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Slower US growth means no rate rise for 2019, says Fed

The US Federal Reserve does not expect to raise interest rates for the rest of 2019 amid slower economic growth.

After a two-day meeting, monetary policymakers voted unanimously to keep the US interest rate range between 2.25%-2.5%.

Fed members changed their outlook for 2019 from the two increases predicted in December to no movement.

The central bank warned that "growth of economic activity has slowed from its solid rate in the fourth quarter".

It said: "Recent indicators point to slower growth of household spending and business fixed investment in the first quarter."

Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions, said: "The Fed did a big about-face on policy.

"The fact that the Fed threw in the towel on a 2019 rate hike was particularly dovish."

Fed chairman Jerome Powell maintained his stance that the central bank would continue to be "patient", telling a press conference: "It may be some time before the outlook for jobs and inflation calls clearly for a change in policy."

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 10:28

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Giant sunfish washes up on beach in South Australia

Pictures of a giant, odd-looking fish have gone viral after it washed up on a beach in South Australia.

Identified as an ocean sunfish by experts, the 1.8m (6ft)-long specimen was first spotted by a group of fishermen driving along the sand.

At first, they mistook it for a large piece of driftwood, said Linette Grzelak who posted pictures of her partner's find on Facebook.

"I didn't think it was real until I Googled sunfish," she told the BBC.

Her partner, Steven Jones has worked as a fisherman for years so "he knew what it was but had never seen one in real life", she said.

"Hence why they took the photos. He said it was extremely heavy and the skin was rough and leathery like a rhinoceros."

The fish was found at Coorong National Park, 80km (50 miles) south of the city of Adelaide. It's believed to have later washed back into the ocean, Ms Grzelak said.

Ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, are the world's heaviest bony fish species and can be found in temperate marine waters globally, according to the Fishes of Australia database.

Their features include a large, blunt head, a disproportionately small mouth, and long dorsal and anal fins.

One expert said the found fish appeared to be a smaller example of its species, which can grow over 4m (13ft) tall and weigh more than 2.5 tonnes (2,500kg).

"It's probably an average-sized one, they can get nearly twice as big as that," Ralph Foster from the South Australian Museum told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The species are harmless to people, but are sometimes mistaken for sharks when they swim inshore, says the Australian Museum.

In Australia, they have been known to cause damage to boats due to their size.

Last year, a vessel in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race had to retire from the race after hitting a sunfish and breaking its rudder.

Earlier this month, a rare hoodwinker sunfish washed up on a beach in California. It baffled scientists who questioned how the southern hemisphere species had travelled so far from its home waters.

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 10:02

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David Malpass: Who is Trump's pick for World Bank president?

US President Donald Trump has nominated David Malpass as his pick for the next World Bank president.

So who is David Malpass, and what opinions does he hold?

Mr Malpass, a Trump loyalist, was a senior economic adviser to the US president during his 2016 election campaign.

The 62-year-old has criticised the World Bank in the past, along with other institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, for being "intrusive" and "entrenched".

After senior roles in the US Treasury during the Reagan and George HW Bush administrations, Mr Malpass became chief economist at Bear Stearns bank. He was there for 15 years before the bank's near collapse in the 2008 banking crisis.

Bear Stearns narrowly avoided insolvency in March of that year after hedge funds got spooked by the investment bank's exposure to subprime mortgages. It was bought by rival JP Morgan for a fraction of its former value, with the backing of the US Federal Reserve.

ruby Posted on March 21, 2019 09:10

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Mike Thalassitis death: Love Island stars to be offered therapy

Love Island stars will in future be offered therapy, social media training and financial advice, ITV has said after the death of an ex-contestant.

Mike Thalassitis, who was on the show in 2017, was found dead in a north London park on Saturday. Police are not treating the incident as suspicious.

His death sparked calls for better aftercare for people on reality shows.

In a letter to The Sun, ITV Studios said the show's medical support is being independently reviewed.

And rather than waiting for contestants to ask for help, Love Island will "proactively" check up on them after they have left the show.

Last year, another former contestant of Love Island, Sophie Gradon, died aged 32. An inquest into her death was recently postponed.

Meanwhile, a government minister has told the BBC that the public has "started to enjoy reality TV a bit too much" and needs to take a "step back".

The ITV letter - published in full in The Sun - was written by Richard Cowles, the creative director of ITV Studios, which makes Love Island.

He said: "When something so awful happens we naturally enter a period of soul-searching and ask whether anything could have been done to help avoid something so terrible happening."

Mr Cowles outlined the support currently on offer, which includes every contestant debriefing with a medical team - including a psychological consultant - after they leave the show.

He said that six months ago, the programme asked Dr Paul Litchfield - a wellbeing expert and former adviser to the government - to carry out a review into Love Island's medical processes.

"This review has led us to extend our support processes to offer therapy to all Islanders and not only those that reach out to us," said Mr Cowles.

"And we will be delivering bespoke training to all future Islanders to include social media and financial management.

"The key focus will be for us to no longer be reliant on the Islanders asking us for support but for us to proactively check in with them on a regular basis."

ruby Posted on March 20, 2019 09:39

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Brexit deadlock shows 'democracy all but dead' - Donald Trump Jr

The current deadlock over Brexit and possible delay to the UK's planned leaving date of 29 March suggests democracy in the UK is "all but dead", Donald Trump Jr has claimed.

Mr Trump Jr, who is the US president's son but holds no political position, wrote a column in the Daily Telegraph.

In it, he criticises PM Theresa May for having "ignored advice from my father".

Mr Trump Jr added that "the will of the people is likely to be ignored" because of "elite" politicians in Brussels.

The US businessman's intervention in UK politics comes with nine days to go until the UK's scheduled departure from the EU.

In an interview with Sky News, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said US President Donald Trump wanted a resolution that allowed the US and Britain "to come to trade deals again".

He added: "He sees huge opportunity if Britain's status can be resolved."

Ms May is writing to the EU to formally ask for Brexit to be postponed, and Downing Street has confirmed the prime minister will not be asking for a long delay.

Any delay will then have to be agreed by all 27 EU member states and Mrs May is heading to Brussels on Thursday to discuss the matter with fellow leaders.

However, 29 March remains the date the UK leaves the EU unless an extension is agreed before then.

In his editorial piece, Mr Trump Jr - who played a prominent role in his father's election campaign, said: "Mrs May ignored advice from my father, and ultimately, a process that should have taken only a few short months has become a years-long stalemate, leaving the British people in limbo."

In an interview in July last year, President Trump claimed that Mrs May had ignored his advice by opting for a softer Brexit strategy.

And again last week, President Trump - who is a supporter of Brexit - told reporters that he gave Mrs May "my ideas on how to negotiate it... and I think [it] would have been successful".

He added: "She didn't listen to that, and that's fine. I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner, frankly."

Trump: "I'm surprised at how badly Brexit negotiations have all gone"

Mr Trump Jr, who is executive vice-president of the Trump Organisation, added: "Now, the clock has virtually run out and almost all is lost - exactly as the European elites were hoping.

"Some pro-Brexit politicians even suggest that Mrs May is trying to sabotage Brexit, by insisting that Parliament agree to a deal that essentially keeps Britain bound to the EU indefinitely.

"With the deadline fast approaching, it appears that democracy in the UK is all but dead."

ruby Posted on March 20, 2019 09:35

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How prevalent is far-right extremism?

The shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, which left 50 people dead and dozens wounded, have led to renewed questions about the extent of far-right extremism.

The British security minister has said it is "perfectly possible" a far-right attack could happen in the UK and has raised concerns about the radicalisation of individuals online.

So, how widespread is this form of violent extremism?

Before the latest attack, both New Zealand and Australia said their main security risk was from Islamist terrorism.

And New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service's most recent annual report makes no reference to far-right extremism.

A report in 2017 by Australia's Security Intelligence Organisation says that although the country "experiences low levels of communal violence", one person was charged with far-right terrorism in 2016.

The report did not dismiss the possibility of attacks but stated that any attacks by far-right extremists would "probably target the Muslim or left-wing community, be low-capability, and be more likely to be perpetrated by a lone actor or small group on the periphery of organised groups".

Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, recorded five right-wing terror plots in 2017, all of which were in the UK.

This was out of a total of 205 potential or successful attacks recorded by European intelligence agencies, with 137 "separatist", 24 "left-wing" and 33 "jihadist" plots among them.

In 2017, a total of 1,219 terror suspects were arrested. Of these, 20 were classified as far-right extremists (705 were "jihadists").

The Global Terrorism Index, an annual report compiled from an open-source database at the University of Maryland, also monitors incidents relating to the far-right in Western Europe.

Its number of right-wing terror "incidents" is higher than the official figures from intelligence agencies, which it says is down to differing interpretations between countries as to what constitutes a terror incident.

Across Western Europe, the database shows 28 right-wing terror incidents in 2017 compared with just one in 2007.

Sara Khan, the UK's anti-terror commissioner, told the Observer that UK-based far-right activists were "organised, professional and actively attempting to recruit", although the numbers being monitored were not released.

The intelligence agencies have revealed, however, that of the 18 attacks foiled in the UK since March 2017, four came from the extreme right wing.

And referrals to the government's anti-extremism programme, Prevent, from this group have increased in recent years.

In 2017-18, there were 7,318 referrals across the country, 1,312 of which related to the extreme right.

The number actually going on to receive so-called "Channel" support has increased as well.

Since 2012-13, the number of extreme right wing individuals receiving support has almost tripled, while the number of Islamist extremists has increased by 80%.

In Germany, "politically motivated" crimes are recorded by the government

In 2017, 39,505 such offences were recorded, of which half were attributed to people with right-wing ideologies, including 1,130 acts of violence (although more acts of violence were attributed to the far left).

Right-wing individuals also committed 300 attacks on asylum centres in 2017, although this was a two-thirds decrease from the previous year.

In the Netherlands, the Ministry of the Interior

ruby Posted on March 20, 2019 08:58

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Boeing: US orders review of 737 Max licence to fly

The US government has ordered a review of the way Boeing's 737 Max aircraft got its licence to fly.

It comes after two crashes in five months, amid suggestions from experts that there were "clear similarities" between the disasters.

Transport secretary Elaine Chao has asked the US inspector general to audit the aircraft's certification process.

One focus of crash investigators has been the Max's anti-stall system, which Boeing says needs a software update.

In a memo to inspector general Calvin Scovel, Ms Chao said she wanted the review in order to "assist the Federal Aviation Administration [the regulator] in ensuring that its safety procedures are implemented effectively".

After the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft last week - which followed a Lion Air disaster in October - there were questions about why the FAA took so long to ground the 737 Max.

Reuters has reported that the US Justice Department has also begun preliminary inquiries into the FAA's oversight of the Boeing aircraft.

Meanwhile, Europe and Canada said they would seek their own assurances over the safety of the aircraft, a move likely to complicate plans to get the aircraft flying again across the world.

European and Canadian regulators have typically tended to follow the FAA's lead.

The European Union's aviation safety agency EASA promised its own deep look at any design improvements.

"We will not allow the aircraft to fly if we have not found acceptable answers to all our questions," EASA executive Patrick Ky told an EU parliament committee hearing.

ruby Posted on March 20, 2019 08:32

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Kazakh leader Nazarbayev resigns after three decades

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led the country since independence from the Soviet Union, has announced his resignation.

In a pre-recorded television address, he said the decision had "not been simple".

Mr Nazarbayev, 78, has been largely unchallenged since he became president of the oil-rich nation in 1990.

He has focused on economic reform while resisting moves to democratise the political system.

"I have decided to give up my powers as president," he said during a surprise television address.

Mr Nazarbayev said the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, would take over as acting president for the remainder of his term.

The announcement comes just weeks after the leader sacked the country's government, citing failures to improve the economy.

"In many areas of the economy, despite the adoption of many laws and government decisions, positive changes have not been achieved," he said in a statement at the time.

In the past few months and even years, there has been speculation about Mr Nazarbayev's imminent resignation.

These rumours reached a new level recently when he formally requested the Constitutional Court to clarify the process of a presidential resignation. The court confirmed that the president had a right to resign.

For many, it was clear that he would leave soon. However, his announcement today still caught many by surprise.

Mr Nazarbayev is the only president independent Kazakhstan has known. Many regarded him as a president for life, a common practice for authoritarian states in Central Asia.

He enjoyed great popularity, although it was never possible to independently measure it due to the lack of free and fair elections. Yet, because of the economic crisis, he has faced growing discontent from some of the population.

Born in 1940, Mr Nazarbayev came to power as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan when it was a Soviet republic.

After independence, he was re-elected against largely token opponents in 1999, 2005, 2011 and - most recently - in 2015.

But the conduct of every election was criticised by foreign observers.

A huge country the size of Western Europe, Kazakhstan has vast mineral resources and enormous economic potential.

Since independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, major investment in the oil sector has brought rapid economic growth, and eased some of the stark disparities in wealth of the 1990s.


ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 14:31

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Christchurch shootings: The rising new threat of alt-right violence

The man accused of the Christchurch shootings left a trail of references to online culture and extremist alt-right ideology.

When he first appeared in court, Brenton Tarrant flashed an "OK" hand sign.

The gesture was described in some accounts as a white nationalist symbol, but perhaps more accurately could be called a trollish gesture. It is used by extremists, but also by a range of conservatives, far-right figures and the alt-right - a disparate group of activists who congregate on extreme message boards.

A document posted shortly before the shooting and widely credited to the suspect, indicates the author is steeped in the alt-right's toxic culture.

Online, white nationalist ideology hides under layers of irony, often allowing its proponents to duck accusations of extremism while actively spreading hateful language and memes.

Potential clues to the suspect's ideology and inspiration also appear in a live-streamed video which social networks have struggled to completely take down.

The written document was posted on the extreme message board 8chan shortly before the attack began on Friday. It has been called it a "manifesto" but that term rather grandly overstates a confused jumble of thoughts and misinformation which rambles on for 74 poorly-written pages.

In it, the author describes the conservative activist Candace Owens as a key influence. While Owens has repeated claims about declining birth rates and dubious statistics about population growth in European countries, her influence over the suspect is doubtful considering his committed opposition to minorities in Western countries and the fact that Owens is an African-American.

The document also includes an internet-famous joke - a piece of "copypasta", or a block of text that has been copied and pasted from elsewhere. The joke involves a US "Navy Seal" who claims to be posting on 4chan's extreme /pol/ (short for "politically incorrect") message board.

Elsewhere in the document, the writer says that popular video games taught him about ethno-nationalism and violence, before immediately dismissing that idea.

All of these appear to be sick "jokes" - not the laugh-out-loud funny kind but rather the internet meme kind, designed to make it difficult for people to glean his true meaning.

Difficult - but not impossible.

ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 13:47

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India 'asks banks to rescue Jet Airways'

The Indian government has asked state-run banks to step in and save struggling carrier Jet Airlines, according to Reuters.

India has urged the banks to swap debt for equity, and take stakes in Jet, the news agency said.

With more than $1bn (£750m) in debt, the air has had to delay payments to banks, employees, suppliers and even aircraft lessors.

India wants to avoid job losses ahead of a general election, Reuters added.

ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 13:42

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Boeing expects 737 Max software fix by end of March

Boeing has told airlines it expects to have new software for its 737 Max plane ready by the end of the month.

The plane has been grounded following the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft crash earlier this month.

Documents seen by the BBC confirm that the software update will limit the operation of the controversial MCAS system.

That was the same system used by a Lion Air 737 Max which crashed off the coast of Indonesia last year.

Investigators say there are "clear similarities" between the two.

Boeing's Dennis Muilenburg, who is the chairman, president and chief executive of the company, said in an open letter: "Soon we'll release a software update and related pilot training for the 737 MAX that will address concerns discovered in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident."

He said the company had been working in "full co-operation" with the relevant authorities and regulators.

There will also be changes to the cockpit warning systems, the flight crew operating manual will be updated and there will be computer-based training for pilots.

It is not clear how long the 737 Max will remain grounded.

ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 13:38

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Cyclone Idai: Huge area of Mozambique submerged

An aerial survey of Mozambique's cyclone-hit province shows that a 50km (30 mile) stretch of land is under water, charity Save The Children says.

The flooding was caused after River Buzi burst its banks, it adds.

President Filipe Nyusi said at least 1,000 people could have been killed by Cyclone Idai which made landfall near the port city of Beira on Thursday with winds of up to 177 km/h (106 mph).

Neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi have also felt the impact.

Mozambique's government says 600,000 people have been affected and 100,000 need to be urgently rescued near Beira.

Buzi town, which is estimated to be home to more than 2,500 children, could be under water within 24 hours, Save The Children warned.

In Zimbabwe, the government says 98 people have been killed and more than 200 are missing.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said that the government was conducting rescue missions and delivering food aid.

The UN says the storm is possibly the worst weather-related disaster ever to hit the southern hemisphere, the Reuters news agency reports.

Floods of up to six metres deep had caused "incredible devastation" over a huge area, World Food Programme regional chief Lola Castro said.

ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 13:33

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Mukesh Ambani: India's richest man helps his brother avoid jail

India's richest man Mukesh Ambani has paid a debt payment owed by his brother, saving him from spending time in prison.

Anil Ambani faced a prison sentence after a deal between his firm Reliance Communications (RCom) and telecoms giant Ericsson collapsed.

That left his firm owing Ericsson 5.5bn rupees ($80m; £60m), which it failed to pay by a court deadline.

The move marks a new twist a long-running feud between the brothers.

RCom failed to comply with an India Supreme Court order to pay Ericsson the money by 15 December last year.

The court found him guilty of contempt, giving him another four weeks to pay or go to prison.

On Monday, RCom said the debt had been paid.

"My sincere and heartfelt thanks to my respected elder brother, Mukesh, and (his wife) Nita, for standing by me during these trying times, and demonstrating the importance of staying true to our strong family values by extending this timely support," Anil Ambani said.

The two brothers have long had an acrimonious relationship, fighting over their father's businesses after he died in 2002 without a will.

The Reliance empire was divided between the two brothers in 2005 after a bitter seven-month feud.

The brothers have fought bruising court battles in the past over natural gas interests.

Mukesh Ambani is worth more than $54bn, according to Bloomberg.

His firm Reliance Industries, whose activities span from oil to telecommunications, is among India's most valuable companies.

By contrast, Anil Ambani has an estimated net worth of around $300m, Bloomberg said.

The Ambani family made headlines last year with the lavish wedding of Mukesh Ambani's daughter, Isha Ambani, which featured a performance from US singer Beyoncé.

ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 10:09

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Italy's La Scala opera house to return Saudi millions

Italy's La Scala opera house is to return more than €3 million (£2.5m; $3.4m) to Saudi Arabia after a funding plan with the kingdom triggered a public backlash.

The deal would have allowed the Saudi culture minister a seat on the board.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record is under close scrutiny after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

The partnership plan was criticised by rights groups and politicians.

"We have unanimously decided to return the money," opera house president Giuseppe Sala, who is also the mayor of Milan, told reporters after a board meeting on Monday.

"We'll go back to scratch today. We'll see if there are other opportunities for collaboration."

The €3m already delivered was part of a proposed €15m five-year partnership proposal with the Saudi culture ministry.

But the plan drew widespread criticism, including from members of Italy's governing League party.

League leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini urged the opera house to scrap the deal while the governor of the Lombardy region, who is also a League member, demanded the opera's artistic director, Alexander Pereira, be sacked.

Mr Sala said that Mr Pereira, who negotiated the deal, would keep his job.

There has been no comment so far from Saudi officials.

Saudi Arabia has blamed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi on rogue agents and denied claims that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had any knowledge of the operation.

ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 09:02

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Armando, the 'Lewis Hamilton of pigeons' sells for record €1.25m

A champion pigeon has been sold for a record €1.25m ($1.42m; £1.07m).

Auction house Pipa called Armando the "best Belgian long-distance pigeon of all time". He's also been dubbed the "Lewis Hamilton of pigeons".

Before this sale, the record was €376,000 (£321,800). However, Pipa says this was beaten within a day of Armando being put up for bids.

The champ, who turns five this year, is now enjoying his retirement and has already fathered a number of chicks.

"It was unreal, the feeling - it was something out of this world," Nikolaas Gyselbrecht, the CEO of Pipa - short for "Pigeon Paradise" - told the BBC of the moment someone put down a bid of more than €1m.

"In our wildest dreams, we had never hoped for a price like that. We hoped for around €400,000 to €500,000, and we only dreamed of €600,000."

ruby Posted on March 19, 2019 09:00

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US election 2020: Beto O'Rourke breaks fundraising record

 In his first day of campaigning as a presidential candidate, Texas Democrat Beto O'Rourke raised $6.1m (£4.6m), the largest of any 2020 candidate so far.

The rising star's online fundraising haul managed to beat out Senator Bernie Sanders' record of $5.9m last month in the first 24 hours of his campaign.

Like other Democrats, Mr O'Rourke has refused to take any money from special interest lobby groups or corporations.

The 46-year-old is one of 15 Democrats now in a bid for the White House.

According to his campaign, he received donations from every state and territory, totalling $6,136,763. The campaign did not release how many donors contributed.

In a statement, Mr O'Rourke said: "In just 24 hours, Americans across this country came together to prove that it is possible to run a true grassroots campaign for president."

This is not the first time his campaign has broken fundraising records. When he ran against Republican Ted Cruz for his Texas Senate seat, he broke Senate fundraising records by amassing more than $80m.

While Mr O'Rourke ultimately lost his tight race against Mr Cruz, he demonstrated an ability to run a successful campaign and drew comparisons with former President Barack Obama.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Mr O'Rourke said he had no "large-dollar fundraisers planned" and was ruling out "taking any PAC [Political Action Committee] money or any lobbyist money ever".

Mr O'Rourke's fundraising figure comes on the heels of his three-day campaign tour road trip across Iowa, the state that will hold the first US presidential caucus.

He will be campaigning in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania this week.

During his Senate race last year, Beto O'Rourke raised money like a presidential candidate.

That was in a race against a Republican candidate, Ted Cruz, who was intensely disliked by the Democratic base, however.

Now that the Texan is a presidential candidate, could he replicate his success when his competition is a diverse field of like-minded opponents?

If the early results are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.

The Texan's $6.1m mark in 24 hours put him ahead of even Bernie Sanders, whose small-donor fundraising prowess was thought to be unrivalled.

It remains to be seen whether Mr O'Rourke's pace can be sustained.

What is certain, however, is that this eye-popping number will put a big target on the Texan's back. Even if current polls don't show him as a front-runner, his opponents are going to treat him as such.

Other candidates are already taking veiled swipes at him, and their supporters and surrogates are pointing out his thin resume and sometimes chequered past.

This is just the beginning.

Ms Harris raised $1.5m online in the first 24 hours of her campaign, while Ms Klobuchar reported $1m in the first two days. Mr Hickenlooper and Mr Inslee have also raised over $1m within days, US media reported.

Candidates will officially report their fundraising totals for the first quarter to the Federal Election Commission on 15 April.

ruby Posted on March 18, 2019 16:36

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Kirstjen Nielsen: Walking a tightrope working for Trump


The US homeland security secretary has steadfastly defended a border policy that has provoked condemnation because of its impact on children and families. But why has Kirstjen Nielsen's style also irked her critics?

During a House homeland security hearing on 6 March, Ms Nielsen said that border agents do not put children in cages in detention facilities. She explained: "If you mean a cage like this." She raised her hands above her head and drew an outline of a small, rectangular-shaped dog kennel.

Democrats disagreed. Regardless of the size of the wire-enclosed areas where children were held, the contraptions were still cages, said Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey.

Ms Nielsen acted as an unwavering advocate for the president's "zero tolerance" border policy and for other measures during the hearing. She expressed staunch support for his national emergency and his wall and said she was working to ensure that the nation's borders were fully secure.

In April, Jeff Sessions, the US attorney general at the time, announced that authorities would prosecute anyone who crossed the border illegally. He said this new approach - which ended two months later - was aimed as a deterrent to parents with children but as a result, nearly 3,000 youngsters were separated.

The border policies and her defence of them have been contentious, and some experts believe that her gender plays a role in the controversy.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University professor who studies propaganda, says that Ms Nielsen has been a powerful spokeswoman for the policies in part because she is a woman.

"It's very important for normalising this kind of inhumane treatment. She's the soft face of this hard policy."

ruby Posted on March 18, 2019 16:20

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South Africa's President Ramaphosa gets stuck on train

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa may have hoped that joining the morning commute would mark him out as a man of the people ahead of elections in May.

That plan has either backfired or worked, depending on how you view it.

He and other passengers were stuck on a train for four hours on a journey that should have taken 45 minutes.

"It is unacceptable," President Ramaphosa said after the train reached its destination.

He said the national rail operator, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), had to act to improve the situation "otherwise heads will roll".

Train delays are a daily frustration for millions of South Africa's railway users and some have lost jobs because of late arrivals at work, says the BBC's Milton Nkosi in Johannesburg.

Angered commuters have even set trains alight, our reporter adds.

The delay to the train the president caught in Gauteng province was caused by another train that had to stop after its driver was hit by a stone which had been thrown at him, a Prasa spokesman said.

He also blamed "ongoing and sustained attack on our rail infrastructure by… thugs".

President Ramaphosa earlier put on a brave face, seen here smiling inside the train carriage:

ruby Posted on March 18, 2019 15:41

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UK space internet firm OneWeb ready for lift-off

UK based start-up OneWeb has secured $1.25bn (£940m) in new funding enabling it to speed up its plans to launch a global high-speed broadband network.

The firm said the money meant its 2021 launch was now "inevitable".

The funding comes after the company successfully launched its first satellites for the service last month.

The firm is competing with several rivals, including Elon Musk's SpaceX, which is aiming to build a similar network for global internet coverage.

Their aim is to bring the internet to parts of the world where there is currently no broadband, or a patchy service.

The latest funding round means OneWeb has now raised $3.4bn in total from a host of investors including Japanese technology giant Softbank, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, drinks giant Coca-Cola and chip-maker Qualcomm.

The company said the money would enable it - by the end of the year - to start monthly launches of more than 30 satellites.

Eventually these satellites will create a constellation aimed at providing full global internet coverage.

To provide global internet coverage, there will need to be 650 units in orbit, but the ultimate number could rise to around 2,000.

The firm claims the monthly launches will be "the largest satellite launch campaign in history".

American telecoms entrepreneur Greg Wyler told the BBC last month that his aim was to help people in developing countries.

"If you look across emerging markets where there is no internet access or very limited access, generally you see poverty.

"Health-care issues, gender inequality - whatever issue you can come up with, they all fall within that same map. The fundamental underlying thing is that people don't have opportunity; they don't have opportunity to learn, to take themselves out of poverty, to build their communities, and that's why connectivity is so important."


ruby Posted on March 18, 2019 09:16

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Hong Kong subway trains collide amid new signal system trials

Two subway trains have collided during a new signal system test in Hong Kong, halting services and threatening travel disruption for millions of commuters.

The incident occurred between the Central and Admiralty stations before the service was open to the public early on Monday morning.

While the trains had no passengers on board, both drivers were taken to hospital.

Rail officials warned that repairs were likely to take "quite a long time".

Network operator Mass Transit Railway (MTR) said sections of the Tsuen Wan Line had been suspended and urged commuters to avoid the route affected and to use other forms of transport if possible.

ruby Posted on March 18, 2019 08:27

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Christchurch shootings: NZ cabinet backs tighter gun laws

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has said she will announce detailed gun law reforms within days, after an attack on two mosques left 50 people dead.

Ms Ardern said her cabinet had backed gun law changes "in principle".

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a self-described white supremacist, has been charged with murder.

Police say the killer used military-style assault weapons modified to make them more deadly for the attack - all of which is legal under current laws.

No specific details were given by the prime minister at her press conference on Monday, but she said they would made clear soon.

"This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer," she said.

Ms Ardern was appearing alongside her coalition partner and Deputy PM Winston Peters, who has previously opposed changes.

He said he fully supported the prime minister on the issue, adding: "The reality is that after one PM on Friday, our world changed forever and so will our laws."

Ms Ardern said: "We have made a decision as a cabinet, we are unified."

She also announced that an inquiry would look into the lead-up to the attacks, and what might have been done differently.

At the weekend, Ms Ardern said the suspect had a gun licence, obtained in November 2017, and owned five guns.

Earlier on Monday, gun retailer Gun City said it had sold four weapons to the alleged gunman online, but it did not sell him the high-powered weapon used in the mosque shootings.

CEO David Tipple told a news conference in Christchurch it had only sold him A-category weapons.

Under the country's gun laws, A-category weapons can be semi-automatic but limited to seven shots. Video footage of the attacks appeared to show the gunman with a larger magazine round, which is also available legally.

There are an estimated 1.5 million privately owned firearms in the country.

Since the attack there have been calls for semi-automatic weapons to be banned, a regulation that exists in Australia and Canada.

Previous attempts to tighten gun laws have failed due to a strong gun lobby and a culture of hunting.

ruby Posted on March 18, 2019 08:23

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India election 2019: The mystery of 21 million 'missing' women voters

Indian women got the right to vote the year their country was born. It was, as a historian said, a "staggering achievement for a post-colonial nation". But more than 70 years later, why are 21 million women in India apparently being denied the right to vote?

It is one of India's many social riddles.

Women have been enthusiastic voters in India: voter turnout among women will be higher in this year's general election than that of men. Most women say they are voting independently, without consulting their spouses and families.

To make them secure, there are separate queues for women at polling stations and female policemen guarding them. Polling stations contain at least one female officer.

More than 660 women candidates contested the 2014 elections, up from 24 in the first election in 1951. And political parties now target women as a separate constituency, offering them cheap cooking gas, scholarships for studies and bicycles to go to college.

Yet, a truly astonishing number of women - equal to the population of Sri Lanka - appear to be "missing" from India's voters lists.

In their upcoming book, The Verdict: Decoding India's Elections, poll experts Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala find that the available data on women points to this.

They looked at the number of women above the age of 18 in the census, extrapolated it, and compared it to the number of women in the latest list of voters. And they found a sizeable "shortfall" - 21 million to be exact - in the number of female voters.

Three states - Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan - accounted for more than half of the missing female voters. Southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu fare better.

More than 20 million missing women, analysts say, translates into 38,000 missing women voters on average in every constituency in India. In places like Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous and a key bellwether state, the figure swells to 80,000 missing women in every seat.

Given that more than one in every five seats are won or lost by a margin of fewer than 38,000 votes, the missing women could swing the results in many seats. The absence of a large number of women also means that India's electorate would be higher than the 900 million people who are eligible to vote in the summer elections. If the sex ratio in a constituency is skewed against women and the average voter is male, the preferences of female voters are likely to be ignored.

"Women want to vote, but they are not allowed to vote. This is deeply worrying. It also raises a lot of questions. We know that there are some social reasons behind this problem. But we also know that by controlling turnouts you can control results. Is that one of the reasons? We really need to investigate further to get to the truth," Prannoy Roy told me.

With a sex ratio that is skewed in favour of men, India has had a problem of missing women for a long time.

Last year, a government report found that 63 million women were "missing" from India's population because the preference for sons led to sex-selective abortions and more care was given to boys. Separately, economists Shamika Ravi and Mudit Kapoor estimated that more than 65 million women - some 20% of the female electorate - were missing. This included women who were not registered to vote and women "who were not in the population because of gross neglect" (worsening sex ratio, which reflected the gross neglect). So elections, they said, were "revealing the preferences or the will of a population that is artificially skewed against women".

It's not that election authorities haven't worked hard to get more women to vote.

The Election Commission adopts a rigorous statistical method - gender ratios, elector-population ratios and ages of voters - to make sure that eligible voters are not left out. There is doorstep verification of voters and a substantial number of officials involved in this exercise are women. In villages, child welfare workers and women's self-help groups are roped in. State-run TV and radio programmes motivate women to register. There are even polling stations dedicated exclusively to women.

ruby Posted on March 14, 2019 11:56

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Are the rules which have stopped nuclear war broken

"We are moving in a minefield, and we don't know from where the explosion will come."

A warning from former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov delivered at this week's influential Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington DC.

Former US senator and long-time arms control activist Sam Nunn echoed the sentiment. "If the US, Russia and China don't work together," he argued, "it is going to be a nightmare for our children and grandchildren."

He urged the present leaders to emulate the approach taken by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev towards the end of the Cold War, and to rally around the premise that nuclear war cannot be won, and must therefore never be considered.

Mr Reagan dreamed of missile-proof ballistic missile defences, but also came close to negotiating a comprehensive nuclear disarmament deal with his Russian counterpart Mr Gorbachev

ruby Posted on March 14, 2019 11:36

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US election 2020: Beto O'Rourke to launch presidential bid

The former Texas Congressman Robert "Beto" O'Rourke is to formally announce he is running for president in the 2020 election after months of speculation.

The Democratic rising star told a TV station in his home state he would join the race to take on Republican President Donald Trump next year.

Mr O'Rourke, 46, is the 15th Democrat to declare his bid for the White House.

In last year's mid-term election, he ran a tight race against Republican Ted Cruz for his Senate seat.

His campaign proved ultimately unsuccessful but he did better than any Democrat in Texas for decades, running a media-friendly campaign that energised the Democratic Party nationwide and drew comparisons with former President Barack Obama.

He joins a growing roster of people vying for the Democratic nomination - including senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg to name but a few.

There's something strange about an electoral defeat launching a presidential campaign. But 2020 is shaping up to be a strange election cycle.

Beto O'Rourke captured the imagination of Democrats across America with his energetic, yet ultimately unsuccessful, 2018 bid to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in Texas.

He became a social media star, packed rallies across the state and posted fundraising numbers more akin to a presidential contender than a Senate hopeful.

Now he is a presidential contender.

The former congressman from El Paso enters a crowded presidential field, but few of his competitors have matched Mr O'Rourke's star power.

Bernie Sanders has his passionate devotees. Kalama Harris pulled 20,000 to her campaign kickoff in Oakland. But Mr O'Rourke has the potential to match them cheer for cheer.

Sensible journalists swoon. "Beto" attire has been spotted in Brooklyn coffee shops and on the head of basketball star Lebron James. Despite a paper-thin resume, Mr O'Rourke is a rare political phenomenon.

The late Texas writer Molly Ivins once observed that a successful presidential candidate has to have "a little Elvis in him". Mr O'Rourke has Elvis in spades. Enough Elvis to open a Las Vegas casino.

Now Elvis is going on tour.

His first name is actually Robert, but is known by his nickname Beto - a common contraction of Roberto, which he picked up as a child in El Paso.

The former punk rock musician is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, who can draw huge crowds and funding.

A fluent Spanish speaker, the Texan politician with Irish roots broke Senate fundraising records by amassing more than $80 million (£62 million) over the course of his 2018 campaign.

He also travelled to all of Texas's 254 counties in his Senate bid, documenting every moment of the journey on social media.

"I'm really proud of what El Paso did and what El Paso represents," Mr O'Rourke said in a text message to local TV station KTSM.

"It's a big part of why I'm running. This city is the best example for this country at its best."

The former congressman is expected to make his formal announcement on Thursday via social media before appearing in Iowa, one of the key states in the early part of an election campaign.

Commentators have speculated for months that Mr O'Rourke would announce a bid for the presidency after his widely-covered Senate run.

In December the Washington Post reported Mr O'Rourke met with Barack Obama while many of Mr Obama's former aides are reportedly backing the Texan in 2020.

Mr O'Rourke, however, has until now kept silent, instead embarking on a road trip across the south-west US which he has documented in a blog.

"Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk," the former congressman wrote. "Maybe if I get moving, on the road, meet people, learn about what's going on... I'll clear my head".