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Why is a 2,500-year-old epic dominating polls in modern India?

With the Indian general election under way, the Ramayana, a 2,500-year-old Hindu mythological epic, is back in the spotlight. The BBC's religious affairs reporter Priyanka Pathak explains why.

This year, like in previous elections, the conversation among many hardline Hindus has returned to the epic Ramayana and its protagonist, Ram.

A longstanding demand to construct a temple in the northern city of Ayodhya - a key point of tension between Hindus and Muslims - which Hindus believe is Ram's birthplace, has become louder in recent months.

Hardline Hindus want the temple built on the same spot where a 16th Century mosque was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992. They believe the Babri mosque was built after the destruction of a Hindu temple by a Muslim invader.

The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised, once again, to reconstruct the Ram Mandir (temple) in its election manifesto.

Like in previous elections, they hope that this pledge will draw in more Hindu voters. They also organised Hindu religious festivals on a grand scale in the lead-up to the polls.

On 12 April, a large gathering of right-wing organisations was held at the iconic Ram Lila Maidan, a sprawling ground named after the god in the centre of the capital, Delhi, to celebrate "Ram's birthday".

People dressed in saffron robes wielded swords as they chanted "Jai Shree Ram", which translates from the Hindi to "Hail Lord Ram". They shouted slogans, reiterating their promise to Ram that they would reconstruct the temple.

What is the story of the Ramayana?

Experts believe that the movement to build the temple, spearheaded by a powerful Hindu nationalist organisation called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has helped craft some sort of a collective Hindu identity in India.

This idea is something that the RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, has cultivated since the early 20th Century.

However, the movement found its zeitgeist moment only a century later.

Several things happened almost concurrently during the late 1980s. First, a television show on the epic reminded 80 million viewers of the story and rekindled a love for its hero.

The serial broadcast a standardised story of the Ramayana, pulled together from many versions and variants. There is no official version of this sprawling epic although historical scholars consider the version by Valmiki, a sage and Sanskrit poet, to be the most authentic.

But really there are as many as 3,000 retellings of the story in around 22 languages, including some that eulogise Ravana while others say it was actually Ram's brother Lakshman who killed the demon king.

But what the television show did was give India a single narrative of the Ramayana. It also gave a single religion to a country "that was diverse and plural and included many different ways to be Indian", says Arshia Sattar, a doctorate in south Asian languages, who has translated Valmiki's Ramayana from Sanskrit into English.

The second big moment came in the late 1980s, when the Congress party led by Rajiv Gandhi - which has always styled itself as secular - decided to lay the foundation stone of the temple in Ayodhya with the help of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing outfit, to woo Hindu votes in a close election.

The plan didn't work - instead, it paved the way for the BJP, still a young party at the time, to seize what they saw as an opportunity to galvanise Hindu voters.

In September 1989, the party's then president LK Advani launched a nationwide march for the temple. Bricks began to move from around India for the construction of the temple. The campaign was successful in mobilising communal sentiments and set in motion a series of events that would result in the demolition of the mosque. This, in turn, triggered nationwide riots.

But in the next elections, the BJP swept the polls. From that moment forward, the party - which was 12 years old at the time - became a national heavyweight.

It took its place as either the party leading the ruling government alliance or as the leading opposition party. For the BJP, the Ayodhya issue became a way to consolidate Hindu votes - something that used to be fragmented along caste lines.

This now well-known version of the epic, championing Ram, also became a convenient point for other Hindu organisations to rally around. This meant that other versions of the epic began to be stamped out.

For instance, in 2011, a Hindu nationalist student union and other affiliated right-wing groups succeeded in forcing Delhi University to drop an essay by the late poet and Ramayana scholar AK Ramanujan, which questioned how many versions of the epic existed, from its history curriculum.

"This may have been part of the general climate of intolerance and the battle over who had the right to tell the country's history and its myths that was part of the Indian landscape between the 1980s and the 2000s," literary critic and author Nilanjana Roy wrote of the incident in her blog in 2011.

But for hardline Hindus, the cultural loss of other versions is simply collateral damage.

They believe that a sort of Hindu renaissance can be built around the epic, allowing Hindus to band together and revive their religion as a way of life that they believe was lost and can be re-established.

For instance, in September 2017, the Uttarakhand state minister for alternative medicine, proposed spending $3.6m (£2.8m) to find Sanjeevani - a mythical, glow-in-the-dark herb, described in the epic as having saved Ram and Lakshman from certain death.

The deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh has also suggested that science was so advanced during the time of the Ramayana that Sita was actually a test-tube baby. And the vice chancellor of an Indian university has claimed that Ravana, had a fleet of airplanes.

A series of such examples from Indian politicians and scholars can be seen as an attempt to bolster pride in the mythological epic. But they also evoke a nostalgia for a grand past, reawakening hope for a future that repeats the great feats of distance ancestors.

ruby Posted on April 24, 2019 15:59

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Migrant caravan: Mexico detains hundreds in raid

Mexico has detained nearly 400 Central American migrants who were travelling through the south of the country trying to reach the US border, officials say.

Monday's operation in Chiapas state targeted a group of some 3,000 migrants which included small children.

It is said to be the largest single raid on people travelling in so-called caravans. Officials say those detained had refused to apply for visas.

Mexico is under pressure from the US to stem the flow of people heading north.

There has been a huge increase in men, women and children fleeing El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the three countries where most of those seeking asylum on the US-Mexico border come from.

President Donald Trump again threatened to close the border if Mexico did not do more to stop the undocumented migrants.

What happened?

Mexican immigration authorities targeted people at the start and end of the group on a road near the town of Pijijiapan, forcing migrants into police vehicles as children cried.

The migrants who managed to escape hid in hills and took refuge at nearby shelters and churches.

"They waited until we were resting and fell upon us, grabbing children and women," Arturo Hernández, a 59-year-old farmer from Comayagua, Honduras, who fled with his grandson, told AP news agency.

"There are people still lost up in the woods. The woods are very dangerous."

Those detained were sent to an immigration station in the nearby city of Tapachula, but it was not clear whether they would be deported.

Also speaking to AP, Denis Aguilar, a factory union leader from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, said this was a "planned ambush" to break up the caravan.

"They grabbed the children... the strollers are abandoned there."

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said his government was not giving migrants "free passage" not just out of "legal concerns but for questions of safety".

The authorities, he added, were trying to break up the work of human traffickers who are allegedly charging migrants to take them to the US border.

Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said the detained migrants, most of them from Honduras, had refused to register for a visa which would have allowed them to stay in southern Mexico.

What is the situation?

Many of the migrants say they are fleeing persecution, violence and poverty in their countries. Since last year, they have been travelling in large groups, often in their thousands, towards the US border.

They see it as a safer and cheaper alternative to paying large sums to people smugglers, known as "coyotes".

But many small Mexican towns in their route, once receptive, have become hostile to them as the caravans are seen as a burden to government resources and often a source of trouble.

Amid a surge in the numbers of migrants arriving in Mexico, Mr López Obrador's government has limited the number of people who are given humanitarian visas and tried to contain them in the south of country, sometimes in overcrowded immigration facilities.

Additionally, the number of deportations has also increased. Official data says more than 15,000 people were returned in the last 30 days.

Meanwhile, the US government has limited the number of people allowed to apply for asylum each day and many are being forced to wait on the Mexican side of the border.

Others are being returned to Mexico as they wait for their cases to be processed.

ruby Posted on April 24, 2019 13:38

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Notre-Dame fire: Rain threatens France's damaged cathedral

Architects working on preserving Notre-Dame are rushing to cover the cathedral before rain can cause further damage.

Showers and even possible thunderstorms are forecast for the French capital on Tuesday evening.

The cathedral's vault, which partly collapsed in the fire, is already partly waterlogged after fire-fighting efforts.

Architects fear that heavy rainfall could result in further collapse.

The chief architect of Notre-Dame , Philippe Villeneuve, told French broadcaster BFMTV that erecting an emergency tarpaulin was "the highest priority".

"The beams are there, the tarpaulin is arriving. The climbers, since it will be climbers who will do that, and the scaffolders, are ready," he said.

There are already plans to erect a large, purpose-built "umbrella" on the roof of the landmark, which will have its own peak and protect the structure while reconstruction takes place.

But the umbrella is not ready - and the threat of impending rain is too serious to wait, with even heavier rain forecast for Thursday.

There were fears the 800-year-old cathedral could be completely destroyed during the fierce blaze on 15 April. Firefighters managed to save the structure and much of its interior - but emergency work has been taking place since to stabilise the building.

Three large holes in the cathedral's vault - its arched ceiling - are the most obvious signs of damage. One was made by the collapse of the cathedral's spire.

But its famous rosette stained-glass windows have been covered with protective material and reinforced with timber posts.

What next for Notre-Dame?

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild the symbol of Paris within five years - in time for the Olympics in the city scheduled for 2024.

The cost is likely to be enormous, with hundreds of millions already pledged by individuals and businesses both in France and from around the world.

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has suggested an international competition for designs for the new spire, to replace the 19th-century design by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc which collapsed.

In the meantime, however, plans are in motion to build a temporary wooden cathedral in the square outside to continue Catholic services on the grounds. The idea which has already earned the approval of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Notre Dame was already undergoing extensive restoration work when the fire broke out. It is not yet clear if that contributed to the blaze, or what the cause was.

Alongside protecting the cathedral from the rain, the removal of the damaged scaffolding is one of the first steps towards the cathedral's full restoration - a process that could take weeks.

ruby Posted on April 23, 2019 18:36

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Pedro Sánchez: Spain's accidental PM on a roll

Less than a year ago, Pedro Sánchez was lagging in the polls as the leader of Spain's opposition, bruised by two resounding electoral defeats.

Yet he goes into this Sunday's general election as prime minister – and is widely tipped to secure the first victory for his Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) since 2008.

"He has used his time in government to project an image of gravity and of being someone who is suited to the post of prime minister," says Josep Lobera, a sociologist at Madrid's Autonomous University (UAM) – who adds that being in government has boosted Mr Sánchez's standing among leftist voters.

"Regardless of whether or not he's actually managed the country effectively, he's projected that image."

Surprisingly popular

Mr Sánchez's turnaround began in May of last year, when he launched a surprise no-confidence motion against prime minister Mariano Rajoy, whose Popular Party (PP) was besieged by corruption scandals.

Gathering support from the leftist Podemos and Catalan and Basque nationalists, the Socialist leader secured just enough votes to ensure the first successful no-confidence motion of the democratic era – making him prime minister in the process.

After lagging behind the PP in polls when in opposition, the PSOE shot ahead in the wake of Mr Sánchez's arrival in office. Throughout his brief tenure, the PSOE has remained well ahead of the PP, the right-of-centre Ciudadanos, the leftist Podemos and the far-right Vox.

Mr Sánchez, 47, has taken a series of eye-catching measures which have appealed to his base, such as raising the minimum wage, appointing a female-dominated cabinet, and taking in the Aquarius migrant vessel after Italy had shunned it.

He has also begun the legal process to exhume the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco from his mausoleum and rebury them somewhere less divisive.

A battle for every change

By Mr Sánchez's own admission, it has been difficult for him to take on more ambitious, structural reforms, with his party holding fewer than a quarter of seats in parliament. He told supporters at a campaign event that "it is true that in 10 months and with 84 seats [in Congress] we have not managed to change Spain, but we have managed to change its course".

Plans to overhaul the education system, legalise euthanasia, change labour regulations and shake up national broadcaster RTVE have all been put on hold.

Yet Spain's fragmented politics have worked to his advantage.

Ciudadanos, which once competed with the PSOE for the centre ground, has moved to the right. Podemos, the Socialists' main rival on the left, has been riven by infighting, causing party leader Pablo Iglesias to admit recently that it "has disappointed a lot of people".

Many former Podemos voters have subsequently turned to the PSOE.

Mr Sánchez's recent resurrection adds to his reputation as a survivor. In 2016, in a previous stint as Socialist leader, he was ousted from the post following a bitter conflict within the party, triggered by two poor general election results and his refusal to end a national stalemate by facilitating the creation of a new, conservative government.

Defying the party's old guard, he successfully ran in the 2017 primary, becoming Socialist leader for a second time – and paving the way for last year's bid to become prime minister.

Catalonia and criticism

But while Mr Sánchez's governing style has boosted his popularity on the left, it has drawn fierce criticism from the right. In particular, his approach to the Catalan territorial crisis, in which he has sought to lower tensions with the north-eastern region, has riled the opposition.

His administration has engaged with the pro-independence government, restored a bilateral working group, and allowed jailed Catalan politicians to be moved from Madrid to prisons in their home region.

Mr Sánchez has also held meetings with Catalan president Quim Torra.

Such moves prompted PP leader Pablo Casado to call the prime minister "the biggest villain in Spain's democratic history", casting him as an opportunist who was willing to negotiate the independence of Catalonia in exchange for the parliamentary support of nationalist parties.

Yet Mr Sánchez's refusal to negotiate a binding independence referendum caused Catalan nationalist parties to withdraw their support for his 2019 budget, leading him to call this election.

Polls suggest that the PSOE will need the backing of Podemos and possibly other parties, in order form a new government. But this Sunday Mr Sánchez will not be the underdog – for a change.

ruby Posted on April 23, 2019 18:34

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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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Afzal Kohistani: 'Honour killing' whistleblower shot dead

Video showed the women and men singing and dancing at a wedding, as Orla Guerin reported in 2012

The man at the centre of a campaign to expose one of Pakistan's most notorious "honour killings" cases has been shot dead nearly seven years after he brought it to national attention. M Ilyas Khan reports from Islamabad.

A video showing two men dancing as four women sing a wedding song to the beat of clapping would pass as normal anywhere in the world.

But this scene, filmed in 2011

in rural Pakistan, led to chilling consequences. The women in the video, and a young female member of the family who was also at the scene, are believed to have been killed by male relatives for "breaching their honour".

Afzal Kohistani, a brother of the men in the video, has now been killed too. His death comes amid a blood feud that has also seen three of his other brothers killed.

Mr Kohistani was shot dead in a busy commercial area of the north-western city of Abbottabad on Wednesday night, police said, quoting witnesses to the killing. He suffered multiple injuries and died on the spot, they said.

In 2012, Mr Kohistani entered the public eye as one of the first Pakistanis to violate a local custom in remote northern Kohistan district whereby matters of family honour are settled in blood. Those perceived to have violated the code are killed with the mutual consent of families involved.

About 1,000 "honour-killings" of women by relatives are recorded each year in Pakistan, say human rights campaigners. The real number is likely to be much higher. A much smaller number of men are murdered in such cases.

According to the custom, the male family members of a woman suspected of an out-of-wedlock liaison should first kill the woman, and then go after the man. The family of the man would not oppose this action.

Disregarding this local code, Mr Kohistani brought the wedding video case to national attention in June 2012, when he claimed that the women in the video had been killed by their family a month earlier, and that the lives of his younger brothers, two of whom were seen dancing in the footage, were in danger.

The pair were sent into hiding. At this point human rights groups had taken notice of the case and began lobbying the courts - prompting the Supreme Court to order an inquiry.

But the investigators found no conclusive evidence of the so-called honour killings of the women, which are illegal under Pakistani law. They were presented with three women who family members said were proof that those who appeared in the video were alive.

Farzana Bari, an activist and academic who took part in the inquiry, said she had suspicions that at least two of the women were "imposters", but the Supreme Court closed the case.

Afzal Kohistani's decision to break the traditional codes - Kohistan is one of the most conservative and inaccessible parts of Pakistan - sparked a feud between his family and that of the women.

Three of his older brothers were killed in 2013 - six men from the women's family were convicted in connection with the murders in what was seen as a landmark case in Kohistan. However they were acquitted by the high court in 2017.

Amid the feud, Mr Kohistani's house was firebombed and destroyed but he did not relent. He moved home and continued to talk about what had happened to the women - lobbying police officers and courts and drawing attention from the media.

"He was a fearless voice in Pakistan," said Ms Bari. "This is a man who has been struggling for the last seven years to get justice, and not justice only for him - for himself and his family - but he wanted justice for women not only in Kohistan but in the rest of the country."

Finally, in July 2018, the Supreme Court ordered a fresh police investigation, which led to five further arrests of men from the women's family.

According to the police, the men admitted during interrogation that three of the four women seen in the video had been killed, but retracted their statement when they appeared before a magistrate.

The case remains open but the killing of Afzal Kohistani deepens the tragedy - which started with a video of dancing and singing and has since spiralled into a bloody tale of Shakespearean proportions, with at least nine lives claimed.

He had for years warned that his life was in danger, telling BBC Urdu in a recent interview that his family was living under constant threat.

"Justice will only be done when killers of the women and of my brothers will be sentenced. Only then can we expect an end to honour and reprisal killings in Kohistan."

Hours before his death, Afzal Kohistani told local journalists in Abbottabad that justice was closing in on those responsible for the murders and that he had been warned of an imminent threat to his life.

It is the killing of a member of a family who is perceived to have brought dishonour upon relatives.

Pressure group Human Rights Watch says the most common reasons are that the victim:

ruby Posted on March 07, 2019 17:52

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Today in Pictures, Mar 1, 2019

Round one of HSBC golf tournament in Singapore, floods in California, U.S., and other pictures from around the world in Today in Pictures.

Tour rookie He Muni getting into the swing of things on the 12th hole during the first round of the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore on February 28, 2019. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES/KEVIN LIM

A resident and his dog navigate through a flooded neighborhood on February 28, 2019 in Guerneville, California. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/AFP

South Koreans wearing traditional costumes hold up lit torches with the national flag to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule, in Cheonan on February 28, 2019. PHOTO: YONHAP VIA AFP

Members of the opening committee line up during the opening ceremony of the traditional Opera Ball in Vienna, Austria, February 28, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

"Chomper," a semi-autonomous, GPS-guided snow blower designed and built by MIT research engineer Dane Kouttron, clears snow following an overnight storm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., February 28, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

Venezuelan man Eli Silvio, 22, looks for recyclables at a garbage deposit in Pacaraima, Brazil February 28, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

A painting, believed to be the second version of "Judith Beheading Holofernes" by Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, is picutred during a photocall in London on February 28, 2019, following its restoration. PHOTO: AFP

One of the 19 nominees for Queen of the Carnival of Santa Cruz shows off her outfit on the main stage during carnival celebrations in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, on the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife, on February 27, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

The polar bear cub in the Copenhagen Zoo comes outside for the first time on February 28, 2019. PHOTO: RITZAU SCANPIX VIA AFP

Tottenham Hotspur's Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez (C) dives as he vies with Chelsea's English midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek (centre L) and Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Willian (R) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge in London on February 27, 2019.

sarah Posted on March 01, 2019 12:21

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Life inside the chaos left by the Islamic State group's fall

US President Donald Trump says "100%" of the Islamic State group's territory has now been taken over, even though local commanders with the US allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), maintain total victory will be declared within a week.

Hamza Jasim al-Ali's world is small and terrible. He hasn't moved far in life, living always along the same 40km (25 mile) stretch on the banks of the Euphrates.

His journey, still without end, took him from al-Qaim in Iraq, across the border to Syria and into the dark centre of what was the Islamic State group's nightmare caliphate. He has seen more of life and death than any child of 12 should.

Now he is far from his river, sitting on the desert floor in a wind-whipped tent, alone - apart from an elderly woman who barely knows him. His leg is broken, but healing, and he smiles as I ask him questions.I asked him what life was like inside.

"It was good," he says, smiling again. "Less food and water and a lot of fighting. It was heavy fighting."

Does he still like IS? "No. Why would I like them after all they have done?" he answers.

Hamza is an IS orphan. His father joined the group and took the whole family with him. He died five months ago, along with Hamza's mother and brothers and sisters in an air strike that was part of the battle to drive the group from its last toehold of territory in Syria.

IS's victims number millions - they displaced and terrorised people across Iraq, Syria and Libya. Their treatment of the Yazidis was genocidal, according to the United Nations. But they also brutalised and corrupted not just their enemies, but their own children, too.

Women and children are sent to displacement camps

As part of a ceasefire deal, more than 6,000 women and children have left IS territory, along with injured male fighters. The Islamic State group's dreams of a sprawling caliphate have been reduced to a pathetic encampment around the village of Baghouz. Their first stop when they get out is the desert, where thousands are processed in the open. The air is acrid and filthy; many of them are sick. They defecate out in the open.

Most are then moved on to an overwhelmed internment camp near the city of Hassaka, in the village of al-Hawl. As Hamza and I speak, there's a lull outside - the day's IS refugees have yet to arrive, and last night's have already been put on to cattle trucks for the long journey across desert roads to al-Hawl.

Some have fled with suitcases containing the last of their belongings

Monitors say thousands have been evacuated out in recent weeks

They are searched individually, by Kurdish women fighters, but it is not known if they are finger-printed or photographed. The injured men's pictures and other biometric data are taken before they are sent to detention. But there are limits to the investigations that can be carried out into the crimes of which they are suspected. It is not clear how long the Kurdish authorities can hold them. Some of the men said they expected to be freed in a few months' time.

One man, who said he was from Aleppo, claimed he was a caretaker. At the edge of the processing area, he told me: "I'll do the supposed detention time and then go live with my parents and leave everything behind me. I'll go live with my mum. That'll be best.''

Another, Abu Bakr al-Ansari, showed little regret. "All Muslims will be sad it's gone because they wanted their own state," he says. "They won't live free to practise their religion in other Muslim countries."

Both were then taken away to Kurdish detention.

Across the desert plain, I find discarded belongings: mobile phones that have been smashed or burned in camp fires, USB drives snapped in two.

There are photographs in the dirt, too - one of four young girl scouts, another of a girl wearing a headscarf. Was one of them now on her way to al-Hawl camp?

Personal belongings could be seen among scattered debris

Amid the soiled nappies and empty tinned cans of food, a family ration card. It belongs to a Kosovan family. The father had a senior position within IS. But that's another story.

In this mess of abandonment, there is purpose and care. A computer hard drive has been stamped on and covered in human excrement.

Many of the women left IS not because they wanted to, but because they were ordered to. Plenty still carried their husbands' worn military backpacks.

It appears that they want their enemies - the Kurds and the Western coalition - to have little clue to who they are. I met women from Turkey, Iraq, Chechnya, Russia and Dagestan. Some expected to be reunited with their husbands who are still inside Baghouz, waiting for the final battle. Many are still fanatics.

What to do with foreign fighters and their children has sparked fierce debate

Many of the women's husbands remained inside the Baghouz hideout

A Tunisian-Canadian woman, her niqab streaked with stains under purple-framed glasses, gave her name as Umm Yousef. Her husband, a Moroccan, had been killed, but she may have married another who was still inside. She said she had no regrets and had learned much from IS.

"So Allah, he made this to test us," she told me. "Without food, without money and without houses, but now I'm happy, because maybe some time, in two hours' I will see that I have water to drink."

Britain and other coalition countries are maintaining pressure on the Kurds to keep the dispossessed of IS locked up. But after the misery the extremists brought here, the Kurds want them gone.

At night more women arrived. Some of their children cried, but others stood silent and still, numb to everything around them. When they were asked a question, in the glare of television camera lights, they turned their dust-covered faces down to the ground and said nothing.

A group that showed almost no mercy, now pleads for it.

Exclusive pictures of final Islamic State group bastion

An Iraqi woman, standing in the dark, with around 200 other women and children, said to me: "Do you not see the children here before you? Can you not feel their pain? The pain of old men and the women who got shredded by the bombs? The children who died in air strikes? You're human. We're human as well. Do you not feel my pain, brother?"

At the edge of the throng, there is a medical station, run by a charity, the Free Burma Rangers. Paul Brady, a Californian, is one of their medics. He says the injuries have changed as more people have arrived from IS.

"About 10 days ago we saw quite a few with what looked like bullet wounds," he told me.

"They said they were shot because they were escaping. But now we haven't been seeing as many of those. It feels like most of these injuries are a little older, mostly from air strikes and mortars.

"You walk around this triage spot and it smells really bad because these wounds have been festering for a long time," he said.

The flow of people will eventually dry up, and then the final battle for Baghouz is expected. Those we spoke to in the desert said there were still thousands of fighters still inside.

One injured fighter told us he got out because "there's no Islamic State left"

Hamza was injured five weeks ago when he stepped on a landmine, but he says his broken leg is much better now. As I'm about to leave, he looks up at me, his smile finally disappearing from his face and he asks, "What will happen to me?"

There's no clear answer. And I couldn't tell him that Iraq may not take him back. He would probably be taken to al-Hawl camp like everyone else.

I left him something to drink, some chocolate and bananas, in the care of the medics and the Kurdish forces.

When I returned to the desert the next day, he was gone, his place on the floor taken by more sick and injured from the last of the so-called caliphate.

ruby Posted on March 01, 2019 09:36

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Steve Irwin: How should the Crocodile Hunter be remembered?

Animal rights organisation Peta has caused a row by claiming Steve Irwin was killed while "harassing" a stingray.

Wild animals should be "left alone in their natural habitats", the group wrote in response to a doodle by Google celebrating the TV conservationist's life.

The Australian wildlife advocate was killed by a stingray in 2006.

There's a wildlife reserve in his name in Queensland.

Steve Irwin, who would have turned 57 on Friday, was probably best-known for his Crocodile Hunter series.

He described his "mission" on earth as being to "save wildlife".

But Peta angered his many fans by describing his method of conservation as "harassment".

In his shows, Steve Irwin would approach animals in the wild - often grappling with crocodiles or holding snakes up in front of the camera.

He believed that teaching people about wildlife was the way to save the creatures, and that the passion he showed on screen helped "push an educational message".

And while Peta accuses Steve Irwin's shows of trying to excite audiences "at the expense of animals", wildlife conservationist Anneka Svenska says that what he did "has inspired the next generation of conservationists".

"Probably now it wouldn't be looked at as so good to touch the animals like he used to," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"But at the time he was doing it, it inspired loads and loads of children to go on and work with animals."

People reading Peta's criticism online felt similarly to Anneka.

At the time of his death, the Guardian published an opinion piece by author Germaine Greer claiming the animal's had "got their revenge".

"What Irwin never seemed to understand was that animals need space," she wrote.

"There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into.

"There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress."

Lots of the animals Steve Irwin was filmed with lived in Australia Zoo, which his family still owns today.

Steve Irwin took live animals like this alligator on prime time TV shows

Anneka, who's a wildlife TV presenter, disagrees with keeping animals in captivity, but says what Steve Irwin did has to be put "into balance".

Anneka says that she wouldn't choose to touch wild animals because "they need to be left to be as they are".

She's recorded programmes with lots of rescued wolves, but says approaching them in the wild would put them in danger.

"If I was to go out into the wild and start feeding or interacting with wolves then you end up with a lot of dead animals because they become too tame," she says.

"Touching animals in parks that are used to being touched" is fine, Anneka says. "I think the criticism comes when he's in the wild and chasing down animals in the wild."

Steve Irwin was accused of breaking wildlife laws while filming in the Antarctic in 2004.

Promotional material for his documentary Ice Breaker claimed he "slides down hillsides with penguins, almost rubs noses with the notoriously dangerous leopard seals and spends the most inspiring time with two friendly humpback whales".

He was cleared of breaching the rules after an investigation.

But his biggest controversy came when he walked into a crocodile enclosure with a dead chicken in one hand, and his one-month-old son in the other.

Headlines following the incident branded him as reckless and irresponsible, and led to an investigation about whether he'd breached workplace regulations.

But Anneka says she's a big fan of Steve Irwin, like seemingly most people on the internet.

He's remembered fondly as someone who helped teach people about animals that might otherwise have been seen as scary.

"I still really like Steve Irwin, I was a fan of him, I think he did a lot of good," she says.

"The powerful influence he's had on children and how they love animals and how they engage with animals has been extremely valuable.

"I think if you have to weigh up the good and the bad, he did more good than bad."

ruby Posted on February 28, 2019 16:28

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Can Georgian wine win over global drinkers?

The former Soviet state of Georgia is considered to be the birthplace of winemaking. But as it aims to boost exports around the world, will its unique wines be too challenging for most drinkers?

I am following two men into a dark cellar that feels more like a tomb than part of a winery.

Buried underground are a number of qvevri - large lemon-shaped clay pots full of grape juice slowly fermenting into wine.

Each of the containers holds 2,000 litres of juice, which is added together with the grape skin and seeds, and left for six months.

It is an ancient form of winemaking that historians say was first used in Georgia in at least 5,980 BC. This makes the former Soviet state, located in the Caucasus region south of Russia, the world's oldest wine-producing country.

Georgian wine can be an acquired tatse

But what does wine made by the qvevri method taste like? The amber-coloured liquid is poured into my glass, and looks like brandy.

It tastes a bit meaty, and my taste buds revolt. My head gets fuzzy, almost straight away.

"It's a challenge for the newcomer, but when you get through the initial shock, it is rewarding," says Koka Archvadze, deputy director of the Tsinandali estate, some 100km (62 miles) east of Georgia's capital Tbilisi.

For centuries winemaking has been a key part of the Georgian economy, with most exports going to Russia. The relationship has, however, not always worked in Georgia's favour.

While Georgia has always prided itself on its large number of indigenous grape varieties, when part of the USSR from 1922 to 1991 the Communists dug up many of the treasured old, but low-yielding red and white vines. They did this so as to replace them with high-volume vines so they could make mass-produced wines.

The country's main wine region, Kakheti, is located in the east of the country

When Georgia gained its independence there was a big effort to increase propagation of the older varieties.

Then in 2006, with Russia buying 95% of Georgia's wine exports, Moscow banned their importation. Georgians believed the ban was a political attack in retaliation to the pro-Western policies of the then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashkvili.

The move crippled the Georgian wine industry, and it started to look for export sales in countries other than Russia.

Although Russia repealed the embargo in 2013, Georgia now exports its wine to 55 countries. And while Russia is still its largest export market, its share has fallen to 62%. It is followed by Ukraine at 12%, China 8% and Kazakhstan 4%. Overall exports last year were 18% higher than in 2017.

Irakli Cholobargia, from the Georgian National Wine Agency, says they are now increasingly focusing on western Europe and North America.

"In volume we are not the big country," he says. "Our maximum capacity [for production] now is 300 million bottles a year, which is the size of one big Australian winery.

"We cannot compete with France, Spain, Chile and South Africa [in size], but what we offer is our uniqueness, our grape varieties, and qvevri wine, our history.

"Our strategy now is to be established in the Western and Asian markets, and to diversify the whole export market."

One Georgian winemaker who is increasing his exports is Gia Piradashvili, founder of Winiveria.

His wines are now available in countries including Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, and the US.

Gia Piradashvili has seen some of his wines stocked by Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy and France

"We do not want to mass produce commercial wines, and we don't work with large chains and supermarket," he says. "Instead we work with niche wine boutiques and high quality restaurants.

"I never thought that my wine would be offered in very good restaurants in Italy or France, Michelin-starred restaurants. But now we do, and we are not alone."

Back at the Tsinandali estate it now exports to countries including Switzerland and Monaco. Established in the 17th Century, Tsinandali is said to be the first winery in Georgia to produce its wine in glass bottles.

With qvevri wines accounting for up to 10% of Georgian production, many of the rest are made by modern methods. But with the grape varieties being so unique, the flavours can be different to what many people in western Europe or the US expect.

"The flavour profile for many people is not attractive quite frankly," says Lisa Granik, a New York-based expert on Georgian wine, who has the top Master of Wine qualification.

"Or it is so unusual that they have difficulty understanding it."

She adds that the Georgian names can also be hard to pronounce, and that many Americans "don't even know where Georgia is, they confuse it with the American state [of the same name]".

While some Georgian wines are old-fashioned, others are made in a modern way

Consistency is another challenge, says Ms Granik, because many Georgian wineries do not add any sulphur dioxide to their bottles to act as a preservative.

"It is difficult for them to withstand the travelling [as a result]," she says. "The hygiene and consistency has to be ramped up."

However, Ms Granik concludes that as more wine drinkers in the West want to try something new and different, Georgian wines could grow in popularity.

"There are a lot of millennials who don't want a Bordeaux. They are looking for something that is weird and wild.

"And they like this notion of natural, anti-corporate wine that's old and ancient, and they are open to this."

ruby Posted on February 28, 2019 09:50

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Pakistan India: Pakistan shoots down Indian aircraft over Kashmir

Pakistan says it has shot down two Indian military jets and captured two pilots in a major escalation between the nuclear powers over Kashmir.

India says it lost one MiG21 fighter and a pilot is missing in action.

Pakistani PM Imran Khan said the two sides could not afford a miscalculation with the weapons they had.

India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir, but control only parts of it. They have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

The aerial attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian and Pakistani territory are the first since a war in 1971.

They follow a militant attack in Kashmir which killed 40 Indian troops - the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir. A Pakistan-based group said it carried out the attack.

The BBC's Soutik Biswas, in Delhi, says the challenge for India and Pakistan now is to contain the latest escalation before things get completely out of control.

In a televised address, he warned against further escalation.

"If we let it happen, it will remain neither in my nor Narendra Modi's control," he said.

Pakistan's information ministry tweeted a video purporting to show a captured Indian pilot

Mr Khan referred to air strikes by Pakistan across the LoC earlier on Wednesday, saying that Pakistan had been obliged to respond to Tuesday's air strikes by India against militant targets in north-western Pakistan.

"Our action is just to let them know that just like they intruded into our territory, we are also capable of going into their territory," he said.

He added that Pakistan had offered to help with India's investigation into the Pulwama attack.

Mr Modi has not yet made any comment, but Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said her country would act "with responsibility and restraint".

"India does not wish to see further escalation of the situation," she said, speaking from a meeting with Russian and Chinese foreign ministers in China.

Pakistan's information ministry published but subsequently deleted a video purporting to show one of the Indian pilots that the Pakistani military says it has captured.

In the video, the pilot - who is blindfolded and appears to have blood on his face - identifies himself as Wing-Commander Abhinandan.

The ministry also tweeted what it said was footage of one of the downed Indian jets.

In India, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar acknowledged the loss of a jet and its pilot.

He also said that an Indian plane had shot down a Pakistani fighter jet and Indian ground forces observed it falling on the Pakistani side of the LoC. Pakistan has denied any of its jets were struck.

Pakistan's assertion that it had shot down two Indian aircraft came shortly after Islamabad said its warplanes had struck targets in Indian territory.

Pakistan said it had "taken strikes at [a] non-military target, avoiding human loss and collateral damage".

Indian authorities said the Pakistani jets had been pushed back.

In a briefing, Pakistan's military spokesman Maj Gen Ghafoor said jets had "engaged" six targets in Indian territory but then carried out air strikes on "open ground".

"We don't want to go on the path of war," he said.

India said Tuesday's air strikes on Balakot in north-western Pakistan killed a large number of militants but Pakistan said there had been no casualties.

The US, EU and China have all called for restraint.

The challenge for India and Pakistan now is to contain the escalation before things get completely out of control.

It is almost unprecedented for two nuclear-armed countries to carry out air strikes into each other's territories.

"We are in uncharted waters," Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US and adviser to three Pakistani prime ministers, told me late on Tuesday.

An Indian defence analyst believes Indian security forces will now have to be prepared for a "full spectrum of conflict".

However Daniel Markey from Johns Hopkins University in the US says we are "several steps away" from nuclear escalation.

A further escalation, he believes, will happen if Pakistan's "next step were to raise the stakes by hitting Indian civilian targets".

That is highly unlikely.

Pakistan has closed its entire airspace, its civil aviation authority said. Nine airports in northern India have been closed, reports in India said.

The flight monitoring group Flight Radar says international flights are also avoiding the area.

Both Indian and Pakistani troops have been shelling across the LoC. Four Pakistani civilians were killed and 10 others were injured in cross-border shelling on Tuesday.

On the Indian side, five soldiers were also injured in the firing, officials told the BBC. Schools in at least two districts along the LoC - Rajouri and Poonch - have been closed.

People living along the de facto border have been asked to leave their homes.


ruby Posted on February 27, 2019 11:28

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Thousands of migrant children report they were sexually assaulted in U.S. custody

House democrats held a press conference Monday ahead of a vote to try to roll back President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Feb. 25) AP


Thousands of migrant children who crossed the southern border into the U.S. have reported they were sexually assaulted while in government custody, according to Department of Health and Human Services documents released Tuesday by Rep. Ted Deutch's office.

In the past four years, 4,556 children said they were sexually assaulted while in the care of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which takes custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the southern border alone and those who are separated from their families. 

Allegations go back to 2015, meaning the reported assaults started under the Obama administration. But the allegations have increased in the past two years after the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy that led to at least 2,800 family separations flooding the department with additional children.

The data show the majority of the alleged assaults were carried out by other minors in custody, but at least 178 were carried out by staff.

"These documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children," said Deutch, a Democrat from Florida, in a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday. "These documents tell us that there is a problem with adults, employees of HHS, sexually abusing children."

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Feb. 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

Cdr. Jonathan White, who has overseen the care of migrant children at Health and Human Services, responded angrily to the congressman, saying the government officials at his department have never been accused of such a crime.

"Those are not HHS staff in any of those allegations," White said. 

Instead, the department contracts with more than 100 local shelters that house and care for children in its custody. Those facilities are inspected by state child welfare officials, and criminal charges can be filed against employees by state or federal prosecutors.

When a sexual assault is reported to Health and Human Services, White said, it is investigated fully, and those found to be legitimate are referred to the Justice Department of Justice for prosecution. 

Data provided by Deutch's office show that of the 4,556 complaints investigated by Health and Human Services, 1,303 – 29 percent – were sent to the Justice Department for further review. White said the vast majority of those cases later proved to be unfounded.

"Any time a child is abused in the care of (the refugee resettlement office) is one time too many," White said Tuesday.

The data were included as part of a large set of documents provided to the Judiciary Committee on the eve of Tuesday's hearing. At the start of the hearing, Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., complained about the last-minute document dump, arguing that it took the administration six weeks to answer their questions.

"The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security until last night stonewalled the legitimate request for information by this committee," Nadler said. "That is absolutely inexcusable."

The House Oversight and Reform Committee took it a step further Tuesday, issuing the first subpoenas against the Trump administration after failing to receive answers on separated migrant families that were first posed in July. The subpoenas were directed at Attorney General William Bar, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. 

"When our own government rips vulnerable children, toddlers and even infants from the arms of their mothers and fathers with no plan to reunite them, that is government-sponsored child abuse," said committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. "It is our job to step in and protect those children. Further delay is not an option."

Tuesday's hearing was the second time House Democrats have grilled the administration over family separations. The House Energy and Commerce questioned Health and Human Services officials on Feb. 7 about last summer's family separations and the separations that continue to happen when Homeland Security agents decide migrant parents pose a danger to their children. 

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw also is considering a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to vastly expand the number of separated migrant families the government must identify and possibly reunite. In June, Sabraw ordered the administration to reunite more than 2,800 families that were separated at the time. But media reports and an internal government watchdog revealed that the administration was systematically separating families a full year before it formally announced its zero-tolerance policy, possibly leading to thousands of additional separations.

The ACLU said the government needs to account for all those families. Sabraw is expected to decide on that request in the coming days.

The Department of Homeland Security also is dealing with a spate of deaths in its custody. Three migrants have died after crossing the border since December, and an Honduran woman delivered a stillborn baby at an immigration detention facility in Texas on Feb. 21.

sarah Posted on February 27, 2019 10:09

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New device can detect cancer in just a drop of blood

Some types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, tend to remain undetected until they are too advanced for treatment to be effective. Now, an innovative tool may be able to detect cancer easily, quickly, and in minuscule amounts of blood.

A newly developed, highly sensitive device can detect cancer in very small clinical samples.

In a bid to find a simple, effective way of identifying hard-to-diagnose cancers, researchers from the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence and the KU Cancer Center and KU Medical Center in Kansas City have now developed an ultrasensitive cancer-detecting device.

The device, which is called a "3-D-nanopatterned microfluidic chip," could successfully detect cancer markers in the tiniest drop of blood or in a component of the blood called plasma.

Lead author Yong Zeng, an associate professor of chemistry at KU, and his team describe how the novel tool works in a paper that the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering has published.

This device, the scientists explain, identifies and diagnoses cancer by "filtering" for exosomes, which are tiny vesicles that some eukaryotic cells produce.

In the case of cancer cells, exosomes contain biological information that can direct tumor growth and spread.

"Historically, people thought exosomes were like 'trash bags' that cells could use to dump unwanted cellular contents," Zeng explains. "But, in the past decade," he adds, "scientists realized they were quite useful for sending messages to recipient cells and communicating molecular information important in many biological functions."

"Basically, tumors send out exosomes packaging active molecules that mirror the biological features of the parental cells. While all cells produce exosomes, tumor cells are really active compared to normal cells," Zeng notes.

A high-sensitivity diagnostic tool

The novel device is a 3-D nanoengineering tool with a herringbone pattern that "combs" for exosomes, pushing them to come into contact with the surface of the tool's chip for analysis. This process is called "mass transfer."

"People have developed smart ideas to improve mass transfer in microscale channels, but when particles are moving closer to the sensor surface, they're separated by a small gap of liquid that creates increasing hydrodynamic resistance," notes Zeng.

"Here, we developed a 3-D nanoporous herringbone structure that can drain the liquid in that gap to bring the particles in hard contact with the surface where probes can recognize and capture them," he further explains.

In order to develop this state-of-the-art device, Zeng and team collaborated with Andrew Godwin, who is an expert in tumor biomarkers and the current deputy director of KU Cancer Center.

To test the chip's effectiveness, the researchers used clinical samples from individuals with ovarian cancer, a type of cancer that is notoriously hard to detect.

In doing so, the team found that the chip was able to detect the presence of this cancer in even the tiniest amount of plasma.

"Our collaborative studies continue to bear fruit and advance an area crucial in cancer research and patient care — namely, innovative tools for early detection," says Godwin, pointing out that, "This area of study is especially important for cancers such as ovarian, given the vast majority of women are diagnosed at an advanced stage when, sadly, the disease is for the most part incurable."

Multiple clinical applications

The researchers are also thrilled that the new device is easy to make, as well as being cheap to produce, meaning that wide distribution could be possible without increasing patient costs.

"What we created here is a 3-D nanopatterning method without the need for any fancy nanofabrication equipment — an undergraduate or even a high school student can do it in my lab," notes Zeng.

"This is so simple and low-cost it has great potential to translate into clinical settings," he emphasizes, explaining that the team "[has] been collaborating with Dr. Godwin and other research labs at the KU Cancer Center and the molecular biosciences department to further explore the translational applications of the technology."

Even more importantly, Zeng and colleagues argue that this innovative device is, in principle, very adaptable. They believe that in the future, doctors could use it to diagnose many different forms of cancer, as well as other diseases.

"Now, we're looking at cell-culture models, animal models, and also clinical patient samples, so we are truly doing some translational research to move the device from the lab setting to more clinical applications," the lead researcher says.

sarah Posted on February 27, 2019 09:57

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Why is the MWC tech show full of men?

As I walked into the chaotic registration zone at the hall hosting Xiaomi’s press conference, my first event of the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC), I soon became aware that I looked… different.

I was dressed reasonably smartly and was even dutifully wearing my delegate's lanyard just like everybody else, even though I hate it – it is too long and I had to tie a knot in it when I realised people were not admiring my belt but trying to read my name.

But, in the sea of people milling around awkwardly, waiting to collect a pass giving them access to the event, my colleague Tracey and I were two of very few women.

It was a woman who gave me my pass. It was also a woman who was pouring out glasses of wine for the reception afterwards. But there were no women speaking inside the hall during the presentation.

We left in a hurry to go to another event across town, hosted by Huawei, the brand everybody is talking about both here in Barcelona and around the world.

Once there, I looked at the long queue snaking round outside the beautiful Italian Pavilion in the heart of Barcelona. I was once again in the minority. Inside, there were no women on stage here either.

I shared a taxi to the next event with analyst Carolina Milanesi, who travels the world attending technology industry events such as MWC. It was the same every year, she told me as we chatted.

“At CES [the Las Vegas technology fair], the thing was booth babes and skimpily dressed people – that’s not the case here but women are in the position of being the hostess, they are smart and look nice but they are serving,” she told me.

“You are either sexually objectified or you are the housewife but you are not seen as making a decision about tech or buying it.”

The conference halls are also full of men

At my final event of the day, hosted by Microsoft, the organisers had clearly tried to even out the presenters, alternating men and women – although after the first four speakers, there was a succession of men before the next woman joined the stage.

On day one of the exhibition itself, I spent an hour in the priority queue to try out Microsoft’s HoloLens2. Not only was I the only woman in that queue, there were only a tiny handful in the enormous, general queue, which, I heard, was four hours long. The security guard at the front was a woman.

Around the conference halls, I found myself constantly jostled by crowds of men swarming around concept cars, robots and 5G smartphones. Meanwhile, the press officers who were constantly pinging me on email, asking me to meet their exhibiting clients were more likely to be women than men.

Claire, not her real name, is attending MWC for the first time, working for one of the major global brands.

“I have to say I am surprised by how few women there are at the event - barring of course hospitality and venue staff,” she told me

“I thought that this should be different [to other industry events] - it's much more consumer focused - but a common theme among the women I've met here is the fact that the halls are a sea of testosterone.”

She thinks some technology companies need to rethink their priorities.

Men queue up to take a picture of Huawei's foldable phone

“The industry talks a good game about being relevant to women - but it's hard to believe that for some companies it's anything more than lip service when you look around the hall,” she said.

One company under scrutiny for many reasons already is Huawei, which has a huge presence here.

In one hall, it occupies a vast space, easily the size of a supermarket. And every single delegate's lanyard bears the Huawei logo.

We arrived before its stand opened but waiting to greet people when it did were women dressed in national costumes from around the world.

Thankfully, there were no bikinis but still I couldn’t quite decide whether this was a beautiful display of global inclusivity or a cringeworthy homage to Miss World.

The million dollar question here of course is – why aren’t there more women here? It’s not like female attendees are screened out. If you’ve got the 450 euros, and/or press or analyst credentials, you can come.

A spokesman for the Global System for Mobile Communications trade body, which organises MWC, told me that in 2018 24% of the delegates had been women, a 1% increase on 2017. Over 100,000 people attend.

He also told me about the Women4Tech programme, which runs a number of events aimed at women working in and around the industry during the four days of MWC.

I love tech, I have spent years covering the subject as a journalist and I don’t feel my gender prevents me from doing so. It’s very rare that I feel actively unwelcome at an event – I don’t here either - and the days when people used to ask me who was looking after my children while I was working seem, fortunately, to be behind me.

It’s more subtle than that - and not necessarily a conscious bias. Perhaps it’s a vicious cycle - women like me come along, feel a bit like we should be serving the drinks and then decide not to return. We have to shout louder, jostle harder, raise our arms higher to get those photos.

The men I have spoken to about it seem a bit embarrassed. The women seem resigned.

An industry friend of mine told me it was one reason why she chose to avoid these events.

Don’t forget, though, that women are equally expected to consume all of this technology. And if we disappear, our voices will not be heard when it comes to their design.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

At a networking event one evening, I chatted to the owner of a mobile phone company over a glass of wine. We were discussing the new trend for folding phones. And I said I would prefer one that folded out to be the size my existing phone is now.

He asked me why on Earth that was the case, so I showed him how awkwardly it fits into the pockets of my jeans. And he was absolutely astonished.

His fitted just fine, he said - he’d never even thought about it.

ruby Posted on February 27, 2019 09:44

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House votes to block Trump border wall national emergency

The US House of Representatives has voted to revoke President Donald Trump's emergency declaration over building a US-Mexico border wall.

The bid to overturn the declaration now goes to the Republican-majority Senate, where some conservatives have said they will vote with Democrats.

Mr Trump, who declared the emergency after Congress refused funding for the wall, has said he will veto the bill.

The resolution passed the Democrat-led House by a margin of 245-182.

Thirteen Republicans sided with Democrats in rejecting Mr Trump's national emergency, which suggests Congress would not have the two-thirds majority of both chambers needed to override a veto from the president.

Lawmakers are using a provision from the National Emergencies Act to overrule the president, but it requires both chambers to vote for it and to complete voting within 18 days.

The president has called the situation at the southern border a "crisis" and on 15 February, issued a declaration of emergency in order to bypass Congress and build a wall with military funding.

Democrats say the declaration is unconstitutional and that Mr Trump has manufactured the border emergency.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on Monday: "This isn't about the border. This is about the constitution of the United States. This is not about politics. It's not about partisanship. It's about patriotism."

What a difference a few years - and a new presidential administration - make.

In 2014, when Barack Obama used his executive authority to defer deportation of certain classes of undocumented migrants, Democrats defended him, while Republicans howled about an abuse of presidential authority.

Now it is Republicans attempting to explain President Donald Trump's use of an emergency declaration to redirect funds toward his border wall, while Democrats issue dire warnings of White House overreach.

Such is the ease with which the playing field flips in American politics.

The Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, joined by a handful of Republicans, have rebuked Mr Trump for this wall declaration.

That sets up a showdown in the Senate, where some conservatives - particularly those up for re-election in 2020 battleground states - are uneasy about going along with what they see as a dangerous precedent.

They could hand their president an embarrassing setback, forcing him to use his first veto of his administration. Then - because a congressional veto override seems unlikely - the legal battle will shift to the courts.

The battle for public opinion will stay firmly in the realm of the politicians, of course.

While many Republicans were critical of using an emergency declaration for a wall prior to Mr Trump's decree, some are now arguing the president is using the authority given to him by the constitution.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell says the emergency is an "understandable consequence" of Democrats refusing to negotiate with Mr Trump

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said Republicans would uphold Mr Trump's decision and accused Democrats of ignoring the emergency at the border.

Ohio Representative Warren Davidson said: "I think he didn't necessarily have to do the emergency declaration, but he did, and it's legal," the Washington Post reported.

But others maintained Mr Trump's response to a lack of congressional funding was inappropriate.

In the Senate, more Republicans have expressed concerns about setting a dangerous precedent, and Vice-President Mike Pence met members during a closed-door lunch on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has maintained the emergency declaration is "the predictable and understandable consequences of Democrats' decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest".

Mr Trump's emergency declaration would open up almost $8bn (£6bn) for the wall, which is still considerably short of the estimated $23bn cost of the barrier along almost 2,000 miles (3,200km) of border, but far more than the $1.375bn allotted by Congress for barriers.

ruby Posted on February 27, 2019 09:42

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Michael Cohen 'to accuse Trump of racism and lies'

President Donald Trump's convicted former lawyer Michael Cohen is expected to accuse him of criminal conduct during a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Speaking on Wednesday to a House of Representatives panel, Cohen will allege possible tax fraud and racist language by Mr Trump, say US media.

The White House has questioned why lawmakers invited someone who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Cohen was sentenced to three years and will begin his custodial term in May.

On Tuesday, he was officially disbarred from practising law by the New York State Supreme Court, New York media reported.

The penalty came as he began three consecutive days of testimony in a closed-doors hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. His Wednesday testimony to the House Oversight Committee will be public.

The 52-year-old was convicted last year by New York federal prosecutors of campaign finance violations and tax evasion and by special counsel Robert Mueller of lying to Congress about Trump Organization plans in Moscow.

Mr Mueller is nearing the end of a 21-month justice department investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, which both Mr Trump and Russia have denied.

At his December sentencing Cohen, a former Trump loyalist, blamed his misdeeds on "a blind loyalty" to Mr Trump.

Ahead of the hearings, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called Cohen a "disgraced felon", saying it was "laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word".

Mrs Sanders' statement added it was "pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies" before Congress.

How the jailing of Cohen affects Trump

The Wall Street Journal reported a person familiar with the matter as saying Cohen would provide "evidence of criminal conduct since Mr Trump became president" that involved a hush money payment to conceal an alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The lawyer will accuse Mr Trump of being directly involved in efforts to conceal the alleged affair weeks before the 2016 election, according to US media.

The president has denied having the affair, or that he told Cohen to pay off Ms Daniels.

According to the Journal, Cohen will detail Mr Trump's "lies, racism and cheating" over a decade of working for him.

He is expected to offer financial documents showing possible tax fraud by Mr Trump, which may spur lawmakers to renew demands for the president's tax returns.

The president's former right hand man will also describe racist remarks from Mr Trump during their private conversations.

The Journal reports Cohen will accuse the president of questioning the intelligence of African Americans.

CBS News reported a source as saying the racist language allegedly used by the president is "chilling".

Cohen is also expected to offer explanations to lawmakers about why he lied to them about the Trump Organization's plans to build a tower in Moscow.\

Democrat Elijah Cummings, chair of the Oversight Committee, said last week lawmakers would question Cohen about Mr Trump's possible conflicts of interest and finances.

Republicans, meanwhile, have highlighted Cohen's unreliability.

In an op-ed in USA Today on Tuesday, Republican Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina called the hearing "a partisan circus meant to destroy Trump".

Meanwhile, Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is denying that a tweet directed at Cohen was a threat.

In a text message exchange with a reporter for Vox, Mr Gaetz denied the tweet was considered witness-tampering, contending it was "witness-testing".

It comes after Cohen's originally scheduled testimony was postponed, after he cited "threats against his family" brought by Mr Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

ruby Posted on February 27, 2019 09:39

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paxex Posted on February 25, 2019 16:46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police conduct a search days after Cheryl's disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl with her late father, Vince Grimmer

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

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

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

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

ruby Posted on February 18, 2019 15:59

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British IS schoolgirl 'wants to return home'

One of three schoolgirls who left east London in 2015 to join the Islamic State group says she has no regrets, but wants to return to the UK.

In an interview with the Times, Shamima Begum, now 19, talked about seeing "beheaded heads" in bins - but said that it "did not faze her".

Speaking from a refugee camp in Syria, she said she was nine months pregnant and wanted to come home for her baby.

She said she'd had two other children who had both died.

She also described how one of her two school friends that had left the UK with her had died in a bombing. The fate of the third girl is unclear.

'It was like a normal life'

Bethnal Green Academy pupils Ms Begum and Amira Abase were both 15, while Kadiza Sultana was 16, when they left the UK in February 2015.

They flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day. They later crossed the border into Syria.

"I'm not the same silly little schoolgirl who ran away four years ago," Ms Begum said

After arriving in Raqqa, she stayed at a house with other newly arrived brides-to-be, she told the Times.

"I applied to marry an English-speaking fighter between 20 and 25 years old," she said.

Ten days later she married a 27-year-old Dutch man who had converted to Islam.

She has been with him since then, and the couple escaped from Baghuz - the group's last territory in eastern Syria - two weeks ago.

Her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters as they left, and she is now one of 39,000 people in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Asked by Times journalist Anthony Loyd whether her experiences of living in the one-time IS stronghold of Raqqa had lived up to her aspirations, Ms Begum said: "Yes, it did. It was like a normal life. The life that they show on the propaganda videos - it's a normal life.

"Every now and then there are bombs and stuff. But other than that..."

She said that seeing her first "severed head" in a bin "didn't faze me at all".

"It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam.

"I thought only of what he would have done to a Muslim woman if he had the chance," she said.

"I'm not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago," she told Mr Loyd.

"I don't regret coming here."

Shamima Begum was legally a child when she pinned her colours to the Islamic State mast. And if she were still under 18 years old, the government would have a duty to take her and her unborn child's "best interests" into account in deciding what to do next.

But she's now an apparently unrepentant adult - and that means she would have to account for her decisions, even if her journey is a story of grooming and abuse.

Another British jihadi bride, Tareena Shakil, who got out of the war zone with her child, lied to the security services on her return and was jailed for membership of a terrorist group.

If Ms Begum got out of the country, that is the kind of charge she could face - along with encouraging or supporting terrorism.

But that's a long way off. Assuming she made it to an airport, the UK could temporarily ban her from returning until she agreed to be investigated, monitored and deradicalised.

Social services would also certainly step in to consider whether her child should be removed to protect him or her from radicalisation.

But Ms Begum said the "oppression" had come as a "shock" and said she felt the IS "caliphate" was at an end.

"I don't have high hopes. They are just getting smaller and smaller," she said. "And there is so much oppression and corruption going on that I don't really think they deserve victory."

She referred to her husband having been held in a prison where men were tortured.

Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) in photos issued by police

A lawyer for the family of Kadiza Sultana said in 2016 that she was believed to have been killed in a Russian air strike.

Ms Begum told the Times her friend had died in a bombing on a house where there was "some secret stuff going on" underground.

She added: "I never thought it would happen. At first I was in denial. Because I always thought if we got killed, we'd get killed together."

'Scared this baby is going to get sick'

Ms Begum said losing two children "came as a shock. It just came out of nowhere, it was so hard".

Her first child, a girl, died at the age of one year and nine months, and was buried in Baghuz a month ago.

Her second child - the first to die - died three months ago at the age of eight months, of an illness that was compounded by malnutrition, the Times reports.

She told the paper she took him to a hospital. "There were no drugs available, and not enough medical staff," she said.

As a result she said she was "really overprotective" of her unborn child.

She said this concern also contributed to her decision to leave Baghuz.

"I was weak," she said. "I could not endure the suffering and hardship that staying on the battlefield involved.

"But I was also frightened that the child I am about to give birth to would die like my other children if I stayed on."

She said she remained scared her unborn baby would become ill in the refugee camp.

"That's why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of - health-wise, at least," she said.

She said she should be giving birth "any day now".

"I'll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child."

Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer who was instructed by the Bethnal Green girls' families after they ran away, said the families had told him they now wanted "time and space to process what's happened"

Shamima's sister Renu addressed her in an appeal in 2015: ''We love you more than anybody could love you''

Security minister Ben Wallace said he could not comment on Ms Begum's case for legal reasons but said any Britons who had gone to Syria to engage or support terrorist activities should be prepared to be questioned, investigated and potentially prosecuted if they came back to the UK.

He said there was no consular assistance in Syria so any Briton wanting help would need to find consular services elsewhere in the region.

Asked whether the government would be rushing to bring home people such as Ms Begum, he said: "I'm not putting at risk British people's lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state."

He added that while the UK had a duty of care to children of Britons in Syria, he also had a duty towards all UK citizens and would do what was "proportionate and necessary" to keep people safe.

Sir Peter Fahy, a retired senior police chief who led the Prevent terrorism prevention programme at the time the girls ran away, said if Ms Begum did return to the UK, the authorities would first detain her and investigate whether there was enough evidence to mount a prosecution.

He said he could understand why the government was "not particularly interested" in facilitating her return.

"If the woman was showing complete remorse, it would be completely different," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said it would cost a "vast amount of money" and the biggest challenge would be for local police to keep her safe.

They would have to ensure she did not become a lightning rod for both right-wing extremists and Islamic extremists and did not try to justify her position and actions, he added.

IS has lost control of most of the territory it overran, including its strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

However, fighting continues in north-eastern Syria, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they captured dozens of foreign fighters in recent weeks.Families flee last IS village in Syria
After the caliphate: Has IS been defeated?
London schoolgirl 'feared dead in Syria'

ruby Posted on February 14, 2019 10:48

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Ex-US Air Force officer Monica Witt charged with spying for Iran

US prosecutors have accused a former US Air Force officer of spying for Iran in an elaborate operation that targeted her fellow intelligence officers.

Monica Witt, who allegedly defected to Iran in 2013, had previously worked as a US counterintelligence officer.

Four Iranian citizens have also been charged with attempting to install spy software on computers belonging to Ms Witt's colleagues.

According to the FBI, Ms Witt was last seen in southwest Asia in July 2013.

A previously issued FBI missing persons poster said she was working as an English teacher in either Afghanistan or Tajikistan, and had lived overseas for more than a year before vanishing.

Monica Witt was last heard from while travelling in southwest Asia.

Prosecutors say Ms Witt had been granted the highest level of US security clearance and worked in the US Air Force from 1997 to 2008.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the US Justice Department's national security division, told AP News: "It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country."

The US Department of Treasury has also sanctioned two Iranian companies - New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company - for their role in the plot.

Investigators allege Ms Witt was recruited after attending two conferences hosted by New Horizon Organization, which was working on behalf of the Iranian National Guard's Quds Force to collect intelligence on attendees.

Several conferences sponsored by the New Horizon Organization have taken place in Iran and Iraq in recent years, US officials say, adding the conferences often include an "anti-Western" sentiment and "propagate anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories including Holocaust denial".

The Department of Treasury accuses Net Peygard Samavat Company of being "involved in a malicious cyber campaign to gain access to and implant malware on the computer systems of current and former counterintelligence agents".

Monica Elfriede Witt, a former Texas resident, left the US military in 2008 after more than a decade of service.

In a charging document, investigators say the 39-year-old was deployed by the US to locations in the Middle East to conduct classified counterintelligence operations.

She is accused of sharing US government secrets, including the name of agents and specifics of operations, with Iran beginning as early as January 2012.

Prosecutors allege that shortly after defecting to Iran, she handed over information on her colleagues in order to cause "serious damage" to the United States.

According to officials, she sent a message to her Iranian contact in 2012 saying: "I loved the work, and I am endeavouring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil. Thanks for giving me the opportunity."

While in Iran, she also allegedly converted to Islam during a television segment after identifying herself as a US veteran, and delivered several broadcasts in which she criticised the US.

In the weeks after defecting, she also conducted several Facebook searches of her former colleagues, and is alleged to have exposed one agent's true identity, "thereby risking the life of this individual".

A warrant has been issued for Ms Witt, who remains at large.

Last November, US President Donald Trump re-imposed all sanctions on Iran that had been suspended due to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement.

Mr Trump has withdrawn the US from the agreement, leading to a foreign policy rift between the US and the European nations who are party to the deal.

The US and Iran do not maintain diplomatic relations, and communications between the two nations are exchanged through Swiss diplomats.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 18:01

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Brexit: Theresa May plays down 'deal or delay' report

Theresa May has played down reports that she could force MPs to choose between backing her deal or accepting a delay to EU withdrawal.

ITV News said chief UK negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process.

The PM suggested MPs should not rely on "what someone said to someone else as overheard by someone else, in a bar".

"It is very clear the government's position is the same," she said.

"We triggered Article 50 (the process by which the UK leaves the EU)... that had a two-year time limit, that ends on the 29 March.

"We want to leave with a deal, and that's what we are working for."

The prime minister has said she will lift the requirement for a 21-day period before any vote to approve an international treaty, which means she could delay the final Brexit vote until days before the UK is due to leave the EU.

No 10 insists Mrs May still plans to hold a vote on a deal as soon as possible but Labour has accused her of "running down the clock" in an effort to "blackmail" MPs into backing her deal.

At Prime Minister's Questions, the SNP's Westminster Leader Ian Blackford urged her to rule out holding a "meaningful vote" on the deal with less than two weeks to go until Brexit.

"The prime minister must stop playing fast and loose - businesses are begging for certainty," he said.

Mrs May said the way to give businesses certainty was to back the deal she had negotiated with the EU.

But Mr Blackford told her she had been "rumbled by your own loose-lipped senior Brexit adviser". It was a reference to the ITV report that Mr Robbins was overheard saying he expected MPs to be presented with a choice of backing either a reworked withdrawal deal, or a potentially significant delay to Brexit.

MPs rejected the deal negotiated with the EU by a historic margin in January and the prime minister says she is seeking legally-binding changes to the controversial "backstop" - the "insurance policy" aimed at avoiding a return to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Sir Keir Starmer says MPs would force the PM to delay Brexit, rather than accept a no-deal scenario

The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 29 March, whether or not a deal has been approved by the Commons.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed to the decision to scrap a no-deal Brexit contract with a ferry company that had no ships as a "spectacular failure" which was "a symptom of the utter shambles of this government and its no-deal preparations". He described the prime minister's Brexit strategy as "costly, shambolic and deliberately evasive".

Mrs May accused Mr Corbyn of preferring "ambiguity and playing politics to acting in the national interest" saying MPs did not know if he backed another referendum, a deal or Brexit.

"People used to say he was a conviction politician - not any more," she said.

The PM has promised to return to the Commons on 26 February with a further statement - triggering another debate and votes the following day - if a deal has not been secured by that date.

If a deal is agreed, MPs will have a second "meaningful vote", more than a month after Mrs May's deal was rejected in the first one.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer is meeting Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington on Wednesday to discuss Labour's Brexit proposals.

No 10 has indicated it is willing to make concessions on protection for workers but Labour's push for a closer future customs relationship than Mrs May proposes, remains a sticking point.

Mrs May told MPs on Tuesday she was discussing a number of options with the EU to secure legally-binding changes to the backstop, including replacing it with "alternative arrangements", putting a time limit on how long it can stay in place, or a unilateral exit clause so the UK can leave it at a time of its choosing.

MPs are due to vote again on the Brexit process on Thursday in what was expected to be a routine procedure acknowledging the government's efforts.

However, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted that Mrs May could be faced with another defeat, with influential Brexiteers from the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers indicating that they will refuse to back the government.

They are angry at being asked to support the PM's motion, which combines the view backed by a majority of MPs last month that the government should seek an alternative to the backstop with a separate move to stop Brexit happening without a formal deal.

The group's deputy chairman, Mark Francois, told the BBC members had "pleaded" with Downing Street to change the wording, which he said goes back on what she has previously told MPs.

"We cannot vote for this as it is currently configured because it rules out no deal and removes our negotiating leverage in Brussels."

Most MPs want to avoid a no-deal scenario, fearing chaos at ports and disruption to business. However, some Brexiteers have played down that prospect arguing it is an example of "Project Fear".

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned on Tuesday that time was running short for the ratification of a deal under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.

The Act requires 21 sitting days before the ratification of any international treaty, to allow MPs to study the agreement.

But Mrs May responded: "In this instance MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote."

If there was not time for normal procedures, the government would amend the law around Brexit to allow it to be ratified more quickly.

Labour has tabled an amendment for Thursday that would force the government to come back to Parliament by the end of the month to hold a substantive vote in the Commons on its plan for Brexit.

As we talked about late on Monday, there has been a sense building in Westminster that the prime minister is, maybe by accident, maybe increasingly by design, looking to almost the last possible minute for the definitive Brexit vote.

While ministers speak publicly of "talks" that must be given time to be completed with the EU, and officials continue to chew over the possibility of the "Malthouse compromise" (remember that? It already seems like months ago that it emerged, blinking, into the Brexit saga) more and more MPs believe it is displacement activity - ministers keeping outwardly busy while they run down the clock.

Early on Tuesday morning, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom did not exactly quash that notion in an interview with the Today programme.

She appeared to open up the possibility that MPs might in the end be asked to vote at a moment of peak jeopardy, and that ministers might be willing to let the matter run that long.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister herself hinted that the government was prepared to do that.

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 15:22

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Spain budget failure puts snap election on the cards

Spain's Socialist government is widely expected to call a snap general election after failing to get its budget through parliament.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's bill failed after parties from the Catalonia region refused to support it.

Their requests for discussions about the region's right to self-determination had been refused.

Before the vote, government sources had warned that a defeat would result in an early election.

In the end, 191 out of the parliament's 350 members voted to reject the government's budget.

Mr Sánchez left the room without making any announcement or comment. some of his political opponents, however, called for fresh elections in media interviews.

Catalan parties rejected the proposals in the same week that Catalan separatist leaders went on trial for rebellion and sedition over their unrecognised independence referendum in 2017.

Mr Sánchez leads a minority government, with less than a quarter of the seats in parliament.

He became prime minister after his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, was pushed out in a no-confidence vote over a corruption scandal. But Mr Sánchez's nomination was supported by a range of smaller parties with competing interests.

If he calls a general election, it will be the third in five years.

Catalan pro-independence parties had supported the government's previous legislation while insisting on a dialogue over independence for their region as the price for supporting the budget.

The parties which Mr Sánchez needed to support him said they were open to negotiations so long as the Spanish government considered Catalonia's right to self-determination.

But the government's stance remains that, according to the country's constitution, the nation is "indissoluble", and no part of it can secede from the whole.

That argument came to the fore when the 12 Catalan pro-independence leaders and activists went on trial on Tuesday.

Outside the court, rival groups offered support - or scorn - for the accused

Catalonia's current regional government supports the collection of former ministers and public figures. Its president, Quim Torra, turned up to the trial wearing the yellow ribbon - a symbol of solidarity.

He told Reuters news agency: "We are not demanding anything that isn't democratic, that wouldn't be done via ballot boxes."

Long hours of negotiation and parliamentary debate failed to break the deadlock.

Protesters angered by the government's outreach to Catalan separatists call for new elections in Spain

Long hours of negotiation and parliamentary debate failed to break the deadlock.

Ahead of the vote, Spain's finance minister María Jesús Montero attempted to appeal to economic sensibilities, labelling the budget's provisions for Catalonia as generous.

But she also called the insistence on independence talks a form of "blackmail".

If an election is called, the outcome is not certain to return Mr Sanchez's minority government to power.

The largest party in the current parliament, with 134 seats, is actually the conservative People's Party.

Mr Sanchez's Socialist party holds just 84 out of the 350 seats, propped up by a confidence-and-supply agreement and the support of a handful of smaller parties.

But it has the advantage in the opinion polls, which show the party ahead of its rivals.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 15:08

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Maria Ressa: Head of Philippines news site Rappler arrested

The CEO of Rappler, a news website critical of the government in the Philippines, has been arrested at its headquarters in Manila.

Maria Ressa said the accusation of "cyber-libel" is an attempt by Rodrigo Duterte's government to silence the publication.

It is the latest in a string of different allegations against her.

The president, who calls the site "fake news", has previously denied charges against her are politically motivated.

Rappler journalists live-streamed the arrest on Facebook and Twitter.

Footage streamed on Facebook showed plain-clothes party officials speaking with Maria Ressa, while several of the site's journalists live-tweeted what was happening.

Officers from the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) reportedly ordered them to stop filming and taking photos.

Miriam Grace Go, Rappler's news editor, later tweeted that NBI agents had led Ms Ressa out of Rappler's offices.

Chay Hofileña, Rappler's head of investigative journalism, told BBC News that their main concern was making sure Ms Ressa did not have to spend the night in jail.

"Maria is currently at the National Bureau of Investigations, and we're hoping that she'll be able to file bail tonight, so that she won't have to spend the night there," she said.

"We will have to find a judge at a night court who will be willing to grant bail. Our lawyers are currently in the process of finding one."

Ms Hofileña added that "if she's able to post bail, then she's free" and they could focus on their case and the legal process.

Journalists must "hold the line" against government attacks, that's what Maria Ressa told me when I interviewed her recently about press freedom in the Philippines.

She says politically-motivated legal cases and online troll attacks are being used to try to "bludgeon the media into silence".

Journalists, including myself, have been at the sharp end of numerous threats by supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte.

One post under a Facebook link to a documentary about the president read: "Howard, watch your back". Next to it was a skull and cross bones emoji.

The president's supporters accuse Rappler and other news organisations of being biased against him.

They say too much attention is paid to his bloody drug war and not enough to his other achievements while in office.

With multiple cases against Maria Ressa and Rappler, long-drawn-out local court hearings are expected.

But with Time magazine awarding Maria Ressa Person of the Year 2018 for her journalism, the world's eyes will be on the Philippine justice system to see which way it rules.

The latest charge against Ms Ressa stems from a seven-year-old report on a businessman's alleged ties to a former judge in the Philippines' top court.

The case comes under a controversial "cyber-libel" law, which came into force in September 2012, four months after the article in question was published.

Officials first filed the case against her in 2017, but it was initially dismissed by the NBI because the one-year limit for bringing libel cases had lapsed. However, in March 2018, the NBI reopened the case.

This arrest comes just two months after Ms Ressa posted bail on tax fraud charges, which she says are also "manufactured".

If she is convicted of just one count of tax fraud, she could serve up to a decade in prison. The cyber-libel charge carries a maximum sentence of 12 years.

Speaking to reporters after her arrest, the veteran journalist said she was "shocked that the rule of law has been broken to a point that I can't see it".

Rappler was founded in 2012 by Ms Ressa and three other journalists.

Since then it has become known in the Philippines for its hard-hitting investigations.

It is also one of the few media organisations in the country that is openly critical of President Duterte, regularly interrogating the accuracy of his public statements and criticising his sometimes deadly policies.

In particular, Rappler has published a number of reports critical of Mr Duterte's war on drugs, in which police say around 5,000 people have been killed in the last three years. In December, it also reported on his public admission that he sexually assaulted a maid.

The president insists that the site's reporting is "fake news", and has banned its reporters from covering his official activities. Last year, the state revoked the site's licence - but Mr Duterte denied that the claims against Rappler and Ms Ressa are politically motivated.

Ms Ressa says the arrest is an attempt to silence Rappler's journalism.

Ms Ressa is a veteran Philippine journalist who, before founding Rappler, spent most of her career with CNN - first as the bureau chief in Manila, and then in Jakarta. She was also the US broadcaster's lead investigative reporter on terrorism in Southeast Asia.

She has won many international awards for her reporting, and was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018 for her work holding power to account in an increasingly hostile environment.

Press freedom advocates see this as an attempt to bully a critical news organisation into silence.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, for example, has been swift in its condemnation.

"The arrest of... Ressa on the clearly manipulated charge of cyber-libel is a shameless act of persecution by a bully government," the union told Reuters. "The government... now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence critical media."

Meanwhile, Rappler's reporters have been tweeting about the arrest with the hashtag #DefendPressFreedom.

Observers say that press freedom in the Philippines - once one of the strongest in Asia - has been weakened under Mr Duterte's presidency.

Since 1986, 176 journalists have been killed in the country, making it one of the most dangerous in the world for reporters.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:34

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Thailand's Princess Ubolratana 'sad' about election fallout

The sister of Thailand's king has said she is "saddened" by the reaction to her attempted bid to become the country's next prime minister.

Princess Ubolratana was disqualified by the country's Election Commission - who are now also seeking to dissolve the party that nominated her.

Her unprecedented nomination broke with the tradition of the Thai royal family publicly staying out of politics.

King Vajiralongkorn had called her bid "extremely inappropriate".

Posting on her private Instagram account, the princess wrote: "I am sad that the sincere intention to work for the country and us Thais has created a problem that shouldn't happen in this day and age."

The photo she posted - of a scenic garden - also included the hashtag #HowComeItsTheWayItIs.

The US-educated Thai princess relinquished her royal title when she married an American man in 1972.

She returned to Thailand in 2001 after they divorced and has maintained a quasi-celebrity status since - appearing on the entertainment circuit and in music videos.

She was nominated as a candidate for the upcoming general election by Thai Raksa Chart last week - a party allied to divisive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The March vote will be the first since the current Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, took power in a 2014 military coup - overthrowing the democratically-elected government.

The royal family and electoral officials condemned her candidacy almost immediately after it was announced.

The country's election panel said it had excluded Princess Ubolratana because "every member of the royal family comes within the application of the same rule requiring the monarch to be above politics and to be politically neutral".

Thai Raksa Chart's leader Preechaphol Pongpanit defended their nomination

The stance echoed a palace statement, which said the "involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics... is considered extremely inappropriate".

The row over the princess has reignited old rivalries.

Royalists have come out to accuse Mr Thaksin of once again trying to exploit the monarchy for his own ambitions.

Frustrated supporters of the pro-Thaksin camp, who have been waiting for five years to demonstrate their voting power, fear their side will be tarnished once again as a threat to the monarchy, in order to keep a military-dominated government in power.

This is now bound to be a more heated election campaign.

Thai Raksa Chart's leader, Preechaphol Pongpanit, has said his partydid everything "sincerely, with good intentions", but added: "Above us is His Majesty and the monarchy. We are ready to be investigated."

The electoral commission confirmed on Wednesday that it was seeking to punish Thai Raksa Chart for violating electoral law.

It described the party's nomination of the king's sister as "antagonistic toward the constitutional monarchy" and said it will ask the country's Constitutional Court to consider dissolving them.

Princess Ubolratana's latest post on Instagram will appear to some as a quiet rebuke of the events of the past week.

It's difficult to know just how much direct communication she has had with her brother about this since the fallout - but it's likely she will now have to retreat from political life, no matter how she feels about it.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:29

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Plastic pollution: One town smothered by 17,000 tonnes of rubbish

Meet the people who fought back against foreign plastic waste

Malaysia has become one of the world's biggest plastic importers, taking in rubbish the rest of the world doesn't want. But one small town is paying the price for this - and it is now smothered in 17,000 tonnes of waste.

It began last summer. Every night, after the clock struck midnight, Daniel Tay knew exactly what was coming.

He would shut his doors, seal his windows and wait for the inevitable. Soon his room would be filled with an acrid smell, like rubber being burned. Coughing, his lungs would tighten.

Over the next few months, the strange smell would return every night, like clockwork.

It was only later that he found the source of the smell - illegal recycling factories that were secretly burning plastic

At that point he had no idea that in 2017 China had decided to ban the import of foreign plastic waste. In that year alone it had taken in seven million tonnes of plastic scrap and many environmental campaigners considered it a victory when China clamped down.

But with nowhere to go, the bulk of the plastic waste - most of it from the UK, the US and Japan - just went somewhere else and that was to Malaysia.

It could have been any town but Jenjarom's proximity to Port Klang - Malaysia's largest port and the entry point for most of the country's plastic imports - made it the ideal location.

From January to July 2018 alone, some 754,000 tonnes of plastic waste was imported into Malaysia.

What the council describes as illegal plastic recycling factories began cropping up, hoping to make a quick profit from the burgeoning plastic recycling industry, worth over RM3bn ($734m, £561m).

According to the State Council, there were soon 33 illegal factories in Kuala Langat - the district Jenjarom is located in. Some sprang up near dense palm oil plantations, others were closer to town.

But it would be months before residents learned of their existence - and then only after the symptoms started appearing.

"The smells started a while ago but got really bad around August this year," said Mr Tay.

"I started to feel unwell and I would keep coughing. I was really angry when I found out it was because of the factories."

Daniel Tay says he is angry at the damage the factories caused

Plastic waste is typically recycled into pellets, which can then be used to manufacture other types of plastic.

Not all plastic can be recycled, so legal recycling plants should send unrecyclable plastics to waste centres - something which costs money.

But many illegal recyling plants instead choose to dispose of it in free but unsanitary ways, either burying it or more commonly - burning.

Ngoo Kwi Hong says the fumes from the burning sparked a cough so violent she even coughed up a blood clot.

"I couldn't sleep at night because it was so smelly. I became like a zombie, I was so tired," said Ms Ngoo.

"It was only later I found out there were factories surrounding my house - north, south, east, west."

  • Those who lived nearest to the factories were affected the most.

Belle Tan, who found out there was an illegal factory just 1km from her house, spoke of the impact on her 11-year-old son.

"He got a really bad rash around his stomach, neck, legs and arms. His skin would keep peeling, even when we touched him it hurt. I was angry and scared for his health but what could I do? The smell was everywhere in the air."

Belle Tan says her son's stomach has been plagued with rashes

It's unclear if these ailments can be directly linked to air pollution, but one expert said inhaling burnt plastic fumes was likely to have had an impact on their respiratory health.

"The main thing about [these plastic fumes] is that they are carcinogenic. Carcinogens [are involved] in causing cancer," Tong Yen Wah, a professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS)'s Department of Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering, told the BBC.

"It also depends a lot on the types of plastics being burnt and the exposure to it. If you have short term exposure at a high level you might have difficulty breathing... [or it might] trigger some effects in your lungs. But if it's long term exposure... that's where the carcinogenic effects come in."

But many in the town remain completely unaware or indifferent to the potential effects of the burning.

"Many people here are just trying to make a simple living," said Mr Tay. "They'll just say its smelly and get on with their lives, they don't understand that it is something that could be slowly poisoning them."

The BBC spoke to several residents, many of whom said they had smelt the fumes, but hadn't given it much thought.

"You keep smelling it and your body gets used to it," joked one resident. "Maybe it could even be good for you."

The Malaysian government has now shut down 33 factories it says were illegal in Jenjarom, and for the most part, the fumes are gone.

But the 17,000 tonnes of rubbish left by these factories is still there - and not insignificant for a town of 30,000. Most of this waste has been repossessed by the authorities, but a staggering 4,000 tonnes of waste plastic still sits on a single site - open to anyone who might walk by.

A mountain of rubbish greets you the minute you arrive at what was once an unused piece of land, but is now a makeshift landfill.

A quick walk around the site reveals that a staggering amount of plastic waste comes from foreign countries, with a huge portion of it from Japan and the UK - brands like Asda, Co-op and Fairy can be seen strewn around.

Most of the plastic found at the dump site are from the large developed nations

"We are trying to identify who is the owner of the land, we are still investigating this," Minister of Housing and Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin told the BBC.

The state that Jenjarom sits in - Selangor - has tried to auction it off but to no avail.

4,000 tonnes of waste sits in a single site

"No one wants it because it is so contaminated," Yeo Bee Yin, Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Environment and Climate Change, acknowledged.

Ms Yeo reveals that there are several options available - the most viable of which would be sending the rubbish to a cement plant, which would burn the plastic to generate heat for their boiler. But this solution would come at a high cost to the government.

It's just metres away from a palm tree plantation

"[We estimate that it] will cost around RM2.5m just to transport that pile [to the plant]," Ms Yeo revealed. "[But we recognise that] we have to get rid of that pile first.".

But Jenjarom is just one town in Malaysia - the problem of illegal plastic recycling doesn't end there.

"Many of these [illegal factory operators] rent the land from local Malaysian landowners and set up very [basic] factories," Ng Sze Han, a local councillor in Selangor, told the BBC.

"When we [catch the illegal factory operators], they just hit and run - we shut them down there, they move to another part of Malaysia."

And it's no surprise that they are able to find landowners to rent from so easily.

An abandoned recycling factory in Kuala Langat

One landowner the BBC spoke to reveals he rented his land out for RM50,000 (about $12,260, £9,500) a month to a Chinese national. He says he wasn't aware of what they were doing, but was essentially only concerned with collecting rent. It's not an inconsiderable sum when you learn that the average monthly income for a Malaysian family in 2016 was RM5228.

Mr Ng reveals he's already had calls from officials in Johor and Negeri Sembilan - other states in Malaysia - saying illegal factories had begun popping up in their patches.

He says the problem of illegal plastic recycling is unlikely to be solved effectively without a total ban on plastic.

But this is unlikely to happen.

Ms Kamaruddin says the government had initially considered banning plastic, but "after we studied, we realised it [had a lot of] business potential for Malaysia".

Instead, she says, stricter rules are being placed on plastic importers - they'll now have to adhere to newly imposed criteria before being able to gain an Approval Permit (AP) to import plastic waste.

Only companies with a recognised AP will be allowed to import plastic waste into Malaysia.

"If you nip it at the source and customs control it well, I think it will be effective in reducing a lot," Ms Yeo adds.

Decomposing waste sits in moss covered water at one illegal plastic recycling factory.

There's a bigger problem here - and what Jenjarom reveals is that there is a huge flaw in the plastic recycling system.

Plastic waste and scrap has its own international trade code - HS3915.

But what this code fails to take into account is whether the waste being imported is of good quality or contaminated - there's no way to know unless someone manually goes through it.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2017 recognised that it was common for mixed plastic waste to be concealed "as clean plastic scrap".

What is needed, says Ms Yeo, is a proper labelling system that will be able to take this distinction into account.

"At the end of the day, [what we need is a] systemic standardisation for waste," she said.

Otherwise, it seems only a matter of time before other towns in Malaysia - or even the rest of the world - become the next Jenjarom.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 13:18

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Valentine's Day: Japan falling out of love with 'obligation chocolates'

Around the world, people use chocolate treats to express sweet nothings on Valentine's Day.

But in Japan, it's a little more complicated. On Valentine's Day, only women give chocolate, and not just to their partners, but to their male colleagues too.

Critics say the practice sucks all the fun out of Valentine's Day and instead turns it into a dreary duty where women risk offending co-workers if they leave someone out.

Others say "giri choco", which translates to "obligation chocolate" is a little misunderstood, and besides, it's slowly fading as women opt to give chocolate to their friends instead.

'Obligation chocolate'

Of course, giving chocolate on Valentine's Day can also be a romantic gesture. Women will often give "honmei choco" or "true feelings chocolate" to their partners.

But giri choco is more about expressing appreciation to male colleagues.

A 2017 survey by multinational firm 3M found that nearly 40% of female respondents planned to give giri choco to a co-worker.

For most, it was a simple thank you "for general help and support". Others felt it helped promote a smoother workplace, while a small minority felt it would be awkward not to take part.

Not so sweet

Chocolate journalist Ayumi Ichikawa says many women have no problem with giri choco. After all, Japan has a gift-giving culture, so it doesn't seem out of place.

"It's part of our tradition to give presents to people who 'help us'... and we have a habit of giving friends and acquaintances gifts every now and then to show our gratitude for 'looking after us'... without any sense of romantic love."

But others are troubled by the custom.

"Some consider the ritual burdensome, feeling you must do this, so the chocolate becomes a duty," Ms Ichikawa says.

Still, University of Shizuoka professor Sejiro Takeshita says the tradition isn't as "unfair as it looks".

On 14 March Japan celebrates White Day, when men give chocolates to women and, Prof Takeshita says, "ladies can get their vengeance".

Power dynamics

In a 1996 study of "office women" sociologist Ogasawa Yuko argued giri choco is a way for women to exercise power over men by ranking them.

The ones they admire would get chocolate, while the incompetent ones could buy their own treats.

"In other words, it could be seen as one of the few opportunities for women to exercise power over men, resisting prevailing gendered norms," says Sachiko Horiguchi, an anthropologist at Temple University Japan.

More than two decades later, this might seem a little less appealing to Japanese working women.

"I am not sure if these professional women feel obliged to 'exercise their power' through giri choco gift giving," says Ms Horiguchi.

Chocolate battle

Last year the practice attracted an unexpected critic in the form of Belgian chocolatier Godiva. The company took out a full page ad calling for an end to giri choco.

"Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day when you tell someone your pure feelings. It's not a day on which you're supposed to do something extra for the sake of smooth relations at work," the ad said.

They followed up this year with a tweet to Yuraku Confectionery, the makers of Black Thunder, a low-cost chocolate and self-styled "king of giri choco".

The tweet encouraged employees of Yuraku to buy Godiva to give to someone they loved, prompting Yuraku to add "officially recognized by Godiva as obligation chocolate" to its Twitter description.

Chocolate makers have an obvious stake in the discussion and it was commercial interests - initially department stores - that brought Valentine's Day to Japan in the first place.

Critics have also suggested that Godiva stands to lose little from this position, because it's a luxury brand which few people give as giri choco.

Japan's sweet tooth

Valentine's Day is hugely important for Japan's confectionery industry, with some shops doing 70% of their annual business in the lead-up to the holiday, says chocolate journalist Ms Ichikawa.

But over the coming years, maybe less of it will be giri choco.

Ms Horiguchi says Valentine's Day is becoming less gendered, and the pressure to give giri choco is declining as women opt to give chocolates to their friends instead.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 12:07

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Rich The Kid robbed at LA studio where Usher was recording

US rapper Rich The Kid has been caught up in an armed robbery at a recording studio in California.

The attack was targeted at Rich, who was outside the studio at the time. Other members of his entourage were attacked and one, thought to be a bodyguard, was beaten with a firearm.

R&B star Usher was inside the studio, but was not involved.

A man who was seen running away from the studio fired several shots before escaping in a car, said one eyewitness.

"He took out a gun, he fired six shots into the street," Ray Leon told ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

"I just heard pop, pop, pop. There was about six pops. I got down really quick. He was firing and that car sped away."

'Posing with cash'

The incident took place at California's Westlake Recording Studio, which has played host to artists like Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Madonna, Frank Ocean, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber in the past.

Hours before the attack, Rich posted a picture of himself posing next to a purple Lamborghini, holding what appeared to be a bundle of bank notes, with the caption "Always in bank mo deposit."

The West Hollywood sheriff station confirmed the robbery in a statement.

"When deputies arrived at the location they found three male black assault victims," it said. The victims reported that "three male black suspects confronted them in the alley behind a business and demanded their money and jewellery. The victims were then physically assaulted by the suspects."

Authorities say three victims were treated at the scene and released. Their injuries were apparently not serious enough to require hospital treatment.

Rich, whose real name is Dimitri Roger, was also filmed speaking to paramedics by local news crew. He was wearing the same outfit seen in his Instagram post; and did not appear to be injured.

A spokesperson for Rich the Kid said "Rich is ok" , but declined to add further details.

The 26-year-old gained notoriety via a series of collaborative mixtapes with rap trio Migos. He's since worked with Kendrick Lamar, Khalid and Wiz Khalifa; and reached the UK top 20 last year with a guest verse on Jax Jones and Mabel's dance track Ring Ring.

Wednesday's incident wasn't the first time Rich the Kid had been the victim of armed robbery. Last summer, he was injured during a home invasion at his girlfriend's house in Los Angeles.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:53

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A look back at the 'debacle' of 1989's hostless Oscars

The 2019 Oscars are set to go ahead without a host for the first time since 1989. But there is perhaps a reason it has taken so long for it to happen again - as 1989's ceremony has gone down as one of the most embarrassing moments in Oscars history.

It took a long time for the footage of that night to re-emerge. When it eventually popped up on YouTube, it attracted a million views in a day.

Here's how it unfolded in real time:

0'01" Army Archerd, a greying columnist for Variety magazine, stands at the entrance to the Oscars and introduces Snow White (played by 22-year-old Eileen Bowman) - dressed exactly like the 1937 Disney depiction of the fairytale princess. Archerd tells her to "follow the Hollywood stars"- people in tights wearing massive sparkly polystyrene stars about their torso.

0'28" With a squeal like sped-up whalesong, Snow White enters from the back; she has to go down a long slope to the front, past actors, directors and producers who already look appalled. Snow White goes to greet some of them; they actively distance themselves as much as possible. None more than Michelle Pfeiffer - when Snow White goes to grab her hand, Pfeiffer pulls it away. This one movement signals to the watching world what the mood is in that theatre, just one minute in.

01'25" The song continues and Snow White tries to engage Tom Hanks, Sigourney Weaver, Dustin Hoffman and Glenn Close. All give her the same frozen smile and 1,000-mile stare of a combat veteran.

02'10" Snow White goes centre stage and the curtain lifts, revealing a set done to look like the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at its peak. Salsa music plays. California native Merv Griffin starts singing I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts in a faux Cockney accent. Sitting at the tables of the "Grove" are a selection of veteran stars (Roy Rogers, Vincent Price, Cyd Charisse). One by one, they are taken away by dancing waiters in sequinned trousers.

04'57" Griffin introduces Snow White to her "blind date", Rob Lowe. Lowe looks like he already knows the next few minutes are going to cause grievous bodily harm to his career.

05'21"Lowe and Snow launch into a rewritten version of Proud Mary. Lowe hits a bum note on his first line and never recovers. "Rollin', rollin', keep the camera rollin'", they sing. Everyone else hopes that they will just shut the cameras off. Forever.

06'58" Three women wearing enormous coconuts on their heads enter. One, who has genuine singing talent, takes over from Snow White - which does wonders for the audio but throws Lowe's abilities into somewhat sharper relief. In the background, the tables stand and dance, lamps on their head.

07'37" The routine finishes. The camera cuts to the audience. It is perhaps just unfortunate that it finds Robert Downey Jr, whose face is an unmatched study in contempt. He gives all of three sarcastic handclaps.

08'11" A row of scarlet-clad ushers begin high-kicking to a backing song about the wonderful magic of cinema: "When you're down in the dumps / Try putting on Judy's red pumps."

09'45" Snow White's skirt swells into a 10-metre wide gold peacock-feather contraption, and she is wearing an outsized box office stand on - yes - her head. Hooray For Hollywood, the backing song trills.

10'12" Steps that hide Snow White are moved centre-stage. Her ordeal is over. Lily Tomlin steps out of the box office stand and starts to descend the steps. She loses her shoe on the way down. "I told them I'd be thrilled to do the Oscars if they could only come up with an entrance," she says. There is mild laughter. In the background, Lowe crawls down the steps to throw the missing shoe back to Tomlin. He throws it wide and it falls in the orchestra pit. Lowe flees the stage. "A billion and a half people just watched that," Tomlin adds. The longest 11 minutes in film history are over.

Last year Rob Lowe was asked about the "debacle" of 1989's Oscars by the New York Times.

He said: "It's basically a show that nobody wants to do. It's really sad."

Admitting he made a "huge mistake" by taking part, he added that there had been benefits to taking part.

"In an era when staying in the conversation is as important as anything else, I for sure have gotten more money and acclaim out of being in that Oscar opening number than if I had won an Oscar."

The "breakout stars" included Patrick Dempsey, Ricki Lake, Chad Lowe, Keith Coogan, Corey Feldman, Christian Slater and Joely Fisher

Later in the show there would be another big routine that flopped - Bob Hope and Lucille Ball introducing a 10-minute-long "stars of tomorrow" song-and-dance bit involving young actors mimicking Michael Jackson, sword-fighting and tap-dancing in MC Hammer-style trousers hoisted up to their throats.

"The 61st Academy Awards ceremony began by creating the impression that there would never be a 62nd," wrote the New York Times's Janet Maslin.

Carr (centre) believed he had masterminded a hit show - until he visited the press room

Hollywood producer Allan Carr - renowned for his lavish parties - had been selected as the ideal antidote to what had become a boring, staid show. He promised "the antithesis of tacky" and "the most beautiful Academy Awards of all time".

The opening 12 minutes were based on a musical revue called Beach Blanket Babylon, which Carr had seen at a nightclub in San Francisco; Carr hired its creator Steve Silver to direct it.

Sitting in the audience, Silver realised immediately how badly it had gone down. But Carr was oblivious until he found the usually supportive newspaper columnist Jeannie Williams in the press room.

She told him it was "over the top" and questioned what Snow White was doing in the Cocoanut Grove.

Carr knew he was in trouble. The morning after the Oscars - when normally a producer's phone would be ringing off the hook with congratulatory messages - there was silence at Carr's home.

But two critical - in both senses - pieces of correspondence did follow.

The first was from the Walt Disney Company. It was a legal case against the Academy for using their Snow White character without permission.

The Academy went on to apologise for the "unauthorised use of Disney's copyrighted Snow White character" and for "unintentionally creating the impression that Disney had participated in or sanctioned the opening production number on the Academy Awards telecast".

The other letter was from some 17 Hollywood figures - including Julie Andrews, Paul Newman, Billy Wilder, Sidney Lumet and former Academy president Gregory Peck - which denounced what happened at the Shrine as "demeaning" and "an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry."

Some of the signatories were people who had been regulars at Carr's parties.

Martha Plimpton and River Phoenix arrive at the 1989 Oscars: Carr first saw the potential of screening the red carpet

Carr, whose career highlights had included writing and producing credits for Grease, had his reputation in Hollywood dented. It never fully recovered and he died of liver cancer in 1999 at the age of 62.

But amidst the criticism of the show, which was later described by Hollywood Reporter as "Oscar's biggest goof", Carr had reversed the decline in viewing figures; 42.7m watched across the US. (For context, that is 10m more than watched the 2018 ceremony).

He had also made a number of changes that define the ceremony to this day.

The phrase "and the winner is…" was replaced by "and the Oscar goes to…", which sounded less exclusionary.

The arrival of the stars on the red carpet - which now has its own show - was given much greater prominence. And Bruce Vilanch, hired by Carr, remained the chief writer of the show over the next two decades.

Billy Crystal - here arriving with his wife Janice - got the hosting gig off his star turn in 1989

And indeed Vilanch's gags found their perfect voice in a certain Billy Crystal. Carr had selected him to deliver a monologue at the 1989 Oscars and it went so well that he was asked to be the full-time host for 1990.

His first line? "Is that [applause] for me, or are you just glad I'm not Snow White?"

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:49

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Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly to run for John McCain's Senate seat

Former US astronaut Mark Kelly has launched a 2020 Democratic campaign for the late Senator John McCain's Arizona seat in Congress.

Mr Kelly, 54, is married to former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who retired after being shot during a 2011 mass shooting.

The couple became well-known gun control advocates following the attack.

But in his Tuesday launch video, the Navy veteran focused his platform on healthcare, jobs and climate change.

"It becomes pretty obvious pretty early when you get into space that we're all kind of in this together," Mr Kelly says in the video.

Mr Kelly is a combat pilot who served during the first Gulf War and later flew four space missions for Nasa from 2001 to 2011.

Though vocal in his politics, he has never held elected office before.

Mr Kelly is running for the Democratic nomination ahead of next year's special election to fill the last two years of Mr McCain's Senate seat.

Currently, that seat is held by Republican Martha McSally, who was appointed by the Republican Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, after Mr McCain's death.

Ms McSally was selected after narrowly losing her Senate bid in November to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema - who became Arizona's first Democratic senator since 1994.

President Donald Trump won Arizona in the 2016 election, but US media say the state will be a key battleground in the 2020 elections.

While a couple Democrats in the state have hinted at Senate ambitions, including Representative Ruben Gallego, US media report, Mr Kelly is the first to formally announce a campaign.

In his campaign video, Mr Kelly said his mother, who became one of the first female police officers in her division in the 1970s, taught him about hard work, and his wife taught him "how you use policy to improve people's lives".

"I always knew I was going to serve this country in some way," he said.

The path to Democratic control of the US Senate in 2020 runs squarely through Arizona - and it appears that state may get a marquee matchup between Martha McSally, the first female combat, fighter pilot and Mark Kelly, a decorated astronaut.

Of course Mark Kelly has to win the Democratic nomination first, but he has the political connections, the biography and the public profile to make him a front-runner.

Democrats need to pick up three seats (and the presidency) to take back the Senate from Republicans for the first time since 2014.

The map is tight, however, and the opportunities are few and far between.

They have two other obvious targets in left-leaning Colorado and Maine, and will have a difficult time holding usually ruby-red Alabama.

They will probably need to land a seeming long-shot, like Texas, Georgia or Kansas to succeed.

Without Arizona, those long odds become nearly insurmountable. And whoever controls the chamber in 2021 will have the final say on presidential appointments - to diplomatic posts, cabinet positions and, most significantly, the US Supreme Court.

It's just one race for just one seat for just two years, but the stakes in the desert are high.

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly speak at the US capitol after the Las Vegas shooting

Mr Kelly's wife, former Democratic Representative Ms Giffords, was shot in the head during a political event in Tucson in January 2011, leading to her resignation from Congress. Six others were killed during the shooting and 13 were injured.

After the 2013 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Mr Kelly and Ms Giffords founded the Giffords organisation, which seeks to unite law enforcement, veterans, and religious leaders "to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer".

The couple have been outspoken gun safety advocates since the attack, and appeared at the March for Our Lives rally organised by Parkland students last year in Washington DC.

While Mr Kelly avoided discussing gun control in his launch video, his main issues are in line with what many of his Democratic peers ran on during the mid-term elections: Healthcare, wages, job growth, and the environment.

He has also stated he will not be taking any corporate political action committee (PAC) money, much like other freshman Democrats and 2020 presidential hopefuls this past year.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:44

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El Chapo trial: Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán found guilty

El Chapo trial: Five facts about Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán

Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has been found guilty on all 10 counts at his drug-trafficking trial at a federal court in New York.

Guzmán, 61, was convicted on numerous counts including the distribution of cocaine and heroin, illegal firearms possession and money laundering.

He has yet to be sentenced, but the verdict could mean life in jail.

Guzmán was arrested in January 2016 after escaping from a Mexican prison through a tunnel five months earlier.

He was extradited to the US in 2017.

The Mexican was accused of being behind the all-powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, which prosecutors say was the biggest supplier of drugs to the US.

What happened in court?

Tuesday's unanimous verdict by a jury in Brooklyn, which was read out in a packed courtroom, followed an 11-week trial.

Guzmán, wearing a dark suit jacket and tie, showed no visible sign of emotion as the verdict was announced, CBS News reported.

The US attorney for the Eastern District of New York and El Chapo's lawyer gave their reactions outside court

As he was escorted from the courtroom, Guzmán shook the hands of his lawyers before exchanging glances with his wife, Emma Coronel, a 29-year-old former beauty queen, and giving her the thumbs up.

Judge Brian Cogan, who presided over the trial, thanked the jurors for their dedication at what he described as a complex trial, saying it was "remarkable and it made me very proud to be an American".

Guzmán's lawyers said they planned to launch an appeal.

Who is El Chapo?

"El Chapo" (or "Shorty") ran the Sinaloa cartel in northern Mexico.

Mexico's drug war: Has it turned the tide?

Over time, it became one of the biggest traffickers of drugs to the US. In 2009, Guzmán entered Forbes' list of the world's richest men at number 701, with an estimated worth of $1bn (£775m).

He was accused of having helped export hundreds of tonnes of cocaine into the US and of conspiring to manufacture and distribute heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

He was also said to have used hitmen to carry out "hundreds" of murders, assaults, kidnappings and acts of torture on rivals.

Key associates, including one former lieutenant, testified against Guzmán.

What was heard during the trial?

It provided shocking revelations about the Mexican drug lord's life.

Court papers accused him of having girls as young as 13 drugged before raping them.

Guzmán "called the youngest of the girls his 'vitamins' because he believed that sexual activity with young girls gave him 'life'", a former associate, Colombian drug trafficker Alex Cifuentes, was quoted as saying.

During the trial Cifuentes also alleged that Guzmán gave a $100m (£77m) bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is said to have contacted him after taking office in 2012 and asked for $250m in return for ending a manhunt for him. Mr Peña Nieto has not publicly commented.

Former associate Cifuentes (L) alleged that Guzmán (R) bribed Mexico's then president

Another witness described seeing Guzmán murder at least three men.

Former bodyguard Isaias Valdez Rios said Guzmán beat two people who had joined a rival cartel until they were "completely like rag dolls". He then shot them in the head and ordered their bodies be thrown on a fire.

In another incident, he had a member of the rival Arellano Felix cartel burned and imprisoned before taking him to a graveyard, shooting him and having him buried alive.

Guzmán is also alleged to have had his own cousin killed for lying about being out of town, and ordered a hit on the brother of another cartel leader because he did not shake his hand.

When asked by a former cartel lieutenant why he killed people, he is alleged to have said: "Either your mom's going to cry or their mom's going to cry."

The court heard details of his 2015 escape from Mexico's maximum-security Altiplano prison. His sons bought a property near the prison and a GPS watch smuggled into the prison gave diggers his exact location.

At one point Guzmán complained that he could hear the digging from his cell. He escaped by riding a specially adapted small motorcycle through the tunnel.

He also used software on his phone to spy on his wife and mistresses, which allowed the FBI to present his text messages in court.

In one set of texts, he recounted to his wife how he had fled a villa during a raid by US and Mexican officials, before asking her to bring him new clothes, shoes and black moustache dye.

Why was this trial significant?

Guzmán is the highest profile Mexican drug cartel boss so far to stand trial in the US.

The drug war in Mexico - pitting the Mexican and US authorities against cartels smuggling drugs into the US and the cartels against each other - has killed about 100,000 people over more than a decade.

 A former DEA agent describes capturing Guzmán in 2014 - he later escaped

Guzmán achieved notoriety for twice escaping custody in Mexico as well as avoiding arrest on numerous other occasions.

Among some in his home state, he had the status of a folk hero, a popular subject of "narcocorridos" - musical tributes to drugs barons.

In 2016, he gave an interview to Hollywood actor Sean Penn in a Mexican jungle following his escape the previous year and boasted that he was the world's leading supplier of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

He was later recaptured in the north-western town of Los Mochis. During the raid he fled through a drain but was later caught by troops in a shootout.

New York's Brooklyn Bridge was closed each time the motorcade containing Guzmán drove across it

The US indictment against him was a consolidation of charges from six federal jurisdictions across the country, including New York, Chicago and Miami.

Prosecutors pooled together evidence acquired over more than a decade, including from international partners such as Mexico and Colombia, to build their sweeping case.

The trial jurors were anonymous and were escorted to and from the courthouse in Brooklyn by armed marshals after prosecutors argued that Guzmán had a history of intimidating witnesses and even ordering their murders.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 11:40

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Murder in Accra: The life and death of Ahmed Hussein-Suale

On 16 January, Ahmed Hussein-Suale, a Ghanaian investigative journalist who had collaborated with the BBC, was shot dead near his family home in Accra. Ghanaian police believe he was assassinated because of his work.At first the gunshots sounded like firecrackers, and Unus Alhassan wondered why someone was setting off firecrackers so long after Christmas.

It was nearly midnight in Madina, a suburb of the Ghanaian capital Accra. Alhassan's family was sitting together talking outside the family home, as they often did late into the night. His brother, Ahmed Hussein-Suale, had just left to check on a nephew who was sick. When the sounds of the firecrackers stopped, and the ordinary noise of the neighbourhood settled, Alhassan turned his attention back to his family and he didn't think about the sounds again until a man came running towards him crying out that his brother was dead.

A hundred metres down the road, Hussein-Suale, who was 31, lay slumped in the driver's seat of his dusty blue BMW with bullet holes in his chest and neck. Eyewitnesses said he was killed by two men who fired at the car from close range as it slowed for a junction. The first bullet hit Hussein-Suale in the neck and the car accelerated, crashing into a storefront. One of the gunmen calmly approached the driver's side and fired two shots through the broken window directly into Hussein-Suale's chest. Then he turned to those watching, smiled, and raised a finger to his lips.

Three witnesses to the crime who live nearby told the BBC they saw the men hanging around the junction on several occasions in the week before the killing - two unfamiliar faces in a familiar neighbourhood. The men, one tall and well-built, the other short and wiry, leant on their motorbike or chatted with neighbours to pass the time. They bought alcohol from a shop and helped a man carry pails of water. One neighbour said they seemed suspicious. Another said she thought they were robbers.

But nothing was stolen from Hussein-Suale and no-one close to him believes he was a random target. He was an investigative journalist whose undercover reporting had exposed traffickers, murderers, corrupt officials and high-court judges. He worked with Tiger Eye, a highly secretive team led by one of the most famous undercover journalists in Africa, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. In Ghana and beyond, the team's daring, anonymous reporting made them modern-day folk heroes. And it made them enemies.

When Tiger Eye aired its latest investigation, which exposed widespread corruption in African football, Ghanaian MP Kennedy Agyapong began a campaign of hostility against the team, saying he was offended by its undercover methods. He called publicly for Anas to be hanged. Weeks after the film was screened, in June last year, he used his own TV station to attack Hussein-Suale and expose the journalist's most closely guarded secret - his face.

"That's him," said Agyapong, as images of Hussein-Suale appeared on screen. "His other picture is there as well, make it big."

Agyapong revealed Hussein-Suale's name and the neighbourhood he lived in. "If you meet him somewhere, slap him… beat him," he said. "Whatever happens, I'll pay."

Anas Aremeyaw Anas, in disguise, prays alongside colleagues and friends at Hussein-Suale's funeral

No-one expected the first recorded murder of a journalist in 2019 to happen in Ghana.

Across much of Africa, authoritarian regimes have effectively suffocated the free press. But in a handful of less-repressive countries, tenacious young journalists are holding the powerful to account and advancing a culture of investigative reporting. Ghana is top of this list. Last year the country was ranked first in Africa on the annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Globally it ranked 23rd out of 180 countries - well ahead of the UK (40th) and the US (45th).

Anas and his team are the nation's most high-profile reporters. Anas has been praised by the country's president, Nana Akufo-Addo and by President Barack Obama, who said he saw the spirit of democracy "in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth". In his 20 years of undercover journalism, Anas has posed as a female investor in high heels and lipstick; worked as a janitor in a brothel; got himself sent to prison; and hidden inside a fake rock at the side of the road. In public appearances, he wears a striking disguise - a hat with a multicoloured veil of beads that hangs in front of his face. In Ghana it has become a symbol of resistance to corruption that is graffitied on walls around the capital.

But behind the mask there is not just Anas's face. There is a team of highly skilled investigative journalists that put their lives at risk to report stories, and Hussein-Suale was chief among them - Anas's chosen team leader.

We see that spirit in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth

President Obama

Hussein-Suale grew up among eight siblings in Wulensi, a small town in northern Ghana, where he stood out for his fierce interest in politics. At 18 he moved to Accra to study political science at the University of Ghana, where he first met Anas.

Anas had already made a name for himself as an undercover reporter and Tiger Eye was a fledgling team. Hussein-Suale sought him out the same way several early Tiger Eye employees had, by asking around until someone could tell him: that is the man known as Anas. Anas responded the way he did to all potential recruits - he set him a test: travel to Tema, north of Accra, and report a story there about cocaine. Hussein-Suale went to Tema and promptly failed. He blew his cover and got himself arrested. "He did not perform to my expectation," said Anas, in an interview with the BBC last week. "And that was that."

But Hussein-Suale wrote Anas a long letter explaining why he should be given another chance. "So I gave him another chance," said Anas. "And from that day he excelled from one investigation to the next."

Anas is watching, do the right thing" - graffiti in the capital, Accra

Hussein-Suale's first big story came in 2013 when he travelled with Anas to northern Ghana to expose witchdoctors behind the poisoning of children - often children with disabilities - believed to be possessed by evil spirits. In an elaborate sting typical of Tiger Eye's style, the team arranged for the witchdoctor's "concoction men" to visit a family home with a supposedly possessed child. While the concoction men were outside cooking their poison, the team swapped the infant for a prosthetic baby. When the men returned and took hold of the fake baby, police swooped.

The film - Spirit Child - aired internationally on Al Jazeera. Hussein-Suale, then 24, impressed Anas with his pragmatism, not hesitating when it came to entering the witchdoctor's shrine. "The average African is spiritually afraid of traditions and gods," Anas said. "But Ahmed was always bold."

His natural demeanour was the opposite. He was quiet and unassuming, to a fault. "You would be likely to disregard him at first," said Sammy Darko, Tiger Eye's lawyer, "but that made him a good fit for investigative journalism." He was also scrupulously attentive and diligent. He became known as the "encyclopaedia of the team" for his detailed knowledge of each project, and later as "spiritual leader" for his habit of leading a prayer before undercover operations.

His cubicle at Tiger Eye's offices had notes and documents from various investigations piled on the desk and pasted on the walls. "He would go out quietly and do a lot of background work," said a fellow investigator, "so that when we came on to the story we knew exactly what we were doing." But he also had a playful streak. "I got annoyed with him once," recalled Seamus Mirodan, the director of Spirit Child. "One of the villagers gave him a just-slaughtered guinea fowl as a gift. He put it in my tripod bag and it just shat itself all over the inside of the bag."

In 2015, Hussein-Suale took the lead on a story that would rock Ghana and propel Tiger Eye into the national spotlight. "Ghana in the Eyes of God" - a three-hour undercover epic based on hundreds of hours of secret filming - exposed widespread corruption in Ghana's judiciary, showing judges and court workers accepting bribes to influence cases. More than 30 judges and 170 judicial officers were implicated. Seven of the nation's 12 high-court judges were suspended. The film played to 6,500 people in four showings at the Accra International Conference Centre and brought gridlock to the streets of the capital.

For all Tiger Eye's fans, not everybody appreciated the team's methods. They faced accusations of entrapment. "It is wrong to induce somebody by an enticement of something lucrative, big money or whatever, then turn around and say the person is corrupt," said Charles Bentum, a lawyer for several judges implicated in the expose. "You cannot exonerate the enticer and condemn the victim."

Tiger Eye's undercover investigations have been screened in theatres across Ghana

The judiciary story made Anas famous in Ghana. Behind the scenes, Hussein-Suale's combination of diligence and mettle was impressing his boss; he was becoming Anas's right-hand man. In early 2018, Anas asked Hussein-Suale to accompany him to Malawi for a grim story about "muti" - the practice of harvesting human body parts for good luck rituals - that a young Malawian journalist, Henry Mhango, had brought to them. They would collaborate on the story with the BBC. "I chose Ahmed because I knew he had the capacity to withstand the shocks," said Anas.

But in Malawi they ran into trouble beyond anything Hussein-Suale had experienced. Mhango had set up a rural meeting with two men who said they would kill children for their body parts. In the dark, Hussein-Suale, Anas, Mhango and producer Darius Bazargan drove with the men to the outskirts of a village to negotiate. But the villagers had noticed the unfamiliar men meeting among the trees and suspected them of being child killers. They attacked the team, first with their feet and fists then with stones. Anas's suit was slashed up the back with a knife. The hidden cameras kept recording as the attacks intensified. "I'm here, I'm here, let me hold you," Anas said quietly to Hussein-Suale. Then: "They are going to kill us."

They were saved by a courageous group of villagers who put themselves between the team and the attackers and helped them reach the house of the village chief. The mob was trying to force the door and Mhango, on his first undercover job, was shaking. Hussein-Suale sat next to him. "He told me to forget my surroundings and be strong," Mhango recalled. "He said, 'Henry, these are the incidents that encourage us to do even more, because our work is to fight evil.'"

Eventually, with the help of the small group of villagers, they made it out and Anas and Hussein-Suale flew back to Ghana. But Hussein-Suale stayed in touch with Mhango, mentoring him in long phone conversations over the following year.

"He told me stories about Ghana and he gave me stories in Malawi. He had a huge effect on my career," said Mhango. "His death is not only a loss to Ghana, it is a loss to all of Africa. He was a journalist for Africa."

BBC crew mistaken for ritual killers in Malawi

Shortly after the team returned from Malawi, Tiger Eye would produce a story that would make headlines across the continent and beyond. "Number 12" was an investigation into corruption in football refereeing, and Hussein-Suale again took the lead. Referee after referee in Ghana accepted cash gifts from undercover Tiger Eye journalists, and the team set its sights beyond the nation's borders. By the time the investigation was finished, nearly 100 football officials across Africa had accepted cash, including a Kenyan referee slated to officiate at the coming World Cup.

The investigation led to a cascade of bans and resignations. At the top of the list was Kwesi Nyantakyi, the head of the Ghanaian FA and a member of Fifa's elite council. Nyantakyi had flown to Dubai for what he believed was a meeting with a sheikh keen to invest in Ghanaian football. When he sat down in a hotel room opposite "HH Sheikh Hammad Al Thani" and stuffed $65,000 in cash into a black plastic bag, he could have no way of knowing the quiet man who had arranged the meeting was Ahmed Hussein-Suale.

Nyantakyi was banned from football for life, and the investigation delighted Ghanaian football fans sick of the corruption crippling the sport. It also infuriated some of Ghana's most powerful people. Kennedy Agyapong, an MP from Ghana's ruling party, railed against the group, saying he was offended by the way they conducted investigations. He obtained Hussein-Suale's name and location and made them public. Tiger Eye was forced to activate safety protocols: members left Accra; the main offices were abandoned and remain largely unused; and Hussein-Suale travelled to the north, returning periodically to the capital.

His death it not only a loss to Ghana, it is a loss to all of Africa. He was a journalist for Africa

Henry Mhango

When his family saw the footage of Agyapong's rant, they urged Hussein-Suale to leave Ghana entirely, but he resisted. "He was of the view that he did not do anything wrong, that he did what he did to save the nation, so why should he leave," said Alhassan.

Anas also instructed Hussein-Suale to take a back seat amid the publicity. Begrudgingly he did, and in time he agreed to stay away from the family home for a period. But it jarred with his character. He pushed Anas to bring him back to investigative work and he began to return to Madina. He preferred to pray at his usual mosque. He felt safe in his home neighbourhood. "You could compare it to a gangster film," said Tiger Eye's lawyer Sammy Darko. "The gangster always feels safe in his neighbourhood because his friends and his family are around him."

But Ahmed was not a gangster. He was a journalist, a son, a husband, and a father to three young children. His murder has shocked Ghana and reverberated beyond its borders, drawing condemnation from President Akufo-Addo and from the UN. Press freedom activists say they fear a chilling effect for journalism on the continent. "It is the ultimate form of censorship," said Angela Quintal, Africa co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "You censor the person that is killed; you censor the team they work with; and you send a message to others: if you cross the line we will get you."

Ghanaians watching a screening of Number 12 at the Trade Fair Centre in Accra

A spokesman for Ghana's police force told the BBC that all the evidence they had pointed towards a targeted assassination, and they were pursuing lines of inquiry related to Hussein-Suale's work. Kennedy Agyapong has been informally questioned by police. He denies any responsibility for the killing, and claims Anas and his team are blackmailers who use dubious methods. Asked by the BBC if he now regretted publishing Hussein-Suale's personal information, he said: "I don't regret anything at all because they are evil."

Whoever is behind Hussein-Suale's murder, they may find that their actions have the opposite of the desired effect. In the days after his death, applications flooded in to Tiger Eye from young Ghanaian journalists keen to follow in his footsteps, Anas said. In time, Anas will vet them. Some may be set a test. "We will continue to fight," he said. "Ahmed always said posterity would not forgive us if we did not fight." Others vowed the same. "What happened to Ahmed will not hold me back," said Manasseh Azure Awuni, an investigative journalist with Ghana's Multimedia Group. "As I speak to you I am working on an investigation, and it will be broadcast in Ghana in the coming weeks."

Hussein-Suale was laid to rest last weekend in Accra. His funeral was attended by family, friends, politicians from various parties and strangers from across the city. His murder has left a family bereft. As well as his own three children, Hussein-Suale had taken in a nephew - the son of a brother who died in the line of duty as a policeman - and he supported numerous extended family members. He covered university fees, contributed to wedding funds and paid for the upkeep on houses. He was naturally generous, said his brother Kamil. "That is how we were raised," he said. "If you have something small, you share."

In Madina, Hussein-Suale's family still gathers each night outside the family home. Last night they were there. For 20 years they have come together after work and prayers to sit and talk, about nothing in particular, always out front, where friends and neighbours who pass by might stop and talk for a while too. Sometimes there are more than 20 people together until the early hours, sometimes there are less. The night Hussein-Suale died there were six or seven - close family and friends. He spent his last few hours with the people who raised him and shared his real life. He was quiet, as usual, and distracted by his phone, but he was in a good mood. Not everyone there knew exactly what he did. They loved him for the man he was that night in Madina. Across Ghana, people were more free because of his work.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:55

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Why the attack on our cameraman was no surprise

I would really love to be able to say when I heard about the attack on our cameraman Ron Skeans that I was surprised. Or shocked even. I wasn't.

Once I found out that he was OK, and that the rest of the team were OK, I thought this was a pretty unsurprising event. What is shocking is that my reaction should be like that - because surely it can never be right that a person going about doing their job, in a country which cherishes the First Amendment and the rights of a free press, is pushed to the ground. But it is an incident that's been coming for a long time.

Before we get to that, let me say a word about Ron Skeans. Ron is the only one of our camera-people to have a "hard pass" that gives you direct access to the White House estate. I have a hard pass too. That means more or less whenever I am broadcasting live outside the White House, I am working with Ron.

He is the kindest, politest, most decent, patriotic man you could wish to meet. Frankly, there are a few cameramen that I've worked with over the years that are argumentative, provocative and generally belligerent. None of those adjectives could be applied to Ron.

A Trump supporter shoves a BBC cameraman at the El Paso rally

He and I did a report together on Rolling Thunder, the day in Washington when thousands of bikers converge on the city to commemorate those missing in action in Vietnam or who'd been taken as POWs.

I rode my motorbike, he rode pillion on another to film the event. We were both slightly overwhelmed by the patriotism and emotion of the day. He is a proud son of Ohio - where like in most American families there were those of his relatives who supported Trump in 2016, and those who didn't.

The idea that someone would attack Ron is frankly preposterous. He's the wrong guy. But of course it wasn't Ron that was being attacked.

To the drunken lout in the red Make America Great Again hat at the Trump rally, who bravely attacked him from behind while he was looking through the 12lbs (5kg) of camera on his tripod and couldn't see him, that didn't matter.

Ron wasn't Ron. Ron was the media. And the media are fair game, aren't they?

I covered endless Trump rallies in the run-up to the election and since - and there is a pattern. The attacks on the media are hugely popular with his supporters. They are every bit as much a part of his "set" as Honky Tonk Woman and Satisfaction are part of a Rolling Stones concert. You just can't imagine it not happening.

If you've never been to a Trump rally let me describe what it's like.

At some rallies at the end of the election campaign there were police officers posted on the access points to each press riser (the platforms where our cameras are mounted towards the back of the venue); even if there were no police they were confined areas.

There was no security last night, and the attack on Ron was stopped by a Trump-supporting blogger. Law enforcement were slow to get involved.

At some point in the president's remarks he will point a finger to where we are filming and you know then the fun is about to begin. "Have you seen a group of more dishonest people? They are fake news; they are the enemies of the people."

And like at a Christmas pantomime the crowd would jeer and boo. Honestly, for the overwhelming majority it is good fun; a part of the ritual. Like being at a football match and saying disobliging things about the referee.

But for a few - and I should add, a growing few, it is more than that. The uncomfortable truth is that with each month that passes the attacks have become more vociferous, the violent atmosphere on these occasions more palpable.

All of my colleagues have stories of occasions when they've been jostled; some have been spat at. Last night Ron heard the words 'CNN sucks' and '[expletive] the media' before he was taken down.

President Trump interrupted his speech and checked that Ron was OK. But there was no condemnation. No statement that this was unacceptable. The Trump campaign issued a two-line statement on the incident, but equally did not condemn what happened. What conclusion should we draw from that? What message does it send to people who feel hostile towards the media?

What has surprised me in this whole incident (though not massively) has been the reaction on Twitter of some people.

There are those who have argued, well you're fake news, and Ron got what he deserved. So much for a free press. When I am accused of fake news, I always ask people to point me to something that I have said which is factually incorrect.

I know we get things wrong, and should always be humble enough to put our hands up when we do. But our job is to hold power to account: prime ministers, presidents, kings and queens, despots and autocrats. But just because you don't like the coverage doesn't mean it's fake.

Another reaction has been to suggest we are somehow exaggerating what happened and parsing aspects of this or that. Surely it is just plain and simple wrong to attack someone in the course of doing nothing more provocative than filming the president speaking; an accredited journalist at a Trump event, filming his speech to disseminate to our audience. Why the need to equivocate? It is just wrong. Plain and simple.

And there are those who say it was a Democrat stooge - and can we prove that it was a Trump supporter. We went round this course after the pipe bomb attacks last autumn, when it was suggested the person who'd been sending devices to prominent Democrats was a stooge who was doing this to make the Republicans look bad.

A lot of people who should have known better bought into this - it turned out to be total nonsense. The man charged was a fanatical Trump supporter.

Words have consequences. An interesting meeting took place at the White House two weeks ago when the president invited in the publisher of the New York Times and two of his reporters. The reporters conducted a conventional news interview with President Trump on the issues of the day. But after they had completed that, AG Sulzberger tackled Mr Trump on his fiery anti-press rhetoric. It is worth reading the whole exchange.

But the publisher warns the president that his words are divisive and dangerous, and he expresses the opinion that unless it stops there will be an increase in violence against journalists around the world.

Well last night that violence unfolded in El Paso. Ron was unhurt. It wasn't life-threatening, but it was aggressive and violent. But what about the next time? Or the time after that?

None of us goes into journalism expecting a grateful public to be throwing rose petals in our path as we walk along, or carrying us aloft as conquering heroes.

But in a healthy democracy surely we ought to be able to report a president's speech without - literally - having to look over our shoulder.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:39

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Tanzania male MPs face circumcision call to stop HIV spread

A female MP in Tanzania has called for checks to determine whether or not her male colleagues have undergone circumcision - a procedure known to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Jackline Ngonyani said any MPs found not to have been circumcised should be required to undergo the procedure.

Her suggestion divided opinion among her colleagues.

HIV is seen as a major threat to public health in Tanzania. Around 70% of the male population is circumcised.

Around 5% of Tanzania's adult population is believed to have been infected by HIV - giving it the 13th highest rate of infection in the world, according to figures from 2016.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexual men contracting HIV by around 60%.

Several African countries that are fighting HIV epidemics have launched campaigns to encourage men to undergo the procedure, which involves surgically removing the foreskin from the penis.


Ms Ngonyani made the comments during a debate in parliament about how to curb the spread of HIV in the country.

Her suggestion was backed by MP Joseph Selasini.

In neighbouring Kenya, some top politicians voluntarily submitted to the procedure in 2008 as a way of encouraging men from their communities to do the same.

However, MP Joseph Kasheku opposed Ms Ngonyani's proposal, describing it as uncouth and invasive.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:34

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Newspaper headlines: Donald Tusk's Brexit 'hell' comments on front pages

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned Donald Tusk he'd get "terrible trouble in the British press" for saying there was "a special place in hell" for some Brexiteers.

And the papers have delivered.

"To hell with EU" is the Sun's message to the European Council president.

"We knew one of the EU's leaders is a staggering drunk - turns out the other is a staggering fool," says the paper in its editorial, which concludes that "these sneering, sniggering goons are exactly why we voted as we did on June the 23rd, 2016".

"Eurocrat from Hell" is how the Daily Mail describes Mr Tusk. "What a time to be indulging in gratuitous mud-slinging," says the paper, adding that "such incendiary language, at this crucial moment, risks sabotaging an 11th-hour deal over the Northern Ireland backstop".

Bob cartoon makes clear the Daily Telegraph's distain for Mr Tusk. It shows him being escorted down a staircase by the devil, who tells him: "Our deepest, foulest pit is reserved for smug little hypocrites."

The Times offers a more sympathetic interpretation of his remarks. This "spasm of frustration at the British political class" came from the heart, writes the paper's Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield.

Mr Tusk, he adds: "Speaks as the representative of 27 EU leaders...who knows the extent of deepening despair at the incoherence of British politics."

The Guardian takes a different approach, asking: "If he's right, who is most likely to end up roasting in the eternal fires?"

It goes on to rank the most likely candidates. Ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson gets the highest rating, for promising voters what the paper describes as "sunlit, unicorn-rich uplands" after Brexit.

Another whose chances are fancied is the former Brexit secretary David Davis, who it says "promised no downside" to leaving the EU.

The Daily Mirror dedicates seven pages to what it calls the "national scandal" of Britain's homeless.

Its reporters from across the UK have written moving accounts from people living on the streets. Among them is a woman from Northampton who says her unborn baby died because of the freezing conditions, and a builder from Cardiff who lost his job as a roofer when he broke his back.

In its editorial, the paper pins the blame for high levels of homelessness on "a government which has stopped caring". Communities Secretary James Brokenshire tells the paper that "ending homelessness in its entirety is his priority".

The "i" reports on a "smear test revolution" it says is set to save thousands of lives.

The paper says research suggests a new more accurate screening regime, being rolled out by the NHS, could cut the number of women being diagnosed with cervical cancer by a fifth.

The Daily Express explains that the new method - which involves testing for the human papilloma virus - was found to be 50% more effective at detecting abnormal cell growth then current methods.

Several papers report on the success of new, smaller portions of fish and chips - which have even been touted as a food of choice for dieters.

"Fish and chips can be enjoyed without your waistline taking a battering," reports the Daily Mail.

Researchers at Newcastle University found the new "Lite-Bite" boxes, which contained only around 600 calories, went down well with customers during trials in the north of England.

But the Sun isn't impressed. "Cod help us!" cries its headline... "now do-gooders are cutting our fish 'n chips".

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:30

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Libby Squire: New CCTV emerges of missing student

Libby Squire can be seen on CCTV walking towards the queue for the Welly Club music venue

New footage of missing student Libby Squire on the night of her disappearance has emerged.

The CCTV images show a woman, confirmed by police as the 21-year-old student, near the Welly Club music venue on 31 January at about 23:20 GMT.

Police are continuing to search an area close to the last known sighting of Libby, from High Wycombe.

A 24-year-old man arrested on suspicion of abduction remains a person of interest, police said.

The video, filmed by a camera on a lettings agency next door to the club, shows Libby in a black jacket and a black skirt.

The 21-year-old is believed to have taken a taxi from the nightclub after she was refused entry.

Police said she was dropped off near her home at about 23:30 and was then seen near a bench on Beverley Road about 10 minutes later.

One area of interest in the police search has been the Oak Road Playing Fields in the city, with officers retuning on Tuesday and using power tools to cut back undergrowth.

Humberside Police said hundreds of uniformed officers and around 50 detectives have been searching "around the clock" for Libby, with specialist search advisors, underwater officers, the fire service, police dogs, local businesses and the public also involved.

Police are continuing to search an area close to Oak Road Playing Fields in Hull

Humberside Police said: "Our priority remains to find Libby and support her family at this incredibly distressing time."

The force has posted letters to people living near to Raglan Street to ask if anyone heard "anything unusual" on the night of her disappearance.

Officers have been using rakes and power tools to search undergrowth

Police have carried out house-to-house inquiries in Hull, and a dog unit, police divers and helicopter have all been used as part of the search effort.

The force said it had "received hundreds of calls" and was pursuing a number of lines of inquiry.

On the night of her disappearance, detectives think she arrived at her student house at about 23:30 GMT, where her mobile phone was found.

They do not believe the University of Hull student entered the house and have said her phone "has not provided any further insight as to her movements that night".

She was spotted on CCTV 10 minutes later near a bench on Beverley Road, where it is thought a motorist stopped to offer her help.

She is believed to have been in the area for about 30 minutes.

Ms Squire, who is 5ft 7in tall with long dark brown hair, was wearing a black leather jacket, black long-sleeved top and a black denim skirt with lace when she was last seen.

ruby Posted on February 13, 2019 10:21

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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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