IS ‘trapping 200 families’ in last bastion in Syria”:


Some 20,000 people who have fled Baghuz in recent weeks have been taken to a camp

The UN has expressed concern about the fate of some 200 families reportedly trapped in the last tiny area of Syria still held by the Islamic State group.

Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the many women and children in Baghuz were apparently being actively prevented from leaving by IS militants.

They also continued to be subjected to intense bombardment by US-led coalition forces and allied Syrian fighters.

Ms Bachelet demanded that safe passage be provided to those wanting to flee.

Could a defeated IS rebound?

“Those wish to remain must also be protected as much as possible,” she added. “They should not be sacrificed to ideology on the one hand, or military expediency on the other.

“If protecting civilian lives means taking a few more days to capture the last fraction of land controlled by [IS], then so be it.”

IS members walk in the last area held by the jihadist group in Baghuz, Syria (18 February 2019)

IS militants are reportedly confined to tents pitched on top of a network of tunnels and caves

Five years ago, IS controlled 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) of territory stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq, proclaimed the creation of a “caliphate”, imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people and generated billions of dollars from oil, extortion, robbery and kidnapping.

Now, an estimated 300 militants and hundreds of civilians are surrounded inside about 0.5 sq km (0.2 square miles) of land in the Baghuz area, which is in the Middle Euphrates River Valley near the border with Iraq.

Map showing last IS-held territory in Syria (18 February 2019)

Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance launched an offensive to capture Baghuz on 9 February.

On Monday, unconfirmed reports suggested that the IS militants were seeking to negotiate safe passage to the opposition-held north-western province of Idlib.

There was no confirmation from the SDF. But a spokesman appeared to dismiss such an idea on Tuesday, insisting the militants had “only two options – either they surrender or they will be killed in battle”.

“We are working on secluding and evacuating civilians and then we will attack. This could happen soon,” Mustafa Bali was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance in Baghuz, Syria (19 February 2019)

US-backed SDF fighters launched an assault on Baghuz this month

Although no civilians have reportedly made it out of Baghuz in the past three days, some 20,000 have been taken by the SDF to a makeshift camp for displaced people at al-Hol, in Hassakeh province, in recent weeks.

Among them are the wives and children of IS militants and many foreign nationals, including the British teenager Shamima Begum, who was 15 when she ran away from her home to join IS four years ago.

The International Rescue Committee said on Monday that at least 62 people had died on their way to al-Hol, two thirds of them children under the age of one. Exhaustion and malnutrition were the principle causes of the deaths.

Shamima Begum: ‘The poster girl thing was not my choice’

Ms Bachelet also said she was alarmed by an upsurge in attacks and civilian casualties in Idlib province, where a takeover by a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, has jeopardised a truce brokered by Turkey and Russia in September.

The Syrian government’s bombardment of a demilitarised buffer zone, which runs along the frontline in Idlib and areas of northern Hama and western Aleppo provinces, started to escalate in December and has further intensified in recent days, according to the UN.

At the same time, there has been an increase in fighting among rebel and jihadist factions, and also in the use of improvised explosive devices in areas they control.

On Monday, at least 16 civilians, including women and children, were reportedly killed by two bomb explosions in the Qusour district of Idlib city. The second blast appeared to have been designed to kill people, including medical workers, trying to come to the aid victims of the first.

Another nine civilians, including four women and two boys, were meanwhile reportedly killed by government strikes on Khan Sheikhoun on Friday and Saturday.

How the jihadist group rose and fell

October 2006
The jihadist group announces the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and in April 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes its leader.

January 2013
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) begins seizing control of territory in Syria, including the city of Raqqa. In April that year, al-Baghdadi changes his group’s name to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil or Isis).

June 2014
Isis conquers over a dozen Iraqi cities and towns like Mosul and Tikrit, and seizes Syria’s largest oilfield in the Homs province. On 29 June, the jihadist group formally declares the creation of a caliphate and becomes known as Islamic State (IS).

August 2014
IS fighters begin killing and enslaving thousands from the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq and release the first of several videos of Western hostages – journalists and aid workers – being beheaded.

September 2014
The US begins air strikes, starting with attacks on the de-facto IS capital of Raqqa.

January 2015
IS is at the height of its control, ruling over almost eight million people across 88,000 sq km (34,000 sq miles) from western Syria to eastern Iraq. It is also generating billions of dollars from oil, extortion, robbery and kidnapping.

March 2016
The Syrian government recaptures the ancient city of Palmyra, but loses it again in December 2016 and then finally recaptures the destroyed Unesco World Heritage site in March 2017.

July 2017
Iraqi forces liberate Mosul, but the 10-month battle leaves thousands of civilians dead, more than 800,000 displaced and much of Iraq’s second city destroyed.

October 2017
IS loses control of Raqqa to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, ending three years of rule.

December 2017
Iraq’s government declares victory over IS after retaking full control of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

February 2019
US President Donald Trump says the jihadist group is close to being defeated, after a battle for the final IS-held territory on the Syrian-Iraqi border lasted weeks.

Pulwama attack: Pakistan warns India against military action”:


Mr Khan called on India to provide evidence to support its claims that Pakistan was involved

Pakistan has warned it will retaliate if India takes military action against it after a militant attack on Indian forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Prime Minister Imran Khan went on television to call on India to provide evidence to support its claims that Pakistan was involved.

India responded that Mr Khan was again making excuses.

More than 40 members of India’s security forces died in Thursday’s suicide bombing on their convoy.

Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad said it was behind it.

The attack has raised tensions between India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars and a limited conflict in the region and are both nuclear powers.

What did Khan say?

In his first comments addressing the attack, he said India should “stop blaming Pakistan without any proof or evidence” and urged Indian authorities to share any “actionable intelligence”.

“If you think that you will launch any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliation, Pakistan will retaliate,” he said, adding that only dialogue could help solve issues in Kashmir.

India has long accused Pakistan of backing militant separatists in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Mr Khan, who took office last year, said his government was ready to co-operate with India in investigating the attack. But he also said Delhi should reflect on why Kashmiri youth had reached a point where they no longer feared death.

The prime minister said he had not addressed the attack earlier because of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s high-profile visit to Pakistan on Sunday and Monday.

How did India respond?

In a statement, the foreign ministry said that Mr Khan had failed to condemn the “heinous act” nor offer condolences to victims’ families.

“It is a well-known fact that Jaish-e-Mohammad and its leader Masood Azhar are based in Pakistan. [This] should be sufficient proof for Pakistan to take action,” the ministry said.

It said that past attacks in India attributed to Pakistan-based militants had not been investigated properly by Islamabad.

Mr Khan had also mentioned India’s upcoming elections in the context of calls for retaliation against Pakistan – saying politicians believed strong action would boost votes.

The Indian foreign ministry said the insinuation was “regrettable”, adding: “India’s democracy is a model for the world which Pakistan would never understand.”

Earlier, India’s top military commander in Kashmir, Lt Gen KJS Dhillon, accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of “controlling” the attack with Jaish-e-Mohammad commanders, but he provided no evidence.

“I’d request all the mothers in Kashmir to please request their sons who have joined terrorism to surrender and get back to the mainstream,” he said. “Otherwise anyone who has picked up the gun will be killed.”

The suicide bomber has been identified as a young man from the region. Correspondents say a significant number of young Kashmiris have joined militant groups in recent years.

Presentational grey line

Uncomfortable questions for Khan

By BBC Pakistan correspondent, Secunder Kermani, in Islamabad

When Imran Khan took office last year he said he wanted to improve relations with India, and that for every one step India took, Pakistan would take two.

The traditional wisdom in Pakistan is that the country’s army hasn’t wanted closer ties between the two. However, as the military seems supportive of Imran Khan’s administration it had been hoped progress could now be made. In fact, over the past few months, Indian officials have been the ones more reluctant to pursue negotiations – probably because of the upcoming elections.

In his speech, Imran Khan said there was “a new mindset” in Pakistan, and that any militant group using Pakistani soil was an “enemy” of the country. He asked the Indian government what gain they thought Pakistan could hope to achieve from an attack like this.

But while his confident and measured speech will go down well domestically, uncomfortable questions remain about the state’s relationship with Kashmir-focused militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad. While JeM is a banned organisation, many international observers believe Pakistani intelligence services allow it operate under the radar.

How high are tensions?

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but control only parts of it.

Thursday’s bombing was the deadliest attack on Indian forces in the region for decades.

Indian mourners take part in candle light vigil as they pay homage to the killed service members in Siliguri
AFP

Indian mourners held a candlelit vigil in Siliguri, West Bengal

So far India has focused on retaliation by economic and diplomatic means. It has revoked Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation trading status and raised customs duties to 200%.

Both countries have recalled top diplomats.

How else might India retaliate?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is facing an election later this year, has vowed a strong response and says he will give the military free rein.

The last time an attack on Indian forces close to this magnitude occurred in Kashmir was in 2016, when 19 soldiers were killed at a base. In response to that, India carried out “surgical strikes” which involved Indian soldiers crossing the de facto border to hit Pakistani posts.

Mr Khan called on India to provide evidence to support its claims that Pakistan was involved
Why has 2018 seen a spike in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir?

This time heavy snow in the region could make that kind of limited ground response impossible, analysts say. But there are fears that going further – with air strikes, for example – could lead to Pakistani retaliation and a significant escalation.

Bernie Sanders announces second US presidential bid”:


The 77-year-old ran for the Democratic nomination in 2016 but lost out to Hillary Clinton

US Senator Bernie Sanders says he will run again for president in 2020, making a second attempt to win the Democratic Party’s nomination.

The 77-year-old Vermont senator became a progressive political star in 2016 although he lost his candidacy bid.

In an email to supporters, he said it was time to complete the “political revolution” they had started.

An outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, Mr Sanders has described him as a “pathological liar” and “racist”.

Mr Sanders – an independent who caucuses with the Democrats – is one of the best-known names to join a crowded and diverse field of Democratic candidates, and early polls suggest he is far ahead.

His calls for universal government-provided healthcare, a $15 national minimum wage and free college education electrified young voters, raised millions of dollars in small donations and are now pillars of the party’s left wing.

Mr Sanders, who lost the 2016 Democratic primary to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said in his email: “Three years ago, when we talked about these and other ideas, we were told that they were ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’.

“Together, you and I and our 2016 campaign began the political revolution. Now, it is time to complete that revolution and implement the vision that we fought for.”

Presentational grey line

No longer an underdog

After building a grass-roots political movement that roiled the Democratic Party in 2016, Bernie Sanders is making another run at the prize.

This time, he won’t be the rumpled underdog. He’ll start the race near the front of the pack – with advantages in small-donor fundraising, name recognition and a 50-state organisation of loyalists.

His front-runner status will come with a price, however. Unlike 2016, when Hillary Clinton largely avoided confronting the Vermont senator for fear of alienating his supporters, his opponents will have no such reluctance this time.

In 2016, the self-proclaimed “Democratic socialist” staked out a progressive agenda in contrast with Ms Clinton’s pragmatic centrism. Now, in part because of Mr Sanders’ efforts, the party has moved left on issues like healthcare, education and income inequality. His message is no longer unique.

The 77-year-old senator will keep his devoted base, but will some former supporters opt for a fresh face? That could lead to conflict with those who believe a Bernie “revolution” is the only way forward, inflaming Democratic wounds not fully healed from the last campaign.

In a crowded field, Mr Sanders has a realistic shot – but it could be a bumpy ride.

Presentational grey line

Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Delaney and Julian Castro are among those who have also announced their intention to run in the Democratic primary in 2020, the first time more than one woman has competed.

If Mr Sanders is successful in his bid, he will become the oldest presidential candidate in US history.

In his email, which lays out a series of policy issues, Mr Sanders also says: “You know as well as I do that we are living in a pivotal and dangerous moment in American history.

“We are running against a president who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction.”

Bernie Sanders speaks at a Committee on Racial Equality Sit-In in 1962
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO LIBRARY

Mr Sanders speaks at a Committee on Racial Equality Sit-In in 1962

Who is Bernie Sanders?

Mr Sanders is the longest-serving independent in congressional history, but competes for the Democratic nomination as he says standing as a third-party candidate would diminish his chances of winning the presidency.

He attended the University of Chicago, and in the 1960s and 1970s participated in antiwar and civil rights activism, like the 1963 March on Washington.

He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1990, the first independent to achieve such a feat in 40 years. He served there until he ran for and won a seat in the Senate in 2007.

Mr Sanders entered the race for the 2016 Democratic nomination as a long-shot candidate but emerged as a surprise star during a series of televised debates.

He labels himself a Democratic socialist, which he has defined as someone who seeks to “create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy”.

Mr Sanders also has a diplomacy-first attitude towards foreign policy and voted against the US invasion of Iraq in 2002.

Sanders supporter with white hair T-shirt
Mr Sanders attracted a large amount of younger voters during his 2016 campaign

He became Mrs Clinton’s closest rival, but she ultimately won the nomination before losing the presidential election to Mr Trump.

In January, Mr Sanders apologised to female staff members on his 2016 campaign after allegations of harassment against senior aides emerged.

Several aides complained of a “predatory culture” in his campaign and alleged that senior male staff had mistreated younger workers.

Contact Email (BBCNEWS.CO.UK@bbcnewslight.co.uk) or (emmanueljustice@post.com)

Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel fashion designer, dead at 85″:


Karl Lagerfeld often appeared at shows alongside his models

Superstar fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has died, aged 85, in Paris following a short illness.

The German designer, who was the creative director for Chanel and Fendi, was one of the industry’s most prolific figures and worked up until his death.

His signature ponytail and dark glasses made him an instantly recognisable figure around the world.

Industry heavyweights, including Italian designer Donatella Versace, have issued heartfelt tributes.

“Today the world lost a giant among men,” the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour, said in a statement.

Rumours of Lagerfeld’s ill health had swirled for several weeks after he missed a number of events – including Chanel’s spring/summer show last month.

He died on Tuesday morning after being admitted to hospital the night before, French media report.

As a designer he transformed the fortunes of Chanel, one of the leading names in high fashion, but his work also filtered down to the high street.

Away from his work, Lagerfeld made headlines for a range of provocative, and sometimes offensive, statements.

Who has paid tribute?

Members of the fashion industry have been lining up to praise Lagerfeld’s work.

Donatella Versace said his genius had “touched so many” and was a source of inspiration for her and her late brother.

Anna Wintour described the designer’s “creative genius” as “breathtaking”.

“Karl was brilliant, he was wicked, he was funny, he was generous beyond measure, and he was deeply kind. I will miss him so very much,” her statement went on.

Chanel’s Chief Executive Alain Wertheimer credited Lagerfeld for transforming the brand since he joined in 1983.

“Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House of Chanel’s success throughout the world,” he said in a statement.

It has been announced that Virginie Viard, his deputy at fashion house Chanel, will succeed him as creative chief.

Pier Paolo Righi, his own fashion brand’s CEO, described him as a “creative genius”.

“He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy as one of the greatest designers of our time,” a statement from the House of Karl Lagerfeld said.

Celebrities including Victoria Beckham, actress Diane Kruger and models Gigi and Bella Hadid have also paid tribute.

The making of a fashion giant

He was born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt in 1933 in pre-war Germany. Lagerfeld changed his original surname from Lagerfeldt, because he believed it sounded “more commercial”.

He emigrated to Paris as a young teenager, and became a design assistant for Pierre Balmain, before working at Fendi and Chloe in the 1960s.

Karl Lagerfeld
Lagerfeld was photographed on a seaside-themed catwalk at Paris Fashion Week in October 2018

But the designer was best known for his association with the French label Chanel.

He began his long career with the fashion house in 1983, a decade after Coco Chanel died.

Lagerfeld’s designs brought new life to the label, adding glitz to the prim tweed suits the couture house was known for.

The designer worked tirelessly, simultaneously churning out collections for LVMH’s Fendi and his own label, up until his death.

He also collaborated with high street brand H&M – before high-end collaborations became more common.

Karl Lagerfeld with Katy Perry, Cara Delevingne and Claudia Schiffer
Lagerfeld, seen here with Katy Perry (left), Cara Delevingne and Claudia Schiffer (right), was known for mingling with the young and trendy

Lagerfeld was known to encouraged new designers, like Victoria Beckham – who has praised him for his kindness.

Lagerfeld’s own look became famous in his later years – wearing dark suits and leather gloves with a signature white pony-tail and tinted sunglasses.

Lagerfeld said of his appearance: “I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that.”

The designer was known for his scathing wit and provocative comments, famously describing sweatpants as a “sign of defeat”.

However, some of his remarks drew sharp criticism in recent years.

In particular, he sparked outrage by evoking the Holocaust as he attacked Germany’s response to the migrant crisis and and for controversial remarks he made about the #MeToo movement.

Contact Email, (bbcnews.co.uk@bbcnewslight.co.uk) or (Annenakashima@journalist.com)

Gilets jaunes: How much anti-Semitism is beneath the yellow vests?


Philosopher Alain Finkielkraut was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse

The French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, has said she won’t join other political parties in a march against anti-Semitism on Tuesday, accusing France’s leaders of doing nothing to tackle Islamist networks in France and saying she will mark the occasion separately.

It comes days after a prominent French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, was verbally attacked for being Jewish as he walked past the weekly “gilets jaunes” (yellow-vest) protests in Paris.

A small group of protesters shouted a barrage of abuse at him as he passed by the demonstration on his way home from lunch on Saturday, calling him a “dirty Zionist” and telling him to “go back to Tel Aviv”.

“I felt an absolute hatred,” Mr Finkielkraut told one French newspaper later that night. “If the police hadn’t been there, I would have been frightened.”

A few days before that, official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year.

Now, many here are questioning whether the gilets jaunes movement is providing a new kind of forum for these extremist views, and how central those attitudes are to the movement.

“It’s very serious,” says Vincent Duclert, a specialist in anti-Semitism in France at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences – one of France’s most prestigious colleges.

“The gilets jaunes are not an anti-Semitic movement, but alongside the demonstration each Saturday there’s a lot of anti-Semitic expression by groups of the extreme right or extreme left.”

‘Yellow-vests’ pelt police van with stones

“You can be on the streets demonstrating every Saturday, shouting your slogans against the Jews,” says Jean-Yves Camus, an expert in French political extremism.

“And as there’s no leadership in the movement and no stewarding of the demonstrations, you can be free to do it. I’m afraid there will be more attacks, because the self-proclaimed leaders simply do not seem to care that much.”

Jason Herbert, a spokesman for the movement, says the incident on Saturday is a scandal, but not representative of the gilets jaunes as a whole.

“It’s the inherent weakness of a movement that lets the people speak,” he explained. “Everyone can come and give his opinion – and some opinions are despicable and illegal. To think someone is inferior because of his or her origins is just not acceptable, and it’s completely unrelated to our demands. Amongst our demands, I’ve never heard ‘we want fewer Jews’.”

A protester holds up a sign that says 'Anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, racism is not us'
Some protesters have carried signs denouncing racism and discrimination

The gilets jaunes began life as a protest against fuel tax rises, but have broadened into a loose confederation of different interest groups with no official hierarchy or leadership. Over the past three months, as the movement has appeared more radical, its wider support has dipped.

Vincent Duclert believes that the movement does bear some responsibility for the extremist abuse in its midst, because the violence of the protests – towards the police, state institutions and public property – encourages anti-Semitism by encouraging “transgression”.

And, he says, it’s possible that the gilets jaunes are also offering “a new space for different kinds of anti-Semitism to come together: from the extreme right and extreme left, but also from radical Islamist or anti-Zionist groups, and some types of social conservatives”.

There are signs over the past year, he says, that levels of anti-Semitism have risen within these different groups, because of changes at home, across Europe and in the Middle East, and that French public opinion has been too tolerant.

Gilets jaunes: How much anti-Semitism is beneath the yellow vests?
Marine Le Pen is among those trying to court the support of the protesters

Politicians here have been quick to condemn Saturday’s attack on Alain Finkielkraut. President Macron tweeted that it was “the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation”.

Others tried to blame it on their political rivals.

A member of France’s centre-right opposition, Geoffrey Didier, told reporters that anti-Semitism was growing “because radical Islamism is growing in France”, while Marine Le Pen said it illustrated “how the anti-Semite far-left is trying to infiltrate the gilets jaunes movement”.

Both Ms Le Pen’s party and that of her far-left rival, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, have been trying to win the support of the gilets jaunes ahead of European elections in May.

Jean-Yves Camus believes last week’s attack will help turn public opinion against the movement, saying it has become “a hotbed of radical activity from both sides of the political spectrum and the French do not want that”.

UK employment hits another record high”:


The number of people in work in the UK has continued to climb, with a record 32.6 million employed between October and December, the latest Office for National Statistics figures show.

Unemployment was little-changed in the three-month period at 1.36 million.

The jobless rate, remaining at 4%, is at its lowest since early 1975.

Weekly average earnings went up by 3.4% to £494.50 in the year to December – after adjusting for inflation, that is the highest level since March 2011.

Graph of real wages figures

The number of people in work between October and December was up 167,000 from the previous quarter and 444,000 higher than at the same time in 2017.

The employment rate – defined as the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who are working – was estimated at 75.8%, higher than the 75.2% from a year earlier and the joint-highest figure since comparable estimates began in 1971.

Employment Minister Alok Sharma said: “While the global economy is facing many challenges, particularly in sectors like manufacturing, these figures show the underlying resilience of our jobs market – once again delivering record employment levels.”

ONS deputy head of labour market Matt Hughes said: “The labour market remains robust, with the employment rate remaining at a record high and vacancies reaching a new record level.

“The unemployment rate has also fallen, and for women has dropped below 4% for the first time ever.”

Graph of employment figures

However, Andrew Wishart, UK economist at Capital Economics, warned that next month’s figures may not be so buoyant.

“The labour market data didn’t reflect the slip in hiring surveys in December, with employment rising,” he said.

“However, the surveys deteriorated more markedly in January, so a Brexit effect might start to weaken employment growth in the next batch of official data.”

Presentational grey line

Analysis:

By Dharshini David, BBC economics correspondent

The jobs market remains in a robust shape despite the loss of momentum in the economy towards the end of last year – although the Brexit fog effect may be yet to register.

Continuing recent trends, the majority of those entering work were previously inactive (students, looking after home, long-term sick etc).

The demand for labour continues to bolster wage growth. Real wages increased by more than 1% per year, better on the whole than in recent years although about half the rate of the pre-crisis era.

So little sign of Brexit uncertainty hitting hiring so far – but demand in the labour market tends to lag significantly behind changes in output.

More recent employment surveys show a marked deterioration in January, so a Brexit effect might start to weaken employment growth in the next batch of official data.

And productivity – output per hour – was down by 0.2% in the fourth quarter of 2018 versus a year previously, as output rose more slowly than employment. The lack of progress in this area could weigh on wage growth in the longer term.

Presentational grey line

Skill shortages

Looking at the average earnings figures, Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “With surplus labour extremely scarce and job vacancies rising to a new record high, workers are having more success in obtaining above-inflation pay increases.

“Looking ahead, we doubt that wage growth will slip below 3% this year.”

Despite the wage increases and low unemployment figures, Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, did not think that struggling High Streets would benefit.

He said: “The uplift to consumer spending from the recent improvement in real pay growth is likely to be limited by weak consumer confidence and high household debt levels.

“The increase in the number of vacancies to a new record high confirms that labour and skills shortages are set to remain a significant a drag on business activity for some time to come, impeding UK growth and productivity.”

More Labour MPs and some Tories could join new group – Chuka Umunna”:


MPs resign from Labour over Brexit and anti-Semitism

More Labour MPs could quit the party unless it listens to their concerns, Jeremy Corbyn has been warned.

Seven MPs have walked out in protest at the Labour leader’s handling of anti-Semitism and Brexit.

One of the seven, Chuka Umunna, said “a lot of Labour MPs” could follow suit, together with Tories “demoralised by the UKIPisation of their party”.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has warned his party could see more defections if it did not change.

He said Labour had to do more to tackle anti-Semitism and he also urged Mr Corbyn to reshuffle his shadow cabinet to reflect a wider range of MPs.

Mr Corbyn has said in a statement he was “disappointed” by the defections, which represent the biggest split in the Labour Party since the Social Democratic Party was set up 40 years ago.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the seven should now stand down as MPs and seek re-election against Labour Party candidates.

The seven MPs – Mr Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey – quit Labour in protest at what they said was a culture of “bullying and bigotry” in the party and frustration over the leadership’s reluctance to back another EU referendum.

Mr Umunna said another “big issue for us” was the belief that Mr Corbyn could not be trusted with national security, if he became prime minister.

“Many Labour MPs agree with us on that,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Umunna said the new Independent Group was not yet a new political party, but he believed it could become one in time.

He urged members of all parties to join them in building an “alternative” to the current two party system, which he said was “fundamentally broken”.

Infographic showing ex-Labour Mps, their majority and when they were elected

The BBC has been told two Conservative MPs are thinking of joining the new Independent Group in Parliament.

Mr Umunna refused to speculate on who they could be but he added: “There are a lot of Labour MPs wrestling with their conscience on this issue but also Conservatives who have become demoralised by the UKIPisation, if you like, of the Conservative Party.”

A number of Conservative MPs are at the centre of rumours about joining the new group.

Sarah Wollaston, a supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for another EU referendum, along with the seven Labour defectors, has warned about former UKIP members joining local Tory parties and the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) pushing the party to the right.

On Monday evening, she tweeted: “#BLUKIP has been busy taking over the Tory Party alongside the ERG. Soon there will be nothing left at all to appeal to moderate centre ground voters.”

Other Conservative MPs unhappy with the party’s direction include Anna Soubry, another People’s Vote supporter, who has called in the past for a new centre party.


A new political landscape?

This splintering might, just might – in time – turn into a much bigger redrawing of the landscape.

For now though that is way off. And this is first and foremost about the Labour Party – the seeds of the splinter sown more than three years ago, bearing bitter fruit just when Parliament’s biggest decisions over Brexit are about to be made.

Read Laura’s full blog

Several Labour MPs have said they are considering their future in the party – but more have said they are sticking with it.

Former shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh told Today: “I have [been approached] and I’ve said no. I think what is important is we now take a long hard look at ourselves as a political party.

“It is clear that Brexit is pushing both parties to the brink, it is clear that anti-Semitism has taken root in our party.”

More Labour MPs and some Tories could join new group - Chuka Umunna":
John McDonnell:

John McDonnell: Resigning MPs have ‘responsibility’ to call by-elections

Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray told the BBC he was sticking with Labour but “may change his mind” unless the party responded to concerns about its culture and direction.

Labour MP Jess Phillips, writing in the Daily Telegraph, called on Mr Corbyn to listen to why the MPs had quit and “act on it”, warning that reacting with bitterness could cause the party to “burst apart”.

However, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the Daily Mirror that the resignations were a “distracting and divisive exercise”.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Labour MPs had to “listen to each other”.

But she added: “Equally, I think we also have a duty to unify and make sure that we provide a force for change within Britain.”

Sturgeon to urge EU citizens to stay in Scotland after Brexit”:


Efforts to encourage EU citizens to stay in Scotland after Brexit are to be stepped up, Nicola Sturgeon is to tell members of the French parliament.

The Scottish first minister is to address a committee of the Assemblée Nationale during a visit to Paris.

She said she would “always make it clear that EU citizens are welcome”.

The Home Office is currently testing an application system for settled status in the UK, which it said 100,000 people had successfully taken part in so far.

In January, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that fees for EU nationals to apply to stay in the UK after Brexit had been scrapped – although Ms Sturgeon said this was only after lobbying from other parties.

The first minister began a two-day visit to France on Monday, with a meeting with French European Affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau.

She is to address members of the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the French Parliament, after opening a new Scottish government office in Paris.

Ms Sturgeon will tell the foreign affairs committee that her government “will always stick up for” the EU citizens living in Scotland, who include 7,000 French people.

She will say: “In recent months we have lobbied successfully to ensure EU citizens would not have to pay a fee to obtain settled status in the UK. And we will always make it clear that EU citizens are welcome.

“In fact in the coming months, we plan to step up our efforts to encourage EU citizens to stay in Scotland.”

Karin has spent 35 years living in Scotland but worries about signing up for Settled Status

Under current legislation, the UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March, whether an exit deal is agreed or not.

In January, Mrs May told MPs that her government was “committed to ensuring that EU citizens in the UK will be able to stay and continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now, in both a deal and a no-deal scenario”.

The Home Office is currently developing the system for EU citizens to get “settled status”, allowing them to continue to live and work in the UK after Brexit.

This is due to be fully open by 30 March, but officials said 100,000 people had already successfully taken part voluntarily during the pilot phase of the system.

A spokeswoman said the department had “invested heavily” in the scheme, with a dedicated mobile app developed and 1,500 caseworkers recruited.


Analysis by BBC Scotland chief political correspondent Glenn Campbell, in Paris

Scotland’s international reach is expanding, especially in Europe.

Since the EU referendum the Scottish government has opened new trade and investment hubs in Berlin and Paris. These are in addition to offices in London, Brussels and Dublin.

Since 2016, the devolved administration has increased its staff working on international affairs from 80 to 114.

It has had over 400 engagements with European governments, EU institutions and other international bodies in Europe.

Opposition parties accuse the first minister of straying into areas of responsibility reserved to the UK and spending too much time away from Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon describes that as the worst “parochialism” and insists that with Brexit just over 5 weeks away it has never been more vital to promote Scotland internationally.

Jewish graves desecrated near Strasbourg in eastern France


The graves were desecrated at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg

Some 80 graves have been desecrated with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, local officials say.

The damage was discovered on Tuesday, ahead of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

It occurred at a cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim, on the night of Monday into Tuesday, town hall officials told the franceinfo website.

President Emmanuel Macron has condemned anti-Semitic abuse after a prominent intellectual was targeted.

Police stepped in to protect the philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts by a group of “yellow vest” protesters in Paris at the weekend.

Mr Macron visited the cemetery to inspect the damage on Tuesday, before he heads to the Paris Holocaust memorial.

“It’s important for me to be here with you today,” he told local leaders and members of the Jewish community.

Several local officials denounced the desecration on social media.

Mr Castaner has warned that anti-Semitism is “spreading like poison” in the country, with a series of anti-Jewish incidents reported in central Paris last weekend.

These included post-boxes featuring a Holocaust survivor’s portrait being vandalised with swastikas.

Official data suggested there had been a 74% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year.

Jewish groups have also been warning that a rising far right across Europe has been promoting anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities.

Crime data from Germany released last week revealed that anti-Semitic offences had increased by 10% over the past year – including a 60% rise in physical attacks.

Attacks have been blamed on both the far right and Islamists.

Channel storm damaged Russian S-400 missiles bound for China


Since annexing Crimea in 2014 Russia has deployed S-400 missiles there

A storm in the English Channel damaged S-400 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia was shipping to China, but now they are being replaced, Russia says.

The ship with its damaged cargo returned to Russia last March, but two other Russian ships delivered S-400s to China successfully.

The deal was reported by the Russian government website Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

China is under US sanctions for buying S-400s and other Russian arms. India and Turkey are also buying S-400s.

A Russian arms industry chief, Dmitry Shugayev, said Russia would complete the delivery of the S-400s to China by the end of 2020.

China is getting two regimental units, which amounts to at least 128 missiles.

AFP

The S-400 missile system is deployed at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Syria

The S-400 “Triumf” is one of the most sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems in the world. It has a range of 400km (248 miles) and one S-400 integrated system can shoot down up to 80 targets simultaneously.

Russia says it can hit aerial targets ranging from low-flying drones to aircraft flying at various altitudes and long-range missiles.

The US sanctions are aimed at putting pressure on the Russian government over its annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

In October, India signed a $5bn (£3.9bn) deal to buy five S-400 regimental units. That amounts to at least 320 missiles. Each S-400 launch vehicle – a heavy lorry – carries four missiles.

Russia has deployed S-400s to protect its military airbase at Hmeimim in Syria.

Turkey, a Nato member, is buying S-400s despite US warnings. The US wants to sell Patriot missiles, made by Raytheon Co, to Turkey instead. The US argues that S-400s are incompatible with Nato systems.

“We made the S-400 deal with Russia, so it’s out of the question for us to turn back. That’s done,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Neither Turkey nor India are yet under US sanctions over the purchases.


How the S-400 system works

Diagram of how S-400 missile system works
  1. Long-range surveillance radar tracks objects and relays information to command vehicle, which assesses potential targets
  2. Target is identified and command vehicle orders missile launch
  3. Launch data are sent to the best placed launch vehicle and it releases surface-to-air missiles
  4. Engagement radar helps guide missiles towards target

President Trump addressed Venezuelan Americans in southern Florida”:


US President Donald Trump gave a speech on Monday at Miami’s Florida International University to a crowd of mostly Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants. The area is home to tens of thousands of Venezuelan expatriates – many of whom fled Mr Maduro and his predecessor, and support for Mr Guaidó there is strong.

During the speech, Mr Trump railed against the Venezuelan government which he described as a “failed dictatorship”. He described President Maduro himself as a “Cuban puppet” and accused a “small handful at the top of Maduro’s regime” of stealing and hiding money. “We know who they are and we know where they keep the billions of dollars they have stolen,” he said. He also implored the military to ensure the safety of Mr Guaidó and opposition protesters.

Shamima Begum: ‘I didn’t want to be IS poster girl’


In an interview with the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Quentin Sommerville, Shamima Begum – the schoolgirl who fled London to join the Islamic State group in Syria – has said she never wanted to be an IS “poster girl”. Ms Begum, who has just given birth, said she now wants the UK’s forgiveness and supports “some British values”.

She told the BBC while it was “wrong” innocent people died in the 2017 Manchester attack, it was “kind of retaliation” for attacks on IS. The 19-year-old left Bethnal Green four years ago with two school friends

Australia’s drought leading to ‘suffering’ of children, UN warns


Children speak to the BBC about their experiences last year

A prolonged drought in Australia is having a devastating impact on children and forcing them to “grow up” prematurely, a UN report warns.

Large parts of eastern Australia have endured severe drought for months, crippling farming communities.

Children in these areas are resilient but endure a growing psychological toll, said the UN’s children’s agency.

Many children have “long and stressful” days that involve witnessing strain on their parents and animals, Unicef said.

“Workloads for children on and off farms have increased substantially, leaving little time for schoolwork and almost no time for play, sport or other recreational activities,” the agency said in its report.

One high school student told researchers: “Before the start of this year I’d never shot a lamb in my life – and I’ve done probably about 50 or so this year… it is just normal now.”

Others described high levels of stress at home, with one girl saying: “You’re walking on eggshells.”

Unicef released the report on Tuesday after interviewing children aged five-16 from rural communities in New South Wales, a state that is entirely drought-affected.

What else are children coping with?

  • A lack of quality time spent with parents and siblings
  • Fears about their future education and job prospects
  • Feelings of exhaustion

The report said that children had a strong desire to help their families and communities, but often felt powerless.

“These young people care deeply about and are abundantly aware of the trauma their parents are going through,” said Oliver White from Unicef Australia.

Girls in a drought-affected town stick notes on a whiteboard. Notes read: "Expressing feelings" and "Laugh and have fun"
UNICEF AUSTRALIA

The drought is being felt in numerous rural communities

“At the same time, [they] are operating with the over-arching attitude that they shouldn’t talk about their own psychological reactions and concerns because ‘it is always worse for someone else,'” he said.

The agency has called for the Australian government to direct more of its drought-relief funding towards children’s programmes.

UK and French tourists missing in Australia beach search


Hugo Palmer (left) and Erwan Ferrieux are missing, Australian police say

A British man and a French man have gone missing while backpacking in Australia, sparking a police search.

The alarm was raised when passersby found items belonging to Hugo Palmer and Erwan Ferrieux, both 20, on a beach north of Sydney on Monday, authorities said.

Police searched the location, Shelly Beach, and discovered the pair’s rental car nearby.

Other personal items, including travel documents, were found in the vehicle.

Police began ground and water searches on Monday, but they have not found any sign of the men.

The pair had arrived in the region on Sunday, said the local Port Macquarie News, which reported that Mr Palmer was from East Sussex.

Police Insp Michael Aldridge said that recent surf conditions had been rough.

“From the information that we have received, they were travelling down the east coast, stopping at various locations along the way,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

A British High Commission spokeswoman said: “Our staff are in contact with police in Australia and the UK following reports of a missing British man at Shelly Beach, New South Wales.”

Map

Police said they had contacted French consular officials.

Shelly Beach is a popular surfing and walking site in Port Macquarie, located about 380km (250 miles) north of Sydney.

India-Pakistan crisis: Saudi Arabia aims to de-escalate tensions


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – known as MBS – is on a high-profile tour of Asia

Saudi Arabia has said it will work to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan, ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s arrival in Delhi.

The prince, known as MBS, is on a tour of Asia and has just visited Pakistan.

Hostilities between Delhi and Islamabad flared last week, after a suicide bombing in the India-administered part of Kashmir killed at least 40 paramilitary police.

A Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, said it was behind it.

Pakistan denies any role in the bombing, but India has accused the state of being complicit and vowed to isolate its neighbour internationally.

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but control only parts of it.

Speaking on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the Arab state’s objective was to “try to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, neighbouring countries, and to see if there is a path forward to resolving those differences peacefully”.

Delhi has imposed a swathe of economic measures on Islamabad, including revoking Most Favoured Nation trading status and raising customs duty to 200%.

Indian mourners in Delhi
The attack caused mourning but also anger against Pakistan

$20bn Saudi cash injection

Pakistan is in the midst of a financial crisis, and the crown prince’s visit saw Saudi Arabia pledge much-needed investment deals worth $20bn (£15.5bn).

With only $8bn left in foreign reserves, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been seeking help from friendly countries in order to cut the size of the bailout package his country is likely to need from the International Monetary Fund under very strict conditions.

The country is seeking its 13th bailout since the late 1980s, and Saudi Arabia has already provided a $6bn loan.

Prisoner release deal

After a personal plea to the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia also said it would release some 2,107 Pakistani prisoners in a gesture to foster ties.

The inmates are mostly migrant workers who are jailed with little or no legal recourse – a sensitive issue between Islamabad and Riyadh.

Huge numbers of Pakistani workers labour on construction sites in the Middle East, or work as domestic helpers. The remittances they send back home are vital for Pakistan’s economy.

Islamabad has said it will confer its highest civilian honour, the Order of Pakistan, on Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It comes despite wider international condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered in the kingdom’s Turkish consulate last year.

Saudi Arabia ‘is Pakistan’s friend in need’

Labour warned more MPs ‘thinking hard’ about futures


MPs resign from Labour over Brexit and anti-Semitism

More Labour MPs could quit the party unless it listens to their concerns, Jeremy Corbyn has been warned.

Following the decision of seven Labour MPs to walk out on Monday, colleagues expressed anger with the leadership during a “tense” meeting in Parliament.

Corbyn-critic Ian Austin said others would “think hard” about leaving unless it fixed its anti-Semitism problem.

The BBC has been told two Tory MPs are thinking about joining the ex-Labour MPs’ independent group in Parliament.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said a small number of Conservatives were considering their futures amid unhappiness over the government’s Brexit policy.

Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey quit Labour’s ranks in protest at what they said was a culture of “bullying and bigotry” in the party and frustration over the leadership’s reluctance to back another EU referendum.

The seven are not launching a new political party but have urged other Labour MPs – and members of other parties – to join them in “building a new politics”.

Their departures have provoked a mixed reaction at the top of the party, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell saying they should stand down and allow by-elections in their constituencies.

But deputy leader Tom Watson said the move was a wake-up call for the party. He condemnedthose on the “hard left” who he said were celebrating their exit, saying he “sometimes no longer recognised” the party.

Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray told the BBC he was sticking with Labour but “may change his mind” unless the party responded to concerns about its culture and direction.

Speaking after a Labour meeting in Westminster – addressed by party chairman Ian Lavery – Mr Austin said Labour must act to stop more MPs jumping ship.

Infographic showing ex-Labour Mps, their majority and when they were elected

Mr Austin said Mr Lavery had failed to “demonstrate the leadership” and “understand the scale of the problem we have” with anti-Semitism within its ranks.

“If that is the best the leadership can do, I can see more people taking the same course of action,” he said.

“I think it will result in people thinking long and hard about their position in the party.”

John McDonnell: Resigning MPs have ‘responsibility’ to call by-elections

The BBC’s political correspondent Ben Wright said several MPs thought Mr Lavery had misjudged the mood of the meeting by delivering a tub-thumping speech about being proud of the party.

But he said he did not get a sense that other MPs were poised to join the splinter group.

Party sources said Mr Lavery had insisted Labour must remain a “broad-church” and it was determined to root out the “appalling abuse” that Ms Berger in particular had been subjected to.

Announcing her resignation on Monday, the Liverpool Wavertree MP said Labour had become institutionally anti-Semitic and she was “embarrassed and ashamed” to stay.

Labour MP Jess Phillips, writing in the Daily Telegraph, called on Mr Corbyn to listen to why the MPs had quit and “act on it”, warning that reacting with bitterness could cause the party to “burst apart”.

However, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the Daily Mirror that the resignations were a “distracting and divisive exercise”.


A new political landscape?

Independent Group launch

By BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg

So far they are not a political party, although they say they may evolve into one. So far they have no leader, and no policy programme as such.

They are clearly open to welcoming disgruntled members of the Conservative party too.

Their view is that our whole political system is broken and neither the Tories nor Labour fit for purpose. And it is possible within days that they might be joined by a sprinkling of Tory MPs.

This splintering might, just might – in time – turn into a much bigger redrawing of the landscape.

For now though that is way off. And this is first and foremost about the Labour Party – the seeds of the splinter sown more than three years ago, bearing bitter fruit just when Parliament’s biggest decisions over Brexit are about to be made.

In a founding statement on its website, the group sets out its approach to the economy, public services and security, as well as Brexit.

But the seven MPs rejected comparisons with the SDP which broke away from the Labour Party in the early 1980s but eventually merged with the Liberal Party.

Mr Corbyn said he was “disappointed” the MPs had felt unable to continue working for the policies that “inspired millions” at the 2017 election.

The Labour leader is likely to be pressed on the issue when he makes a speech on Brexit and education on Tuesday – in which he will announce the setting up of a new commission on life-long learning.

Is Derek Hatton rejoining Labour?

Mr Corbyn is also likely to face questions over reports that Derek Hatton – the face of the hard-left Militant Tendency group in the 1980s – has had his application to rejoin the party approved.

Mr Hatton, who was expelled from Labour in 1986, told the BBC that his membership had been approved although Labour said it could not comment on individual applications.

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh told BBC’s Newsnight that this “showed that no-one was listening” to centrist MPs who had fought to ensure Labour was not a “rump of a party” that was not interested in holding power.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is to brief the Cabinet on his latest negotiations with the European Union.

The Department for Exiting the EU said he had a “productive” discussion with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on Monday.

Mexico border wall: US states sue over emergency declaration”:


A coalition of 16 US states led by California is suing President Donald Trump’s administration over his decision to declare an emergency to raise funds for a Mexican border wall.

The lawsuit was filed in the court for the Northern District of California.

It comes days after Mr Trump invoked emergency powers to bypass Congress and secure funding for the project – a key campaign pledge.

Democrats have vowed to contest it “using every remedy available”.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said they were taking President Trump to court “to block his misuse of presidential power”.

“We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the office of the presidency is not a place for theatre,” he added.

The lawsuit filed on Monday seeks a preliminary injunction that would stop Mr Trump acting on his emergency declaration while a legal battle takes place in the courts, the Washington Post reported.

Trump: ‘I’ve signed the order – now we’ll be sued’

Mr Trump announced the plan after Congress refused funding for the wall.

The first legal challenge followed swiftly on Friday. A liberal advocacy group, Public Citizen, sued on behalf of a nature reserve and three Texas landowners who have been told the wall may be constructed on their properties.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California dismissed the president’s decision as “political theatre” while New York state’s Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, promised to “fight back with every legal tool at our disposal”.

Joining California in the lawsuit were Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Michigan.

The states argue that President Trump’s order to divert funds to pay for the wall would cost them millions of dollars, damaging their economies.

How did Mr Trump declare the emergency?

Making the announcement in the White House Rose Garden on Friday, the president said the emergency would allow him to get almost $8bn for the wall.

This is still considerably short of the estimated $23bn cost of the wall along almost 2,000 miles (3,200km) of border.

Mr Trump accepted that he would be sued for the move, and predicted that the emergency order would lead to legal action which was likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

Senator McConnell supports the president; Speaker Pelosi warns it sets a dangerous precedent

“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border,” he said.

“Everyone knows that walls work.”

However, the president also said that he did not need to declare the emergency but did so in the hope of obtaining the funds for the wall more quickly, but analysts say these comments could undermine his legal arguments.

What is a national emergency?

The National Emergencies Act is intended for times of national crisis. Mr Trump has claimed that there is a migration crisis at the nation’s southern border – a claim strongly refuted by migration experts.

The largest number of illegal migrants settling in the US each year is those who stay in the country after their visas expire.

Declaring a national emergency would give the president access to special powers that effectively allow him to bypass the usual political process, and he would be able to divert money from existing military or disaster relief budgets to pay for the wall.

Chart: There are 31 ongoing national emergencies

Emergency declarations by previous presidents have been overwhelmingly used for addressing foreign policy crises – including blocking terrorism-linked entities from accessing funds or prohibiting investment in nations associated with human rights abuses.

George Mendonsa, US WWII ‘kissing sailor’, dies aged 95


The photograph has appeared in exhibitions around the world

The US sailor famously photographed kissing a stranger in New York’s Times Square to celebrate the end of World War Two has died aged 95.

The picture of George Mendonsa bending over and kissing 21-year-old Greta Zimmer Friedman on VJ Day (Victory over Japan) became one of the most enduring images of the period.

It was one of four photographs taken by Alfred Eisenstadt as a round-up of celebration pictures for Life magazine.

Ms Friedman died in 2016 aged 92.

Mr Mendonsa’s daughter, Sharon Molleur, said her father suffered a seizure and died on Sunday after a fall at a care home in Middletown, Rhode Island.

Alfred Eisenstadt did not give the names of the kissing strangers and it was years before Mr Mendonsa and Ms Friedman were confirmed as the featured couple.

The photographer described how he watched the sailor running along the street on 14 August 1945, grabbing any girl in sight.

“I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me,” he wrote in the book Eisenstadt on Eisenstadt.

“Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture.”

Ms Friedman, who had been working as a dental assistant, said she had not been aware of the photo until the 1960s.

“It wasn’t much of a kiss,” she later recalled. “It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.”

Mr Mendonsa had served in the Pacific and was on home leave when the picture was taken.

However, not everyone sees the photograph as something to celebrate. Although it was widely lauded as an expression of the joy felt across the US on the day Japan surrendered, in more recent times some have considered it, as Time Magazine wrote, “as little more than the documentation of a very public sexual assault”.

The US cannot crush us, says Huawei founder


Ren Zhengfei described the arrest of his daughter as politically motivated.

The founder of Huawei has said there is “no way the US can crush” the company, in an exclusive interview with the BBC.

Ren Zhengfei described the arrest of his daughter Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, as politically motivated.

The US is pursuing criminal charges against Huawei and Ms Meng, including money laundering, bank fraud and stealing trade secrets.

Huawei denies any wrongdoing.

In his first international broadcast interview since Ms Meng was arrested, Mr Ren dismissed the pressure from the US.

“There’s no way the US can crush us,” he said. “The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced. Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit.”

However, he acknowledged that the potential loss of custom could have a significant impact.

“Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always downsize and become smaller,” he added.

What else did Mr Ren say about the US?

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the country’s allies against using Huawei technology, saying it would make it more difficult for Washington to “partner alongside them”.

Australia, New Zealand, and the US have already banned or blocked Huawei from supplying equipment for their future 5G mobile broadband networks, while Canada is reviewing whether the company’s products present a serious security threat.

Mr Ren warned that “the world cannot leave us because we are more advanced”.

“If the lights go out in the West, the East will still shine. And if the North goes dark, there is still the South. America doesn’t represent the world. America only represents a portion of the world.”

What did Mr Ren say about investment in the UK?

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has decided that any risk posed by using Huawei technology in UK telecoms projects can be managed.

Many of UK’s mobile companies, including Vodafone, EE and Three, are working with Huawei to develop their 5G networks.

They are awaiting on a government review, due in March or April, that will decide whether they can use Huawei technology.

Commenting on the possibility of a UK ban, Mr Ren said Huawei “won’t withdraw our investment because of this. We will continue to invest in the UK.”

“We still trust in the UK, and we hope that the UK will trust us even more.”

“We will invest even more in the UK. Because if the US doesn’t trust us, then we will shift our investment from the US to the UK on an even bigger scale.”

Huawei in numbers
Presentational white space

What does Mr Ren think about his daughter’s arrest?

Mr Ren’s daughter Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, was arrested on 1 December in Vancouver at the request of the US, and is expected to be subject of a formal extradition request.

In total, 23 charges are levelled against Huawei and Ms Weng The charges are split across two indictments by the US Department of Justice.

The first covers claims Huawei hid business links to Iran – a country subject to US trade sanctions, while the second includes the charge of attempted theft of trade secrets.

Mr Ren was clear in his opposition to the US accusations.

“Firstly, I object to what the US has done. This kind of politically motivated act is not acceptable.”

“The US likes to sanction others, whenever there’s an issue, they’ll use such combative methods.”

“We object to this. But now that we’ve gone down this path, we’ll let the courts settle it.”

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd"s chief financial officer (CFO), is seen in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters December 6, 2018.
Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver last December

What did Mr Ren say about Chinese government spying?

Huawei, which is China’s largest private company, has been under scrutiny for its links to the Chinese government – with the US and others expressing concern its technology could be used by China’s security services to spy.

Under Chinese law, firms are compelled to “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work”.

But Mr Ren said that allowing spying is a risk he wouldn’t take.

“The Chinese government has already clearly said that it won’t install any backdoors. And we won’t install backdoors either.”

“We’re not going to risk the disgust of our country and of our customers all over the world, because of something like this.”

“Our company will never undertake any spying activities. If we have any such actions, then I’ll shut the company down.”

Presentational grey line

Is Huawei part of the Chinese state?

Analysis – Karishma Vaswami, BBC Asia Business Correspondent

For a man known as reclusive and secretive, Ren Zhengfei seemed confident, almost cocky in the conviction that the business he’s built for the last 30 years can withstand the scrutiny from Western governments.

Mr Ren is right, the US makes up only a fraction of his overall business.

But where I saw that confidence slip, was when I asked him about his links to the Chinese military and the government.

He refused to be drawn into a conversation, only to saying that these were not facts, simply allegations.

Still, some signs of close links between Mr Ren and the government were revealed during the course of our interview.

He confirmed to me that his daughter Meng Wanzhou was carrying a passport usually issued to China’s government employees when she was arrested in Canada.

But he explained that this was an old expired passport of Meng’s and not because his family curried special favour with the government.

He also confirmed that there is a Communist Party committee in Huawei, but he said this is what all companies – foreign or domestic – operating in China must have in order to abide by the law.

Anthony Weiner leaves prison for halfway house in Brooklyn


Anthony Weiner was sentenced to 21 months in jail in September 2017

Ex-New York congressman Anthony Weiner has been released from federal prison after serving about 15 months for sending explicit messages to a minor.

Weiner has been transferred to a halfway house in Brooklyn where he will remain under supervision for the rest of his sentence, prison records show.

The 54-year-old was sentenced to 21 months in jail in September 2017.

He had pleaded guilty to exchanging sexually explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl from North Carolina.

Weiner, who is scheduled to be released on 14 May, was once a rising Democratic star.

He quit Congress in 2011 after a graphic image sent from his Twitter account went public, and was again exposed in his 2013 run for New York mayor.

In September 2016, the FBI began investigating Weiner after the Daily Mail reported that he had exchanged obscene messages with an underage girl, who said he had asked her to undress on camera.

In May the following year, Weiner’s ex-wife

Huma Abedin, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, filed for divorce on the same day that her then husband pleaded guilty

to the explicit exchanges.

The investigation into Weiner’s sexting case played a role in the 2016 US presidential election, when authorities found emails on his laptop from Ms Abedin.

A separate FBI investigation into Mrs Clinton’s private use of email while she was secretary of state was closed after officials said nothing incriminating was found.

Are the super-rich ruining Burning Man?


Part of Black Rock City, the temporary settlement in the Nevada desert where Burning Man takes place

For many, Burning Man conjures up images of dust-covered attendees, known as “burners”, dancing in the desert cut off from society.

The annual arts and cultural gathering in the Black Rock desert in Nevada prides itself on “radical inclusion”, “self-reliance” and providing a space for counter-cultural expression.

However, grumblings of discontent have been growing in the burner community for a number of years.

The increase in so-called “turnkey” or “plug-and-play” camps offering luxury and glamour for the super-rich or Insta-famous has become a source of tension at Black Rock City.

Some see these camps as fundamentally opposed to the basic tenets of Burning Man.

The lack of effort required by attendees staying in turnkey camps riles many. Burners can spend months preparing to head to the desert, collecting supplies and crafting outfits and art projects.

Attendees of Burning Man in 2003
A group of women at Burning Man in 2003, before the growth of turnkey camps

In the wake of the disastrous Fyre Festival, the notion of exclusive Instagram-friendly festivals is in the spotlight and Burning Man has decided to take action.

Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell has taken the unprecedented step of withdrawing invitations to one turnkey camp – “Humano the Tribe” – and warning dozens of others.

In 2018, the most expensive accommodation at the Humano camp, the Moon Village, cost up to $100,000 according to Mashable and included two bedrooms and “super-powerful AC”.

A quick search of #HumanoTheTribe on Instagram shows hundreds of posts by models and social media influencers, many tagging brands they are collaborating with.

In a blog post, Ms Goodell wrote that she was “stunned” by the growing “commodification and exploitation of Black Rock City and Burning Man culture”.

“Whether it’s commercial photo shoots, product placements, or Instagram posts thanking ‘friends’ for a useful item, attendees including fashion models and social media ‘influencers’ are wearing and tagging brands in their playa photos. This means they are using Black Rock City to increase their popularity; to appeal to customers and sell more stuff.”

Screen shot of a brand using Burning Man to advertise on Instagram
Burning Man are trying to fight the “commodification” of the event

“Black Rock City requires significant investments of time, energy, and resourcefulness,” Ms Goodell wrote. “Part of what makes Burning Man unique and powerful is that everyone has to work hard to be there.”

Ms Goodell’s blog post also set out changes to the ticketing process, intended to prioritise those who contribute to the event.

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Burning Man’s 10 principles

  • Radical inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical self-reliance
  • Radical self-expression
  • Communal effort
  • Civic responsibility
  • Leaving no trace
  • Participation
  • Immediacy
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Greg Reynoso, 29, has been attending Burning Man for almost a decade. In 2018 his camp, which was in the same neighbourhood as Humano, decided to move.

“The Humano camp was like a black hole of negativity,” Greg told the BBC. “They would ride past on their Segways with their phones and wearing more money than I’ll ever make. Not a single person was interested in saying hello or actually taking part.”

Greg also said that the Humano campers were bad neighbours in other ways. “Placement – the process of designating plots – set strict boundaries for camps. Humano put their generators and containers on another camp’s plot. That’s a really big no no, but they didn’t move it. It was astounding to me.”

Reflecting on the statement made by Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell, Greg describes his response as “measured positivity”.

“While Humano was one of the most egregious offenders for flexing their money and having a wanton disregard for the event, they are by no means the only turnkey camps,” Greg says.

Four people riding bikes at Burning Man
Greg (R) with some of his campmates in 2017

“To see Marian say she was “stunned” by some of the examples people had, made it feel like she hasn’t attended for years. Everyone knows what’s been happening.”

Greg says an important part of Burning Man is the level of preparation it takes.

“I have a Word document with all the projects I am working on for this year, and I spend the majority of my free time working on them.”

Debate has raged online and at the event for years over the influx of turnkey camps and many on social media seemed to agreed with Greg’s conclusions.

On Reddit, some welcomed the announcement as “good news” and hoped it would act as a “warning shot” to other camps.

Others were more sceptical. One user wrote: “This kind of top-down social engineering doesn’t really work. The nature of the festival reflects the general culture of the US and world.”

Another suggested that the organisers “let things get this far because it made them money and fame and didn’t affect the brand too much… the brand has suffered and this is an attempt at repair”.

Another questioned if action would be taken against “the companies carting models out there for commercial photo shoots”.

“Arguably the biggest loss is the freedom people feel on playa to express themselves,” one user wrote lamenting the increase in photography at the event. “As cameras are becoming so common it makes a lot of burners wary.”

The BBC has contacted Humano the Tribe for comment.

Are the super-rich ruining Burning Man?
Burning Man: Hedonistic festival's unlikely relocation
Burning Man: Hedonistic festival’s unlikely relocation

Honda set to close Swindon car plant


Japanese carmaker Honda is set to announce the closure of its Swindon plant in 2022, putting 3,500 jobs at risk, sources say.

The Japanese carmaker will shut the plant in 2022 but retain its European headquarters in Bracknell, Berkshire.

Sources say Honda will make an announcement on the future of the company on Tuesday morning.

Honda declined to comment on the claims, first reported by Sky News. The government also declined to comment.

Honda produces more than 100,000 Civic cars in Swindon for the global market. It is the firm’s only factory in the EU.

Brexit fears

According to Sky, Honda was likely to relocate the facility to its home market of Japan.

Brexit is understood to be a factor in the decision, with the carmaker concerned about the imposition of new tariffs after the UK leaves the EU.

Rival Japanese carmaker Nissan also cited Brexit as one reason for cancelling plans to build its X-Trail SUV in Sunderland earlier this month.

Ford and Jaguar Land Rover have also expressed concern about the risk of a potential no-deal Brexit.

Last month, Honda has said it would shut down the factory for six days in April as part of its preparations for any disruption caused post-Brexit.

The company said the move was to ensure it could adjust to “all possible outcomes caused by logistics and border issues”.

The firm said it would help in recovering lost production if shipments of parts were held up at borders.

Last year, the senior vice-president of Honda Europe warned that if the UK left the EU without a deal, it would cost his company tens of millions of pounds.

Ian Howells told the BBC that quitting the bloc without an agreement would affect the carmaker’s competitiveness in Europe.

He said the Japanese firm was preparing for a no-deal outcome, but had not discussed relocating its Swindon plant.

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A history of Honda Swindon

Honda UK is situated on a former airfield spanning 370 acres to the north east of Swindon.

The carmaker bought the site in 1985 and established Honda of the UK Manufacturing to inspect vehicles pre-delivery.

In 1989, the operations expanded to producing engines. Three years later, a car plant was added, which began producing the Honda Accord.

Since then, the site has gone on to produce the Jazz, CR-V, Civic and Type R.

A second Honda car plant opened in Swindon in 2001, raising production capacity to 250,000 a year.

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Are you an employee at the Honda car plant in Swindon? Tell us about your experiences by emailing  BBCNEWS.CO.UK@bbcnewslight.co.uk ) or mrbenrory@europe.com )

50 Cent: Claims police told to ‘shoot’ rapper investigated”:


Police in New York are investigating claims a senior officer told members of his team to “shoot” the rapper 50 Cent.

It’s alleged Deputy Inspector Emanuel Gonzalez made the remark in June last year at a police roll-call for a boxing match which the star was due to attend.

50 Cent said on Sunday he was taking the threat “very seriously” and was consulting with his lawyers.

The New York Police Department told Radio 1 Newsbeat the matter “is under internal review”.

The New York Daily News reported that Deputy Inspector Gonzalez told his officers to shoot the rapper “on sight” but later tried to pass it off as a joke.

It’s claimed at least one other person at the event reported the comment to the NYPD internal affairs department.

One month before, Dect Insp Gonzalez reportedly filed an aggravated harassment complaint against 50 Cent.

He said the rapper had threatened him on Instagram – in response to claims that Dect Insp Gonzalez had unfairly investigated one of 50 Cent’s favourite nightclubs.

50 mocked the complaint in posts online, suggesting the police get “back to fighting crime”.

Writing on social media following news of the internal NYPD investigation into Dect Insp Gonzalez, 50 Cent said he was concerned that he was “not previously advised of this threat by the NYPD”.

He described Dept Insp Gonzalez as a “gangster with a badge” but told his Twitter followers: “Keep in mind there are some good people working in law enforcement.

“Like the officers that reported what he said to them.”

Graham vows probe after McCabe interview on Trump”:


McCabe: ‘There were concerns about Trump’s intent’

The chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee has vowed to investigate allegations that top FBI and justice department officials discussed ways to remove President Trump from office.

Senator Lindsey Graham said the claims were an “attempted bureaucratic coup”.

Ex-acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had talks in 2017 about a constitutional clause that allows the removal of a president if deemed unfit.

Mr Rosenstein has previously denied it.

The pledge by Mr Graham, a Republican who has become one of the president’s biggest defenders, comes after Mr McCabe appeared on US broadcaster CBS saying Mr Rosenstein discussed the numbers needed to invoke the clause, known as the 25th Amendment to the US constitution.

In the 60 Minutes interview aired on Sunday, Mr McCabe also said that:

  • The FBI “had reason to investigate” the president’s links with Russia, based on Mr Trump’s actions
  • Mr Rosenstein had been “absolutely serious” when he discussed secretly wearing a wire to record Mr Trump
  • Mr Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him North Korea did not have the capability to hit the US with ballistic missiles – and, when US intelligence officials contradicted this assessment, responded with: “I don’t care. I believe Putin”

The White House said Mr McCabe, who was fired last year for allegedly lying to government investigators had “no credibility”.

President Trump has posted several tweets on Monday morning in response to the interview, and what he described as “many lies” by the “now disgraced” Mr McCabe.

He also said that it looked like him and Mr Rosenstein were attempting to carry out a “very illegal act” and a “coup attempt” against his leadership.

What are the 25th Amendment claims?

The allegations that Mr Rosenstein discussed invoking the amendment were first reported last year by the New York Times, which cited anonymous sources.

However, Mr McCabe’s quotes are the first to be made on the record from someone present at the meeting where the alleged comments were reportedly made – in May 2017, after Mr Trump fired FBI director James Comey, according to Mr McCabe.

“The discussion of the 25th Amendment was simply [that] Rod raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort,” he said.

Mr McCabe also said Mr Rosenstein was openly “counting votes, or possible votes” and that he was “very concerned” about the president “his capacity and about his intent at that point in time.”

To be fair, it was an unbelievably stressful time… it was really something that he kind of threw out in a very frenzied chaotic conversation about where we were and what we needed to do next.”

Mr Rosenstein has previously strongly denied having such discussions saying there was “no basis” to invoking the amendment.

AFP

Senator Lindsey Graham said he was “stunned” by the latest comments by Andrew McCabe

Reacting to the interview, Senator Graham described it as “stunning” and pledged to hold a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine “who’s telling the truth” and that he could issue subpoenas – a court order forcing a witness to appear to give testimony – “if that’s what it takes”.

The powerful committee he chairs oversees the US judiciary.

“I think everybody in the country needs to know if it happened. I’m going to do everything I can to get to the bottom of Department of Justice [and] FBI behaviour toward President Trump and his campaign,” he told CBS.

What is the 25th Amendment?

It provides for the removal of a president if he is deemed unfit for office. Duties are transferred to the vice-president.

The 25th Amendment: Could it be used to unseat Trump?

Activating the relevant section of the 25th Amendment would require the approval of eight of the 15 members of Mr Trump’s cabinet, the vice-president and two-thirds majorities in Congress.

Ronald Reagan and George W Bush used the amendment to temporarily transfer power when they were medically anaesthetised.

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What is the claim about secret recordings?

Mr Rosenstein is also alleged to have offered to secretly record Mr Trump, amid concerns about possible obstruction of justice relating to the investigation into alleged collusion between the president’s campaign team and Russia.

When the allegations first emerged in the New York Times, Mr Rosenstein said the report was “inaccurate and factually incorrect”.

A source told the BBC at the time that Mr Rosenstein’s comment “was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president”.

However, Mr McCabe said that Mr Rosenstein “was not joking. He was absolutely serious”.

“It was incredibly turbulent, incredibly stressful. And it was clear to me that that stress was – was impacting the deputy attorney general.

“We talked about why the president had insisted on firing [Mr Comey] and whether or not he was thinking about the Russia investigation. And in the context of that conversation, the deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House.

“I never actually considered taking him up on the offer,” he added.

What did McCabe say about the Russia inquiry?

Mr McCabe said the FBI was right to investigate Mr Trump’s ties to Russia.

When Mr Trump had told journalists and Russian diplomats that the Russia inquiry was among the reasons he had fired Mr Comey, his comments indicated that “a crime may have been committed”, he said.

EPA

Mr Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the White House in May 2017

Mr McCabe said he was “very concerned” about the Russia case, and wanted to ensure that “were I removed quickly and reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace”.

What has the response been?

The justice department says Mr McCabe’s account is “inaccurate and factually incorrect”.

It also denied Mr Rosenstein authorised any recording or considered invoking the Amendment.

Meanwhile, the White House said: “Andrew McCabe was fired in disgrace from the FBI for lying, and he opened a completely baseless investigation into the president – everyone knows he has no credibility.”

Mr McCabe, who took over the FBI in 2017, was himself fired as deputy director in March last year just two days before he was due to retire.

He was sacked by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said an internal review found he leaked information and misled investigators.

Mr McCabe denied the claims and said he was being targeted because of his involvement in the inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

He has now written a book on his time in the post.

Yemen war: Parties agree Hudaydah port withdrawal plan


Hudaydah is a lifeline port for millions on the brink of famine

Yemen’s government and the rebel Houthi movement have agreed on the first phase of a withdrawal of forces around the key port of Hudaydah, the UN says.

A statement said the two sides had made “important progress on planning for the redeployment” following two days of talks, but no start date was given.

The pull-out is a critical part of a ceasefire agreed in Sweden in December.

Hudaydah is the principal lifeline for two-thirds of Yemen’s population, which is on the brink of famine.

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

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

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

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

Under a deal brokered by the UN two months ago the warring parties agreed to withdraw from Hudaydah city and the ports of Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa, through which up to 80% of Yemen’s aid, fuel and commercial goods are delivered.

The first phase of the redeployment – from the ports and parts of Hudaydah city associated with humanitarian facilities – was meant to take place within two weeks.

But that deadline was missed amid disagreements over who would control the vacated locations and hundreds of alleged ceasefire violations.

Representatives of the government and Houthis attended talks over the weekend led by Lt Gen Michael Lollesgaard of Denmark, the head of the UN observer mission and chairman of the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee (RCC).

“After lengthy but constructive discussions facilitated by the RCC Chair, the parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” the UN said in a statement on Sunday night.

Gen Michael Lollesgaard meets Houthi-appointed officials in Hudaydah (13 February 2019)
AFP

Gen Michael Lollesgaard chaired the talks between Houthi and government representatives

“The parties also agreed, in principle, on Phase 2 of the mutual redeployment, pending additional consultations within their respective leadership,” it added.

The second phase should see all remaining forces withdrawn from the region.

Last week, the UN appealed to both sides to give it access to a vast store of grain in Hudaydah port that holds enough food to feed 3.7 million people for a month.

Aid workers have not been able to reach the stores for five months, and the UN said the grain was now “at risk of rotting”.

Map showing control in Yemen

Huawei risk can be managed, say UK cyber-security chiefs


Huawei has said it is independent and gives nothing to Beijing, aside from taxes

Any risk posed by involving the Chinese technology giant Huawei in UK telecoms projects can be managed, cyber-security chiefs have determined.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre’s decision undermines US efforts to persuade its allies to ban the firm from 5G communications networks.

The Chinese government is accused of using Huawei as a proxy so it can spy on rival nations.

But Huawei has said it gives nothing to Beijing, aside from taxes.

Australia, New Zealand, and the US have already banned Huawei from supplying equipment for their future fifth generation mobile broadband networks, while Canada is reviewing whether the company’s products present a serious security threat.

Most of the UK’s mobile companies – Vodafone, EE and Three – have been working with Huawei on developing their 5G networks.

They are awaiting on a government review, due in March or April, that will decide whether they can use Huawei technology.

Huawei in numbers

As first reported by the Financial Times, the conclusion by the National Cyber Security Centre – part of the intelligence agency GCHQ – will feed into the review.

The decision has not yet been made public, but the security agency said in a statement it had “a unique oversight and understanding of Huawei engineering and cyber security”.

Huawei booth
GETTY IMAGES

Huawei has denied that it poses any risk to the UK or any other country

BBC business correspondent Rob Young said the National Cyber Security Centre’s conclusion “will carry weight”, but said the review could still rule against Huawei.

In an interview, Huawei’s cyber security chief John Suffolk told the BBC: “We are probably the most open and transparent organisation in the world. We are probably the most poked and prodded organisation too.”

The former UK chief information officer added: “We don’t say ‘believe us’ we say ‘come and check for yourself’, come and do your own testing and come and do your own verification.

“The more people looking, the more people touching, they can provide their own assurance without listening to what Huawei has to say.”

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Analysis

Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

If anybody knows just how Huawei works and the threat it might pose to the UK’s security, it is the National Cyber Security Centre.

This arm of GCHQ has been in charge of an annual examination of the Chinese telecoms giant’s equipment, and expressed concerns in its most recent report – not about secret backdoors, but sloppy cyber-security practices.

The NCSC has also been giving advice to UK mobile operators as they order the equipment for the rollout of their 5G networks later this year.

They feel they have been given the same cautious nod the agency appears to have given the government’s Supply Chain Review: keep Huawei out of the core of your 5G networks, but you are OK to use its equipment at phone masts as part of the mix of suppliers.

Australia and New Zealand have taken a very different view by taking a far harder line against Huawei.

That isn’t because they know something about the Chinese firm which the NCSC has missed.

Their decisions were probably based on an assessment of the political as well as security risk of ignoring the urging from the US to shut Huawei out.

And whatever the NCSC’s advice, similar factors will determine the UK government’s final decision.

Presentational grey line

A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which is leading the review into the future of the telecoms industry, said its analysis was “ongoing”.

“No decisions have been taken and any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate,” they said in a statement.

Asked whether the findings changed her country’s stance towards Huawei, the prime minister of New Zealand – which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network that includes the UK – said her government would conduct its own assessment.

Jacinda Ardern told reporters: “It is fair to say Five Eyes, of course, share information, but we make our own independent decisions.”

Last year, BT confirmed that it was removing Huawei’s equipment from the EE core network that it owns.

The network provides a communication system being developed for the UK’s emergency services.

Fifth-generation mobile broadband is coming to the UK over the next year or so, promising download and browsing speeds 10 to 20 times faster than those 4G networks can offer.

Will superfast 5G mobile be worth the money?

The US argues Huawei could use malign software updates to spy on those using 5G.

It points to China’s National Intelligence Law passed in 2017 that says organisations must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work”.

Critics of Huawei also highlight that its founder Ren Zhengfei was a former engineer in the country’s army and joined the Communist Party in 1978.

Huawei recently attracted attention when its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested and accused of breaking American sanctions on Iran.

Australian political parties hit by ‘state actor’ hack, PM says”:


Australia’s parliament was the subject of an attempted hack

Australia’s main political parties and parliament were hit by a “malicious intrusion” on their computer networks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The cyber-attack revealed two weeks ago was carried out by a “sophisticated state actor”, he said.

But he added there was “no evidence of any electoral interference”. The nation will hold an election within months.

The attack being investigated was at first thought to involve only the parliament’s servers.

“During the course of this work, we also became aware that the networks of some political parties – Liberal, Labor and Nationals – have also been affected,” Mr Morrison told the House of Representatives on Monday.

Who might have been behind it?

The Australian prime minister did not say which foreign state was under suspicion, adding he would not provide additional detail on “operational matters”.

The Australian government has faced a number of cyber-attacks in recent years, some of which have been attributed in local media to nations such as China.

Fergus Hanson, cyber security expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, put China “at the top” of the list of suspects but said he “wouldn’t rule out” Russia also being responsible.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the accusations were “groundless” and “made up out of thin air with ulterior motives”.

He urged media organisations to “stop the words and actions” that can harm “China’s bilateral relations with relevant countries”.

How extensive was the hack?

The Australian Cyber Security Centre said that although party systems had been compromised, it was not yet known if information had been stolen.

Mr Morrison, who leads the Liberal-National coalition, said: “We have put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system.”

He added that security officials had briefed the nation’s electoral bodies and would provide support to all political parties.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the cyber-attack was “of grave concern” following instances of “malicious activity” in other nations.

“We cannot be complacent and, as this most recent activity reported by the prime minister indicates, we are not exempt or immune,” he said.

In 2015 and 2016, there were high-profile attacks on the government’s weather and statistics agencies. In 2011, senior Australian ministers also had their email systems breached.

After the attack on the parliament’s computer network, officials said there was “no evidence” that information had been accessed or stolen.

However, politicians’ passwords had been reset as a precaution.

YouTube aids flat earth conspiracy theorists, research suggests


The belief that the Earth is flat has gained ground among many conspiracy theorists

YouTube is playing a significant role in convincing some people that the Earth is flat, research suggests.

A study quizzed people at flat earth conferences and found most cited videos viewed on the site as a key influence.

They were won over by videos which claimed to amass evidence proving the Earth was not a spherical planet.

YouTube needed to do a better job of ensuring visitors get accurate information alongside such videos, said the researcher behind the study.

“There’s a lot of helpful information on YouTube but also a lot of misinformation,” Prof Asheley Landrum from Texas Tech University, who carried out the study, told The Guardian.

The algorithms the site used to guide people to topics they might be interested in made it easy to “end up down the rabbit hole” of misinformation, said Prof Landrum.

“Believing the Earth is flat is of itself is not necessarily harmful, but it comes packaged with a distrust in institutions and authority more generally,” she added.

The study involved interviews with 30 attendees at two conferences.

Questioning revealed YouTube had suggested the flat earth videos after attendees had watched other clips at home about conspiracy theories.

Some said they only watched the videos to criticise them but were won over by the arguments being advanced. The results from Prof Landrum’s study were presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science this weekend.

Prof Landrum said there was a need for scientists and science advocates to produce their own YouTube videos that answered and debunked the claims of flat earthers and conspiracy theorists.

“The only tool we have to battle misinformation is to try and overwhelm it with better information,” said Prof Landrum.

Holocaust: Israel summit falls apart in Netanyahu ‘racism’ row


Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (L) met Mr Netanyahu in Warsaw this month

A summit of central European leaders in Israel has been cancelled because of an Israel-Poland row over the Holocaust.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said there would just be bilateral talks in Jerusalem and Poland is staying away.

Poland withdrew after a suggestion by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Poles had been complicit in the Holocaust.

Those comments were “racist and unacceptable”, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews, mostly in Poland.

Israel later clarified that Mr Netanyahu had been referring to “Poles” but not to the Polish nation.

He had been quoted in Israeli media as saying “Poles co-operated with the Germans” during the Holocaust.

The meeting hosted by Israel was meant to bring together the four-nation Visegrad Group: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

In Poland’s absence, the three remaining prime ministers will still visit Israel for talks, the Israeli foreign ministry said.

“It will not be called Visegrad, because this entails the presence of all four,” an Israeli spokesperson said. “It’s going to be a summit with Visegrad members.”

On Sunday Mr Morawiecki pulled out, saying Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz would go instead, but on Monday Poland pulled out of the summit completely.

The Polish government says cancellation of the visit is “an unequivocal signal to other governments and international opinion that historical truth is fundamental”.

About six million Polish citizens died in World War Two, of whom about three million were Jews.

The Nazis built many of their most notorious death camps in Poland after occupying the country at the beginning of the war in 1939.

Venezuela crisis: the view from Yare:


Humanitarian aid meant for Venezuelans has been arriving in US military planes on the Colombian border. President Nicolas Maduro denies there’s a humanitarian crisis, saying the relief is a cover for a US invasion — and his troops will not let it through. But Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido has called for crowds to converge on the border to collect the aid. The BBC’s International correspondent Orla Guerin reports from Yare where the lack of food and medicines are claiming lives.

Yellow-vest protests: Macron condemns anti-Semitic abuse”:


Tens of thousands took part in anti-government protests on Saturday

French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned anti-Semitic abuse directed at a prominent intellectual by a group of “yellow vest” protesters in Paris.

Police stepped in to protect the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut after he was bombarded with insults and anti-Jewish taunts in the French capital.

President Macron said it was an “absolute negation” of what made France great and would not be tolerated.

Tens of thousands took part in anti-government protests on Saturday.

Prosecutors have now opened an investigation into the incident, and France’s interior minister said on Sunday that a suspect alleged to be the “main perpetrator” had been identified by the authorities.

Police used tear gas to control crowds as the so-called “yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) demonstrators took to the streets for the 14th consecutive weekend across the country. About 5,000 turned out in Paris, officials said.

What happened on Saturday?

Officers in Paris intervened to form a barrier after a group of individuals involved in the march confronted Mr Finkielkraut and started verbally insulting him.

The 69-year-old Jewish academic told Le Parisien newspaper that he heard people shouting “dirty Zionist” and “throw yourself in the canal”.

French writer and philosopher Alain Finkielkraut poses for a photograph at his home in Paris, 16 June 2015
GETTY IMAGES

Alain Finkielkraut said he was relieved when the police intervened

He told newspaper Journal du Dimanche he felt an “absolute hate” directed at him, and would have been afraid for his safety if the police were not there, although he stressed that not all of the protesters were aggressive.

Mr Finkielkraut, the son of Polish immigrants, has previously expressed sympathy for the protesters, but also voiced criticism of the movement.

He said that President Macron had spoken with him by telephone on Saturday to offer his support.

The incident comes after Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned that anti-Semitism was “spreading like poison” in the country, with a series of anti-Jewish incidents reported in central Paris last weekend.

These included post boxes featuring a holocaust survivor’s portrait being vandalised with swastikas.

Jewish groups have also been warning of a rise in the far-right promoting anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities across Europe.

Crime data from Germany released last week revealed that anti-Semitic offences had increased by 10% over the last year – including a 60% rise in physical attacks.

Who are the “yellow vest” protesters?

The protests began in mid-November over fuel taxes.

They have since broadened into a revolt against President Macron, and a political class seen as out of touch with common people.

Media captionFrance fuel protests: Who are the people in the yellow vests?

The protests have often turned violent, causing damage – including to some of Paris’ most famous monuments.

Critics have also accused the police of using disproportionate force.

The number of protesters taking to French streets has been gradually falling – but tens of thousands are still turning out weekly to demonstrate across France.

France’s interior ministry said a total of 41,500 people took part in protests across the country on Saturday, including some 5,000 people in Paris, although the organisers of the march said many more attended.

“We are 15,000 [in Paris], that means the movement is increasing,” demonstrator Jerome Rodrigues told AFP news agency.

Jussie Smollett had no role in own attack, lawyers say


Jussie Smollett’s lawyers said the actor felt “victimised” by reports he was involved

Lawyers for the US actor Jussie Smollett have denied he had any role in an assault last month he alleges was carried out by two white men.

Their statement came after sources told US media that police believed he may have paid two Nigerian brothers to stage the attack on 29 January.

The brothers, who worked as extras on Empire, the show Smollett starred in, have been questioned by Chicago police.

Police have only said the “trajectory of the investigation” has shifted.

What have Smollett’s lawyers said?

“Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” a statement from lawyers Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said.

“He has now been further victimised by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”

One of the brothers is Smollett’s personal trainer, and the lawyers said it was “impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity”.

And the police?

They had questioned the two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, last week but the pair were released on Friday and are said to be still co-operating with the investigation.

The brothers had left the US after the alleged attack and were arrested on their return last Wednesday.

Images of two "people of interest" released by Chicago Police investigating the Jussie Smollett case
CHICAGO POLICE

Chicago police released this CCTV image of two “people of interest” in the case

Police sources told US media the pair had bought rope used in the attack at a nearby hardware store.

Police searching their flat found ropes, masks and bleach, CBS reported.

On Saturday, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said: “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation.

“We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”

Ola and Abel Osundairo have both appeared as extras on Empire, a drama about a hip-hop mogul and his family. In this Instagram post, Ola Osundairo (R) is seen alongside Empire creator Lee Daniels (C).

What has Smollett himself said about the alleged attack?

He said two white men hurled racial and homophobic insults as they punched him, poured a chemical substance over him and put a rope around his neck.

“This is Maga country,” he says they told him, referring to President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan.

The actor said he had been “forever changed” by the incident.

Jussie Smollett had no role in own attack, lawyers say
Attacked actor “has tasted brutality of hatred”

Lee Radziwill: Jackie Kennedy’s sister dies aged 85


Radziwill, seen here in 2004, was a friend to artistic celebrities and fashion moguls

Lee Radziwill, the socialite and younger sister of former US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, has died at the age of 85, US media report.

Radziwill, who became a fashion icon and counted Andy Warhol and Truman Capote among her friends, died at her home in New York on Friday.

She had careers in acting, writing, and interior design, and was married three times – including to a Polish prince.

Her daughter told the New York Times she had died of natural causes.

Born Caroline Lee Bouvier in 1933, Radziwill later became a friend to numerous artistic celebrities and fashion moguls and was frequently included on international best-dressed lists.

SUSAN WOOD/GETTY IMAGES

Radziwill, who worked for a period as an interior designer, seen here in her dining room in 1976

Radziwill’s first husband was Michael Canfield, son of the president of the Harper & Brothers publishing house.

She later took the last name of her second husband, Polish Prince Stanislas Radziwill. The couple had two children.

Her third marriage was to Herbert Ross, director of the iconic films Footloose and Steel Magnolias.

Radziwill was said to be close to her sister Jacqueline, who died in 1994, although there were also US media reports of sibling rivalry.

In an interview with the New York Times in 2013, Radziwill said she felt “lucky that there was so much more interest in my sister”, but that “at times it was annoying, at times funny”.

“Perhaps the most depressing part was that whatever I did, or tried to do, got disproportionate coverage purely because of Jackie being my sister”.

In 2016, she told Vanity Fair that the years in which she had a US president as a brother-in-law were restrictive.

“There were so many things I couldn’t do,” she said, adding that the tragic death of President John F Kennedy made her feel “free”.

Following the news of Radziwill’s death on Friday, Mathilde Favier, who works at fashion designer Christian Dior, described her in a tribute posted on Instagram as “the most elegant and tasteful lady on Earth”.

Another fashion designer, Michael Kors, tweeted a photograph from the company’s official Twitter account showing himself and Radziwill at his label’s 30th anniversary in Paris in 2011.

Paul Manafort should be jailed for 19-24 years – Mueller


Paul Manafort also faces a possible fine of between $50,000 and $24m

US President Donald Trump’s former election campaign chief Paul Manafort should be jailed for up to 24 years, special counsel Robert Mueller says.

Manafort was convicted of financial fraud on charges relating to his work as a political consultant in Ukraine.

He accepted a plea deal on the charges in return for co-operating with Mr Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election campaign.

But he was found guilty earlier this week of breaching his plea deal.

The 69 year old, who was one of the first people to be investigated in the probe, was found to have lied to prosecutors.

On Thursday, US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort had “made multiple false statements” to the FBI, Mr Mueller’s office and a grand jury.

On Friday, a court document filed by Mr Mueller’s office said it agreed with a US Department of Justice calculation that Manafort should face between 19 and 24 years in prison and a fine of between $50,000 (£39,000) and $24m.

“While some of these offences are commonly prosecuted, there was nothing ordinary about the millions of dollars involved in the defendant’s crimes, the duration of his criminal conduct or the sophistication of his schemes,” the document reads.

“The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

In her ruling on Wednesday, Judge Berman Jackson said there was evidence that showed Manafort had lied about three different topics, including his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political consultant. Prosecutors claim Mr Kilimnik had ties to Russian intelligence.

What was the plea deal?

Last August, Mr Manafort was convicted on eight counts of fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose bank accounts.

A month later he pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy against the US and one charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice in a plea bargain with Mr Mueller. The agreement avoided a second trial on money laundering and other charges.

The plea deal meant Manafort would face up to 10 years in prison and would forfeit four of his properties and the contents of several bank accounts – but deadlocked charges from the previous trial would be dismissed.

It was the first criminal trial arising from the Department of Justice’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.

However, the charges related only to Manafort’s political consulting with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, largely pre-dating his role with the Trump campaign.

John Legend: Grammys boycott ‘doesn’t fix the problem’


John Legend on the Parkland survivors: “This is really a tribute to their activism”.

On Tuesday night, John Legend headlined a Motown tribute concert, celebrating the record label’s 60th anniversary.

Alongside Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, the star performed a selection of Marvin Gaye hits, including the timeless, socially-conscious soul anthem What’s Going On?

“I’ve always been inspired by Marvin Gaye,” says Legend, on the phone from his home in LA the following morning.

“He showed us that activism can be part of your art; and that art can inspire other people’s activism.”

It’s a lesson the 40-year-old has applied throughout his career, most notably on the 2010 album, Wake Up, which resurrected and reframed protest songs from the 60s and 70s for a modern audience.

Today, he releases a protest song of his own, Preach, that was inspired by the onslaught of negative news coming out of America – gun violence, bigotry, child separation, police brutality.

Get home every evening and history’s repeating,” he sings, over minor-key organ chords. “Turning off my phone cause it’s hurting my chest.”

“It’s stressful to read the news sometimes,” says the singer. “Sometimes we can get so frustrated and throw up our hands, and it’s important that we realise we can actually do something.”

The song’s chorus – “I can’t sit and hope / I can’t just sit and pray” – is directly targeted at US politicians, and their reluctance to tackle the country’s gun laws.

“Every time there’s a gun massacre in America, which is way too often, politicians come out and say, ‘We send our hopes and prayers to the victims and their families’ and then they don’t do anything about it,” he says.

“So the song is basically a rebuke of the people in power.

‘Change can happen’

“If you look at any polls, there’s only a small minority that are against background checks, a small minority that are against other regulations. We’re looking at 80 or 90% approvalon a lot of these provisions. So it really is the politicians who are lagging behind the people.”

“But then, that gets to the whole problem with our system, that moneyed interests and lobbyists and corporations carry more weight with politicians than the people do, too often, and we need to change that too.”

“The gun problem is insane, it’s radical and it’s terrible.”

In the song’s refrain, Legend sings, “I try to do the things / I say that I believe / I can’t just preach, baby, preach“; and the star says he was “directly inspired” by the survivors of Parkland school shooting a year ago – especially Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, who have campaigned for background checks and challenged America’s powerful gun lobby.

“This is really a tribute to their activism,” says Legend, who accepts that Preach won’t move the dial on the issue of gun ownership.

“I don’t know that a song would ever convince someone to change sides,” he admits, but stresses the importance of “using my career to fight for justice”.

“It’s a tough time but I’m also optimistic we can make change happen. I’ve been a part of that before and I think it’s possible for us to do it again.”

ELIOT LEE HAZEL

The star is one of just 15 people to become an EGOT – winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award

The star’s own activism has focused on prison reform. He’s played a part in establishing two charities – FreeAmerica and Unlocked Futures – which support former prison inmates; and campaigned for Florida’s Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to former felons (Legend’s own mother was jailed several times during his childhood for drug-related problems).

Along with his wife, Chrissy Teigen, he donated $288,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in honour of Donald Trump’s 72nd birthday last June. And he’s also contributed to films such as 12 Years A Slave and Selma, which document the turbulent history of black America.

His parallel careers in film, music and TV work have helped the star become an EGOT – one of only 15 people who’ve won a competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award.

“Did I get a laminated card? No!” he laughs. “A few of my friends jokingly sent me little trophies; but there’s no official EGOT Academy or anything.”

John Legend and Chrissy Teigen
GETTY IMAGES

Unusually, the star skipped Sunday’s Grammys ceremony in LA – although not because of any dispute with the Recording Academy (“John got an EGOT and egot lazy,” his wife tweeted).

So what does he make of artists like Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z and Kanye West deciding to boycott the ceremony?

“Historically, the Academy’s had a problem with hip-hop [so] I understand the impulse to withdraw and not participate and say, ‘this is all bullshit’ but of course that doesn’t fix the problem,” he says.

“I would love for the solution to be that we, as younger artists, as artists in the hip-hop community, got more involved and make up a larger bloc of the votes, so the music we make gets its proper dues.

“But I also understand the reactions of people that say, you know, ‘screw it, I don’t want to show up.’

“It’s a conundrum.”

Sunday’s awards saw Childish Gambino win song of the year and record for the year for This Is America – the first time a rap song has won either category.

“Honestly, I was surprised,” says Legend. “I didn’t think that was going to happen. But I was happy at the same time. I think that’s a big deal.”

“Maybe it will encourage more artists to say, ‘maybe the Grammys aren’t so bad after all’ and actually get involved.”

 If you have a story suggestion email Contact Email, (bbcnews.co.uk@bbcnewslight.co.uk) or (Annenakashima@journalist.com)

Pangolins: Rare insight into world’s most trafficked mammal”:


A study is being conducted by conservationists from Chester Zoo

The secret life of the world’s most trafficked mammal, the pangolin, has been caught on camera in Africa.

Footage gives a rare insight into the behaviour of the giant pangolin, the largest of all the scaly animals.

Observed by remote-operated cameras, a baby takes a ride on its mother’s back, while an adult climbs a tree.

Scientists are releasing the footage to highlight the plight of the animals, which are being pushed to extinction by illegal hunting for scales and meat.

Large numbers of their scales have been seized this month alone, including Malaysia’s biggest-ever interception of smuggled pangolin products.

The images and video clips of giant pangolins, one of four species in Africa, were taken at Uganda’s Ziwa sanctuary, where the animals live alongside protected rhinos and are safe from poaching.

Stuart Nixon of Chester Zoo’s Africa Field Programme said much of their behaviour has never been recorded before.

“We know so little about this species, almost everything we’re picking up on camera traps this year as a behaviour is a new thing,” he told BBC News.

The giant pangolin: The largest of the eight pangolin species
The giant pangolin: The largest of the eight species
Short presentational grey line

Pangolins

  • Sometimes called scaly anteaters, they are the only mammals in the world to be covered in protective scales
  • Their scales are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails
  • Pangolins lap up ants and termites with their long sticky tongues
  • There are four species in Africa -the African white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, ground pangolin and black-bellied pangolin
  • The giant pangolin, found in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa, is the biggest, measuring up to 1.8m long and weighing up to 75lbs.
Short presentational grey line

The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world.

Its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no medical benefit for their use, while its meat is considered a delicacy in some countries.

This week, authorities in Malaysia seized more than 27 tonnes of pangolins and their scales – believed to be worth at least £1.6m – on Borneo, in the biggest such haul in the country.

Pangolins are regarded as a delicacy in some countries
They are regarded as a delicacy in some countries

The wildlife monitoring group Traffic said police had discovered two big pangolin-processing facilities stocked with thousands of boxes of meat in the eastern state of Sabah.

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s director in Southeast Asia.

The discovery comes just days after 10 tonnes of scales were intercepted in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Uganda.

Scientists say the plight of the animals looks bleak, and they have no idea how many are left in the wild.

Pangolin scales intercepted on Borneo
Pangolin scales intercepted on Borneo

Stuart Nixon, who is working in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Rhino Fund Uganda on the project, said they are encountered so rarely in the wild that there is not enough data to allow a decent estimate.

A study is under way to survey and monitor giant pangolins at the site as the first step towards identifying their strongholds.

“This species is literally being wiped out, it’s being obliterated across central Africa, there’s no doubt about that,” he added. “Trying to get people engaged and to care about pangolins is really the key step.”

Sam Mwandha of the Uganda Wildlife Authority added: “These rare glimpses into the lives of giant pangolins are very exciting for those of us dedicated to protecting Uganda’s rich wildlife and challenges us to ensure that we protect and conserve this highly threatened species for future generations.”

Anti-Semitism: Germany sees ‘10% jump in offences’ in 2018


The government has said the total tallied amount may still increase

The German government has revealed a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic offences recorded last year.

Crime data, detailed in German media on Wednesday, says 1,646 crimes were linked to a hatred of Jews in 2018 – showing a yearly increase of 10%.

It comes just a day after French politicians spoke out about a sharp rise of incidents in their own country.

French Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, has warned that anti-Semitism is “spreading like poison”.

Over the weekend there were a series of anti-Semitic incidents reported in central Paris – including Swastika vandalism on post-boxes featuring a holocaust survivor’s portrait.

The latest data from Germany was released after a request from a member of the far-left Die Linke party. That information was then shared with German newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel.

The government have said the final totals may still increase – but the latest collation of data revealed a total jump in anti-Semitic offences of about 10%.

It also revealed a 60% rise in physical attacks – with 62 violent incidents recorded, up from 37 in 2017.

Josef Shcuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the news shows that government action is “urgently needed”.

“The latest numbers are not yet official, but at least they reflect a tendency – and that’s scary,” he said in a statement to the BBC.

“What had already solidified as a subjective impression among Jews is now confirmed in the statistics.

“Considering that acts below the threshold for criminal liability are not covered, the picture becomes even darker.”

Jewish groups have warned about the rise of far-right groups in fostering anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities throughout Europe.

Last year, a survey of thousands of European Jews revealed that many were increasingly worried about anti-Semitism.

In April, a young Jewish man was attacked in Berlin

Since 2017, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) have been country’s main opposition party.

AfD are openly against immigration, but deny holding anti-Semitic views.

However, a number of comments from their politicians, including about the Holocaust, have drawn scorn from Jewish groups and other politicians.

Last year the German government announced that a specialist team would be sent into German schools to try and combat anti-Semitism.

There have also been calls for special classes about anti-Semitism to be provided for some immigrants.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany said the classes were needed after a large increased in immigration from Muslim-majority countries.

It came after a video went viral showing a man, shouting in Arabic, attacking two Jewish men in Berlin.

Last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it was the responsibility of everyone to have a “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia.

“People growing up today must know what people were capable of in the past, and we must work proactively to ensure that it is never repeated,” Merkel during a video address to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.


Why is Twitter’s Jack Dorsey wanted in India?


Indian MPs want Jack Dorsey to appear before them on 25 February

Jack Dorsey is no stranger to controversies.

On his last trip to India in November, the chief executive of Twitter posed for what he thought was an innocuous picture and ended up enraging Hindu nationalists. The picture had a placard reading “Smash Brahminical patriarchy”, alluding to oppression by upper-caste Hindus.

The backlash on his own social media network was fierce: Mr Dorsey was promptly accused of “hate-mongering”. (The following month, in an unrelated controversy, he was criticised for promoting Myanmar as a tourist destination in a series of tweets despite widespread allegations of human rights abuses in the country.)

Now Mr Dorsey has been summoned by MPs in India, one of the fastest growing markets for his network, which claims 126 million daily users worldwide. By one estimate, more than a sixth of its users come from here. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the most followed leaders on the network. “It’s quite an exciting time for us in India,” says Maya Hari, the network’s vice president and managing director, Asia-Pacific.

A 31-member panel of MPs wants Mr Dorsey to appear before it on 25 February to get his views on “safeguarding citizens’ rights on social/online news media platforms”. The panel is led by Anurag Thakur, a MP belonging to Mr Modi’s governing BJP. Twitter appears to have been singled out for this unusual meeting.

It all began with the MPs shooting off a letter to Twitter India earlier this month. They said they wanted to meet the head of the network or a senior functionary on 11 February. Twitter’s local office informed the panel that Mr Dorsey could not appear at such short notice and offered its top local policy executive instead. Mr Thakur was clearly displeased with the response:

When some top local executives reached the meeting venue on Monday, the MPs refused to see them. Clearly, they wanted to talk to Mr Dorsey.

The timing of the “summons” to Mr Dorsey is interesting.

With crucial summer elections looming, right-wingers on Twitter have been complaining that the network is banning accounts supportive of the BJP. Pro-government TV networks reported that the MPs had actually summoned Twitter officials over “allegations of bias”, something which was not stated in the government’s official communication with the network.

BJP spokesman Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga weighed in, promoting a hashtag called #ProtestAgainstTwitter:

Others have joined in, accusing Twitter of bias and an “authoritarian” stance:

And last week, members of a group who call themselves Youth for Social Democracy gathered outside the local office of Twitter near Delhi to protest, saying that Twitter had “acquired an anti-right wing” attitude.

“They block our accounts and impressions of the tweets,” one protester said.

Twitter has responded, saying that the network did not act against users based on their ideology.

“To be clear, we do not review, prioritise or enforce our policies on the basis of political ideology. Every tweet and every account is treated impartially. We apply our policies fairly and judiciously for all,” says Colin Crowell‎, who leads public policy, governance and corporate philanthropy efforts at the network.

He said Twitter had made more than 70 “product, policy and operational changes” since the beginning of 2018, to help people “feel safe expressing themselves on our service”.

“Abuse and hateful conduct comes from accounts across the ideological spectrum and we will continue to take action when our rules are broken.”

However, the network admitted that “mistakes can happen”, which means accounts could get taken down wrongly for a short time.

“However, these mistakes or ‘false positive’ decisions are not political statements of intent; they are the basic human error rate of running the fastest, most open conversational tool in history.”

AFP

India is one of Twitter’s fastest growing markets

“We have a specialised, global team that enforces the Twitter Rules with impartiality. Twitter India employees do not make enforcement decisions. This is by design to ensure fairness and objectivity.”

Most Twitter users believe the bigger problems in India – as they are elsewhere in the world – are hate speech, intimidation, death threats and vicious trolling of women.

“It does not behove a great institution like the parliament of India to get into a standoff with Twitter on so trivial a matter. Let’s not forget that Jack Dorsey has no stakes in upholding the dignity of India’s parliament. Our parliamentarians, on the other hand, are sworn to it,” says Nitin Pai, the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent Bangalore-based centre for research and education in public policy.

Analysts like Prasanto Roy believe the summons to Mr Dorsey appears to be part of Mr Modi’s government’s increasingly “viciously combative position against multinationals and foreign digital companies”.

Over the past year, Mr Modi’s government has sought data localisation of all payment gateways and digital payment companies based outside India. It has pressured WhatsApp – India is the biggest market for the messaging app – to allow traceability of messages that trigger public unrest. And in December, it changed e-commerce rules to prevent online retailers from selling products through vendors in which they hold an equity stake without holding consultations with key stakeholders like Amazon and Flipkart.

“Most of this is driven by extreme nationalism and pressure from local business lobbies,” says Mr Roy. “India’s much-touted big bang digital collaboration in the form of Mr Modi’s ambitious Digital India programme with the world has completely soured.”

Newspaper headlines: ‘Brexit plan to evacuate the Queen..’


Newspaper headlines: 'Brexit plan to evacuate the Queen..'
Cold War plans to evacuate the Royal Family from London have been “repurposed” in the event of riots after a no-deal Brexit, the Sunday Times reports. The plans were intended to be put into action in the event of a nuclear attack with the Soviet Union, which would have seen the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh moved to a secret location outside the capital.
Observer
The Observer leads with speculation that six disaffected Labour MPs have been drawing up plans to resign and form a “breakaway movement on the political centre ground”. The paper names three “widely rumoured” MPs in the group – Angela Smith, Chris Leslie and Luciana Berger. All three swatted away the rumours when approached by the paper, but highlighted how disaffected they were on issues like Brexit and anti-Semitism.
Sunday Telegraph
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Prime Minister Theresa May pledges to “battle for Britain” when she travels to Brussels to reopen negotiations with the EU. She suggested she would seek an alternative to the backstop: either a time limit or a “unilateral exit mechanism”. The EU has already rejected both of these alternatives.
Mail on Sunday
“Tory peer in £600,000 conflict of interest” is the headline in the Mail on Sunday. The paper says Conservative grandee John Selwyn Gummer’s private company earned £600,000 from businesses “that stand to make millions from his advice to ministers”. The former environment secretary vehemently denied any conflict of interest and said he complied with disclosure rules.
Sunday Express
The Sunday Express accuses the BBC of “lobbying influential MPs” to support scrapping free TV licences for the over 75s. The scheme is currently financed by the government but will end in 2020. The corporation will then have to fund the £745m scheme, about a fifth of the BBC’s current budget, by 2021-22.
Star on Sunday
Rhodri Giggs, brother of former Manchester United midfielder and Wales manager Ryan Giggs, has said he wants to heal a long-standing rift between them, the Daily Star on Sunday reports. Ryan Giggs’s affair with Rhodri’s wife came to light seven years ago.

Newspaper headlines: May bids to woo Tories before Brexit debate..’


The Financial Times is among several papers to lead on Theresa May’s decision to back an amendment to her own Brexit deal that would overhaul provisions preventing a hard border with Ireland. The PM has moved to woo moderate Eurosceptic MPs to support her plans, it says.
Guardian front page - 29/01/19
The Guardian says the chances of the amendment on the “backstop” passing are on a knife-edge because Tory Brexiteers are split over whether they should back it. Looking ahead to votes on amendments to the PM’s deal, the paper predicts a day of deadlock.
Times front page - 29/01/19
The Times says the Tory party’s hard-Brexit “rebels” were refusing to rally behind calls for unity. If Theresa May fails to win backing she could be “fatally exposed” to a cross-party move to take control of the Brexit timetable, the paper reports.
Sun front page - 29/01/19
The Sun prints a leading article on its front page, urging MPs to stop the amendment tabled by Labour MP Yvette Cooper to delay Mrs May’s plans. Alongside a photograph of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the paper says: “Don’t let Labour kill Brexit”.
Daily Express front page - 29/01/19
The Daily Express also leads on Mrs May’s fresh attempt to win backing for her plans – suggesting she issued an “extraordinary challenge” to her arch rival Boris Johnson to support her.
i front page - 29/01/19
However, the i reports Mr Johnson – and the leader of the hard-Brexit faction, Jacob Rees-Mogg – will not back the prime minister. The MPs have cut her lifeline, it says.
Metro front page - 29/01/19
The Metro leads on a warning from a number of retailers and restaurant chains that a no-deal Brexit could lead to a fresh-food shortage – highlighting their concern that salad items could be hit. But it says their fears were downplayed by the Leave Means Leave campaign group.
Daily Express front page - 29/01/19
“No deal, no meal”, says the headline in the Daily Mirror. “Retail chiefs have warned of food shortages and crippling price rises in the chaos of a no-deal Brexit,” it reports.
Daily Mail front page - 29/01/19
The Daily Mail leads on a report into children’s use of technology – saying campaigners fear some youngsters are abandoning their friends and hobbies to go on the internet, play games or watch TV. It carries the headline “Generation of web addicts”.
Daily Telegraph front page - 29/01/19
The Daily Telegraph focuses on Sir Philip Green’s decision to drop legal action which prevented the paper from publishing sexual harassment and racist behaviour allegations against him. It says the retail tycoon, who denies the claims, is now being urged to free his accusers from gagging orders that prevent them from speaking out.
Daily Star front page - 29/01/19
The Daily Star leads on Blue singer and Strictly Come Dancing star Simon Webbe’s revelation in a magazine interview that his brother took his own life last November.

The papers look ahead to the votes in the Commons, on a series of amendments to Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Theresa May leaving Downing Street on 21 January 2019

The Sun’s front page headline is: “Don’t let Labour kill Brexit”.

There is no story – just an editorial which urges MPs to reject the amendment put forward by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper. It would delay the UK’s departure if no plan was agreed by the end of February.

The Sun believes the measure could be a “mortal blow” for Brexit. Ms Cooper has insisted the amendment seeks only to postpone leaving, but the paper fears that any delay could become permanent.

The Daily Mail is highly critical of a different faction , the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs.

The paper is horrified by the ERG’s warning that it will defy the Tory whip, and not support the amendment which seeks changes on the Irish border issue.

The Mail sees that proposal as “eminently sensible”, because it could pave the way for a Brexit deal. And it describes those Brexiteers who fail to accept that as “reckless zealots”.

There is a section in the Times that seeks to weigh up how significant a day this is in the Brexit process. By the end of the voting, it says, “we will certainly have a better idea of what MPs don’t agree on – and perhaps a better idea of what they do agree on”.

House of Commons

The Financial Times says European leaders are “bracing themselves” for a request from Mrs May to extend the 29 March Brexit deadline.

It believes that the “precise response is far from certain”.

The EU, explains the paper, would have to decide how long such an extension lasted – and what conditions would be imposed on the UK.

BBC News Daily

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The lead in the Daily Telegraph follows up the announcement that Sir Philip Green has ended his legal claim against the paper, which reported allegations of sexual and racial harassment against him.

The businessman has always denied wrongdoing – and has warned that any former employee who breaks an agreement not to discuss allegations against him could face legal action.

The Telegraph says there are calls for Sir Philip to remove that threat.

Online addicts

The Times and the Sun both report that Kensington Palace has been struggling to cope with the amount of online abuse directed at the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex.

The Times says household staff spend several hours per week deleting what are described as “vicious comments”.

Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Sussex

It reveals that the palace has appealed to Instagram to help deal with the problem.

The paper’s leader column argues that technology companies need to be more aggressive in closing the accounts of abusive people.

“Generation of web addicts” is the front page headline in the Daily Mail.

It is shocked by new research from the media regulator, Ofcom, that shows many children spend on average around three hours a day online.

Child looking at mobile phone in bed

Particularly disturbing, says the paper, is a tendency among youngsters to watch people online pursuing hobbies and interacting with friends, instead of doing those things themselves.

The paper’s cartoonist, Pugh, depicts a father who has disguised a window frame as a tablet computer, with his son who is looking through it.

The caption is: “I’ve tricked him into thinking the garden’s a YouTube video”.

Tablecloth charger

There are details in the Daily Mirror of Britain’s first legal cannabis farm.

It has been set up in Wiltshire after a company was granted permission to cultivate the plants for medicinal purposes.

The paper says the location of the seven-and-a-half acre greenhouse is not being disclosed, because of security concerns.

Finally, the Guardian reports that people who forget to charge their mobile phones may soon be in luck.

American scientists have created super-thin, flexible materials that can generate power from the electro-magnetic waves in the air.

The paper says it raises the possibility that you could soon be plugging your phone into the tablecloth.

Swelters through record-breaking heatwave


Australia has just sweltered through at least five of its 10 warmest days on record, authorities estimate.

An extreme heatwave has afflicted the nation since Saturday, causing wildlife deaths, bushfires and an increase in hospital admissions.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said preliminary readings showed daily national temperature highs of 40C.

The town of Noona in New South Wales meanwhile recorded a night-time temperature of 35.9C.

Temperatures on Friday will soar above 42C in “broad areas”, the bureau predicted.

Forecasters have compared conditions to the nation’s worst heatwave in 2013, where the mercury soared to 39C for seven consecutive days.

The hottest day on record for Australia is 7 January 2013, when the national average maximum temperature was 40.3C.

A beachgoer reads his phone in the sun in Sydney on Tuesday
A beachgoer in Sydney on Tuesday
A woman walks her dog at Port Melbourne Beach on January 15, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. Heatwave conditions are expected across the country this week with temperatures expected to reach the mid 40s in some areas
A woman cools down with her dog at Port Melbourne Beach

“The current heatwave ranks alongside that of January 2013 as the most extensive and prolonged heatwave on record over Australia,” BOM senior meteorologist Blair Trewin told the BBC earlier this week.

“There have been other notable heatwaves but none affecting such a large area of the country.”

Where is affected?

A large swathe of New South Wales is bearing the brunt of the heat, with temperatures also soaring in parts of Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory.

Temperatures are expected to drop in southern and central areas over the weekend.

But meteorologists say they are then set to rise in Western Australia.

Parts of the state could see temperatures up to 14 degrees higher than average in the days to come.

Is it dangerous?

Meteorologists say that the heatwave has broken heat records at more than 10 places around Australia, largely central inland locations.

The record-setters included the outback town of Tarcoola in South Australia which soared to 49C on Tuesday, and Port Augusta in South Australia which reached 48.9C.

Sixteen people in South Australia were admitted to hospital due to the heat on Wednesday, the state government said.

Authorities in several states have also issued health warnings urging people to stay indoors and minimise physical activity, with heightened concerns for the elderly, the chronically ill and children.

Grandmother and granddaughter take a dip in the water at Red Leaf Beach on January 15, 2019 in Sydney, Australia
Australians are used to high temperatures – even though the current heatwave appears to be particularly bad
A man sunbakes at a Sydney beach
State authorities have issued heat stress warnings to people

In coastal cities, many Australian flocked to pools, beaches and other watering holes to cool off.

Some people also shared their attempts to cool down on social media, including one Reddit user who wrote that he was “refrigerating my pyjamas to survive the stuffiness of my bedroom”.

Dozens of bushfires were burning across Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales on Thursday in conditions exacerbated by the heat and drought.

At Cobar’s Empire Hotel, temperatures reached 50C on Friday.

“It’s very difficult but we push through,” bar attendant Britney-Lee Fazulla told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

She said it was the worst heatwave she’d experienced.

There were also reports of mass deaths in native bat colonies in New South Wales, and fruit orchards spoiling under the Sun.

Up to one million fish are believed to have died along river banks.

How is climate change affecting Australia?

Last week, officials confirmed that 2018 and 2017 had been Australia’s third and fourth hottest years on record respectively.

Even if global temperatures are contained to the Paris accord limit of a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels, 

scientists believe the country is facing a dangerous new normal .

Parts of eastern Australia suffered their worst drought in recent history last year, whilethousands of Australians fled their homes when bushfires swept through Queensland in November.

More on this story

Harappa grave of ancient ‘couple’ reveals secrets



About 4,500 years ago, a man and a woman were buried in a grave together in a sprawling cemetery on the outskirts of a thriving settlement of one of the world’s earliest urban civilisations.

In 2016, archaeologists and scientists from India and South Korea found these two “very rare” skeletons in a Harappan (or Indus Valley) city – what is now Rakhigarhi village in the northern Indian state of Haryana. For two years, they researched the “chronology” and possible reasons behind the deaths; and the findings have now been published in a peer-reviewed international journal.

“The man and the woman were facing each other in a very intimate way. We believe they were a couple. And they seemed to have died at the same time. How they died, however, remains a mystery,” archaeologist Vasant Shinde, who led the team, told me.

They were buried in a half-a-metre-deep sand pit. The man was around 35 years old at the time of his death, while the woman was around 25. Both were reasonably tall – he was 5.8ft (1.77m) and she, 5.6ft. They were both possibly “quite healthy” when they died – tests didn’t find any lesions or lines on the bones or any “abnormal thickness” of skull bones, which could hint at injuries or diseases such as brain fever.

Human skeletons found in Haryana
Scientists have excavated 40 graves in Rakhigarhi

Archaeologists say this unique “joint grave” was not an “outcome of any specific funeral customs commonly performed at that time”. They believe that the man and the woman “died almost at the same time and that, therefore, they had been buried together in the same grave”.

Ancient joint burial sites have always evoked interest. In a Neolithic burial site in an Italian village, archaeologists found a man and a woman in an embrace. In another joint burial reported from Russia, the couple were holding hands and facing each other. Nearly 6,000-year-old skeletons in Greece were found embracing each other, with their legs and arms interlocked.

Everything else they found in the Rakhigarhi grave was unexceptional for its time: a few earthen pots and some semi-precious stone bead jewellery, commonly found in graves from the bronze age Harappan civilisation. “The most striking thing about Harappan burials is how spartan they were. They didn’t have grand burials like, for example, kings in West Asia,” says Tony Joseph, author of Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From.

In Mesopotamia, for example, kings were interred with hoards of precious jewellery and artefacts. Interestingly, jewellery made of carnelian, lapis lazuli and turquoise possibly exported from Harappa were found in graves in Mesopotamia.

Presentational grey line

Presentational grey line

In Harappan cities, graves usually contained pots with food and some jewellery – people likely believed in life after death and these materials were meant to be grave offerings. A lot of the pottery, says Mr Joseph, comprised lavishly painted dishes on stands and squat, bulging jars. “There was nothing remotely suggestive of royal funerals, which were common in west Asia,” he adds.

Archaeologists believe the “mystery couple” lived in a settlement spread over more than 1,200 acres, housing tens of thousands of people. Of the 2,000-odd Harappan sites discovered in India and Pakistan so far, the settlement in Rakhigarhi is the largest, overtaking the more well-known city of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan. (The ancient civilisation was first discovered at Mohenjo Daro in the 1920s.)

Human skeletons
Archaeologists say the skeletons have been ‘well preserved’

To be sure, this is not the first time archaeologists have discovered a couple in a Harappan grave.

In the 1950s, the skeletal remains of a man and a woman, heaped on top of each other, were found in a sand pit in Lothal in what is now Gujarat. The skull of the woman bore injury marks. Some excavators made a controversial claim that the grieving woman had killed herself after her husband’s death – a claim that could never be proved.

At Rakhigarhi, archaeologists have discovered 70 graves in the cemetery, barely a kilometre away from the settlement, and excavated 40 of them. But this single grave of the “mystery couple” has turned to be most fascinating of all.

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CES 2019: LG’s roll-up TV to be released to public


By Leo KelionTechnology desk editor

LG has revealed a consumer version of its roll-up TV set at the CES trade show in Las Vegas.

The Signature OLED TV R is built on a concept unveiled last year, in which the screen retracts into a base when not in use so it is less obtrusive.

LG plans to sell the device in the US before the end of 2019, but has yet to reveal the month or price.

Experts say the technology is unlikely to become a mass-market proposition for many years to come.

“It’s a 4K set rather than 8K, so you could argue there’s a compromise there – but otherwise this is a very high-end design that is going to be very costly,” commented Jack Wetherill from the consultancy Futuresource.

LG TV
The premium TV features a soundbar built into its base so it can be used to play music when the display is hidden

The South Korean firm also showed off another TV that will compete with the fold-out model for flagship status: a 88in (224cm) model that was described as being the biggest OLED set to date.

Much of the presentation about it centred on its use of machine learning to finesse its picture quality.

That represented a tacit acknowledgement that there is little native 8K content available as yet, so users will be reliant on upgraded 4K and high definition imagery.

88in 8K TV
LG says its new 8K television will be the biggest OLED TV on the market

In addition, the firm said that its wider range of new smart TVs would include access to Amazon Alexa as well as Google’s Assistant, which was added last year.

Relatively few devices have worked with both the two rival virtual assistants to date.

Speaker-maker Sonos has notably taken longer than expected to deliver on its promise of combining the two into a single device.

In LG’s case, the two platforms will be accessed via its own ThinQ software rather than directly.

Its press conference showed a user commanding them via a TV remote control, suggesting that a different button press determined which of the two assistants was invoked.

Samsung’s new TVs will also offer access to both Amazon and Google’s platforms too, although it will prioritise its own smart assistant Bixby.

“I see it as an acceptance that there’s a very large group of users already using Google and Amazon’s AIs,” remarked Paul Gagnon from the consultancy IHS Markit.

Both
Alexa Skills and Google Assistant Actions can both be accessed via LG’s ThinQ software

“It would be pretty hard for a company to stand in the way of that progress and not cut out potential buyers.”

LG also said its TVs would be among the first to natively support Apple’s AirPlay technology, allowing them to stream footage and audio from iPhones and iPads as well as be controlled by Siri.

LG dedicated much of the rest of its press conference to explaining how its household appliances could be made to anticipate their owners’ wishes by allowing the company to monitor people’s wider behaviour.

One example involved its ThinQ software offering to deploy a robot vacuum because it had detected its owner picking up another cleaning device.

Another involved the dishwasher ordering itself new detergent because it had run out.

Smart home
LG says its appliances will be able to anticipate owners’ needs, if they opt in to having their habits analysed

In general, things ran much more smoothly than last year when the firm’s US marketing chief David VanderWaal tried to demo a robot called Cloi, which repeatedly ignored his commands.

However, right at the end of the latest event the firm failed to mute his microphone, so that the last words heard were Mr VanderWaal saying: “That’s a wrap – one glitch on the video.”

One of the firm’s displays failed to work as intended during the TV section of the press conference.

NHS 10-year plan: May hails historic announcement



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GETTY IMAGESTheresa MayTheresa May is promising improvements to mental health support and maternity care

Prime Minister Theresa May is promising patients access to “world class” care under a 10-year plan for the NHS.

She said the publication of the plan on Monday would mark a “historic” moment for the health service in England.

Pledges on maternity care, mental health, elderly support and earlier detection and prevention of diseases will be included in the plan.

She said that, coupled with the extra money announced last summer , the future of the NHS was secure.

The budget is due to rise by £20bn a year above inflation by 2023.

If you can’t see the NHS Tracker,click or tap here .

Presentational grey line

A day before the publication of the 10-year plan, the prime minister said: “The NHS has always been the country’s most beloved public service – there to provide outstanding care to us all whenever it is needed.

“The plan marks a historic step to secure its future and offers a vision of the service for the next 10 years with a focus on ensuring that every pound is spent in a way that will most benefit patients.

“This will help relieve pressure on the NHS while providing the basis to transform care with world class treatments.”

As healthcare policy is politically devolved, the plan only applies to the NHS in England but she said the other UK nations will be drawing up their own plans. Under the government’s funding system they are getting an extra £4bn between them by 2023.

What’s in the plan?

The full details are not being unveiled until Monday when it will be released by NHS England.

But Mrs May has outlined some of the key focuses. These include:

  • Better mental health care, including round-the-clock advice from NHS 111 by 2023 and tailored services for young adults. Currently once someone in care turns 18 they are thrust into the adult system, often when they are not ready
  • Providing the best maternity care in the world by improving safety and providing greater mental health support for new parents. One in five new mothers struggles with mental health in the first year of her baby’s life
  • Greater control and choice in old age by expanding the use of personal budgets to allow people to decide what care they want, and greater support in the community so people do not end up in hospital
  • Better prevention and detection of disease – cancer is expected to be a key focus with an ambition to increase the number of early detections from one in two cancers to three in four, which in turn will improve survival
  • Increases in the NHS workforce – currently one in 11 posts is vacant
  • Bringing the NHS into the digital age, including online GP booking, prescriptions management and health records

Why is it being published now?

The plan was promised during the summer when the government unveiled its funding settlement for the NHS.

That set out the budget for the next five years and means by 2023 funding for the NHS will be £20bn a year more than it is now, once inflation is taken into account. That is the equivalent of annual “real terms” rises of close to 3.5% – about twice what the NHS has got since 2010.

Simon StevensNHS England boss Simon Stevens has been in charge of drawing up the plan

At the time, the prime minister said she wanted to ensure the money was used wisely and so asked NHS England boss Simon Stevens to draw up a long-term plan for the next decade.

It was expected to be published in the autumn, but was delayed because of the government’s troubles getting its Brexit plans agreed.

The last time such a long-term vision was set out was in 2000 under Tony Blair.

How are people reacting?

Understandably people want to see the full details before coming to firm conclusions. But the priority areas are being welcomed.

Andy Bell, of the Centre for Mental Health, said the initiatives on mental health were much needed.

He said: “For too many young people, mental health support is offered too late, with too many restrictions and then they are forced to start again when they reach 18.”

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESMan in bedMental health care is one of the priority areas

Dame Donna Kinnair, of the Royal College of Nursing, said nurses shared the ambitions being set out.

But she added the government needed to “urgently address” the staffing shortages if it was going to succeed.

And Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation think-tank, predicted fulfilling the pledges would be “extremely tough” because of the scale of staffing shortages, rising pressures and cuts to other parts of the wider health and care system.

The £20bn promise just relates to the front-line NHS budget and so does not cover other elements such as social care and public health – at the end of last year it was announced the budget for these services, which includes smoking cessation and weight management, was being cut by over 4% in real terms next year.

Ms Dixon said: “Trade-offs are inevitable and these must be spelled out clearly so the public know what they can expect from the NHS.”

What are we not being told?

There has been a fair bit of tension behind the scenes. The Treasury is understood to have wanted to tie the NHS down in terms of what it will achieve.

One of the central bones of contention is thought to be how the NHS can tackle deficits and waiting times.

Hospitals are struggling to balance their books and have seen a deterioration in the time patients wait in A&E, for cancer and for routine operations.

None of the three key targets are currently being met.

GETTY IMAGESMan in hospital bedThe NHS is missing its key waiting time targets

It looks like a trajectory for improvement will be published at a later date with NHS bosses known to have been wary about promising things they felt they could not deliver.

Another missing piece is the green paper on social care.

This was first promised in 2017, but has been delayed on a number of occasions. Brexit has certainly been a factor, but again there has been disagreements in private, this time over how radical the plan should be given the problems facing the sector, which covers care homes and home help.

The government has promised the green paper will be published as soon as possible.

Drone to watch over New Year celebration in New York”:


A camera-equipped drone will watch over New Year’s Eve celebrations in New York City, the NYPD has confirmed.

It is the first time the force has used a surveillance drone to monitor the annual party in Times Square.

It will be tethered to a building so that it cannot fall on to the crowd below if something goes wrong.

The force said it would also deploy “counter-drone technology” to prevent unauthorised aircraft flying over the celebration in Times Square.

It declined to elaborate on its counter-drone measures, but said visitors to the city should leave their drones at home. The drone will let police move the camera to a point of interest with “greater rapidity”, the NYPD’s John Miller said at a press conference.

However, officers declined to say how many camera drones would be deployed.

Police Commissioner James O'NeillImage copyrightNYC MAYOR’S OFFICE
Image captionPolice Commissioner James O’Neill said the drone would be “this big”

More than a million people are expected to celebrate New Year in the area surrounding Times Square, where the annual “ball drop” on top of One Times Square will take place.

In addition to the drone, the NYPD said it would deploy thousands of cameras, officers and other security measures to keep party-goers safe.

“You will see a lot of officers with a lot of gear and long guns,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

Times Square ballImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Times Square “ball drop” is world famous

He also urged the public to remember the “see something, say something” campaign, and to report anything suspicious to police.

“That’s not just a slogan… in fact, attacks have been stopped because someone said something. Lives have been saved because someone said something,” he said.

“If something doesn’t feel right, you’ve got to tell an NYPD officer.”

However, he stressed the measures were precautionary and said police had not received any credible threats of disruption.

Musk seeks to dismiss ‘pedo’ defamation claim


Vern Unsworth (R) helped bring top international cave rescuers to the mission, including Rob Harper (L)

Elon Musk is seeking to dismiss a defamation claim by saying that “over-the-top” paedophilia claims he tweeted should not be taken seriously.

He is being sued by Vern Unsworth, who aided the rescue of 12 boys from Thailand’s Tham Luang caves.

The two clashed over how to free the boys in an exchange that led to Tesla’s chief calling Mr Unsworth “pedo guy”.

Mr Musk’s lawyers said the “insult” had been made in response to Mr Unsworth’s own disparaging remarks.

Mr Unsworth is from St Albans, Hertfordshire, but now lives near Chiang Rai in Thailand.

Angry response

The “vituperative” exchange between Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth took place during frantic attempts to rescue the 12 boys and their coach from deep within the partially flooded caves in July 2018. Mr Unsworth helped recruit experienced UK cave divers, who were instrumental in freeing the boys.

Mr Musk mobilised a group of Tesla engineers to help with the rescue effort and left behind a specially designed mini-submarine that he claimed could help transport the children out of the caves. The submarine was never used to free the boys.

In an interview on CNN, Mr Unsworth ridiculed the submarine calling it a “PR stunt”.

Responding in a series of tweets, Mr Musk gave more details about how the submarine might work and posted the “pedo” comment.

When quizzed for his response, Mr Unsworth said he was considering legal action.

Composite image of Vernon Unsworth and Elon Musk
Image captionMr Musk (R) alleged that British diver Mr Unsworth (L) had a “child bride”

Soon after, Mr Musk apologised and deleted the offending tweets saying he had acted “in anger”.

He added: “His actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologise.”

But the row escalated after Mr Musk referenced his initial insult in a separate Twitter exchange.

In this, he said it was “strange” that Mr Unsworth had not sued him over the allegation despite being offered free legal advice.

Soon after, Mr Unsworth’s lawyers posted a series of tweets criticising Mr Musk and his characterisation of their client.

Documents prepared by Mr Musk’s attorney said he responded to this via “off the record” emails to Buzzfeed journalists seeking comment in which he issued further “insults”, some of which alleged Mr Unsworth had a “child bride”.

Despite being labelled as “off the record”, the emails were published and led to the lodging of the defamation claim in a California court.

Mr Musk wants the court to throw out the defamation claim because, his lawyers say, his comments were “non-actionable opinion”.

The legal team said the Tesla chief had never met Mr Unsworth so his comments had no “factual basis”.

Instead, the words were “over-top-insults not driven by first-hand knowledge”.

Mr Musk’s lawyers argue at length that because the “schoolyard spat” blew up on Twitter, which they say is “infamous for invective and hyperbole”, no-one could reasonably believe the comments were truthful.

The fact that they were on social media served to underline how different they were from a proper press expose or criminal complaint, the lawyers add.

Neither Mr Unsworth nor his own legal team have responded to requests for comment by the BBC.

Presentational grey line

How defamation works in the US

Gavel

By Clive Coleman, BBC legal correspondent

The first amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects free speech, makes defamation a challenging legal action to bring.

A plaintiff – the person bringing the case – has to prove the statement made about them is false and that it has caused them material harm.

However, the toughest hurdle is that if the person bringing the case is regarded as a public figure – and “public figure” is given a pretty wide interpretation – it has to be proved that the defendant acted maliciously.

In other words, that the person making the statement knew it to be false and went on to make it.

Another way of putting it would be that it must be proved that the defendant knowingly lied with the intention of harming the plaintiff.

Outcry as Instagram tries horizontal scrolling



Instagram regulars did not react positively to the horizontal scrolling test

Instagram has apologised after a test feature was accidentally rolled out to millions of people using its app.

The change meant moving through a feed had to be done by swiping horizontally rather than vertically.

Almost as soon as the change was made, users took to Twitter to complain and demand the return of the familiar up-and-down scrolling method.

The unwelcome update – which was likened to Tinder – was live for about an hour before it was rolled back.

In a tweet, Instagram’s head of product Adam Mosseri said: “Sorry about that, this was supposed to be a very small test but we went broader than we anticipated.”

The change trended under the #instagramupdate hashtag on Twitter, accompanied by mostly negative comments.

Many asked who had thought changing the scrolling direction would be a good idea. Several called on co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger – who quit earlier this year – to return.

Some wondered if it was a way to stop people just scrolling endlessly through updates by making them tap and examine posts before moving on.

Instagram user Elise Michelle called it: “By far the worst update in Instagram history.”

Soon after the backlash, Mr Mosseri tweetedthat the change had been “rolled back”.

He added: “If you’re still seeing it you can simply restart your app and you should be good to go.”


Newspaper headlines: ‘Battle over second Brexit vote’ and ‘Geraint’s glory’ By BBC NewsStaff.’


The Papers


Many of Monday’s papers focus on Brexit and discussions of a second referendum. The Guardian says Theresa May will “beg MPs” today not to “break faith with the British people” by demanding another public ballot. Like many of the papers, it carries a picture of BBC sports personality of the year winner, cyclist Geraint Thomas.
Metro
“Battle in the Number 10 bunker over second vote,” is the Metro’s headline. The paper says Mrs May will rule out the idea, following the claims of a plot behind her back to hold one. The PM is expected to tell the Commons that calling another vote would risk doing “irreparable damage” to public trust in politicians.
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph leads on comments from former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, taken from his column in the paper. He says a second referendum would provoke “instant, deep and ineradicable feelings of betrayal”.
Daily Express
Don’t dare steal our Brexit,” is the headline on the Daily Express, which reports that Mrs May’s warning that a second referendum would plunge the country into fresh division. She has vowed to stop any new EU vote, the paper says.
The Sun
The Sun also leads on the PM’s Brexit vote warning, saying May has “slapped down ministers” who have reportedly been “plotting” a second referendum. She is attempting to kill off the idea for good, the paper says.
The Times
The PM’s cabinet allies have publically demanded that she allows MPs a series of votes on options to break the Brexit deadlock, the Times says. Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Education Secretary Damian Hinds both backed the plan on Sunday, it reports.
The i
“At last: a plan to end the UK’s Brexit impasse,” says the i. It also says cabinet ministers are pressuring the PM to let MPs vote on all of the options, while one cabinet faction will demand that the UK leaves without a deal.
Daily Mirror
Away from Brexit, the Daily Mirror uses its front page to launch a campaign to keep free TV licences for the over-75s. The BBC is losing government funding for the benefit in 2020, the papers says, and is considering scrapping the benefit. Ex-PM Gordon Brown, who introduced the scheme, is backing the campaign.
Financial Times
The Financial Times says Jaguar Land Rover is to announce plans to cut thousands of jobs as part of a £2.5bn turnaround plan. It says up to 5,000 posts are at risk at the carmaker, which employs 40,000 people in the UK. In October, the company posted a loss of £90m for the three months to September, the paper adds.
Daily Mail
The Daily Mail reports that the NHS plans to increase the voluntary workforce from 78,000 to 156,000 over the next three years. The paper is running a campaign to sign up hospital volunteers – backed by JK Rowling, Claudia Winkleman and Sir Cliff Richard.
Daily Star
The Daily Star warns of three 60mph storms set to hit the UK over the festive period, as well as traffic chaos and increased pressure on hospitals with an increase in alcohol-related admissions. “Christmas Hampered” is headline.

Theresa May’s warning about another Brexit referendum features on a number of front pages, including the Daily Express , which has the headline: “Don’t Dare Steal Our Brexit.”

It says the prime minister will try to reassure “furious” MPs that she won’t sanction a second referendum, “after senior Tories accused her allies of plotting to betray voters”.

The Metro suggests there is a “battle in the Number 10 bunker” over another vote, following claims that Mrs May’s advisers have held talks about the prospect “behind her back”.

According to the paper, her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, and her de facto deputy, David Lidington, “both yesterday denied they were seeking a second public vote – but did not deny that discussions had taken place”.

The Times says Mrs May’s cabinet allies have publicly urged her to put Brexit in the hands of Parliament and allow MPs a series of votes on options to break the deadlock.

That demand appears to be backed by the i,which has the headline: “At last, a plan to end the UK’s Brexit impasse.”

The Financial Times says that while some senior cabinet ministers believe a second referendum may be the only way to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, “they also all want other options to be tested first”.

PATheresa May with her husband Philip

According to the Daily Telegraph , Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has denied reports he told cabinet ministers Mrs May must be “removed” from office after Brexit, so others can take over and renegotiate her deal.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has told the Telegraph that a second vote would provoke “instant, deep and ineradicable feelings of betrayal”.

Writing in the paper , he says it is “sickening to discover” that senior figures in government are actively canvassing the idea – and he warns that ministers would be “out of their minds” to sanction another ballot.

The public, he says, would be “utterly infuriated” by being asked to vote again, simply because they had failed to give the right answer last time.

Several papers use their leader columns to support Mrs May’s position.

The Daily Mail claims a second vote would be “utter folly”, while the Sun insists the prime minister is “absolutely right” to slap-down what it calls “the arch-Remainers”.

For the Times , Mrs May must seize the initiative, if she is to avoid another calamitous week.

It argues a second referendum is “the least bad option”, but says that if Mrs May will not take that step, “she should allow MPs to vote on her deal as soon as possible, before Parliament breaks for Christmas”.

Only then, it says, “can the process of finding a way to break the deadlock begin”.  letter – calling on the BBC to make global warming its top editorial priority – is published inthe Guardian .

It’s been written by the campaign group, Extinction Rebellion, which was responsible for organising civil disobedience protests, which blocked several bridges in London last month.

The activists say they want to meet BBC director general Tony Hall to discuss how the corporation can report “the full truth”.

They say the BBC should adopt a climate emergency strategic plan with the same urgency as was placed on informing the public about World War Two.

The health service wants to double the number of volunteers it uses over the next three years, according to the front page of the Mail .

It reports that the ambition is set out in NHS England’s Long Term Plan – due to be published in the new year – and would bring the total number of volunteer carers to more than 150,000.

The Mail says the document highlights how volunteering can benefit both patients and the volunteers themselves, as older people stay physically active and connected to their communities, while younger people develop skills and experience for work and education.

A number of papers predict a bright future for Stacey Dooley, after the documentary maker won the final of Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday.

“At a time when young female faces from working class backgrounds are at a premium in television,” says the Guardian , “the broadcasting world is at the feet of a woman who was originally plucked from her job at Luton airport’s duty-free makeup section”. 

PAStrictly winners Kevin Clifton and Stacey Dooley

The Telegraph is less generous, and suggests that votes for the journalist’s dancing partner, Kevin Clifton, may have swung the result in her favour.

As the only British professional dancer in the final, it says, “quiet patriotism could also have been a factor in this Brexit era”.

Dire warnings about travel problems over the holiday period are featured by a number of papers.

According to the Sun , Britain faces “Christmas chaos – with 229 miles of roadworks and 330 railway projects blighting journeys home”.

Experts have told the Daily Mirror that 20 million leisure journeys will be made in the run-up to Christmas, with Thursday expected to see the biggest increase in cars on the road.

The Times says the RAC has warned drivers on the busiest motorways to expect delays of up to three hours.


Weigh-ins help prevent piling on pounds at Christmas’:


By Laurel IvesBBC Health


Regular weigh-ins at home, plus simple weight-loss tips, could prevent people from piling on the pounds at Christmas, according to a new study.

The Universities of Birmingham and Loughborough divided 272 volunteers into two groups. The “intervention” group weighed themselves regularly.

They were also given information on how much exercise was needed to burn calories in Christmas food.

They ended up weighing 1lb (0.49kg) less than the “comparison” group.

The comparison group didn’t track their weight – they were just given a healthy lifestyle leaflet, which did not include dietary advice.

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Calories in christmas food and drink
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The researchers say the Winter Weight Watch Study, published today in the BMJ, is the first to look at preventing seasonal weight gain.

Lead author Frances Mason, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research, said avoiding weight gain during the festive period could help in the long-term fight against obesity.

“People gain a kilo of weight on average annually. Often this weight gain happens at Christmas, and is never fully lost. This could possibly be a factor driving the obesity epidemic.”

How to avoid festive weight gain

The trial was carried out in 2016 and 2017 over a period of six to eight weeks in November and December. Follow-up measurements were then taken in January and February of the following year.

The intervention group were asked to record their weight on a record card and given 10 tips for weight management.

They were also given a list of how much physical activity would be needed to burn off the calories found in popular Christmas food and drinks.

That mince pie might not be as appealing when you factor in the 21 minutes of running needed to burn off the 245 calories found in an average pie.

The groups were also given these tips for weight management:

  • 1. Keep to your meal routine – try to eat at roughly the same time each day
  • 2. Go reduced fat – choose reduced-fat foods (eg: dairy, spreads, salad dressings) where you can
  • 3. Walk off the weight – walk 10,000 steps each day
  • 4. Pack a healthy snack – choose fresh fruit or low-calorie yoghurts
  • 5. Learn the labels – be careful about food claims. Check the fat and sugar on food labels
  • 6. Caution with your portions – do not heap food on your plate (except vegetables)
  • 7. Up on your feet – stand up for 10 minutes out of every hour
  • 8. Think about your drinks – choose water or sugar-free squash. Limit fruit juice. Alcohol is high in calories so limit to one a day for women and two for men
  • 9. Focus on your food. Slow down. Do not eat on the go or while watching TV
  • 10. Do not forget your five-a-day – eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day.

Source: International Journal of Obesity

‘A small amount of restraint’

Researchers were not able to identify which of the 10 potential interventions led to the weight loss, although 85% of those who did lose weight stood on the scales twice a week.

But they did conclude that the intervention group were more able to retrain their eating and drinking. They were also marginally less likely to drink alcohol.

But isn’t Christmas a time when we are supposed to be able to overindulge?

Christmas lunch
People consume an average of 6,000 calories on Christmas day

Frances Mason said they had no problem recruiting volunteers, saying: “This suggests people were willing to exercise just a small amount of restraint, while still enjoying the Christmas period.

“It’s small changes like say instead of consuming five pigs-in-blankets, consume one or two. Or make sure you get out of the house for a walk. Research shows people underestimate calories, and overestimate their calorie expenditure.

“This is why accurate self-monitoring is an effective strategy for weight management.”

This might also explain the explosion in the popularity of mobile fitness and diet tracker apps. The global mobile fitness app market grew from $1.8bn in 2016 to $2.2bn, says research firm Statista.

Researchers from global insurer Vitality also recently showed that offering customers an smartwatch, at minimal cost if they stuck to a fitness regime, also resulted in more regular exercise.:

26-30 railcard: ‘I’ll be £450 worse off because of delay’



Clint Furnish reckons he will miss out on £450 in savings after missing out on the 26-30 railcard by one day

The launch of the new 26-30 railcard has been delayed slightly, it was announced on Friday.

26-30 railcard: 'I'll be £450 worse off because of delay'

Millennials had been promised they could buy the popular discount card by the end of 2018 – but now the launch date has been moved to 2 January.

It is only a delay of a few days, but for people turning 31 during this time it means missing out on large savings.

Clint Furnish, from Crawley, turns 31 on New Year’s Day – so he will miss out on buying the railcard by just one day.

He estimates the discount pass – which offers one-third off most leisure fares – would have saved him around £450 a year, because of the regular journeys he makes to visit his partner in Stoke-on-Trent, plus other trips.

“I missed out only because they have changed their original promise,” he said, adding he feels “let down”.

“I was really looking forward to getting one as it would have helped me out so much. It means I’ll have to make less journeys then I had planned.”

New 26-30 railcard
The new 26-30 railcard will go on sale to four million eligible passengers in January

Mr Furnish, who works as cabin crew for an airline, said the Rail Delivery Group – which runs the railcard – should make exceptions for the people who will turn 31 on 31 December, 1 January and 2 January.

“It’s not just because we’ll be too old. I understand there’s always a cut-off point – but if they tell you what that cut-off point will be and then change their mind, they should honour those affected.”

The Rail Delivery Group said they intended to launch the railcard by the end of the year but “given how timings have worked out this would mean launching it over a bank holiday”.

‘Terrible birthday present’

Andy Beall, who turns 31 in mid-December and so will also miss out on the railcard, criticised their statement, saying: “The bank holidays were always going to be there. It’s incredibly short-sighted.”

Mr Beall, who lives in Hampshire, had hoped the railcards might be released in time for him to get one, potentially saving him around £100 over the year.

He tried unsuccessfully to buy one during a trial in the spring when a limited 10,000 railcards were released and the ticket website crashed because of overwhelming demand.

Other people in similar situations also complained about the delay.

Hannah Asprey’s 31st birthday is on 2 January. On Facebook she wrote: “This will be a terrible birthday present for me given it was announced it would be available before the end of the year.”

BBC football commentator Vicki Sparks said on Twitter that the roll-out of the card had been “incredibly frustrating”.

When asked, the Rail Delivery Group did not directly respond to the question of whether exemptions would be given to people who turn 31 in the interim period of the delay.

But in a statement it said: “We intended to launch the 26-30 Railcard by the end of the year, given how timings have worked out this would mean launching it over a bank holiday.

“When the 26-30 Railcard goes on sale we want to be able to provide the best possible experience to our customers.

“Anyone who will no longer be eligible for the 26-30 Railcard, when it launches in January, can find out about the range of national and regional Railcards we have available on the National Rail website.”

The launch of the railcard was announced by the chancellor in the autumn 2017 Budget.

It was originally on sale on 6 December 2017 for 10,000 customers across the Greater Anglia network.

Then, in March 2018, another 10,000 were released to people UK-wide – enough for one in 500 of the eligible population. Demand was so high that the website suffered problems for hours.

It was then announced the railcard will be rolled out, unlimited, for everyone – the four million eligible passengers – by the end of 2018. The release date is now 2 January.

For a £30 fee, the new railcard offers one-third off most leisure fares for 12 months. However, anyone travelling before 10am on a weekday will have to pay a minimum fare of £12. This is the same restriction as on the 16-25 railcard.

The railcard is “digital only”, meaning that passengers will need a smartphone to download it. According to the website, anyone who is 26-30 can buy it up to and including the day before their 31st birthday.


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