that you are in a better place and it is well with your soul.

Lovelymood Flowers also wrote on her Facebook wall: 

O Thou in whose presence our souls take delight
On whom in afflictions we call
Our comfort by day and our song in the night 
Our hope, our salvation, our all

We fought to denounce the terrible fact but it finally hit us hard

RIP Rev. Victoria G. Wlue 
The AME Churches most especially Eliza Turner will miss you

The Survivors 

A family source told FrontPage that Cllr. Micah Wilkins Wright that former Solicitor General was on his way to Ganta when the tragic accident occurred. Though the family source declined to comment on the severity of his injuries, sources at the Phebe Hospital told FrontPageAfrica that the former ECOWAS Court Judge sustained a laceration on his face, but he is in a stable condition.

Gabriel Mills, a long-time videographer of the Executive Mansion, suffered severe injuries and reportedly broke both legs in the accident. FrontPageAfrica has not been able to confirm whether both legs can be restored but he is undergoing treatment at the John. F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia.

However, President Weah has promptly responded to the critical condition of long-serving Executive Mansion Videographe by ordering that the badly injured staff of the Ministry of State for President Affairs be flown to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, for further treatment.

Jerry Gaye, a reporter with Prime FM also broke a leg in the accident. 

Others who sustained injuries from the fatal accident are Samuel Zohn – driver, Executive Mansion; Rueben Gongloe, Executive Mansion staff; Mohammed Kanneh, Executive Mansion staff, Joseph Sayon, ELBC, Isaac Freeman, videographer, LNTV and Godfrey Nana Badu of KMTV. 

Phebe Couldn’t Hold Survivors

Meanwhile, an acute shortage of essential drugs at Phebe hospital, Bong County’s only referral hospital, Sunday brought misery to victims of an accident involving the presidential motorcade.

Doctors advised patients to seek alternative treatment away from the hospital. 

“Their condition is very critical and we don’t have no drugs to address the situation,” a nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Marcus Wright, who sustained an injury during Sunday’s accident, said he was advised by a nurse who was attending to him to go to a clinic or pharmacy to buy a piece of nylon string for use in the treatment of the wound in his arm. 

“You can’t have a centrally-located hospital like Phebe and there are no drugs,” he said.

Phebe Hospital Medical Director, Dr. Jefferson Sayblay, said the victims’ conditions were critical for the hospital to handle, especially in the absence of drugs to respond to emergency cases of such. 

“This is a classic example of the problem Phebe faces as a hospital,” Dr. Sayblay said. “There is not a pain killer here. We hope the government will see the need to improve the hospital.”

sarah Posted on February 12, 2019 12:37

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Liberia: Henry Costa’s Roots FM 102.7 Attacked Again; Transmitters Taken Away

Monrovia – Henry Costa’s Roots FM 102.7 is off the air again, dealing a major blow to the highly-rated early morning talk show. The station’s office was burglarized for the second time in days, this time, attackers took away the transmitters along with other equipment.

Mr. Fidel Saydee, Mr. Costa’s sidekick broke the news on the station’s Facebook Page Monday.

“Sad Times: They finally succeeded in bursting the gate open and walking away with our transmitters (500 and 1000 watts respectively). Why all these attacks on Roots FM?”

Student political activist Martin Kollie has described the incident as an attack on THE MEDIA. Why is this happening. I thought free speech and press freedom are fundamental rights. Liberians will have to rise up to this NIGHTMARE. Roots FM is being heavily attacked for the second time in less than a month. The CDC-led government is overly intolerant and anti-democratic. The democratic gains of Liberia are fast eroding or reversing. We will have to stand up to this newborn dictator through mass civil action. We STAND with Henry P. Costa, Fidel Saydee, and Roots FM family. SAD Liberia under this new ruling clique of kleptocrats.”

This is the second time in many days that the station has fallen prey to an attack. 

On Thursday January 31st, unknown armed men stormed the station and cut transmitter cables. 

Mr. Costa told FrontPageAfrica that technicians usually visited the facility from to time to time to carry out maintenance work on the transmitter. “They opened the gate and let them in; they came in and immediately pulled out their guns – the three of them, they pulled out their guns on the two watchmen who were unarmed and they began asking them ‘Where is Costa’s broadcast equipment?’.

The vocal Costa has been a thorn in the side of the George Weah-led government with his uncompromising stance on corruption and revelation of damaging documents on a number of shady contracts. Most recently, the talk show host published and discussed leaked Articles of Incorporation showing that the government had given the ground handling operations of the new terminal at the Roberts International Airport to Jordanians and granted Bulgarians contract for the port of Buchanan. Jordanians is a regarded as one of the global havens for terrorists.

Mr. Kla Williams, of the opposition Liberty Party said the attack on the station is deeply disturbing. 

“This is the second time in less than a week that the station has reportedly come under attack by unknown persons.  What is even more noteworthy and sad but not surprising is the fact that the Slipway Police Depot and all-night Checkpoint, and the Central Bank where there’s a heavy deployment well-armed ERU Troops are just a stone throw from the station. “

Added Williams: “The pictures show a sign of the use of maximum force to breakthrough the facilities. Ordinarily, it’s not possible for anyone to be at the Slipway Police Depot and Checkpoint or the Central Bank and not hear the sound from such burglary. The fact that Costa officially reported the previous burglary to the police was sufficient notice to put the security agencies on the alert and leave them with no excuse. These people will become deadlier against their critics. There’s no more hidden signal left.”

sarah Posted on February 12, 2019 12:33

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Nigeria: Ogoni widow testifies against Shell in The Hague

The widow of a Nigerian activist suing oil giant Shell over the execution of her husband says his death left her "traumatised" and "poverty-stricken".

Esther Kiobel is testifying in court in The Hague, demanding compensation and an apology from the Dutch-based firm.

She is among four women who accuse Shell of being complicit in the hanging of their husbands by Nigeria's military in 1995. Shell denies the allegation.

The activists led mass protests against oil pollution in Nigeria's Ogoniland.

The protests were seen as a major threat to then-military ruler Gen Sani Abacha, and Shell. They were led by author Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was among nine activists hanged by the military regime.

Their executions caused global outrage, and led to Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth for more than three years.

Two of the widows were in court, but two others were denied visas to attend.

What was the atmosphere in court?

More than two decades later, memories of the executions still move the widows to tears, reports the BBC's Anna Holligan from court.

Mrs Kiobel wiped her eyes, and in a quivering voice described her husband, Barinem Kiobel, as "kind-hearted", our reporter adds.

Representatives of Shell looked on. At one point, the phone of one them rang as the widows wiped their eyes, prompting judges to remind everyone to keep their devices on silent, our reporter says.

What else has Mrs Kiobel said?

In a written statement, she said she had lost a "wonderful husband" and a "best friend".

She added: "Shell came into my life to take the best crown l ever wore off my head. Shell came into my life to make me a poverty-stricken widow with all my businesses shut down. Shell came into my life to make me a refugee living in harsh conditions before l came to the United States through [a] refugee programme and now [I am a] citizen.

"The abuses my family and l went through are such an awful experience that has left us traumatised to date without help. We all have lived with so much pain and agony, but rather than giving up, the thought of how ruthlessly my husband was killed... has spurred me to remain resilient in my fight for justice.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was the best known of the nine activists executed

"Nigeria and Shell killed my late husband: Dr Barinem Kiobel and his compatriots Kenule Tua Saro Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Baribor Bera, Paul Levula, Nordu Eawo and the rest [of the] innocent souls.

"My husband and the rest were killed... The memory of the physical torture my family and l went through has remained fresh in my mind, and whenever l look at the scar of the injury l sustained during the incident, my heart races for justice the more."

What is Shell's response?

In a statement, the firm said the executions were "tragic events which shocked us deeply".

The statement added: "The Shell Group, alongside other organisations and individuals, appealed for clemency to the military government in power in Nigeria at that time. To our deep regret, those appeals went unheard.

"We have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made in this tragic case. SPDC [the Shell Petroleum Development Company] did not collude with the authorities to suppress community unrest, it in no way encouraged or advocated any act of violence in Nigeria, and it had no role in the arrest, trial and execution of these men.

"We believe that the evidence clearly shows that Shell was not responsible for these distressing events."

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 12:17

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Venezuela crisis: Maduro condemns 'extremist' Trump

Venezuela's embattled President Nicolás Maduro has called Donald Trump's government a "gang of extremists" and blamed the US for his country's crisis.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Maduro said he would not allow humanitarian aid into Venezuela as it was a way for the US to justify an intervention.

"They are warmongering in order to take over Venezuela," he said.

The US and most Western governments have recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.Mr Maduro is under growing internal and international pressure to call early presidential elections amid a worsening economic crisis and accusations of widespread corruption and human rights violations.

Meanwhile, Mr Guaidó has called for new anti-government protests later on Tuesday.

Maduro on Trump

Relations between the US and Venezuela were already fraught before President Trump backed Mr Guaidó as leader. Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations in response while Mr Trump said the use of military force remained "an option".

The Trump administration was one of the first to support Mr Guaidó as interim president and declared Mr Maduro's re-election last year "illegitimate".

In a rare interview, Mr Maduro said he hoped "this extremist group in the White House is defeated by powerful world-wide public opinion".

Speaking in the capital Caracas, he told the BBC's Orla Guerin: "It's a political war, of the United States empire, of the interests of the extreme right that today is governing, of the Ku Klux Klan, that rules the White House, to take over Venezuela."

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

The US has also imposed a raft of economic measures on Venezuela, including against the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, aiming to hit the country's main source of revenue.

It has criticised Mr Maduro's increased use of the courts and security forces to suppress political opposition.When asked, in response to his Ku Klux Klan comment, if he believed Mr Trump was a "white supremacist", Mr Maduro said: "He is, publicly and openly... They hate us, they belittle us, because they only believe in their own interests, and in the interests of the United States."

Maduro on humanitarian aid

The president has rejected allowing humanitarian aid into the country, a move that is being organised by the opposition. He said Venezuela had "the capacity to satisfy all the needs of its people" and did not have to "beg from anyone".

But for years Venezuelans have faced severe shortages of basic items such as medicine and food. Last year, the inflation rate saw prices doubling every 19 days on average.

Desperate Venezuelan women are selling their hair at the border

Three million people have left the country since the economy started to worsen in 2014, according to the UN. And Mr Guaidó says more than 300,000 Venezuelans are at "risk of dying".

Mr Maduro, who has blamed US sanctions for Venezuela's economic woes, said the US intended to "create a humanitarian crisis in order to justify a military intervention".

"This is part of that charade. That's why, with all dignity, we tell them we don't want their crumbs, their toxic food, their left-overs."

Maduro on calling elections

Mr Maduro, who took office in 2013, was re-elected to a second term last year but the elections were controversial with many opposition candidates barred from running or jailed, and claims of vote-rigging.

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

Mr Maduro - who still has the support of Russia and China and, crucially, of the Venezuelan army - said he did not see the need for early presidential elections.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 12:12

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How India's single time zone is hurting its people

India's single time zone is a legacy of British rule, and is thought of as a symbol of unity. But not everyone thinks the Indian Standard Time (IST) is a good idea.

Here's why.

India stretches 3,000km (1,864 miles) from east to west, spanning roughly 30 degrees longitude. This corresponds with a two-hour difference in mean solar times - the passage of time based on the position of the sun in the sky.

The US equivalent would be New York and Utah sharing one time zone. Except that in this case, it also affects more than a billion people - hundreds of millions of whom live in poverty.

The sun rises nearly two hours earlier in the east of India than in the far west. Critics of the single time zone have argued that India should move to two different standard times to make the best use of daylight in eastern India, where the sun rises and sets much earlier than the west. People in the east need to start using their lights earlier in the day and hence use more electricity.

The rising and setting of the sun impacts our body clocks or circadian rhythm. As it gets darker in the evening, the body starts to produce the sleep hormone melatonin - which helps people nod off.

In a new paper, Maulik Jagnani, an economist at Cornell University, argues that a single time zone leads to a decline in quality of sleep, especially of poor children. This, he says, ends up reducing the quality of their education.

This is how it happens. The school day starts at more or less the same time everywhere in India but children go to bed later and have reduced sleep in areas where the sun sets later. An hour's delay in sunset time reduces children's sleep by 30 minutes.

Scientists suggest Manipur, a hilly north-eastern state, should have a different time zone

Using data from the India Time Survey and the national Demographic and Health Survey, Mr Jagnani found that school-going children exposed to later sunsets get fewer years of education, and are less likely to complete primary and middle school.

He found evidence that suggested that sunset-induced sleep deprivation is more pronounced among the poor, especially in periods when households face severe financial constraints.

"This might be because sleep environments among poor households are associated with noise, heat, mosquitoes, overcrowding, and overall uncomfortable physical conditions. The poor may lack the financial resources to invest in sleep-inducing goods like window shades, separate rooms, indoor beds and adjust their sleep schedules," he told me.

  • "In addition, poverty may have psychological consequences like stress, negative affective states, and an increase in cognitive load that can affect decision-making."

Mr Jagnani also found that children's education outcomes vary with the annual average sunset time across eastern and western locations even within a single district. An hour's delay in annual average sunset time reduces education by 0.8 years, and children living in locations with later sunsets are less likely to complete primary and middle school, the research showed.

Mr Jagnani says that back of the envelope estimates suggested that India would accrue annual human capital gains of over $4.2bn (0.2% of GDP) if the country switched from the existing single time zone to the proposed two time zone policy: UTC+5 hours for western India and UTC+6 hours for eastern India. (UTC is essentially the same as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT but is measured by an atomic clock and is thus more accurate.)

The sun can rise nearly two hours earlier in the east of India than in the far west

India has long debated whether it should move to two time zones. (In fact tea gardens in the north-eastern state of Assam have long set their clocks one hour ahead of IST in what functions as an informal time zone of their own.)

During the late 1980s, a team of researchers at a leading energy institute suggested a system of time zones to save electricity. In 2002, a government panel shot down a similar proposal, citing complexities. There was the risk, some experts felt, of railway accidents as there would be a need to reset times at every crossing from one time zone to another.

Last year, however, India's official timekeepers themselves suggested two time zones, one for most of India and the other for eight states, including seven in the more remote north-eastern part the country. Both the time zones would be separated by an hour.

Researchers at the National Physical Laboratory said the single time zone was "badly affecting lives" as the sun rises and sets much earlier than official working hours allow for.

Early sunrise, they said, was leading to the loss of many daylight hours as offices, schools and colleges opened too "late" to take full advantage of the sunlight. In winters, the problem was said to be worse as the sun set so early that more electricity was consumed "to keep life active".

Moral of the story: Sleep is linked to productivity, and a messy time zone can play havoc with the lives of people, especially poor children.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:32

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Government sued over no-deal ferry contracts

The government is being sued for its decision to charter firms to run extra ferries, including one with no ships, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel, said the contracts, revealed after Christmas, were decided in a "secretive and flawed procurement process".

The move comes days after Seaborne, one of the firms chosen, had its contract axed after its funding fell through.

The government said it had carried out a "competitive procurement process".

"The Department for Transport acted transparently and competitively throughout the process of securing extra freight.

"This was done by approaching ferry operators and encouraging bids that could be fairly assessed against each other," a spokeswoman said.

At a High Court hearing in London, Eurotunnel claimed the government contracts, announced on 29 December, were awarded without any public notice.

Eurotunnel's barrister Daniel Beard QC said Eurotunnel only found out "when contract notices were published three days after Christmas".

He said it was "quite remarkable" his client had not been informed given its recent history in running cross-Channel services.

Ewan West, representing Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in court, said the government's procurement process was only for "maritime freight" services and that Eurotunnel "could never have provided that capacity" and "could not have complied" with the terms of the contracts.

Judge Peter Fraser ruled a four-day trial will begin on 1 March given the "obvious" urgency of the case and the "very important public interest matters" involved.

The government announced on Saturday it had decided to terminate its agreement with Seaborne

When the Department for Transport announced the contracts in December, in documents outlining the agreements it stated that an "unforeseeable" situation of "extreme urgency" meant there was no time for the contracts to be put out to tender - the standard practice for public procurements.

However, the BBC understands that a number of firms were considered and there was a private negotiation process.

Three suppliers were awarded a total of £102.9m in late December, aimed at easing "severe congestion" at Dover, in the case of a no-deal Brexit:

  • £46.6m to the French company Brittany Ferries
  • £42.5m (€47.3m) to Danish shipping firm DFDS
  • £13.8m to British firm Seaborne Freight

The decision to award a contract to Seaborne, a firm with no ships which the BBC found had never run a ferry service before, has been heavily criticised.

After Seaborne's contract collapsed Mr Grayling faced calls for his resignation, with Labour accusing him of "rewriting the textbook on incompetence.".

But Prime Minister Theresa May has said she continues to have full confidence in him.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:28

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Why so many people believe conspiracy theories

Did Hillary Clinton mastermind a global child-trafficking ring from a Washington pizzeria? No.

Did George W Bush orchestrate a plot to bring down the Twin Towers and kill thousands of people in 2001? Also no.

So, why do some people believe they did? And what do conspiracy theories tell us about the way we see the world?

Conspiracy theories are far from a new phenomenon. They have been a constant hum in the background for at least the past 100 years, says Prof Joe Uscinski, author of American Conspiracy Theories.

They are also more widespread than you might think.

"Everybody believes in at least one and probably a few," he says. "And the reason is simple: there is an infinite number of conspiracy theories out there. If we were to poll on all of them, everybody is going to check a few boxes."

Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria became the subject of an online conspiracy theory about child trafficking

This finding isn't peculiar to the US. In 2015, University of Cambridge research found most Britons ticked a box when presented with a list of just five theories. These ranged from the existence of a secret group controlling world events, to contact with aliens.

This suggests that, contrary to popular belief, the typical conspiracy theorist is not a middle-aged man living in his mother's basement sporting a tinfoil hat.

"When you actually look at the demographic data, belief in conspiracies cuts across social class, it cuts across gender and it cuts across age," Prof Chris French, a psychologist at Goldsmith's, University of London, says.

Equally, whether you're on the left or the right, you're just as likely to see plots against you.

"The two sides are equal in terms of conspiracy thinking," Prof Uscinski says, of research in the US.

"People who believe that Bush blew up the Twin Towers were mostly Democrats, people who thought that Obama faked his own birth certificate were mostly Republicans - but it was about even numbers within each party."

To understand why we are so drawn to the notion of shadowy forces controlling political events, we need to think about the psychology behind conspiracy theories.

"We are very good at recognising patterns and regularities. But sometimes we overplay that - we think we see meaning and significance when it isn't really there," Prof French says.

"We also assume that when something happens, it happens because someone or something made it happen for a reason."

Essentially, we see some coincidences around big events and we then make up a story out of them.

That story becomes a conspiracy theory because it contains "goodies" and "baddies" - the latter being responsible for all the things we don't like.

In many ways, this is just like everyday politics.

We often blame politicians for bad events, even when those events are beyond their control, says Prof Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University.

"People will blindly reward or punish the government for good or bad times without really having any clear understanding of whether or how the government's policies have contributed to those outcomes," he says.

Barack Obama released his birth certificate in 2011 in response to persistent rumours he had been born outside the US

This is even true when things that seem very unrelated to government go wrong.

"One instance that we looked at in some detail was a series of shark attacks off the coast of New Jersey in 1916," Prof Bartels says.

"This was the basis, much later, for the movie Jaws. We found that there was a pretty significant downturn in support for President [Woodrow] Wilson in the areas that had been most heavily affected by the shark attacks."

The "us" and "them" role of conspiracy theories can be found in more mainstream political groups as well.

In the UK, the EU referendum has created a group of Remainers and a similarly sized group of Leavers.

"People feel they belong to their group but it also means that people feel a certain sense of antagonism towards people in the other group," Prof Sara Hobolt, of the London School of Economics, says.

Remainers and Leavers sometimes interpret the world differently. For example, confronted with identical economic facts, Remainers are more likely to say the economy is performing poorly and Leavers to say it is performing well.

Conspiracy theories are just another part of this.

"Leavers, who, in the run-up to the referendum, thought they were going to be on the losing side, were more likely to think that the referendum might be rigged," Prof Hobolt says.

"And then that really shifted after the referendum results came out, because at that point the Remainers were on the losing side."

It may not be terribly cheering to learn that conspiracy theories are so embedded in political thinking. But it should not be surprising.

"It's often the case that we're constructing our beliefs in ways that support what we want to be true," Prof Bartels says.

And having more information is little help.

"The people who are most subject to these biases are the people who are paying the most attention," he says.

For many, there is little reason to get political facts right, since your individual vote won't affect government policy.

"There is no cost for me to be wrong about my political views," Prof Bartels says.

"If it makes me feel good to think that Woodrow Wilson should have been able to prevent the shark attacks, then the psychological pay-off from holding those views is likely to be much greater than any penalty that I might suffer if the views are wrong."

In the end, we want to feel comfortable, not be right.

It is why particular conspiracy theories come and go, but also why conspiracy will always be part of the stories we tell about political events.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:19

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Disney fans mock Will Smith's Genie in Aladdin

Disney granted everyone's wish on Sunday when they finally gave a first look at Will Smith's blue Genie in the new live action version of Aladdin.

Unfortunately many fans were not impressed with what they saw and were quick to say so on social media.

"It turns out that Will Smith's Aladdin Genie will haunt my nightmares," tweeted one user.

Another added: "I'll never sleep again and it's all Will Smith's fault."

The trailer for director Guy Ritchie's latest offering was revealed midway through the Grammy Awards, and sees Aladdin approaching the Cave of Wonders in search of the lamp.

When Disney first released images of the upcoming film, Smith admitted it was "always terrifying" whenever "you're doing things that are iconic".

The actor told Entertainment Weekly he tapped into his roles from Bad Boys and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to shape his Genie.

When teasing what the blue immortal would look like, Ritchie said he wanted a "muscular 1970s dad".

He added: "He was big enough to feel like a force - not so muscular that he looked like he was counting his calories, but formidable enough to look like you knew when he was in the room."

However, other film fans said they would wait to make their minds up when the movie is released in May.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 10:05

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Catherine Wreford: The dancer with an 'invisible disease'

You could easily go and see Catherine Wreford perform in a show and not know anything was wrong.

A professional dancer with a huge number of stage credits to her name, it's perhaps only when you look at the show programme that you'd find out she has brain cancer.

"I always put it in my bio because I want people to know I'm on stage and still performing, but I have an invisible disease," she tells BBC News.

"And I want people to know the invisible disease I have will kill me at some point, but not now. I can still dance, and because I can still dance, that's what I'm doing."

When the 39-year-old was first diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma (a malignant brain tumour), she was told she had between two and six years left to live.

That was six years ago.

But despite 2019 being the year that her determined time should be up, she is preparing to appear in a new production of Romeo and Juliet in her Canadian home city.

Catherine Wreford and Craig Ramsay, pictured in 2005

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) has invited her back, along with her close friend Craig Ramsay, two decades after the pair trained at the company's ballet school.

Together, she and Craig will portray Lord and Lady Capulet when the production opens on 13 February.

"Rehearsals have been going really well, everyone is so kind and accepting of us," Wreford says of the last few weeks.

Tara Birtwhistle, associate artistic director of the RWB, says she's "thrilled" to have Wreford and Ramsay back.

"We are proud of all that they have accomplished and to have them here, performing with the company, rehearsing in the studios where they learned their craft, is incredibly emotional, even more so in context of Catherine's story," she tells BBC News.

Despite training as a dancer and going on to star in Broadway shows, Wreford had actually given up her career in the entertainment industry more than a decade ago.

Wreford said the whole company had been "kind and accepting" of her during rehearsals

"I'd gone from training to performing on Broadway, and I'd never taken a break," she explains. "I was doing one show while rehearsing for another show, and my body was breaking down, I had a bunch of injuries.

"So I thought I'd take a little time off, and that turned into many years off, and I ended up running a mortgage company and then becoming a nurse."

Such a career change might sound like a total departure from her performing background - but Wreford surprisingly found plenty of overlap between dancing and being a mortgage advisor.

"It's basically the same thing, I'm acting right?!" she laughs. "I choreograph people into getting a new mortgage!... so I got to use that part of my brain a lot."

Symptoms of a malignant brain tumour

  • Headaches (often worse in the morning and when coughing or straining)
  • Fits (seizures)
  • Regularly feeling sick or vomiting
  • Memory problems or changes in personality
  • Weakness, vision problems or speech problems that get worse

The outlook for a malignant brain tumour depends on things like where it is in the brain, its size, and what grade it is.

It can sometimes be cured if caught early, but a brain tumour often comes back and it sometimes isn't possible to remove it.

After several successful years running the mortgage company, Wreford decided to train as a nurse.

But just as she was focused on graduating and giving birth to her second child, tragedy struck.

"I graduated from nursing school on 10 May [2013], had my daughter Quinn on 18 May, and was diagnosed with brain cancer on 24 June."

But after her diagnosis, Wreford says she decided she wanted to spend her final years going "back to what I really love, which is being on stage and performing".

A determination to continue performing is common among entertainers with such conditions.

John Newman and Russell Watson were both diagnosed with benign (non-cancerous) brain tumours

Chart-topping singer John Newman, who is 28, had to take a break when he was first diagnosed with a benign brain tumour in 2012, which returned in 2016.

But he kept ambitions high, continuing to write music and commenting that he was aiming to play Wembley Stadium this year.

"I've got this thing in my head. It's part of my body and I have other things I need to concentrate on," he told The Sun.

Similarly, opera singer Russell Watson said he used it as inspiration, and is set to embark on a 22-night tour later this year.

"As soon as I was told it was physiologically improbable that I would go back to performing the way I was before... I thought, 'I'll show you!'" he told Jeremy Vine in December.

"All I need is someone to tell me I can't do something. It was painful but I feel very lucky every time I walk on stage."

For Wreford, the part of her brain most heavily affected relates to her short term memory and speech.

Which presumably means that, when it comes to performing, learning a dance is easier than dialogue.

"Absolutely," she says. "Dancing is way easier for me than learning lines and songs.

"I'm proud of myself if I can get through an audition without messing up the lines. But choreography still sticks in my head, that's a different part of my brain."

Wreford tells directors and producers of her condition in advance, who make allowances for her needs.

"When I play a bigger role, the people who hire me know the situation and send me everything way ahead of time so I can sing it and learn the lines three times a day, so it moves more from my short term memory to my long term memory," she explains.

"I don't have much of a short term memory, so Craig will be like, remember this thing we learned yesterday, and I'll be like nope, no memory of it at all!"

Wreford feels strongly that she and her two children, eight-year-old Elliot and five-year-old Quinn, talk openly about her condition - which can sometimes result in finding humour in the situation.

"I treat them like adults," she says, "while still being parental".

"Elliot once came with me to the oncologist, and he was seven at the time. And I said, 'Hey buddy do you wanna ask any questions?'

"And," she laughs, "he asked the oncologist, 'How much money do you make?' And I was like, 'Not those kinds of questions!'"

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:57

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GoFundMe: Hope, but no solution, for the needy

Kelsey Colker is less than a year old but she's already spent more time in hospital than most of us will in our lifetime.

She has a rare condition known as "vanishing gut syndrome", causing her to lose most of her intestines.

Treatment is painful, long and - of course - expensive.

"I was not prepared for this situation and the astronomical medical bills I've faced," Kelsey's mother, Patricia, told me.

Like millions before her, Patricia has turned to GoFundMe, a site that provides a crowd-funding platform and tools to help worthy causes receive attention across social media.

"The heartfelt donations Kelsey receives through her GoFundMe page are a godsend in helping to pay medical bills, and giving her a fighting chance," Patricia said.

The last hope

In today's world, for a sick child, going viral can mean the difference between life or death. Or, it means an injured firefighter, has the chance of a full recovery. It means hundreds of lawyers for women who were victims of sexual harassment, or food for federal workers staring down financial ruin after weeks of not being paid.

Indeed, California-based GoFundMe has become the last hope for many Americans, in a country where social safety nets can be tragically hard to come by. The site has a growing number of international users too.

Since 2010, more than 50 million people have donated more than $5bn (£3.9bn). At first, the site took a 5% cut of donations but now it takes no fees in most markets, asking instead for givers to essentially tip the website instead.

For some, the success of GoFundMe stands as proof of humanity's innate desire to help each other. For others, the site's continued existence is a monument to inequality.

"The risk is that we are lulled into thinking that generosity is a substitute for justice," said Anand Giridharadas, author of Winner Takes All, a book that examines the forces behind income inequality.

A broken system

"It's biblical in nature," Rob Solomon, GoFundMe's chief executive, told me.

"I mean, in the old days, when someone needed to build a barn, it wasn't the family that was building the barn that built it, the whole community came together. This is something that is deeply seated in human nature, this notion of coming together to help people."

Fundraisers such as Kelsey's are common on the GoFundMe platform, where medical issues make up the bulk of campaigns

Our interview took place, not in a barn, but in a conference room named Saving Eliza, after a little girl whose father raised enough money to fund a clinical trial to help fight Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.

Other rooms in the building include Help Norma, named after an 89-year-old who was able to afford stay-at-home care after her 31-year-old neighbour raised over $50,000.

Medical needs are the most frequent type of fundraisers on the platform, not just covering medical bills, but other areas where money can fall short when a family member is taken ill.

Many of the fundraisers existed because of a "broken" healthcare system in the US, Mr Solomon said.

"I wish GoFundMe didn't need to be around to solve problems that shouldn't exist.

"Everyone should have access to health care. I would love for there never to be another medical campaign on GoFundMe. But that's not the reality we live in."

Funding the wall

Increasingly, the question of what constitutes a "good cause" is becoming highly politicised. We The People Will Build The Wall is a GoFundMe campaign launched in December with the goal of raising money for the President Donald Trump's proposed border wall between the US and Mexico.

"The feasibility was something that we didn't have great certainty on," Mr Solomon said, in response to my question of whether it was obvious the campaign would never succeed in funding a border wall.

"There is precedent where private funds have gone to the government to fund certain causes. [But] in working on this, we realised that that wasn't going to be the case and we let the campaign organiser know that he would have to find a different use case."

A campaign to raise money to hand over the Trump administration for a border wall was deemed not feasible by GoFundMe

That use case ended up being a separate company that, organisers said, would be capable of building the wall itself. Those who had donated up until that point were given their money back, unless they opted-in to funding the new company instead.

GoFundMe said it would not intervene in campaigns on political grounds unless a fundraiser went against its policies.

"The money isn't released to a fundraiser or a beneficiary until we can confirm where the money is going," Mr Solomon said.

Increasingly, though, machinations in the political world are having a direct impact in the work that GoFundMe is doing.

During the recent government shutdown, when about 800,000 workers missed a pay cheque, GoFundMe raised just under half a million dollars to help those affected, in addition to the individual campaigns started by friends and family of furloughed workers.

"It's a sign of dysfunction," Mr Solomon said. "The government not doing what it's supposed to do."

Fighting scams

The rapid growth of GoFundMe has presented another major challenge for its 300 employees: verifying the authenticity of those asking for money. Sometimes fake campaigns slip through the net, such as a recent fund for a shooting victim that never existed.

One of the most high-profile fundraisers on GoFundMe featured three people who prosecutors allege concocted a wild storyline about a homeless man giving a woman his "last $20".

The story quickly went viral, gained widespread media coverage, and soon more than $400,000 had been raised - donations that GoFundMe has since refunded.

GoFundMe set up a special programme to fund organisations helping workers affected by the US government shutdown

"Less than one 10th of 1% of all campaigns result in any kind of misuse or fraud," Mr Solomon said.

"We take it very seriously. We have a host of technologies, we have many different processes and lots of people that we deploy, to keep misuse off the platform."

No substitute

While it's the big viral campaigns that get the most attention, Mr Solomon is keen to point out that the average GoFundMe campaign raises in the region of $1,500.

Many of these smaller campaigns can be found in the education section of the site, where school teachers are asking for help buying things such as computers, books and even tables - essential items in a classroom that most people might reasonably expect to be covered by taxes, not donations.

"Income inequality is a big driver of why we exist," Mr Solomon said.

Mr Giridharadas said "GoFundMe culture" was papering over what should be "properly public priorities".

"People are moved by stories of teachers whose classrooms are bare and patients shut out of proper medical care," he said.

"[But] many GoFundMe campaigns are testimony to a cruel, winners-take-all economy, the only remedy for which is vigorous reform of law and policy - and the winners taking less."

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:50

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Australia government loses bill blocking sick asylum seekers

Australian MPs have passed a landmark bill with an opposition amendment making it easier for sick refugees held offshore to be treated in the country.

This is the first time in decades a government has lost a vote on its own legislation in the lower house.

The move is a blow for PM Scott Morrison's minority government's highly controversial immigration policy.

Since 2013, Australia has sent asylum seekers arriving by boat to detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Critics say it has harmed the welfare of detainees, including children.

Doctors have long warned of inadequate medical facilities on the islands, while the UN has previously described the camp conditions as "inhumane".However, Mr Morrison said: "There is no form of this bill that does not weaken our border protection."

Australia has long defended its offshore detention policy by arguing that it stops deaths at sea and disrupts the trade of people smuggling.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives by one vote after the Labour opposition and crossbench MPs agreed on last-minute amendments.

It is expected to sail through the upper Senate later this week where it will become law.

Why does this matter?

It's hugely significant that a government has lost a key parliamentary vote in its lower house - this hasn't happened in almost 80 years according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and comes ahead of a federal election later this year.

In 1941, then Prime Minister Arthur Fadden immediately resigned after he lost a budget vote in the lower house.

Tuesday's defeat comes as a blow to Mr Morrison, Australia's sixth prime minister in six years, and raises questions about whether he can remain in office. The government lost its majority late last year after losing a by-election.

But Mr Morrison has ruled out a snap election, saying last week that he wouldn't "be going off to the polls" even if he lost the "stupid" bill.

"Votes will come and go, they do not trouble me," he said on Tuesday after the government's defeat. "The Australian people can always trust us to... ensure the integrity of our border protection framework."

Mr Morrison's coalition government has to call an election by May.

So what does the bill allow?

Doctors will now have the power to recommended transfers for refugees on Nauru and Manus to Australia for treatment.

However, the immigration minister could ask an independent panel to review the medical assessment, and would have some authority to overrule it.

Previously, doctors had reported that their medical transfer recommendation were ignored by authorities.

Refugee lawyers thus had to apply for court orders to bring ill people to Australia. There were 44 medical transfers achieved through court battles.

Why was there a push for this law?

Last year, Australians were horrified by reports of a mental health crisis among children in detention. Doctors reported affected children too depressed to eat or sleep, and attempts of suicide among those as young as 11.

The wave of public backlash pushed the government to evacuate more than 100 children and their families from Nauru to Australia.

Advocates warned that a similar mental health crisis, and a plague of other medical issues, was also constant among the 1,000 adult detainees stuck on Nauru and Manus Island.

In one of several high-profile cases, an inquest in July found that the death of Iranian refugee Hamid Khazei on Manus Island from a foot infection could have been prevented if he had been transferred to Australia earlier for medical treatment.

Hamid Khazei died after Australian authorities delayed his medical treatment

How many sick asylum seekers are there?

The government had warned that the bill provided a "loophole" that would allow all of the remaining asylum seekers to reach Australia.

However, it declined to answer whether that meant all offshore detainees were seriously ill.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which provided mental health treatment to Nauru detainees last year, has noted that depression and suicide ideation was widespread and directly caused by a policy of indefinite detention.

"Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their mental health and wellbeing," said MSF Australia's director, Paul McPhun.

In a public letter to MPs this week, Doctors4Refugees, an advocacy group of physicians, also identified dozens of sick refugee cases who had received inadequate treatment.

These included "life-threatening" heart conditions, kidney stones, tuberculosis and diseases common in the sub-tropical environment, such as malaria, dengue fever and chronic fungal infections.

Refugees on the islands had told the BBC they were pinning their hopes on the vote.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:44

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Hakeem al-Araibi returns home to Australia after Thai detention


Hakeem al-Araibi thanked Australians for their support on arrival in Melbourne

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has returned home to Australia after two months of detention in Thailand.

The Bahraini citizen was detained in Bangkok in November while on honeymoon, at the request of Bahrain authorities.

Following international outcry and diplomatic pressure, the Arab kingdom ended its extradition attempt on Monday.

Hundreds of supporters cheered the arrival of the 25-year-old footballer at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday.

Wearing his team's football jersey, al-Araibi told the crowd: "I would like to say thanks to Australia. It's amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people who supported me."

The professional footballer and vocal critic of Bahrain authorities had fled to Australia in 2014 where he was granted political asylum.

Bahrain had sentenced him in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station, charges which he has denied.

The Arab kingdom had sought his extradition, but human rights groups warned that he risked torture if he was sent back.

Hours before his return, his wife told the BBC she was deeply thankful for the lobbying efforts of the Australian government and public, and the international football community.

"I have had a smile all the time on my face and I can't stop crying - I am just so happy," said the 24-year-old, who does not wish to be named.

"I prayed and prayed that he would come back to me, and finally our nightmare is ending."

Hakeem al-Araibi attended court in shackles when Bahrain requested extradition

Denied contact with her husband during his 10-week detention, she said she planned to "buy flowers and cake" to celebrate their reunion.

  • She also thanked Craig Foster, a TV host and former Australian national football captain who rallied the international football community, and sports bodies including Fifa and the International Olympic Committee to help secure a release.

Mr Foster, who escorted al-Araibi on his arrival, said the human rights victory marked "the beginning of a broader fight for the values of sport".

"We fought for one soul because Hakeem represented everyone who suffers under tyranny," he said in a statement.

The footballer plays for Melbourne team Pascoe Vale FC. Many of the team's members were at the airport on Tuesday.

l-Araibi's case had garnered significant public support in Australia

'You'll Never Walk Alone'

As he walked out of the airport arrival gates, Hakeem al-Araibi seemed astounded by the welcoming party that had gathered to greet him.

Some supporters had banners and posters baring his picture, others wore T-shirts with the campaign slogan #SaveHakeem.

They cheered as if greeting a cup-winning captain and sang one of football's most poignant anthems, You'll Never Walk Alone.

His case has shown the solidarity that exists across the game, as players and fans lobbied for his return.

But the apparent delay by Fifa in becoming involved has left the game's governing body open to accusations of neglect and failing to stand by its own policy on human rights.

On Monday, Thai officials told the BBC they had released al-Araibi because Bahrain was no longer seeking his extradition.

Bahrain's foreign ministry said that despite the end of court extradition proceedings, the footballer's conviction still stood.

"The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi," it added.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:40

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Uighur crackdown: 'I spent seven days of hell in Chinese camps'

The Chinese government calls them free "vocational training centres"; Aibota Serik, a Chinese Kazakh whose father was sent to one, calls them prisons.

Her father Kudaybergen Serik was a local imam in Tarbagatay (Tacheng) prefecture of China's western Xinjiang region. In February 2018 the police detained him and Aibota hasn't heard from her father since then.

"I don't know why my father was imprisoned. He didn't violate any laws of China, he was not tried in a court," she says, clutching a small photo of him, before breaking down in tears.

I met Aibota together with a group of other Chinese Kazakhs in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city. They gathered in a small office to petition the Kazakh government to help secure the release of their relatives who had disappeared in "political re-education camps".

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has heard there are credible reports that around one million people have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang. Almost all of them are from Muslim minorities such as the Uighurs, Kazakhs and others.

There are more than a million Kazakhs living in China. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands moved to oil-rich Kazakhstan, encouraged by its policy to attract ethnic Kazakhs. Today, these people feel cut off from their relatives who stayed in China.

Nurbulat Tursunjan says the Chinese authorities have confiscated his parents' passports

Nurbulat Tursunjan uulu, who moved to the Almaty region in 2016, says his elderly parents are unable to leave China and come to Kazakhstan because the authorities took away their passports.

Another petitioner, Bekmurat Nusupkan uulu, says that relatives in China are afraid to talk on the phone or on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat. And they are right to be afraid, he says.

"My father-in-law visited me in February 2018. From my place, he called his son in China, he asked how he was and so on. Shortly after that his son Baurzhan was detained. He was told that he had received phone calls from Kazakhstan two or three times and was sent to a political camp."

Human Rights Watch says detainees are held "without any due process rights - neither charged nor put on trial - and have no access to lawyers and family".

China insists its detention centres, such as this one in the city of Kashgar, are for "vocational training"

Orynbek Koksybek is an ethnic Kazakh who spent several months in camps.

"I spent seven days of hell there," he says. "My hands were handcuffed, my legs were tied. They threw me in a pit. I raised both my hands and looked above. At that moment, they poured water. I screamed.

"I don't remember what happened next. I don't know how long I was in the pit but it was winter and very cold. They said I was a traitor, that I had dual citizenship, that I had a debt and owned land."

  • None of that was true, he says.

A week later Mr Koksybek was taken to a different place where he learnt Chinese songs and language. He was told he would leave if he learnt 3,000 words.

Orynbek Koksybek says he was thrown into a pit

"In Chinese they call it re-education camps to teach people but if they wanted to educate, why do they handcuff people?

"They detain Kazakhs because they're Muslims. Why imprison them? China's aim is to turn Kazakhs into Chinese. They want to erase the whole ethnicity," he says.

It is not possible to independently verify Orynbek Koksybek's story, but his account is similar to many documented by Human Rights Watch and other activists.

The Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan has not replied to the BBC's request for comment, but the Chinese authorities have been quoted in state media as saying the camps are "vocational training centres", which aim to "get rid of an environment that breeds terrorism and religious extremism".

The Kazakh government says that any restrictions on Chinese citizens in China are their internal matter, and it does not interfere. However, Kazakhstan says it will try to assist any Kazakh citizens who are detained in China.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:34

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Catalan 'rebellion' trial puts Spain's courts to the test

Writing from his prison cell, the former vice-president of Catalonia knows he is facing a potential 25 years in prison for rebellion.

Oriol Junqueras is one of a dozen former political leaders facing trial over his region's independence bid in October 2017. Some stand accused of a violent uprising – one they say never happened.

There are no apologies – Mr Junqueras insists on his innocence, telling the BBC that the "trial is an action against an ideology and against political dissent".

"It's a judgement on democracy," he said, and one "which creates a dangerous precedent for all of Europe".

Another defendant fears they will face a court stacked against them, with a "pre-determined outcome".

But the Spanish government has defended the process, insisting the accused will get a fair trial - while the rest of the world watches.

Controversy in Catalonia

The 12 accused face charges including rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds for their part in the 2017 push for independence from Spain.

A disputed referendum - in which a majority of those who took part backed independence - was held in the territory on 1 October 2017.

A little more than three weeks later, the parliament in Barcelona voted to declare Catalonia an independent republic.

Yet the referendum saw a low turnout, and had been declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court. Madrid stepped in to impose its rule on the region, and several Catalan leaders fled or were arrested.

A year and a half later, the vote is still controversial.

What happened to Catalonia? One year on

On Sunday, thousands took to the streets of Madrid to demonstrate their support for a united country ahead of the trial.

And Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has come under pressure for his attempts at dialogue with the leadership in Catalonia.

Prosecutors allege the accused - who include ex-ministers, the former speaker of the regional parliament and the leaders of pro-independence organisations - acted against Spain's constitution, which guarantees "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation".

All deny the charges against them.

Mr Junqueras - the most senior member of the then Catalan government not to flee the country - said the trial was politically motivated.

The former vice-president refutes the charge of rebellion, which Spanish law defines as a "violent, public uprising" to achieve goals such as "the independence of a part of the national territory".

Police clash with voters at polling stations in October 2017

"Ours has been an extremely peaceful process and so these crimes are totally non-existent in our case. The only violence has been that applied by the National Police and Civil Guard on 1 October against voters who were trying to put a paper in a ballot box," he said.

The Catalan government said more than 900 people were injured as police tried to seize ballot boxes and close polling stations.

'A pre-determined outcome'

In November, more than 100 legal experts from across Spain signed an open letter (in Spanish) condemning the use of the charge of rebellion in the Catalan case.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Sánchez, the former president of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), said: "Even those who accuse us of rebellion don't believe it. Where was the uprising? It's a total farce."

Mr Sánchez also accuses politicians in Madrid of trying to influence the trial.

The vote led to brief celebrations - but an independent Catalonia has yet to emerge

"The judges were chosen by the political parties to control it and impose a pre-determined outcome," he said. "Despite everything, they haven't accepted our objections. There is nothing more to say. It will be a trial with political objectives."

The prime minister disagrees. Speaking on a visit to Strasbourg ahead of the start of the trial, he said that in Spain "individual rights, public freedoms and the rights of minorities are guaranteed and protected".

The trial is expected to last around three months.

A long witness list includes the Spanish prime minister at the time of the referendum, Mariano Rajoy.

Who are the imprisoned independence leaders?

Those awaiting trial in Lledoners jail include (L-R) Jordi Sánchez, Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Cuixart, Josep Rull and Raul Romeva. All maintain their innocence

There are 12 defendants, nine of whom have already spent more than 10 months in prison awaiting the start of the trial.

Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president and the highest-ranking pro-independence leader after his superior, Carles Puigdemont, fled the country

  • Carme Forcadell was the speaker of Catalan Parliament when it voted to declare a republic, reading out the decision - she remained free until March last year
  • Jordi Sánchez, the former president of the Catalan National Assembly, was nominated to succeed Mr Puigdemont, but abandoned the idea when he was not allowed to leave prison for the vote
  • Jordi Cuixart, president of Omnium Cultural - a Catalan language and culture organisation - and a grassroots independence activist

In December, Ms Forcadell appealed against her imprisonment to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

Amnesty International has called for the release of Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, who have been in jail since 16 October 2017.

Also facing trial are Joaquim Forn, former interior minister; Jordi Turull, former Catalan government spokesman; Raül Romeva, former external relations minister; Dolors Bassa, former labour minister; Josep Rull, former territorial minister; Carles Mundó, former justice minister; Meritxell Borràs, former governance minister; and Santi Vila, former business minister.

ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:26

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Blackface governor Ralph Northam calls slaves 'indentured servants'

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam calls slaves "indentured servants"

Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has defended calling slaves "indentured servants" in his first TV interview since a racism scandal broke.

Mr Northam, who has admitted to wearing blackface, told CBS a historian told him "indentured" was a more accurate term for America's first slaves.

Plans have meanwhile stalled to impeach Virginia's Lt Gov Justin Fairfax, who is accused of sexual assault.

The state capitol has been plunged into turmoil by the twin scandals.

During the CBS interview aired in full on Monday, Mr Northam was grilled over his college yearbook photo, which shows two people - one wearing blackface makeup and the other in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Mr Northam was asked why he initially apologised for the photo before backtracking and denying he was either in the picture.

"When you're in a state of shock like I was, we don't always think as clearly as we should," Mr Northam said, adding that he had "overreacted" by issuing an immediate apology.

"I will tell you that later that night I had a chance to step back, take a deep breath, look at the picture and said, 'This is not me in the picture'," he said.

Mr Northam has already admitted that he once "darkened his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume" on a separate occasion in 1984.

Asked whether he would resign, Mr Northam said: "I'm not going anywhere."

'Indentured servants from Africa'

The governor's damage-limitation efforts risked making matters worse when he told the interviewer that 400 years has passed since the "first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores".

CBS presenter Gayle King, who is African American, said: "Also known as slavery."

According to Encyclopedia Virginia, which is produced in partnership with the Library of Virginia, the first Africans to arrive in Virginia were sold in exchange for food in August 1619 from the English ship White Lion.

Unlike indentured servants, who were typically released after paying off the debt of their voyage to America, black slaves were rarely freed.

After the interview aired on Monday, Mr Northam released a statement defending his word choice.

He said that during a recent speech he "referred to them in my remarks as enslaved".

"A historian advised me that the use of indentured was more historically accurate. The fact is, I'm still learning and committed to getting it right."

Uncomfortable history

The scandals have rocked the state's capitol, Richmond, which was also the capitol of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the US Civil War.

Mr Northam's deputy, Lt Governor Justin Fairfax, has been accused of sexual assault by two separate women.

On Monday a Democratic-led impeachment effort against Mr Fairfax, who is black, appeared to stall after lawmakers announced that they would hold off for until further consultations are completed.

Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope, who wrote draft impeachment articles, said on Monday that he had spoken to his colleagues who helped him determine that "additional conversations need to take place before anything is filed".

Democratic Delegate Marcus Simon, who has called on Mr Fairfax to resign, told the Wall Street Journal that he believes there is no precedent in Virginia history to impeach a governor, and that more research must be done on the legal process.

"Frankly, a lot of us feel sort of helpless to do anything about the chaos around here. I just don't know this is the right thing to be doing," Mr Simon said.

Over the weekend Mr Fairfax, who denies the allegations, called for an FBI investigation into the accusations.

The number three in Virginia's government, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, is also in hot water after admitting to wearing blackface to a university party in 1980.



ruby Posted on February 12, 2019 09:14

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Teen kickboxer Scott Marsden's death 'tragic fluke'

A 14-year-old kickboxer died when a blow to his chest caused cardiac arrest in a rare medical "fluke", an inquest has heard.

Scott Marsden, from Sheffield, collapsed during a kickboxing bout in Leeds in March 2017.

Wakefield Coroner's Court heard he died from a rare disruption of the heart's rhythm caused by a direct blow at a specific moment in the heart cycle.

The pathologist said Scott had no pre-existing heart defects.

Dr Kerry Turner, consultant paediatric pathologist, told the coroner the condition that killed Scott was "commotio cordis" and it was "very rare" that three elements - the blow's impact, its location over the heart, and the timing in the cycle - all aligned.

Dr Turner said: "It is a tragic fluke that all three things line up in the correct way.

"For all these things to line up in the right way is very rare."

Scott's mother told the inquest her son had a "heart of gold" and would do "anything for anyone"

Scott started kickboxing aged four or five, and competed from eight.

He trained at Marsden's All Styles Kickboxing club in Hillsborough, run by his family.

The event was the fourth at Leeds Martial Arts College, organised by Paul Lynch under World Kickboxing Association (WKA) rules.

Scott's opponent was of similar size and age.

The event was the fourth at Leeds Martial Arts College

The inquest heard Mr Lynch, MC-ing the event, hired a private medical team. A doctor he used for pre-fight checks at previous events was also there, although only in a social capacity as she was heavily pregnant.

Mr Lynch said Scott slumped on to the ropes and was caught by the referee following a spinning kick by his opponent.

The medics on-site gave him emergency treatment and paramedics were called, but Scott died the next day at Leeds General Infirmary.

Jon Green, UK president of WKA and judging on the night, questioned official ambulance service figures that a crew arrived in 21 minutes.

He told the inquest the crew seemed "in no rush whatsoever".

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 17:35

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'Trans row' student banned from free speech debate

A student, whose tweet that "women don't have penises" led to a transphobic row, has been banned from taking part in a debate about free speech at the University of Bristol.

Angelos Sofocleous, a Durham University student, cannot take part in the Free Speech Society event due to "security concerns".

The society said the student union had banned him from the panel discussion.

The union said it was "committed" to free speech but security was needed.

Mr Sofocleous was sacked from his post as assistant editor at Durham University's philosophy society's journal last August after he tweeted comments deemed by some people to be transphobic.

He wrote: "RT [retweet] if women don't have penises", linked to an article in The Spectator on the same subject, and later defended his views.

A discussion panel asking "is there a problem with free speech on campus?" is due to take place at the university on Wednesday.

Mr Sofocleous tweeted he had been "de-platformed" from the debate due to concerns "my presence might spark protests which might lead to physical violence".

He wrote "nothing could provide a more ironic indication of the current status of social justice orthodoxy in academia than banning a speaker from an event titled 'free speech on campus'."

The university's free speech society said it had been told by the student union "in order to hold the event as scheduled we must disinvite him as a panellist" due to his presence on campus being a "high risk".

The society said: "The university security services informed us that they were not at all consulted by the students union on the matter."

The Student Union said it was "committed" to free speech

A spokesman said the society was "severely disappointed" by the "last-minute decision", and felt "let down by the unnecessary bureaucracy of the student union and its disregard for free speech".

The student union said it had "not refused Angelos Sofocleous as a speaker" and was "committed to freedom of speech and the rights of all our students to discuss difficult and sensitive topics"

A spokesperson added: "Bristol SU and the University of Bristol have a joint external speakers procedure, which applies to all bookings and events.

"Bristol SU made an initial assessment of the speaker and recommended that security would be needed to ensure this event could run safely and smoothly.

"The Freedom of Speech Society was informed of this one week prior to the event with the recommendation that the event is rearranged in order to allow security measures to be put in place and the event to go ahead."

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 17:31

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Long Stratton driver has 'ingenious' idea to protect car

A woman said she "fell about laughing" when she saw a car with pool noodles attached to prevent dents.

The BMW was spotted in a car park in Long Stratton, Norfolk, by Tina Land who described it as an "ingenious" method to protect the car from bumps.

The red foam barrier was connected by karabiners and clips, as reported by the EDP.

Ms Land said she thought the driver was hoping to avoid other doors hitting it while parked.

The car was spotted in a car park in Long Stratton in Norfolk

She said: "When we saw it we instantly fell about laughing.

"I am not sure if it is actually to prevent doors from denting the car, I didn't test it, or if the driver is just a bit of a joker. It's quite an ingenious idea."

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 17:22

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Fighting slows 'final push' against IS in eastern Syria

US-backed fighters in Syria say they are meeting fierce resistance in the last enclave held by Islamic State (IS) militants near the Iraqi border.

A battle has been going on for hours, with US-led coalition air strikes and artillery fire pounding IS positions.

Up to 600 jihadists are thought to be defending their last stronghold, a small pocket in Syria's eastern province of Deir al-Zour.

Two years ago IS controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday, after a pause of more than a week to allow some 20,000 civilians to leave the area, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the group was launching the "final battle to crush IS". Some civilians are believed to be still in the area.

An SDF field commander told AFP news agency on Sunday morning: "There are heavy clashes at the moment. We have launched an assault and the fighters are advancing."

Monitors the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF were advancing across farmland, and there were heavy clashes and landmines going off.

Backed by air strikes, the SDF have driven out IS from towns and villages in north-eastern Syria in recent months.

'My son was an IS fighter, now I'm trying to save his children'

At its peak in 2014, IS established a "caliphate" stretching across Syria and Iraq that was similar in size to the UK and ruled over more than 7.7 million people.

In December, US President Donald Trump said IS militants were "mostly gone" and announced the US would withdraw all of its 2,000 troops from Syria.

On Wednesday he said: "It should be announced, probably some time next week, that we will have 100% of the caliphate."

The battle for the tiny sliver of land still held by IS next to the Iraqi border has been raging for many hours.

Air strikes and artillery fire have pummelled the IS position, which measures only about a mile across. The SDF believes it will shortly achieve a decisive victory.

IS does still hold another scrap of territory in Syria - and it continues to carry out dozens of attacks - many targeting the SDF.

Even as it seems likely to lose every last fragment of its once-vaunted and self-declared caliphate, IS can continue to operate and pose a potent threat in both Syria and Iraq from remote areas where its fighters find refuge, as well as through militants gone to ground in towns and cities.

How many militants are left?

IS has suffered substantial losses, but the UN says it still reportedly controls between 14,000 and 18,000 militants in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreigners.

Meanwhile, there are significant numbers of IS-affiliated militants in Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, South-East Asia and West Africa, and to a lesser extent in Somalia, Yemen, Sinai and the Sahel.

Individuals inspired by the group's ideology also continue to carry out attacks elsewhere.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 17:18

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Yemen war: Grain stores in Hudaydah 'at risk of rotting'

The UN is urging the warring parties in Yemen to give it access to a vast store of grain that is desperately needed in a country on the brink of famine.

Aid workers have not been able to reach the Red Sea Mills, on the frontlines in the port of Hudaydah, for five months.

It holds enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, but the UN says it is now "at risk of rotting".

The Yemeni government and the rebel Houthi movement agreed a ceasefire around Hudaydah in December.

But they have yet to implement a UN-brokered plan under which opposing fighters should be redeployed to locations outside the area.

Hudaydah, which has been controlled by the Houthis since 2014, is the principal lifeline for two-thirds of Yemen's population. Up to 80% of the humanitarian aid, fuel and commercial goods on which they depend are delivered through the port.

Where the fighting in Yemen has stopped... but not the suffering

On Monday, the UN's special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Mark Lowcock, warned that the urgency of getting access to the Red Sea Mills facility south of the port was "growing by the day".

"The World Food Programme (WFP) grain stored in the mills - enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month - has been inaccessible for over five months and is at risk of rotting," they said in a joint statement.

"At the same time, the United Nations is in the process of scaling up to provide food assistance to nearly 12 million people across Yemen who struggle to meet their daily food needs. Our main concern is for their survival and well-being."

The UN officials emphasised that ensuring access to the mills was a "shared responsibility among the parties to the conflict in Yemen".

Last week, the UN said Yemeni government and Houthi representatives had agreed a preliminary compromise that would allow them to proceed with the redeployment of forces from Hudaydah and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

A granary at Red Sea Mills was damaged last month by what the government said was rebel mortar fire

The agreement came after talks on board a UN vessel in Hudaydah's inner harbour attended by the new head of the UN's monitoring mission, Gen Michael Anker Lollesgaard of Denmark.

Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in early 2015, when the Houthis forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.

Alarmed by the rise of a group they saw as an Iranian proxy, Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab states intervened in an attempt to restore the government.

At least 6,800 civilians have been killed and 10,700 injured in the fighting, according to the UN. Thousands more civilians have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease and poor health.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 17:13

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Bafta win for vegan farmer who gave away herd

A film about a vegan farmer who gave his cows to an animal sanctuary to save them from the slaughterhouse has won a Bafta.

Jay Wilde, from Ashbourne, Derbyshire, hit the headlines after handing his beef herd to a Norfolk rescue centre.

Filmmaker Alex Lockwood's documentary, 73 Cows, won best short film at Sunday's Bafta awards.

Mr Wilde said Mr Lockwood, from Stourbridge in the West Midlands, had done a "wonderful job" on the film.

Jay Wilde gave his herd to a sanctuary to spare them "a terrifying death" at the slaughterhouse

The 15-minute film, which won the grand prize at the 2018 Ottawa International Vegan Film Festival, covers Mr Wilde's struggles with his conscience and the beef farming industry.

He grew up herding cows and took over the family farm when his father died. He was already a vegetarian, and has recently become a vegan.

He said he had always wanted to give up animal production because he "couldn't believe it was right to eat them".

Mr Wilde, who was not at the ceremony, found out about the win just before the broadcast on BBC One, on Sunday evening.

The farmer, who had joked he did not feel "like Bafta material", said it felt unreal, but he had been "fairly confident" the film would be victorious despite the other entries being "so good".

"It's very surreal because I've led an isolated life on this farm," he said.

"Alex [Lockwood] filmed this isolation and the desperation I was feeling and to some extent still do. It's true to life, unfortunately.

"I almost forgot it was me [on the screen] because Alex told the story so well. It's a brilliant piece of work. He reflected reality."

The cows are now being cared for by Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk

Mr Wilde, who is looking after 17 remaining cows at his farm, was approached by Mr Lockwood, last year, about making the film, but expected it to be another routine interview.

However, after he saw it at the Raindance festival last year for the first time, he realised the director had done a "wonderful job".

The rescued cows have been enjoying their new lives at Hillside Animal Sanctuary near Frettenham, Mr Wilde added.

He is trying to get planning permission to build polytunnels on his land to grow organic produce and hopes the farm can become a "vegan destination" with a bed and breakfast facility, in the near future.

Jay Wilde said Alex Lockwood's film "got the most emotional response" when the films were shown at a Bafta screening

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 12:17

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A40 crash in London leaves two dead after police chase

Two people were killed in a car that drove down the wrong side of the road and hit a coach following a lengthy police pursuit in west London.

The man and woman died on the A40 in Acton, at about 21:00 GMT on Sunday.

A second man was hurt in the crash, which took place after the pursuit began seven miles away in Harrow after reports of an aggravated burglary.

The Met Police said its officers did not follow when the car went down the wrong side of the A40.

Fire and ambulance crews, along with the police helicopter, were called in and roads in the area - near the A40's junction with Kingsdown Avenue - were closed.

Transport for London said the roads reopened in both directions at 07:45.

The crash happened about 20 minutes after the police pursuit began in Harrow

A police helicopter was called in to help with the pursuit

"It wasn't like a normal car accident," eyewitness Antoine Eid, 47, said, adding that there was "no chance" of the coach slowing down before the crash.

"I've never seen something like that."

The second man was later taken to hospital for treatment, although the extent of his injuries have not been confirmed.

There were no reports of any other serious injuries, the Met said.

The Directorate of Professional Standards and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have been informed.

IOPC regional director Jonathan Green said: "My thoughts are with the families and friends of the two people who have died, those injured and all those affected by this incident.

"It is important that we now establish all of the circumstances surrounding this collision.

"We have therefore launched an independent investigation into the events leading to the collision and have immediately deployed our investigators to attend the scene and the post incident procedure where further information will be gathered."

Residents described hearing the aftermath of the crash which left two people dead

The coach was being hoisted up onto a tow truck at about 06:15 to be taken away from the crash scene.

Highways workers could be seen clearing the road of the glass and debris which had come from the collision.

Residents who live just off the A40 told me about hearing the crash, the aftermath and a helicopter hovering above.

One person said the car had hit the railings and then went into the coach after driving on the wrong side of the road.

The IOPC is investigating four deaths in separate incidents involving police vehicles, within four days of each other, in January.

There were 29 police-related fatalities on the roads in 2017-18, of which 17 were "pursuit-related", according to the IOPC.

Eight involved police vehicles responding to emergency calls.

Five deaths involved police vehicles hitting pedestrians while responding to an emergency call and one pedestrian death related to a pursuit.

In the previous year, 2016-17, there were 32 fatalities on the roads involving the police. Of those, 28 related to pursuits and none involved police responding to emergency calls.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 12:01

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The Albanian bunkers built in the midst of the Cold War

During the uncertain years of the Cold War, when nations prepared for the prospect of a devastating nuclear war, Albania's dictator Enver Hoxha convinced the country that the outside world wished to overthrow their communist state.

Rather than produce technological deterrents, bunkers were mass produced. Hackman's book, called Metamorphosis, shows the bunkers as they appear today.

Hackman says: "Concrete fabrication factories in every municipality began constructing bunkers 24 hours a day, every day of the year from 1976 until 1989.

"One labourer that I interviewed told me that the factory he worked in rotated in three shifts of eight hours each. Each shift made different parts so that no one person knew the exact constructional details of the bunkers they were building.

"Another, a field engineer responsible for erecting the bunkers, informed me that he worked 10 hours a day, every day for eight years.

"When asked if he ever questioned the perceived threat and the need for the bunkers, he replied that they were regularly given false air raid alarms to condition their thoughts."

"The majority of the Albanians view the bunkers as a hindrance and an obstacle, but rarely ever an eyesore.

"There are just so many that they have become accustomed to their presence, much the same as a Londoner with red telephone boxes or New Yorkers with yellow cabs.

"They have become a part of their lives woven into the fabric of their environment."

"A farmer showed me an infantry bunker with a small section of its side removed to make way for a path.

"What looked like a small amount of labour, had actually taken him and his brother three days to remove with a jackhammer.

"Higher up the hill was another bunker holding his TV antenna and housing his pigs."

Metamorphosis by Robert Hackman is published by Dewi Lewis.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 11:26

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When parents sue their children for support

Abu Taher says his son was always a "good kid".

For years, Mr Taher ran a small clothing shop in Chittagong, Bangladesh. He retired with little money and became reliant on his son and daughter for financial support.

"My wife and I had to go through a lot of hardship to raise our son," Mr Taher says. "But after he got married, he changed and stopped caring about his parents."

Despite help from his daughter, Mr Taher struggled. The 75-year-old says he had no choice but to pursue legal action against his son, Mohammad Shahjahan, for maintenance.

"It was a hard decision for me. Everybody was telling me to file a case for a long time, but I did not want to. I filed the case when there was no other way."

His son rejects the allegations. The pair have been estranged for decades but Mr Shahjahan, who works as a banker, says he did support his parents. He says his father brought the case "to disgrace him".

Parent v child

It's the kind of family breakdown that could happen anywhere but the remedy Mr Taher sought isn't universal.

He filed a case under Bangladesh's Parents Maintenance Act, a statute that provides recourse for parents against their children who fail to support them.

Many US states and parts of Europe also have so-called filial support laws on the books but they're rarely enforced.

But in Asia they are sometimes used.

Emory University health services researcher Dr Ray Serrano has analysed the various laws in Asia, which are rooted in the concept of filial piety, or respect for one's elderly relatives.

He describes the laws as an "extension of alimony or child support" in societies that prize family and communal values.

Duty to support

Elderly parents who can't support themselves can seek financial aid from their children under the country's Maintenance of Parents Act.

They can file claims in cases where children are capable of supporting them, but fail to do so.

A tribunal may award a monthly allowance or lump sum. Maintenance awards can also be granted through conciliation.

Few cases make it to the tribunal as many are resolved through conciliation. In 2017, only 20 cases at the Tribunal for Maintenance (TMP) resulted in a maintenance award.

China, India and Bangladesh have similar systems, which have developed over recent years in part to meet the demands of ageing populations. Dr Serrano says it's the idea of "reciprocity".

"If you are a (grown-up) child and not living with your parents you should at least provide for them."

Children face fines and even imprisonment in some circumstances.

Take a recent case from China's Sichuan province. Five adults were reportedly sentenced to up to two years in jail for abandoning their elderly father, after a court found they hadn't fulfilled their filial duties.

The role of the state

The laws typically focus on elderly poverty and not longer-term care.

But as societies grow older, they could offer a tool to take pressure off the state.

The World Health Organization says by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children aged under five.

And in 2050, about 80% of older people will be living in low and middle-income countries.

Dr Serrano says systems like that in Singapore may act as a "stick that nudges people" to take care of ageing parents.

Still, it's a policy shift that would be met with resistance in countries like the US and the UK. Harvard academic James Sabin says it's unlikely laws like these would ever gain traction in the US.

The professor leads the department of population medicine and psychiatry, and says the US is at the "other extreme" to a more community-minded nation like Singapore.

"We're as a society relatively unlikely to trample on the rights of individuals," he says.

He also points to potential dangers in cases where a child argues a parent isn't deserving of care.

"Some people will say, 'my parents neglected me, my parents abused me'… the opposite of a Confucian reverence for the older generation," Prof Sabin says.

"I don't think we want to be depending on the court for these social-psychological judgements."

But for Mr Taher, the system in Bangladesh offered welcome help.

He struck a deal with his son out of court. Mr Shahjahan has agreed to pay 10,000 taka ($119; £92) to his father each month.

So far he has honoured the deal and Mr Taher says if his son keeps paying, he will withdraw the case from the local court in Chittagong.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 10:41

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Hungary tries for baby boom with tax breaks and loan forgiveness

Hungarian women with four children or more will be exempted for life from paying income tax, the prime minister has said, unveiling plans designed to boost the number of babies being born.

It was a way of defending Hungary's future without depending on immigration, Viktor Orban said.

The right-wing nationalist particularly opposes immigration by Muslims.

Hungary's population is falling by 32,000 a year, and women there have fewer children than the EU average.

As part of the measures, young couples will be offered interest-free loans of 10 million forint ($36,000), to be cancelled once they have three children.

Mr Orban said that "for the West", the answer to falling birth rates in Europe was immigration: "For every missing child there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine.

"Hungarian people think differently," he said. "We do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children."


Orban has taken a hard line on immigration, often clashing with his European counterparts

While Mr Orban was delivering his state of the nation address, the latest demonstrations were being held in Budapest against his government's policies.

About 2,000 people gathered in front of his office and others blocked one of the main bridges across the Danube river.Correspondents say the biggest applause during his speech was for his announcement of a seven-point plan to increase the fertility rate.

  • Mr Orban finished his speech with: "Long live Hungary and long live the Hungarians!"

The average number of children a Hungarian woman will have in her lifetime (fertility rate) is 1.45. This puts the country below the EU average of 1.58.

France has the highest fertility rate in the EU - 1.96 - and Spain the lowest at 1.33.

Niger in West Africa has the highest fertility rate in the world, with 7.24 children per woman.

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ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 10:36

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A toxic crisis in America’s coal country

In the shadow of some of America's most controversial coal mines, where companies use huge amounts of explosives to blow the tops off mountains, isolated communities say their water has been poisoned.

Now, they must decide if they will fight back against an industry they have relied upon for generations.

Casey (not her real name) wears a one-dollar wedding ring now. She bought the blue plastic band after her original ring was ruined by the toxic water that has been pumping into her home for more than a decade.

"I just needed something there," she says, as she holds the replacement ring up to the light. "I felt empty without it." She places her original wedding band, now discoloured and corroded, in her palm. Her skin, especially on her hands, has become coarse and sore.

The taps in her house have been worn down, her washing machine frequently stops working, and her bathroom and kitchen have been stained a deep, bloody orange by the pollutants - iron, sulphur, even arsenic - that have seeped into her home's water supply.

This is Appalachia - the heart of America's coal country. It is home to some of the poorest and most isolated communities in the US and the legacy of mining, be it the abandoned processing plants or the scarred landscape, can be seen dotted alongside its vast highways.

Casey's home is a small, double-berth structure with a wooden porch in southern West Virginia, in a place with very patchy mobile phone reception.

She pours a glass of water from her kitchen tap and lets it rest on a table. It has a strange smell and a sticky texture and within minutes begins to turn dark orange. A layer of black sediment soon sinks to the bottom of the glass.

"This is what we have to live with," Casey says. "We don't bathe in the water and we don't cook with it. It stains our fingernails, our knuckles, and our clothes. It's really, really difficult living like this."

Casey and her husband Jack (not his real name), have two young children and drive for more than an hour to stock up on bottled water to drink and cook with. So who do they hold responsible?

"I've been here all my life, but when the surface [coal] mine came in that's when the water started changing," says Jack, who, despite being a miner himself, believes the industry is accountable for his family's water problems.

"I think if they've done wrong they should have to fix it."

A sample of water taken from Casey's home

At the sprawling mine in the neighbouring valley, millions of pounds of explosives are being detonated on the mountaintops so that coal, buried deep below the surface, can be excavated.

This process is a type of surface mining known as mountaintop removal, and has drawn the ire not only of nearby residents but environmental groups who say it devastates the landscape and pollutes the waterways.

One study estimates that an area the size of the state of Delaware has been flattened by this type of coal mining, which was first practiced in the 1970s.

Another report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than 2,000 miles of streams - a distance longer than the Mississippi river - have been buried by the excess rock and soil (known as overburden) that is dumped after the explosions.

Explosives are detonated at a surface mining operation in the Appalachian Mountains

And in a part of the world where many people rely on their own wells to get water, rather than a conventional pipeline, any pollution from mining waste can have devastating consequences.

These private wells are essentially unregulated, so it is up to people like Casey and Jack to determine whether their water has been contaminated. But the complex nature of water pollution means many people are completely unaware of what's coming out of their taps.

"When you dump a lot of overburden into the valley, and start covering up streams, you have water sources that end up travelling through the [waste] material,' says Professor Michael McCawley, an environmental engineer who has spent time researching the health impacts of mountaintop removal.

"It's kind of like dumping geological trash," he explains. "It ends up increasing the concentration of acidic irons and metals [in the water], things like arsenic and nickel."

This pollution, according to his research, has taken a major toll on the health of those whose water supply lies in its path.

"This population is under assault from both water and air," Professor McCawley says. "What we're finding in the water is likely to cause inflammation in the body, which can set off a lot of other chronic diseases.

"The big [problems] we have found are certainly cancers. Name a cancer and they're seeing it here."

When asked about cancer rates, Casey reels off a list of people living nearby who have been recently diagnosed. "Oh Lord everybody has been getting it," she says. "It's scary."

Waste rock from a mountaintop removal mine seen dumped in Wyoming County

Dr Wesley Lafferty, who is based in nearby Boone County, believes a number of health problems are being exacerbated by mining waste.

"We get all kinds of symptoms," he told Human Rights Watch last year. "Rashes, restrictive airway disease, dermatitis, generic skin disease.

"I definitely feel there is an environmental component to that."

In a valley not far from the home of Casey and Jack, and sitting within earshot of the same mine they say has caused their water contamination, Jason Walker is describing many of the same problems.

"My water was drinkable and clear before the mountaintop removal started," he says. "But then it got worse. It smelt like rotten eggs and the colour of my sinks, faucets [taps], all my laundry, turned orange."

He then had his water tested and was warned that it was so toxic that, if he washed his clothes in it, there was a risk that direct sunlight could actually set them on fire.

Jason Walker next to the stream near his home in West Virginia

Jason now cooks with bottled water, but he has been collecting water from a nearby stream and treating it with swimming pool chemicals to supply his house.

Last winter, after a spell of severe cold weather, he used an axe to cut through more than five inches (12.7cm) of ice to access the stream water. But when the pipes he was using to collect it froze over he had to go without.

"I'm getting a new well drilled for $4,000 [£3,088] to keep myself from doing that again, even though I don't know how good the water will be," he says. "I took a loan out against our property to pay for it. It's a huge gamble.

"My grandfather was a coal miner, my dad was a coal miner, but if the mines tear something up I think they should replace it.

"I want more regulations that actually help the little person and not the big person."

Jason shows the iron waste that has accumulated around his water filtration system

In a telephone interview with the BBC, a spokesman for the company that owns the surface mine in Wyoming County said that it operated under state regulations and with a valid permit.

"We view ourselves as pretty good neighbours and if somebody has an issue then we would address it," said the spokesman for CM Energy, which took over the mine in 2017.

When presented with the complaints of nearby residents, the spokesman declined to take responsibility and said the water contamination could have been caused by a number of different issues.

"If we thought we were responsible then we would step up and try and do something about it," the spokesman said. "If there's something that our company can do to facilitate working with politicians and the local community then we would participate."

Coal miners are a powerful player during elections in West Virginia

The mine's previous owner, Dynamic Energy, did not respond to a request for comment.

That company is facing a lawsuit from a number of residents - including Casey and Jack - who are seeking compensation for the costs of dealing with their water issues.

It won a similar lawsuit a few years ago, and Jason, who was part of that legal battle, said it left the entire community divided between those who supported the coal industry and those who wanted to fight back.

"There's a lady down the street here who wouldn't join the lawsuit," he says. "She hasn't spoken to me in almost two years because of it. They were scared it would mean losing jobs."

Casey understands their concerns. "It's how people make their living and support their families," she says. "If you don't work in the coal mines you either flip burgers or you have to move out of state and do something else."

But her husband Jack says it wasn't a difficult decision to join the latest legal action - even if he is a coal miner.

"The only thing I really care about is getting fresh water the way it was when I was growing up around here," he says. "I ain't worried about the money. I just want clean water."

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 10:28

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'We seized our island back from the navy'

Last year, a flotilla of 40 fishing boats set sail from northern Sri Lanka with a mission to seize back their island from navy occupation. The BBC's Ayeshea Perera reports the extraordinary story of how they did this without any bloodshed.

On 23 April, a peculiar sight would have greeted a casual observer standing on the coast of northern Sri Lanka's mainland, near the village of Iranamata Nagar. They would have seen Catholic priests, women, fishermen, local journalists and civil rights activists crowding onto dozens of tiny motorboats bedecked with white flags and setting determined sail for the island of Iranaitivu.

Their mission: to reclaim the island, their home for many generations and occupied by the Sri Lankan navy for 25 years.

Iranaitivu is really made up of two linked islands - Periyathivu and Sinnathivu. It lies in the Gulf of Mannar, between the southernmost tip of India and the north of Sri Lanka.

It is very much an idyllic paradise.

Aquamarine waters so clear that the fish swimming in it are visible to the naked eye, starfish on unspoiled golden beaches lined with swaying coconut palm fronds, waters so shallow and calm that you can walk about half a kilometre in without it ever reaching your knees… the beauty is almost unreal.

The islanders were displaced more than 25 years ago

Iranaitivu's people say they were displaced in 1992 by the navy, who built a base there during the height of the civil war between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). They are not alone - thousands of families in Northern Sri Lanka accuse the military of having occupied their lands during the war.

The villagers, who are Tamil, say they were forcibly settled on the mainland in Iranamata Nagar, between the cities of Jaffna and Mannar. They say they have not been allowed to return to the island since. The navy denies this.

Many of those on the boats were women. They told the BBC that they had been "scared" at the thought of potentially confronting armed naval officers, but were determined to do so in any case.

"At the most we expected that we would get some striking footage of a face-off between the naval vessels and our fleet of tiny boats which would help us generate more awareness for the community's struggle," said Fr Jeyabalan, one of the priests present on the day.

But to their surprise, there was no stand-off.

A patrol vessel usually docked at the island had been moved to deeper waters, and no other naval ship was visible. The villagers were able to land their boats on the island and walk ashore.

"We were crying, we kissed the beaches. We were home once more and we were never going to leave," said local community leader Shamin Bonivas.

The group walked over to the dilapidated remains of the island's church to offer prayer.

It was only then, they say, that some of the naval officers stationed on the island approached. The people informed the officers that they had returned, and were there to stay. The local school teacher produced a file where he had meticulously stored all their land deeds.

Fr Jeyabalan says that after some discussion the navy agreed to let those with the deeds stay on the island for the night, while the others left in the evening. The group spent the day meandering on the beaches, visiting the compounds where their houses once stood and picking coconuts and other fruit from the trees.

A few even ventured into the shallow waters around the island where they were able to easily find fish and prized sea cucumber, which are in high demand in China and elsewhere.

Some villagers set off to recapture some of the cattle they had been forced to abandon, but soon came running back. The cattle were now wild and would not tolerate their former owners' clumsy attempts to reclaim them.

The island's waters are home to plenty of marine life

A month later, government officials who visited Iranaitivu decided to allow the entire village of some 400 families - even those without land titles - to stay. It was an unexpected and heartening victory, but one that went largely unmarked apart from a few articles in the local media.

Everyone in the community can barely believe they have their land back and still cannot explain why the navy let them first land, and then stay on.

The Sri Lankan navy insists that it had never objected to the people of Iranaitivu living on the island after the navy base was built.

The people themselves made the decision to leave "because of troubles with the LTTE and poor habitable conditions", spokesman Lieutenant Commander Isuru Suriyabandara told the BBC.

But community leaders say that is untrue.

They say that they were not allowed to live on their island despite numerous appeals to various government officials, petitions, and even a peaceful protest on the beach lasting nearly a year.

Documents seen by the BBC also show that various officials, including former chief minister of the Northern Province C Wigneswaran, and the chargé d'affaires of the EU delegation to Sri Lanka, Paul Godfrey, had written to the central government, calling the people of Iranaitivu "displaced" and asking that they be allowed to return to the island.

The villagers could not believe that their daring return led to successful resettlement

It has been 10 months since the people of Iranaitivu returned, and the struggle of how they are trying to put their lives back together is clearly visible.

Thatched temporary huts stand next to the remains of hollowed out concrete shells that were once homes. Crude fishing nets are hung out to dry, and people cook on open wood fires with basic implements.

The only signs of modernity are mobile phones, which are charged with tiny solar-powered batteries donated by a well-wisher.

But the signs of development are also there. A few of the old wells have been cleaned up, tiny paths have been cut through the heavy, overgrown brush, and people have begun growing vegetables to supplement their income from fishing. When the BBC visited, the men were busy repairing the church on the smaller island of Sinnativu.

Many of the villagers travel back and forth between the island and their homes in the village of Iranamata Nagar, staying on the mainland for a few days at a time before returning. The island's school remains in a state of disrepair and so children can't go to school there.

Since coming back the villagers say that, despite the hardships, their lives are better.

The navy built this jetty for the community

Doras Pradeepan, who is a leader of the community's fishing cooperative, says that there is much better fishing closer to the island. Now that they can dock their boats there, they spend much less on fuel.

Another woman, Pakiam Kaannikkai, said that after returning to Iranaitivu she was able to earn 70,000 rupees ($380 ;£300) in just two months thanks to the abundance of fish, crab and sea cucumber around the island.

Villagers live alongside the navy, which says it is in "the national interest" to keep the base there. Iranaitivu, the spokesman said, is an important strategic location to target smugglers and Indian fishermen who illegally cross into Sri Lankan waters.

But the two sides are co-existing peacefully for now, with the navy actively helping people resettle on the island.

The navy has reconstructed the church on the larger island of Periyathivu, provided fresh water supplies to villagers and is building new infrastructure, including pathways.

Locals told the BBC that navy personnel also provide them with machinery and spare parts.

But while the people of Iranaitivu have been able to craft themselves a happy ending of sorts, their struggle to get their land back is depressingly familiar.

Life on the island is a struggle, but people say they are happier

It has been almost 10 years since the war ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. But the military still occupies 4,241 acres of private land in former conflict areas, according to Sri Lanka's Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM).

The military cites both security concerns and strategic importance as reasons for their reluctance to move out.

Several other civilian agitations, including a 700-day protest in front of an army camp in the northern district of Mullaitivu, are still underway.

So will the success of the Iranaitivu villagers' bold action provide a template for other communities who have been displaced due to military occupation?

Human rights activist Ruki Fernando says it will, though he cautioned that the type of action would depend on the context and the type of community involved.

"If politicians, officials and other institutions don't deliver justice, and especially if there is no response to complaints, appeals, negotiations or protests, communities have the right to consider non-violent direct action to claim what's rightfully theirs, as the Iranaitivu community did," he said.

On the island, the real work is just beginning. Locals say they need significant government help to help them develop the island further. A ferry between Iranamata Nagar and the island has been promised, but they still need to renovate their homes, the local school and the roads around the island. The youth of the island also dream of living there one day.

"Yes we will all return there. This is the home of our ancestors. It is the dream of every single one of us to be buried there," Mr Bonivas said.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 10:24

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BTS: K-pop idols make first historic Grammy appearance

BTS has made history by becoming the first K-pop group to present at the Grammy Awards.

The group, which was also nominated for an award, presented the Best R&B album to new Grammy winner H.E.R.

The seven band members said that they had always dreamed about "being on the Grammy stage" adding that they would "be back".

They also paid homage to their country, wearing tuxedos designed by South Korean designers.

According to Vogue, JayBaek Couture designed custom suits for Jungkook, Jin, Jimin, Suga, V and RM, while J-Hope's suit was designed by Kim Seo Ryong - something that did not go unnoticed.

The boys also rolled up to the event in a Hyundai - a South Korean car manufacturer.

The hashtag #TearItUpBTS also began trending when the boy band arrived at the awards show.

They also started trending in South Korea and were one of the top 20 searches on Naver, one of South Korea's largest search engines.

BTS has managed to conquer the US

Their fellow celebrities at the Grammys also gave them a shout out.

Anna Kendrick, who was sat next to the band, jokingly said that she would provide them with "a snack or whatever".

BTS' 2018 album "Love Yourself: Tear" was nominated in the category of best recording package but did not win.

The hugely popular K-pop group - one of few that have managed to break into the West- are considered one of the most successful acts of the South Korean music industry.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 10:22

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Hakeem al-Araibi: Thailand frees refugee footballer

A football player and refugee whose detention in Thailand sparked an outcry has been freed from jail after Bahrain withdrew its extradition request.

Hakeem Al-Araibi, who is a Bahraini citizen, fled to Australia in 2014 and was granted political asylum.

He was detained in Bangkok in November on an Interpol notice requested by Bahrain. He had travelled to the Thai capital on honeymoon.

He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years for vandalising a police station.

Al-Araibi, 25, denies the charges and human rights activists say he could face torture if sent back to Bahrain. He has been a vocal critic of Bahraini authorities.

His case has been taken up by high-profile footballers, with stars including Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy calling for his release. The Australian government, Fifa and the International Olympic Committee all lobbied Thailand

Thailand's Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asked the court to end proceedings against Al-Araibi because Bahrain had said it no longer wanted him, officials told BBC Thai on Monday.

"This morning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us that Bahrain was no longer interested in this request," OAG foreign office chief Chatchom Akapin said.

Al-Araibi is expected to leave Thailand on Monday evening for Australia.

Thailand's foreign minister was in Bahrain over the weekend for an official visit and met with senior leaders.

Craig Foster, a former Australian national football captain and TV host who spearheaded the campaign to free Hakeem, said there were "tears" in his household "right now".

Al-Araibi plays for Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne.

Last month, his wife told the BBC that extradition would put him in danger.

"I'm calling on every country to help Hakeem because I know if he gets taken back he will be tortured, and he will be killed," she said.

But Bahrain said al-Araibi had been sentenced by an independent judiciary "on charges involving serious violence and criminality, unrelated to any possible freedom of opinion/expression issues".

It said his safety would be "guaranteed" if he returned to Bahrain to appeal against the sentence.

Hakeem's arrest caused an outcry in Australia

Human rights activists in Bahrain lauded Monday's news.

"This is a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia, and even the whole world," said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the London-based campaign group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

"Hakeem's ordeal ended after 70 days when there was a clear public stance and solidarity movement. The football community, the human rights movement and all of those who dedicated their time and efforts to end this injustice were rewarded."

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 10:16

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Iran revolution: 'I wore a hijab and head-banged to Nirvana'

On my first day of school in Iran we walked down a poorly-lit corridor. I was holding my mother's hand and crying. She was crying too. On my head I had a black hood, known as a maghnaeh, covering my hair. I was six years old and terrified. This was nothing like my kindergarten in Los Angeles.

I was born in the summer of 1979 in California, a few months after Iran's Islamic Revolution; my mother was in her early 20s and my grandmother was 50.

Millions of Iranian women took part in the revolution, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the men, but soon afterwards the tide turned against them. Some of the basic rights women had won during the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi were revoked immediately.

The Family Protection Act, which had given women the right to divorce, was nullified and a mandatory dress code requiring all women to wear the hijab was introduced.

The uprising against the shah and the revolution had scattered our family across the world.

I moved back to Iran with my parents in 1984, right in the middle of the eight-year war with neighbouring Iraq and one of the most ideologically rigid periods in the country's recent history.

Iranian Revolution: Why what happened in Iran 40 years ago matters

The dress code for women was strict; bright colours, lipstick, nail varnish or showing a strand of hair could get you arrested.

"I think the hardest thing for me was the hijab. I could never accept it," my mother says. "I never followed the strict dress code dictated by the state. I tried hard to have my own style."

My grandmother also struggled with the changes when she returned to Iran from the UK a few years after the revolution.

"I felt like I had moved to a completely different country, it was nothing like before," she recalls.

'Nothing like my school days'

Every morning before class we lined up in the schoolyard, raised our tiny fists in the air and repeated the words of our headmistress, who shouted into a megaphone: "Death to America! Death to Iraq and Saddam Hussein! Death to England!"

"The first day I took you to school I was shocked and disappointed," my mother says.

Feranak, aged 6, wearing a hijab in her ID card photo

It was quite different from her own time as a young girl in Iran. My mother attended a school founded by French Christian missionaries, where the girls wore cute uniforms, played sports and music, sang and danced.

"The environment of your school was depressing and sad," she says. "It was nothing like the playful environment I remembered from my school days."

My grandmother was part of the first generation of girls who attended public schools in Iran in the 1930s. Until then most attempts to open up girls schools had failed due to fierce opposition by the clergy, who believed they would become dens of indecency.

"I was fond of school. It was fun and I can't remember anything unpleasant about it," my grandmother says.

Under the shah religion was a private matter. After the revolution, religion became part of the public sphere.

You were encouraged to show your devotion to Islam as a sign of allegiance to the regime. Women had to dress more modestly, men grew beards and people prayed in work places out of fear of being branded anti-revolutionary. The state controlled the most private aspects of our lives.

Living a double life

At schools, teachers were told to quiz students about their private lives.

We were asked whether our parents drank alcohol, listened to music, owned a video player, played cards, danced or took off their hijabs at mixed-gender family parties; all acts prohibited by law.

As a teenager, Feranak listened to Western rock music despite it being banned in Iran

Most of our parents encouraged us to lie and I started to learn how to live a double life.

I wore the hijab to class and head-banged to Nirvana in my bedroom at home. I shouted "Death to America!" at school and bought Guns N' Roses cassettes from underground music dealers.

Growing up under the shah my mother had more social freedom.

"I could choose what I wanted to wear, the music I wanted to listen to and so forth, but there were still many limitations for women," she recalls.

Forty years ago, Iranian TV's woman newscaster was not required to cover her hair

My mother married when she was 17, which was not uncommon even under the shah. Women were still expected to conform to rigid social norms and the gender gap in the workforce was wide. Yet the winds of change were blowing.

"The shah was trying to change things and make society more modern," says my mother.

My grandmother grew up in an affluent family and was exposed to Western culture, but she was still very much bound to tradition.

She was married off after school and went on to have six children. She also didn't have many choices in her life. Marriage and motherhood were just about all a woman could do.Feranak says her life has been quite different from that experienced by most Iranian women

Compared to my mother and grandmother I have had more choices in life; I got a university degree, emigrated alone when I was 30, lived with my partner for four years, and got married at 35. But this is not the life experience of an average Iranian woman.

Officials say more than 50% of university students are women and that they are postponing marriage until their late 20s. But women make up only 19% of the workforce. Most women still have little choice but to get married and become housewives.

Female representation in parliament is only 6% and women have next to no rights in marriage. Strict gender roles are propagated by state-run media and women are told that their place is at home with their children.

Four decades after the revolution, it is hard to say whether Iranian women have made any real progress. One thing is clear: for every step forward there have been a few steps back, but the setbacks have never discouraged women to push ahead.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 10:13

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Signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is the group of symptoms that can develop when someone with alcohol use disorder suddenly stops drinking.

Alcohol use disorder was formerly known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism. If a person regularly drinks too much alcohol, their body may become dependent on the substance.

Alcohol is a depressant. Alcohol use disorder or drinking heavily over an extended period can change a person's brain chemistry due to the continued exposure to the chemicals in alcohol.

Chronic alcohol use can cause complex changes in their brain, including to the neurotransmitters dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which affect excitement and a person's sense of reward.

The production of these neurotransmitters is affected when a person stops or significantly reduces alcohol intake. The brain has to readjust, which leads to withdrawal symptoms.


Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include nausea, anxiety, and a fast heart rate.

People with alcohol withdrawal syndrome can have a wide variety of symptoms, depending on how much alcohol they drank, their body type, sex, age, and any underlying medical conditions.

Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:

Less frequently, people can develop severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Severe symptoms are called delirium tremens or DTs.

Symptoms of DTs include:

  • severe tremors
  • elevated blood pressure
  • hallucinations, usually visual
  • extreme disorientation
  • seizures
  • raised body temperature

The DTs can be life-threatening. In extreme cases, the brain can have problems regulating breathing and circulation.

Drastic changes in blood pressure and heart rate can also develop, which may lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome vs. a hangover

While some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are similar to a hangover, they are not the same condition. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome and a hangover have different causes.

A hangover occurs when a person drinks too much alcohol at one time. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs when a person with alcohol use disorder stops or suddenly decreases their alcohol intake.

Too much alcohol can irritate the stomach lining, cause dehydration, and lead to an inflammatory response in the body. As the alcohol wears off, these effects lead to common hangover symptoms, such as headache, nausea, and fatigue.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is different. If a person has alcohol use disorder, their body gets used to a certain amount of alcohol in their system.

The continued use of alcohol causes changes in the central nervous system and neurotransmitter production in the brain. When the supply of alcohol is suddenly stopped or decreased, withdrawal symptoms can develop.

When to see a doctor

It is important to detox from alcohol under the supervision of a doctor.

Anyone that thinks they are dependent on alcohol should consider speaking to a doctor.

Alcohol use disorder can lead to various physical and mental health conditions. However, treatment is available and can be highly effective.

For those trying to detox from alcohol, it is vital to do so under the supervision of a doctor, as the withdrawal symptoms may be severe.


A doctor can often diagnose alcohol withdrawal syndrome by taking a person's medical history and doing a physical exam.

The doctor may ask for evidence that there has been a decrease in alcohol use after regular heavy use.

They may also do a blood test called a toxicology screen to measure the amount of alcohol in a person's system. Blood tests and imaging tests can show if organs, such as the liver, have been affected by a person's intake of alcohol.


Treatment options for alcohol withdrawal syndrome typically involve supportive care to ease the effect of the symptoms.

Doctors usually use a type of drug called benzodiazepines to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Heavy alcohol use also depletes the body of vital electrolytes and vitamins, such as folatemagnesium, and thiamine. So, treatment may also include electrolyte corrections and multivitamin fluids.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine has goals for detoxification from alcohol or drugs. The purpose of treating alcohol use disorder is to:

  • Make the withdrawal process safe for the person and help them live alcohol-free.
  • Protect a person's dignity during the withdrawal process and treat them humanely.
  • Prepare a person for ongoing treatment for alcohol dependence.

Detox process

Drinking in moderation is the best way to prevent alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

When a person is detoxing from alcohol, the symptoms may begin anywhere from 6 hours to a few days after their last drink.

Symptoms may gradually worsen over the course of 2 or 3 days.

Most symptoms reduce after about 5 days. In some cases, mild symptoms can continue for several weeks. Although some people choose to detox at home, it is safer to seek help when detoxing.

Symptoms can become severe, and it can be difficult to predict which people will develop life-threatening symptoms.

Anyone who is having severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, such as seizures, hallucinations, or prolonged vomiting needs immediate medical treatment.

People with severe symptoms remain in the hospital for part or all of the detox process so a doctor can closely monitor their blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate and provide medications to ease the process.


The most effective way to prevent alcohol withdrawal syndrome is to avoid drinking or drinking only in moderation.

Moderate drinking is officially defined as 1 drink or less per day for women and 2 drinks or less per day for men. However, if a person already has alcohol use disorder, they can help prevent some of the withdrawal symptoms by speaking to a doctor about safe withdrawal.

Risk factors for alcohol use disorder include a family history of problems with alcohol, depressionand other mental health conditions, and genetic factors.

For those who think they may have alcohol use disorder or may be dependent on alcohol, seeking help is essential.

sarah Posted on February 11, 2019 10:07

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What is a Gleason score?

Most people who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer will want to know their outlook and treatment plan quickly. The Gleason score plays a major role in deciding both these things.

When a doctor diagnoses prostate cancer, a biopsy of the cancer cells in the prostate will be done. Afterward, the Gleason score will be used to help explain the results.

The Gleason score is also used to determine how aggressive the cancer is and what the best course of treatment will be.

What is it?

The Gleason score measures the progress of a cancer cell from normal to tumorous.

The Gleason score is a grading system devised in the 1960s by a pathologist called Donald Gleason.

Gleason worked out that cancerous cells fall into five differentt patterns, as they change from normal cells to tumorous cells. As a result, he determined they could be scored on a scale of 1 to 5.

The cells that score a 1 or 2 are considered to be low-grade tumor cells. These tend to look similar to normal cells.

Cells closest to 5 are considered high-grade. In comparison to the lower grade cells, they have mutated so much that they no longer look like normal cells.

How is the Gleason score worked out?

The Gleason score is determined by the results of the biopsy.

During a biopsy, the doctor takes tissue samples from different areas of the prostate. Several samples are taken, as cancer is not always present in all parts of the prostate.

After examining the samples under a microscope, the doctor finds the two areas that have the most cancer cells. The Gleason score is assigned to each of these areas, separately. Each is given a score of between 1 and 5. These are then added together to give a combined score, often referred to as the Gleason sum.

In most cases, the Gleason score is based on the two areas described above that make up most of the cancerous tissue.

However, there are some exceptions to the way scores are worked out.

When a biopsy sample has either a lot of high-grade cancer cells or shows three different types of grades, the Gleason score is modified to reflect how aggressive the cancer is deemed to be.

Results: What do they mean?

When a doctor tells a person what their Gleason score is, it will be between 2 and 10. Although it is not always the case, the higher the score, the more aggressive the cancer tends to be. Typically, lower scores indicate less aggressive cancers.

In most cases, scores range between 6 and 10. Biopsy samples that score 1 or 2 are not used very often because they are not usually the predominant areas of cancer.

A Gleason score of 6 is usually the lowest score possible. Prostate cancer with a score of 6 is described as well-differentiated or low-grade. This means the cancer is more likely to grow and spread slowly.

Scores between 8 and 10 are referred to as poorly differentiated or high-grade. In these cases, the cancer is likely to spread and grow quickly. Scores of 9 and 10 are twice as likely to grow and spread quickly as a score of 8.

In the case of a score of 7, the results could be one of two ways:

  • 3 + 4 = 7
  • 4 + 3 = 7

This distinction indicates how aggressive the tumor is. Scores of 3 + 4 typically have a good outlook. A score of 4 + 3 is more likely to grow and spread compared to the 3 + 4 score, but it is less likely to grow and spread than a score of 8.

In some cases, a person may receive multiple Gleason scores. This is because the grade may vary between samples within the same tumor or between two or more tumors. In these cases, the doctor is likely to use the highest score as the guide for treatment.

Other ways to measure prostate cancer

The Gleason scale is very important for doctors when they decide the best treatment options. However, there are some additional factors and groupings to assist them.

Some additional considerations include:

There are other factors which help determine the treatment plan for prostate cancer, including blood PSA levels and biopsy results.

  • results of a rectal exam
  • the blood PSA level of the individual
  • the results of imaging tests
  • the number of biopsy samples that contain cancer
  • whether the cancer has spread beyond the prostate
  • how much of each tissue sample is made up of cancer
  • whether cancer is found on both sides of the prostate

More recently, researchers have determined additional groupings, called grade groups. These grade groups help address some of the problems with the Gleason system.

Currently, the lowest Gleason score that is given is a 6. In theory, however, the Gleason grades range from 2 to 10.

The lowest reported score of a 6 leads some people to think their cancer is in the middle of the grade scale. As a result, they are more likely to worry and to want treatment right away.

As described above, the Gleason scores are most often divided into only three groups: 6, 7, and 8-10.

These groupings are not entirely accurate since the Gleason score of 7 is made up of two grades, 3+4 and 4+3. Within this group, a 4+3 is a worse outlook than a 3+4.

Similarly, Gleason scores of 9 or 10 have a worse outlook than a Gleason score of 8, despite being in the same group.

The newer groupings are more understandable for the individual being treated and more accurate in terms of outlook and treatment.

The following is a breakdown of the new groups. A score of 1 is considered best and a score of 5 is considered worst.

  • grade group 1 = Gleason 6 (or less)
  • grade group 2 = Gleason 3+4=7
  • grade group 3 = Gleason 4+3=7
  • grade group 4 = Gleason 8
  • grade group 5 = Gleason 9-10

Effect on treatment

The Gleason score and similar groupings help a doctor give an outlook and treatment plan to an individual. This information and other factors are then used together to guide the treatment decisions.

For lower Gleason scores, treatment is likely to consist of:

  • active surveillance, where someone's age and overall health help determine when their cancer is treated
  • radical prostatectomy surgery to remove the prostate
  • radiation therapy

For higher Gleason scores and more advanced stages of cancer, treatment may consist of a combination of the following:

More advanced cancers may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.

  • radical prostatectomy
  • brachytherapy only
  • external beam radiation only
  • brachytherapy and external beam radiation
  • involvement in a clinical trial of newer treatments
  • active surveillance
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • surgery to treat symptoms of the cancer

Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy, where radiation is administered to the prostate by placing small radioactive seeds directly into the prostate. It is also referred to as internal radiation therapy.

External beam radiation involves the use of a machine that focuses beams of radiation onto the prostate from outside of the body.

People with prostate cancer will be able to discuss their treatment options with their doctor to decide the best ones for them.

sarah Posted on February 11, 2019 10:03

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Goldman Sachs' role in the 1MDB scandal - in 300 words

The 1MDB corruption scandal has cast a shadow over Goldman Sachs, raising questions about how much the US investment bank knew about the misconduct.

What is Goldman accused of?

The firm helped raise $6.5bn (£5bn) for the Malaysian development fund, advising on three bond offerings in 2012 and 2013.

Prosecutors allege more than $2.7bn was later embezzled, used to bribe government officials and buy luxury items.

In November, Goldman's lead banker on the deals, Tim Leissner, pleaded guilty in US court to participating in the bribery and money laundering schemes.

Malaysia's attorney general then charged Goldman with helping to "dishonestly misappropriate" money from the fund.

He noted that the $600m Goldman earned for its work was "several times higher" than industry norms.

The firm remains under investigation in the other countries, including the US, and is also facing lawsuits from investors.

What does Goldman say?

Goldman says the Malaysia charges are "misdirected".

It says the firm's compliance officers were deceived about aspects of the deal, including the role of Malaysian financier Jho Low, whom the bank had previously rejected as a client.

Tim Leissner, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs' South East Asia operation, is married to model and fashion designer Kimora Lee Simmons

But news reports have described the firm's former chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, meeting Mr Low and former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Mr Leissner, Goldman's South East Asia chairman until he left the firm in 2016, has said the decision to hide information from Goldman's compliance officers was "very much in line" with company culture.

What penalties could Goldman face?

Malaysian authorities are seeking fines of more than $3bn.

Goldman has warned investors of the risk of "significant" penalties and increased the money set aside for legal liabilities to $1.8bn.

As its legal costs surge, it has also said it will withhold millions due to some of its top executives, including Mr Blankfein, pending the outcome of the probes.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 09:59

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Can drinking alcohol lead to prostate cancer?

Some scientists have identified possible links between alcohol intake and the risk of prostate cancer. However, more research is necessary to determine how drinking alcohol and prostate cancer might correlate.

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system, and it sits just below the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, which is a tube that carries urine out of the body, and helps make semen.

Other than skin cancerprostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States.

In this article, we cover the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of prostate cancer and consider its possible links with alcohol consumption.

Can alcohol cause prostate cancer?

There is no known link between alcohol and prostate cancer.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, there is no direct link between drinking alcohol and an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Similarly, the American Cancer Society do not list alcohol as one of the known risk factors for prostate cancer.

2016 review concluded that men who consume alcohol might have a higher risk of developing the disease than those who abstain, with the risk increasing in line with alcohol intake. However, the review included data from men reporting on their own consumption, which may not be reliable.

The results of a 2018 study indicate that there is a link between a person's alcohol consumption earlier in life and their risk of developing prostate cancer at a later date. However, this study, which recruited men requiring a prostate biopsy, found no link between current alcohol consumption and prostate cancer risk.

In both of these studies, the researchers highlighted the need for further investigation into the effect of alcohol on prostate cancer risk.

Can alcohol affect the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is unlikely to cause symptoms until a later stage. Screening is a valuable tool that doctors can use to spot the initial signs of disease in people with risk factors.

Occasionally, a person will experience symptoms, which may include:

  • needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
  • difficulty urinating
  • pain or a burning feeling when passing urine
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • difficulty achieving an erection
  • pain when ejaculating
  • pain or stiffness in the rectum, lower back, hips, or pelvis

Drinking a lot of alcohol can make a person urinate more than usual and have difficulty achieving an erection. It is possible that people might mistake both of these symptoms for early symptoms of prostate cancer.

Should you drink if you have prostate cancer?

Maintaining a healthful lifestyle can help aid successful treatment.

Staying healthy helps with any cancertreatment. Eating a healthful diet, doing regular exercise, and taking time to relax and unwind is essential. Being healthy includes drinking in moderation.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 define drinking in moderation as up to one drink per day for women and two per day for men.

Alcohol can sometimes interact with medication and stop it from working or cause side effects. People who are taking medication as part of their treatment for prostate cancer may wish to seek advice on whether it is safe for them to drink alcohol.

It is usually safe for people having treatment with radiation therapy to drink a small amount of alcohol. However, radiation therapy often causes tiredness, and alcohol can also make a person feel weary. Radiation therapy can cause a sensitive stomach too, and alcohol or spicy foods may worsen this symptom.

Causes of prostate cancer and risk factors

Research has linked several risk factors to prostate cancer. Some of these tie in with a person's environment while others relate to their genetics or individual characteristics. Risk factors may include:

  • age, with a significant increase in risk after 50 years of age
  • race, as African-Americans and Caribbean males of African ancestry are most at risk
  • a family history of prostate cancer
  • being overweight or obese

It is not clear what causes prostate cancer, and researchers are particularly unsure why some racial groups are more at risk than others.

Changes, or mutations, in the DNA in prostate gland cells can cause them to become cancerous. Mutations can pass from a parent to their child, or they can occur during a person's lifetime.


Men who are 55 years of age or older may wish to consider having a screening test for prostate cancer.

Screening is when a person undergoes a test for cancer before any symptoms occur, and healthcare professionals usually offer it to people who have a higher risk of the disease.

The screening test for prostate cancer is known as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.

The test measures the amount of PSA in the blood. PSA is a protein that the prostate makes, and higher levels can suggest a problem with prostate health that may require further tests.

Tests that doctors use to diagnose prostate cancer after a PSA test can include a biopsy with a Gleason score.

A biopsy involves removing a small piece of tissue from the prostate gland and examining it under a microscope to look for cancer cells. A doctor may use ultrasound or imaging to locate the part of the tissue that they want to remove.

If the biopsy reveals cancer, a Gleason score gives doctors an idea of how likely it is to spread. The score is a number between two and 10. A lower score indicates that cancer is less likely to spread from the prostate.

Doctors may also check for signs of cancer inside the body using ultrasound. They may ask the individual questions about their family medical history and any symptoms to diagnose prostate cancer.


Healthcare providers may recommend surgery to treat prostate cancer.

The treatment for prostate cancer will depend on the individual and the extent of disease progression.

Prostate cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate gland may not need treatment.

If doctors find cancer early, it is often very treatable. However, a person will need regular tests so doctors can check that cancer has not spread.

Doctors refer to this close monitoring as active surveillance, and the tests usually include PSA tests, biopsies, and physical examinations.

If cancer cells have spread beyond the prostate gland, a person is likely to need treatment.

A common treatment for prostate cancer is radiation therapy, in which specialists direct beams of intense energy similar to X-rays at cancer cells. This energy kills the cells or slows down their growth.

A surgical procedure called prostatectomy is a further treatment option when the removal of the prostate gland is necessary. Radical prostatectomy removes both the prostate and the surrounding tissue.

Staging and survival rates

If doctors can catch prostate cancer early, it usually responds well to treatment.

Staging is a system that helps doctors determine how far cancer has spread in the body. There are three tiers of staging for prostate cancer:

  • local, when cancer cells are only present in the prostate
  • regional, meaning that cancer cells have spread to nearby areas of the body
  • distant, in cases where cancer cells have spread throughout the body

Survival rates are an approximate measure that can give a person some information about how likely their treatment is to be successful.

A 5-year relative survival rate denotes the percentage of people who live for at least 5 years after diagnosis compared with people who do not have this condition. Although information collection on survival rates takes place at the 5-year mark, it is possible that many people will live for much longer than this.

The 5-year relative survival rate for prostate cancer at the local and regional stage is nearly 100 percent, while it is around 29 percent at the distant stage. However, it is vital to remember that survival rates are an estimate and that everyone is different.


Scientists still need to carry out more research on the potential links between alcohol consumption and prostate cancer risk. However, it is possible that heavy drinking increases a person's risk of developing the disease.

For people with prostate cancer, drinking in moderation is generally safe. However, alcohol may interact with medication or other treatments, so people should seek medical advice to check that drinking alcohol will not be harmful to them.

Making some lifestyle changes can help a person live well while having treatment for prostate cancer. These changes may include reducing alcohol intake, doing more exercise, and eating a healthful diet.

sarah Posted on February 11, 2019 09:59

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'I stole £30,000 from my mum to make millions'

The BBC's weekly The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to serial technology entrepreneur Andrew Michael.

When Andrew Michael was 17 he gambled on changing his life by spending £30,000 on his mother's credit card without her knowledge.

In 1997 he was living at home with his mum in Cheltenham, in the west of England, when he spotted a business opportunity.

Wanting to set up his own website with a school friend, the self-confessed "computer boffin" realised that very few of the existing web-hosting companies were aimed at small businesses or members of the public.

"All of the web-hosting companies in the UK at the time were pitched at much bigger companies," says Andrew, now 39. "But we saw that small businesses and individuals wanted something self-service and easy to use."


The success of Andrew's first business made him very rich

So he and his friend decided to fill the gap in the market, and set up their own web-hosting company called Fasthosts.

"We had the computers we needed in my bedroom at Mum's house, and we had created the software ourselves," says Andrew.

"But what we really needed was a high-speed internet connection, which in those days involved digging up the road. It cost about 30 grand, but we had no money."

Thinking he had no other option, Andrew swiped his mother's credit card and ordered the internet upgrade. "We kind of blagged it over the phone," he says.

Also booking some magazine adverts - and explaining away the big new computer modem - the gamble was that the business would earn enough in its first month to pay off the credit card bill when it arrived.

Amazingly it worked. "By the end of the month we had enough clients and money to pay for the internet line and the advertising," says Andrew.

And just as importantly, his mother forgave him for the subterfuge.

Andrew runs his latest business, Bark, with co-founder Kai Feller

While his friend went off to university, Andrew cancelled his own plans for higher education to focus full-time on growing Fasthosts instead.

He ended up selling it nine years later for £61.5m. Aged only 26 at the time, his 75% share of the business meant that he pocketed £46m.

Two years later Andrew set up a cloud storage firm called Livedrive, which he subsequently sold for an undisclosed sum also believed to be tens of millions.

While both businesses proved successful, Andrew also made newspaper headlines for throwing lavish, no-expense spared parties.

His work Christmas parties at Fasthosts were reported to have included performances by the likes of girlbands Girls Aloud and Sugababes, plus rockers The Darkness, and chat show host Jonathan Ross as the compère.

And he admits that he once paid for US R&B singer Usher to perform at a girlfriend's birthday party.

"I love a party, I love entertaining people," he says. "And I don't do things by halves."

Andrew spent a fortune flying US singer Usher to the UK to perform at a girlfriend's party.

Born in Cyprus but raised in Cheltenham, Andrew thinks he inherited his business drive and focus from his father.

"My father came over from Cyprus, and was very much a small business man," he says.

"Like many Cypriots, he opened up fish and chip shops and cafés, and so some of my childhood was spent driving around those sites, collecting takings, and discussing business ideas.

"From a very young age I had a trading, money-making, get-up-and-go mentality."

Looking back on how he expanded Fasthosts, he says that he was "laser focused", and that "nothing else mattered".

While the sale of the business in 2006 made him very rich, he says it also left him feeling unfulfilled.

"I remember being in the office when the money came into my bank account, and I thought it would make me really happy," he says.mage captiolying US singer Usher to the UK to perform at a girlfriend's party

"But I actually had a sinking feeling, as I walked through the office and realised I'd sold it all, that it all came down to a number on a spreadsheet."

Andrew met many stars and idols in his 20s, including Sir Richard Branson

As a result, Andrew admits he "got bored and probably drank and ate too much" for a while. Keen to get back into business he launched Livedrive two years later.

Unfortunately the company initially struggled in a crowded marketplace.

"We found that lots of other people had had the same idea at the same time, so just advertising wasn't working," he says. "It was my first experience of potential failure, and I was worried I was going to be a one-hit wonder."

And so it might have turned out, if it wasn't for a night in the pub.

"I ended up becoming quite friendly with someone from [electronics retailer] Dixons, who I met on a night out with a mutual friend," says Andrew. "We then started working with them."

Dixons decided to help Livedrive to develop its product, and then to bundle it with laptops and tablets that it sold.

"It was a smash hit," says Andrew. "And we went on to replicate the model with other retailers. Eventually the business became bigger than Fasthosts."

Following the sale of Livedrive in 2014, Andrew's latest business is Bark, a website that allows people to book local service professionals, everything from a plumber to a guitar teacher, dog walker or personal trainer.

Bark allows people to hire everything from plumbers to guitar teachers

Independent technology analyst Chris Green says: "Fasthosts was a classic example of the bedroom computer innovation that the UK was so good at in the 80s and 90s.

"Not only was it an instant success for a 17-year-old Andrew Michael, but it also simplified the process of registering domain names and accessing web hosting for many.

"Meanwhile, Livedrive was unquestionably a pioneer in the personal and small business cloud storage and backup market."

Looking ahead, Andrew says he still has plenty of ambition.

"I'm the sort of person that the more I have, the more I want. And even though my first two businesses did well, I don't class myself as wildly successful."

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 09:55

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Colorectal cancer: Scientists halt growth with cannabinoid compounds

Scientists have identified several cannabinoid compounds that could potentially treat colorectal cancer.

Cannabis compounds may help in the fight against colorectal cancer.

A team at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in Hershey tested hundreds of cannabinoids on various types of human colorectal cancer cells in the laboratory.

Of these, 10 synthetic cannabinoids showed the ability to stop cancer cell growth. The well-known cannabis compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) showed negligible ability to do the same.

The researchers see their findings as a starting point for further studies to better understand the anticancer effects that they observed, and to evaluate the compounds' potential for drug development.

They report their results in a paper that features in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

"Now that we've identified the compounds that we think have this activity," says senior study author Prof. Kent E. Vrana, who is chair of the Department of Pharmacology, "we can take these compounds and start trying to alter them to make them more potent against cancer cells."

"And then, eventually, we can explore the potential for using these compounds to develop drugs for treating cancer," he adds.

Colorectal cancer and cannabinoids

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, colorectal cancer is the "third most common cancer worldwide."

This is also the case in the United States, where a national surveillance program has estimated that colorectal cancer accounted for 8.1 percent of all new cancer incidences in 2018.

For several decades, overall rates of colorectal cancer diagnoses and deaths have been falling steadily in the U.S. Experts attribute this largely to changes in risk factors, more widespread screening, and better treatments.

However, this overall decline masks an opposite trend in that rates and deaths to colorectal cancer are rising among those of 50 years of age and under. The reasons for this remain unclear, although some suggest that obesity, changes in diet, and an increase in sedentary lifestyles may be involved.

Cannabinoids is a term that scientists use to refer to a large group of compounds that mostly exert their effect through cannabinoid receptors.

There are three main categories of cannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are those that occur naturally in the cannabis, or marijuana, plant; endocannabinoids are those that arise within the body; while synthetic cannabinoids are those that scientists create in the laboratory.

Research on the medical uses of cannabinoids has tended to focus on the treatment of pain and conditions such as anxiety and depression.

However, more recently, scientists have shown growing interest in the potential anticancer effects of cannabinoids.

Study focused on synthetic cannabinoids

For the recent study, the researchers chose to investigate synthetic cannabinoids. From a "library of 370 molecules," they identified 10 synthetic cannabinoids that "inhibited cell viability" in seven types of colorectal cancer cells that came from human tumors.

Prof. Vrana explains that cancer can arise in cells in several different ways. "Each of the seven cells we tested," he says, "had a different cause or mutation that led to the cancer, even though they were all colon cells."

To screen the library of candidates, he and his team first cultured the cancer cells for 8 hours and then treated them with one of the compounds for another 48 hours.

If a compound showed signs of being able to reduce viability in one type of colorectal cancer cell, the researchers then tested it on the six other types.

After further tests and analyses, they whittled the number down to 10 compounds.

"Here, we demonstrated that 10 synthetic compounds are highly efficacious and moderately potent for reducing the viability of seven [colorectal cancer] cell lines," note the authors.

For the sake of comparison, they also ran tests on the two well-known phytocannabinoids THC and CBD. However, these showed a negligible ability to limit colorectal cancer cell viability.

The 10 compounds belong to three different classes of synthetic cannabinoid. The classes have many similarities, but they also have some small differences.

Prof. Vrana says there is a need for further research to understand better how the compounds work, and how to make them more potent and effective against colorectal cancer.

"We know how one of them works," Prof. Vrana notes," "which is by inhibiting the division of cells in general."

sarah Posted on February 11, 2019 09:51

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Seattle struggles with unusually heavy snow

Parts of the US Pacific Northwest are being covered with unusually high levels of snow.

The region, more used to rain than icy conditions, has been hit by a series of wintry storm systems.

The National Weather Service says parts of Seattle have received more than 10.6in (27cm) of snow so far this February - the highest amount in 70 years.

Forecasters have warned of more to come on Sunday and Monday.

In the city's Gas Works Park, it was not just sledges being ridden.

A giant inflatable unicorn pool floor carried several people down the steep hill

Hundreds of flights have been cancelled at Washington's Seattle-Tacoma and Portland International airports in recent days.

A boy is photographed sledding in the city's Phinney Ridge neighbourhood

The neighbourhood's snow-covered roads were transformed by some residents into a wintry playground

Washington's Governor, Jay Inslee, declared an emergency across the state on Friday.

He has encouraged residents to stay off the roads. Seattle police have been trying to house the city's homeless in shelters.

Despite conditions, notoriously resilient US postal service workers remained out in Seattle on Friday

About 50,000 residents are said to have lost power across the state, US media report.

More central areas of Washington state have been inundated with snow drifts of up to 3-4ft (1m-1.2m) in places, the Associated Press reports.

More used to rain, residents have been scrambling for winter materials

Seattle's grocery stores have been photographed scarce in essentials

Recent cold weather and snow has been affecting other states too.

More than 120 people were rescued on Thursday from a Sierra Nevada, California, resort after being trapped by snow for five days. Sprinklings of snowfall have even been reported in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Because of how unprepared Seattle was for recent weather, some have jokingly labelled the recent storms as Seattle's "Snowpocalypse" or "Snowmageddon" on social media.

Residents from elsewhere in the state, and further afield in the US, have been mocking them for not being able to cope with conditions.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 09:44

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Democrat Amy Klobuchar announces presidential bid

Snow was falling when US senator Amy Klobuchar announced her candidacy

Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar has announced she is running for president in the 2020 election.

Ms Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, said she was running for "everyone who wanted their work recognised".

She won praise for grilling Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and attorney general nominee William Barr during recent confirmation hearings.

The 58-year-old enters an increasingly crowded field of Democrats competing to challenge President Donald Trump.

Ms Klobuchar called on people to join her "home-grown" campaign, saying, "I don't have a political machine. I don't come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit.

A record total of five women have so far entered the race for the presidency - these also include Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

On her first full day of presidential campaigning, Ms Warren - a senator from Massachusetts - told supporters: "By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president. In fact, he may not even be a free person."

Who is Amy Klobuchar?

After working as a lawyer in a private firm, she became chief prosecutor for Hennepin, Minnesota's most populous county, in 1998.

Eight years later, she was elected to the Senate to represent Minnesota.

Ms Klobuchar has long prided herself in her bipartisanship; on being able to, as she wrote in her 2015 memoir, "disagree without being disagreeable".

"Courage is about whether or not you're willing to stand next to someone you don't always agree with for the betterment of this country," she wrote.

It is this approach that has given her a reputation for being "Minnesota nice" - but it also, in her early years, reportedly earned her the unflattering nickname "Cotton Candy Amy" in some circles.

The dark horse candidate

Her kick-off rally looked like a scene out of the Disney film Frozen, with a snow-covered crowd gathered near the banks of an icy river. Amy Klobuchar's newly announced presidential campaign, however, could generate some heat in 2020.

She may not have the same level of name recognition as recent and future entrants into the race, but the three-term Minnesota senator has shown the ability to win votes in the kind of Midwestern battleground state that Donald Trump appealed to in 2016.

She offers a steady, sensible political outlook that could attract the majority of Democratic voters who are more interested in electability than ideological purity.

Her buzz has been dampened a bit by recent allegations that she has been abusive toward her staff, but she may try to turn the criticism into a strength.

"I have high expectations for the people that work for me," she told NBC News after her speech, "but I have high expectations for this country."

Ms Klobuchar has become a fashionable pick as a "dark horse" candidate. It wouldn't be a shock if she has a good showing in the neighbouring-state Iowa caucuses and rides that momentum deep into the primary season.

After years under the radar, the former prosecutor went viral last September for her tense exchange with Justice Brett Kavanaugh over his history of drinking.

In January this year, she proved that this frank interrogation style was not a one-off when she grilled President Trump's attorney general nominee Mr Barr about obstruction of justice allegations.

Meanwhile, former employees of Ms Klobuchar have disputed her "Minnesota nice" image too, telling the Huffington Post that at least three potential campaign managers have withdrawn over her treatment of staff.

Klobuchar asks Barr about obstruction

What are her views?

In an age when political views are condensed into 280 characters and measured in retweets, Ms Klobuchar's reputation for working away in the background could help her stand out.

She was able to turn 43 Trump-voting Minnesota counties over to her side in last year's mid-term elections.

But her bipartisan approach may not stand her in such good stead in a party now dominated by the progressive left.

For example, while she has publicly spoken out against President Trump's immigration and border policies, she has not voiced her support for the movement to abolish US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Two of her opponents, Kirsten Gillibrand and Ms Warren, have openly called for the agency to be dismantled, while Ms Harris has said it needs to be "critically re-examined".

She has also avoided supporting Bernie Sanders' single-payer healthcare bill, known commonly as Medicare for All, preferring to back a "sensible transition" instead.

Many on the left also feel that her education reforms, which push for universities in the US to be more affordable, do not go far enough.

Ms Harris, and likely opponent Mr Sanders, both support making college tuition almost entirely free.

ruby Posted on February 11, 2019 09:36

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Iranian women - before and after the Islamic Revolution

Studying at Tehran University in 1977: While many women were already in higher education at the time of the revolution, the subsequent years saw a marked increase in the number attending university. This was in part because the authorities managed to convince conservative families living in rural areas to allow their daughters to study away from home.

"They tried to stop women from attending university, but there was such a backlash they had to allow them to return," says Baroness Haleh Afshar, a professor of women's studies at the University of York who grew up in Iran in the 1960s.

"Some educated people left Iran, and the authorities realised in order to run the country they needed to educate both men and women."

Window shopping in Tehran in 1976: Before the revolution, many women wore Western-style clothes, including tight-fitting jeans, miniskirts and short-sleeved tops. "The shoes haven't changed - and the passion for shoes is in all of us! Women in Iran are no different from women the world over, and going shopping is just a means for women to get away from every day stress," says Prof Afshar.

Friday picnic in Tehran in 1976: Families and friends tend to get together on Fridays, which are weekend days in Iran. "Picnics are an important part of Iranian culture and are very popular amongst the middle classes. This has not changed since the revolution. The difference is, nowadays, men and women sitting together are much more self-aware and show more restraint in their interactions," says Prof Afshar.

Hair salon in Tehran in 1977: "This is a scene you would no longer expect to see in Iran - but even after the Islamic Revolution, hairdressers continued to exist," says Prof Afshar. "Nowadays you wouldn't see a man inside the hairdressers - and women would know to cover up their hair as soon as they walked out the door. Some people may also operate secret salons in their own homes where men and women can mix."

Bodyguards surround the shah in 1971: A young woman approaches Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (far right) at a huge party marking the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy - the extravagance of the event was widely condemned by his left-wing and clerical opponents. "By this time, the shah was already very much disliked and some believe this image of excess and indulgence may have contributed to events leading up to the revolution eight years later," Prof Afshar explains.

Walking down a snowy street in Tehran in 1976: "You cannot stop women walking in the streets of Iran, but you wouldn't see this today - her earrings and make up so clearly on show," Prof Afshar says. "There is this concept of 'decency' in Iran - so nowadays women walking in the streets are likely to wear a coat down to her knees and a scarf."

Women rally against the hijab in 1979: Soon after taking power, Iran's new Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decreed that all women had to wear the veil - regardless of religion or nationality. On 8 March - International Women's Day - thousands of women from all walks of life turned out to protest against the law.

Protest outside the US embassy in Tehran in 1979: Revolutionary students took dozens of US embassy staff hostage while thousands of anti-US demonstrators surrounded the compound.

"At this time it was normal to see different types of people allied in their absolute hatred of America in Iran," says Prof Afshar. "The Americans and the British have a long history in Iran of attempting to both influence and take over oil in Iran, so this deep-rooted mistrust of the US and UK goes back a long way."

Family heads to Friday prayers in 1980: "Friday prayers are a time for people who are believers or supporters of the Islamic authorities who don't want to be labelled as dissidents to go out and get together - it's a moment of solidarity," says Prof Afshar. "But they are still very much within the male domain. The woman would not be allowed into the same room as the men - they would sit in a separate area for prayer, away from the men."

Wedding dress shopping in Tehran in 1986: "The wedding dresses on display are all western - Iranian women will essentially wear what they want as long as it's behind closed doors," Prof Afshar explains. "Weddings and parties are supposed to be segregated, so it doesn't matter what you wear if there are only female guests present. But there are mixed-sex parties that do still go on - some people hire bouncers to watch the door, others pay the local police to turn a blind eye."

Walking in Tehran in 2005: Not all women in Iran opt to wear the black chador, a cloak that covers the body from head to toe and only leaves the face exposed. Some prefer to wear loosely fitted headscarves and coats. "The real question is how far back do you push your scarf? Women have their own small acts of resistance and often try as far as possible to push their scarves back," says Prof Afshar.

Caspian Sea beach in 2005: Iranian women are forbidden from bathing in public wearing swimsuits. "Men and women aren't supposed to swim together - but they find ways around this by renting boats to take them far out into the sea, where they can swim side-by-side," says Prof Afshar.

Pro-hijab rally in Tehran in 2006: More than 25 years after the revolution, women backing the hardliners in the establishment staged their own rallies to protest against what they saw as the authorities' failure to enforce the compulsory hijab law. Here, the women are all dressed in black chadors with the exception of a little girl.

Watching football from a Tehran shopping centre in 2008: Though women were never officially banned from watching men's football matches in Iran, they are often refused entry to stadiums and some of those who have tried have been detained. Before the revolution, women were allowed to attend sporting events.

ruby Posted on February 08, 2019 17:31

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Tasman Glacier: Huge ice chunks break off New Zealand glacier

Huge chunks of ice have broken off the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand's largest.

They have filled up at least a quarter of the meltwater lake at the foot of the glacier in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, reports say.

The lake started to form in the 1970s as the glacier rapidly retreated - a phenomenon thought to have been largely caused by global warming.

One guide says the chunks resemble huge skyscrapers lying on their side in the water.

"We've got skyscraper-size icebergs floating around on the lake," Glacier Kayaking owner Charlie Hobbs told Radio New Zealand.

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The chunks filled about a quarter of the glacier's meltwater lake

Another two local guides were alerted to the event early on Wednesday morning.

The falling ice chunks led to some "chaos" on the water, Anthony Harris, a guide at Southern Alps Guiding, told the stuff New Zealand website.

A tidal surge up to two metres (6.5ft) high damaged a lake jetty and lifted a boat trailer upside down onto another trailer, Mr Harris said.

"All in all, this is the most significant event I've seen in the last five years on the Tasman."

Large calving events - when ice chunks break off from the edge of the glacier - are said to happen about once every two years

New Zealand glaciologist Heather Purdie says large calving events - when ice chunks break off from the edge of the glacier - happen about once every two years on the glacier, and is not necessarily the result of global warming.

But the fact the glacier, located on New Zealand's South Island, has been retreating and becoming smaller over the last few years is attributable to warming, she told the stuff website.

The ice chunks breaking off are caused by glacial ice above the water melting, putting pressure on the ice underneath the water.

"The water gets in underneath the ice and sort of jacks it up, and it snaps off.

"Large calving events are less frequent, but the icebergs that come up are really big."



ruby Posted on February 08, 2019 17:05

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Thailand's king condemns bid by sister to become PM

Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn has denounced as "inappropriate" his sister's unprecedented bid to run for prime minister.

In a palace statement, he said such an act would "defy the nation's culture".

Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, 67, has been nominated as a candidate for a party allied to divisive former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

Such a move would break with the tradition of the Thai royal family publicly staying out of politics.

Thailand's election is due to take place on 24 March.

It is being closely watched as the first chance for Thailand to return to democracy after five years under military rule.

In a palace statement read out on all Thai TV networks, the king said: "Even though she has relinquished her royal titles in writing, she maintained her status and carried herself as a member of the Chakri dynasty.

"Involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics, in whatever way, is considered an act that defies the nation's traditions, customs, and culture, and therefore is considered extremely inappropriate."

He cited a passage of the constitution that says the monarchy should maintain political neutrality.

King Vajiralongkorn says the princess retains her status as a member of the royal family

Hours earlier, Princess Ubolratana defended her decision to run for office.

In an Instagram post, she reiterated that she had relinquished all her royal titles and now lived as a commoner.

She said she wanted to exercise her rights as an ordinary citizen by offering her candidacy for prime minister. She said she would work with all sincerity and determination for the prosperity of all Thais.

Who is Princess Ubolratana Mahidol?

Born in 1951, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi is the oldest child of Thailand's beloved late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He died in 2016.

She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and after marrying an American in 1972 she gave up her royal title. After her divorce she returned to Thailand in 2001 and once again started participating in royal life.

The princess engages actively in social media and has also starred in several Thai movies.

She has three children, one of whom died in the 2004 tsunami. The other two now also live in Thailand.

The princess has registered for the Thai Raksa Chart party, which is closely linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

ruby Posted on February 08, 2019 17:01

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The weapons making nuclear war more likely

The threat of nuclear war fills people with fear. Yet the increasingly blurred line between nuclear and conventional weapons is heightening the danger.

Nuclear and non-nuclear weapons have never been entirely separate from each other.

The B-29 bomber, for example, was designed and built to deliver conventional bombs. But on 6 August 1945 one of these aircraft, Enola Gay, dropped a nuclear weapon on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Seventy-four years later, nine countries now possess thousands of nuclear weapons, which are becoming increasingly entangled with non-nuclear weapons.

The global stockpile of nuclear weapons is down from an all-time high of about 64,000 in 1986 - but some contemporary weapons are about 300 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Apart from the UK, all nuclear-armed states possess dual-use weapons that can be used to deliver nuclear or conventional warheads.

These include missiles of ever-longer ranges.

Russia, for example, has recently deployed a new ground-launched cruise missile, the 9M729.

The US believes this missile is dual-use and has been tested to distances "well over" 500km (310 miles).

The missile is at the heart of US claims Russia breached the terms of a treaty banning the use of medium- and intermediate-range missiles.

The US has announced its withdrawal from the pact, raising concerns about a new arms race.

China, meanwhile, has recently been showing off its newest missile, the DF-26.

Capable of travelling more than 2,500km (1,553 miles), it appears to be the world's longest range dual-use missile capable of a precision strike.

Military vehicles carry DF-26 missiles during a parade in Beijing

There are a number of scenarios in which such missiles could inadvertently increase the chance of a nuclear war.

The most obvious is that in a conflict, they might be launched with conventional warheads but mistaken for nuclear weapons.

This ambiguity could prompt the adversary to launch an immediate nuclear response.

It is difficult to know whether it would choose this course of action - or wait until the weapons had detonated and it became clear how they were armed.

In practice, the greatest danger with dual-use missiles may lie elsewhere: misidentification before they have even been launched.

Imagine that China dispersed lorry-mounted DF-26 missiles loaded with nuclear warheads around its territory.

The US, wrongly believing them to be conventionally armed, might decide to try to destroy them.

By attacking them, it could inadvertently provoke China into launching those nuclear weapons it still had before they could be destroyed.

Satellite systems

Dual-use missiles are not the only way in which nuclear and non-nuclear weapons are increasingly entangled.

For example, all nuclear forces need a communication system - which could include satellites.

But, increasingly, these nuclear command-and-control systems are also being used to support non-nuclear operations.

The US, for example, operates satellites to provide warning of attacks with nuclear-armed or conventionally armed ballistic missiles.

Russia demonstrates its 9M729 missile

In a conflict between Nato and Russia, these could be used to detect short-range conventional ballistic missiles launched by Russia - as the first step towards shooting them down.

If this strategy was successful, Russia could decide to attack the US early-warning satellites in response.

In fact, the US intelligence community has warned that Russia is developing ground-based laser weapons for that exact purpose.

But blinding US early-warning satellites would not simply undermine its ability to spot conventionally armed missiles.

It would also compromise the ability of the US to detect nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and could raise fears that Russia was planning a nuclear attack on the US.

Indeed, the latest US Nuclear Posture Review - the key official statement of US nuclear policy - explicitly threatens to consider the use of nuclear weapons against any state that attacks its nuclear command-and-control systems.

This threat applies whether or not that state has used nuclear weapons first.

Weapons ban

The governments of nuclear-armed states are presumably aware of the growing entanglement between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.

They are also aware of at least some of the associated dangers.

However, working to reduce these risks does not seem to be a priority.

The focus remains on enhancing their military capabilities, to deter one another.

One option could be for countries to try to agree a ban on weapons that could threaten nuclear command-and-control satellites.

But for the moment, governments of nuclear-armed states are reluctant to sit around the same table.

As a result, the prospects of such cooperation appear to be bleak.

ruby Posted on February 08, 2019 16:56

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